Exactly what endures?
An arresting and opt-repeated teaching claims that all Jewish holy days will cease once the Messianic age begins, except for Purim (and in one version Yom Kippur as well). Of all of our observances, Purim has the longest tail. Not Pesah and its story of liberation; not Sukkot and its focus on gratitude and vulnerability; not Shavuot and its commemoration of the Divine gift of Torah; not Hanukkah and its celebration of the fight for freedom. Rather, Purim and its farcical tale will linger for all of eternity. Why Purim?
Maimonides’s formulation may help us get to an answer (or two or three).
All Prophetic Books and the Sacred Writings will cease during the messianic era except the Book of Esther. It will continue to exist just like the Five Books of the Torah and laws of the Oral Torah that will never cease. Although ancient troubles will be remembered no longer, as it is written: ‘The troubles of the past are forgotten and hidden from my eyes,’ (Isaiah 65:16), the days of Purim will not be abolished, as it is written: ‘These days of Purim shall never be repealed among the Jews, and the memory of them shall never cease from their descendants.’ (Esther 9:28) [Laws of Megillah 2:18]
Along with Purim and the Book of Esther, the Torah and rabbinic law will make it into the messianic era. The ‘troubles of the past’ vanish, while Purim and Esther endure. Purim, therefore, represents the opposite of earlier travails. We get to remember reversals of (apparent) fate and instances of human triumph for all time. And along the way, we receive the opportunity to forget the troubles of the past.
David Hartman, noted philosopher and teacher, locates the claim of Purim’s lingering significance in the larger context of covenant. “Persons of mature covenantal faith,” he writes, “were able to feel God’s commanding voice under all historical conditions. The spiritual power implicit in the Sinai covenant reached full expression when the Jewish community was able to trust in the covenantal promise despite the apparent arbitrariness of history.” We take that trust in the unseen with us into the next era; it’s mature faith that endures.
A few lines later, Hartman hammers his point home. “What began at Sinai as an externally imposed system of norms had become a successful internalization of those norms when Purim was identified as the celebration of the free acceptance of the Torah.” That, in a nutshell, is why Purim outlasts Pesah; free acceptance of covenant lingers for all of eternity.
Trouble no more, teaches this ‘minor’ festival; mature faith, freely chosen commitment, and the ability to hear the divine voice in the shadows of history and human experience are the things that last, and that matter most.