Man Plans; God Laughs

by Arliene Botnick, February 27, 2019

“Man plans; God laughs.” – the English translation of a very significant Jewish maxim, and a maxim that so perfectly describes the Book of Esther.

This biblical book from the section of the Tanach (Bible) called Ketuvim (Writings) is the only Book of the Bible that does not mention the name of God at all. Yet, it is a book that tells a story so powerful that our sages say that it will be the only book still read in the Olam Haba (the world to come).

We all basically know the story – a Jewish rendition of the “Perils of Pauline”, an early silent film where the young maiden is bound to the railway ties; the locomotive is bearing down on her, and in the 11th hour, the maiden is saved by the handsome stranger.

In our story, it is our people who are symbolically bound to the tracks, the speeding locomotive are the people of the 127 provinces of ancient Persia and Medea, and the one who saves us is…..

So let’s examine who does save us. Esther, the Queen, won her position as the wife of the drunken Ahasuerus by chance, winning a beauty contest. But she is warned by her uncle, Mordechai, not to reveal her Jewish identity. Mordechai is sitting vigil near the King’s Court and by chance, overhears a plot being hatched to assassinate the King.

Haman, the wicked advisor to the King, has his ego shattered when, by chance, as he parades by Mordechai, he (Haman) does not get the respect he feels he is owed when Mordechai does not bow down to him.

Later on, the King with apparent insomnia, chooses, by chance during the depths of the night, to read his journal and, by chance, comes upon the event where the plot to kill him was foiled by Mordechai.

The story continues as Haman urges the King to kill not just Mordechai, but all the Jews. Esther is now urged by Mordechai to reveal her identity and save her people – or, as Mordechai says, “Do not think in your heart that you, of all the Jews, will escape because you are in the King’s house. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed – and who knows whether you have not come into royal estate for such a time as this?” (Book of Esther 12-14).

So who is the one who saves us? All of those events that happened by chance….just coincidences? The winning of the beauty contest, the not bowing down, the sleepless night, the journal reading. Human endeavours or the hand of God? Yes, it is Mordechai who urges Esther on, and it is Esther that takes her life in her hands to approach Ahasuerus, but the hand of God is the essence of the Book of Esther. This is why, in the month of Adar, we are to be happy and rejoice. This is why, in the world to come, we will rejoice in reading the Book of Esther. When we are partners with God, when we, as Esther did, stand up against and oppose oppression, we rejoice and we will survive. “Man plans; God laughs.”

Chag Purim!

Filed under: Educator's Message

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