One of the best advertised features of the Purim story, as told in Megilat Esther, is the absence of God’s name. In fact, the story is perfectly viable without God playing any role in the tale. Much like our lives, the presence or absence of God is impossible to prove or disprove. Some people are able to see God’s trademark in everything, while others are incapable of seeing God in any part of their lives.
In book in the Jewish Biblical canon, God’s conspicuous absence is particularly striking. These are the books of God, yet God is nowhere to be found.
Interestingly enough, God’s absence in Megilat Esther is even more significant than most people realize. Esther was a late inclusion in the Biblical canon. The Talmud says it was written by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah along with a few other late books. Within a few hundred years, another version of Esther crops up in Greek and Hebrew. One later version has additions throughout the text and these additions are footnoted in another later Esther text. All of the additions share one general guiding principle. They all add God into the story.
For example, Mordechai is shown a prophetic vision at the beginning of the narrative, and it comes true at the end of the story. Also, the prayers of Mordechai and Esther are included in some versions. In the non-Tanach version, God plays a starring role in the scene where Esther breaches protocol and sees the king unannounced. Many of the small additions are found in our Midrashic sources.
This means that our Tanach specifically did not include God in the text of the story, and when we had the opportunity to add it back into the text or to infuse a little bit of religion into the story, we rejected that option. It’s not merely that God wasn’t mentioned in the Megilah. It’s that God was deliberately omitted from Megilat Esther. Why?
The answers to this question are not really different than the answer to the question of why God is simply not mentioned in the text. Those answers still work. But the question changes, and that means there can also be new and different answers.
God may have been reinserted into the text for religious reasons. But not our religion. Christians also see significance in the story of Esther. Some say she was a proto-Mary. Others say that Esther was a proto-Jesus. Some even say that Esther’s bravery preserved the Jewish people and the Davidic line, which allowed their messiah to be born several centuries later. The point is that Christians used the book for very Christian teachings, and that might be a reason some people inserted God into the text.
At that time, the Christian god was very “present” and the Jewish God was very hidden. Thus, it also might be that the Jewish God of the time was a hidden God while the god of the Christians at that time was thought to be more readily accessible. Between a version of Esther with a hidden God and a version with a very active God, the Jewish path is clear. It was a time of great peril for the Jewish people. Giving up hope in the invisible God likely made the very active god of the early Christians and pagans much more attractive. The rabbis wanted to help avoid that kind of thinking, and instead they wanted to train people to see the Hidden God.
It makes perfect sense that the rabbis declined to edit God into the text. They specifically wanted to give the hidden God to the Jewish people. This would be their God for the duration of exile. So the rabbis made the somewhat controversial decision to give us this one book starring a Hidden God. The rabbis of the Anshei Knesset HaGedola were right. Our God is the Hidden God. One day, our God will no longer be hidden, but until then, we have Esther.
— Eliyahu Fink (@efink) March 5, 2015