From Rabbi Yael Levy
A Way In: Who Knows?
Perhaps it was for this very moment you were brought into the world. (Esther 4:14)
These were Mordechai’s words to Esther, as he encouraged her to risk approaching the King in order to save the Jewish people.
It was uncertainty about what would result from her actions that propelled Esther to step forward.
The Purim story urges not to let uncertainty stifle our actions
or scare us into hiding.
Not to let uncertainty about what might result from our deeds
be an excuse for turning away.
Rather, we are called to let not knowing encourage our engagement and exploration,
To let not knowing call forth our imagination and audacity.
We don’t know where our actions will lead.
We don’t know the number of our days.
What we do know is that our world is in urgent need of healing and transformation.
The Purim story calls:
Engage. Act. Risk. Love.
Dance with the paradox and mysteries of life.
Push beyond the limits of possibility. Step into the mystery. Go into the unknown.
Who knows? Perhaps it was for this very reason we were brought into the world.
From Rabbi Mel Gottlieb
There is a striking story about one of the great Chassidic Leaders of our generation. The great Rebbe once walked into a Purim play where one of the Chassidim was doing a perfect imitation of the Rebbe. Everyone in the room was laughing except the Rebbe himself. Instead, bitter tears began to roll down his face. Mortified, the impressionist ran over to the Rebbe to apologize. “No need,” responded the Rebbe. “I was crying because you reminded me of all the times that I, too, was impersonating the Rebbe.”
From Reb Mimi Feigelson
From Rishe Groner
…Purim as a holiday is filled with paradoxes. There is the intensity of joy, craziness, wild and silliness; while we read a story of xenophobia, fear, manipulation, genocide and tyranny. It is the perfectly-crafted trauma response – a way to integrate, to look at the experience in the past through the cultivation of dark humor that Jews know so well over generations.
The notion of “Ad D’Lo Yada”, until we don’t know, knowing that we don’t know, is perhaps the greatest weapon in our arsenal to keep working with, releasing, reprogramming and perhaps eventually healing our trauma. It’s remembering that everything is part of a wide and vast process of cyclical birth and death, life and loss, and that we never know when we are on the up or on the downward spiral. Instead, all we can do is live to our fullest.
Use embodied techniques from our own heritage to re-center ourselves, ground ourselves, remember who we are even in the face of the worst.
As we witness people in Ukraine fleeing over these last few weeks it conjures up for many of us the images of our own families fleeing these very same places in Eastern Europe splashed across the news. Fleeing from the places that are now havens; fleeing from the places that are now war zones. Witnessing the real-life experience of refugees in 2022 is harrowing, triggering, retraumatizing at its worst.
I don’t have an answer, I don’t have a way for us to cope with all of this, but perhaps the Purim story does, and the story of Amalek.
Perhaps we can remember, remember and not forget.
We can breathe, we can sing, we can pray, we can chant and hum and dance and pray our guts out.
We can live to our fullest as we help those around us still in the midst of it.
We can feel our feet on the ground and the roof above our heads to know that we are safe, we are protected, and any experiences being reactivated now are in the past, though they feel so alive and so real right now.
And we can strive, aim and work to wipe it out, to reprogram, to remap our brains in the midst of the terrors of life in a human body – a Jewish body, a colored body, a female body, any body that oppressed and beaten in the course of life – and wipe out that name of Amalek that causes us to forget where we are in the present moment…
From Institute for Jewish Spirituality
Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie
This is a one hour video of a conversation with Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie about Purim. It is well worth taking an hour to view.
Here is my personal Purim Shpiel for this year!
And please post use your own personal Purim Shpiel using the the reply link below.
The best way to post your photo or video is to post a link to your Youtube, Facebook photo, etc.
From Rabbi Diane Elliot
The Ikar* of Purim: Going Beyond Either/Or
Notes for a Teaching on Purim
5780 ~ 2020
*ikar means “the essence” or “the main point”
“This realization of Oneness is the ultimate experience of love.”
––R. David Aaron, Inviting God In, p. 174
What ties the mitzvot of Purim together?
Why is Purim the only holy day that the Sages declared would still be observed in
y’mot ha-mashiakh, the time of a healed world?
Five days ago, we entered the month of Adar on the Jewish calendar. The is last month of the year, since the most significant of the Jewish calendar’s four new years begins in the spring, on the 1st of Nisan (next month), the month in which the celebration of Passover and the Exodus from Egypt take place. The Talmud teaches: “Joy is increased in the month of Adar.” Kabbalistically its energy is said to be “the joy of Oneness,” and the whole month is called z’man simkhateynu, the season of our joy. The holy day of the month is Purim, celebrated on the 14th of the month, and in some places on the 15th.
So what do you know about Purim? What associations do you have with the holiday? What are your curiosities?
The story of Purim, told in Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther), takes place at an unspecified time in the city of Shushan, a great city in ancient Persia. The word “purim” means “lots” and refers to the lots cast by Haman to determine the day on which he planned to have his men attack and destroy all the Jews of Persia.
Yom Kippur, on the other side of the Jewish calendar, is sometimes called Yom HaKippurim, the Day of Atonements or Coverings, which can be parsed “Yom Haki-Purim,” “a day like Purim,” because on it, lots were also drawn—by the High Priest in the Jerusalem Temple to determine which of two goats would be sacrificed to atone for the entire people and which would be the proverbial scapegoat, sent into the wilderness, symbolically bearing the sins of the people on its head.
Of course, the spiritual technologies of these two days are very different. Yom Kippur is a solemn, awesome day of fasting and prayer; a day on which people wear white garments reminiscent of the kittel, the white linen garment in which they’ll be buried; a day when we aspire to be wiped clean of past errors and reborn, freed from constricting and wrongheaded ideas and behaviors. Purim, on the other hand is a bawdy holiday of raucous play, dressing up in costume, feasting, getting drunk, joking and satirizing one’s enemies and the direst of situations. What could possibly be the relationship between these two very different holy days?
In her excellent booklet on the kabbalistic roots of the Tu BiShvat Seder (you can order it at https://astillsmallvoice.org/product/ssv-tu-b-shvat-hagada-2/), which is the holiday we celebrated last month, on the full moon of Shvat, Sarah Yehudit Schneider writes this:
If life is a spiritual path, our primary task is not the accumulation of facts, but the integration of truth so deeply into our flesh, that our instinctive and reflexive response to the world shifts accordingly. This is the Jewish definition of enlightenment. (p. 33, my emphasis)
So we might ask, how do our khagim, our holidays, contribute to this great spiritual project? For one thing, every Jewish khag has its origins, either in an earth-based ritual, a historical event, or both, and involves mitzvot or minhagim—specific physical actions and symbols designed to help us inscribe the message of the holy day in our body-minds. And on the mystical level, every khagbrings a particular flavor of tikkun (repair). Here’s what Schneider says about tikkunim in general:
Every tikkun has two parts. First, is that it always includes some actualization of potential, meaning that some undeveloped capacity of soul becomes visible to the world. Second, is to gradually refine the consciousness one brings to that effort. (p. 28)
The mitzvot and customs of Purim include the reading or hearing of the Megillat Esther, Esther’s Scroll; creating satirical and raucous plays that reenact or embroider upon the story; dressing in outrageous costumes; making music and dancing; giving tzedakah and caring for the poor; delivering sh’lakh manot (gifts of at least two different kinds of food to at least one neighbor; many people make up little goody bags they distribute at Purim parties); and feasting and becoming so intoxicated that you can’t tell the difference between the phrases “arur Haman” and “borukh Mordecai,” “cursed Haman” and “blessed Mordecai.” This last teaching actually appears in the Talmud (Megillah 7b): “khayav inish liv’sumei b’Puraya ad d’lo yada ben arur Haman l’borukh Mordekhai, a person is required to become intoxicated on Purim, to the point that they can’t distinguish between ‘cursed is Haman’ and ‘blessed is Mordecai.’
What, then, is the particular tikkun or fixing effected by the mitzvot of Purim and how do they reveal our soul capacities and refine our consciousness? If as the Kabbalists teach, the healing of this month is through joy and laughter, what is being revealed and repaired? What do you imagine these observances have to do with one another and why did the Sages teach that Purim would be the only remaining holiday and Megillat Esther the only text still read, along with the Five Books of Moses, in y’mei ha-mashiakh, the world that is coming, that time of universal radical sacred hospitality? (to learn more about “sacred hospitality,” read Adam Horowitz’s recent wonderful blog on the subject at medium.com: https://medium.com/@adamhorowitz/toward-an-infrastructure-of-sacred-hospitality-5657611e79df)
“Megillat Esther” literally means “the revelation (gilui) of hiddenness (hastair).” It’s taught that, on the deepest level, the Hiddenness revealed through Purim is the encompassing Oneness that takes us beyond either/or, good/evil, friend/enemy—beyond dualistic thinking. The phrases arur Haman and borukh Mordecai have the same numerical value in Hebrew, 502, which in itself adds up to 7 (5 + 0 + 2), the number symbolic of Creation. On this day, through joy and revelry, we’re encouraged to elevate our consciousness to a level beyond the everyday, to take a magical mystery tour back to the Garden of Eden, which had the undivided Tree of Life at its center (the Tree that later splits into the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). We dress in costume, making fun of our limited identities, shattering set ways of thinking with laughter, bearing witness to the fact that this whole, crazy world, as the Baal Shem Tov taught, is actually God in drag, the Divine Oneness cloaked in variety and multiplicity. “This realization of Oneness is the ultimate experience of love.” (Aaron, Inviting God In, p. 174)
And the agent of this revelation, in the Purim story, is none other than the Divine Feminine, the Shekhinah herself in disguise—Esther. The story itself couches its potent political message in humorous stereotypes and satire, mocking and defying the powers that be. Mordecai refuses to kowtow to Haman, the hubristic minister; Esther turns the tables on a dunderhead king, Achashverosh, who has banished his previous queen, Vashti, when she refused to dance naked before his drunken party guests.
In the Passover story, God must intercede directly, performing miracles that controvert nature—the plagues, the splitting of the sea, the drowning of the Egyptian armies. The God of Nisan, of the Exodus, acts violently to extract the Israelites from Egypt and set them free to serve the Divine. But in the Purim story, nothing supernatural happens—the miracles are hidden, God’s name is never mentioned, and the Divine plan is implemented solely through the courageous choices of human beings who speak truth to power.
Of course, there’s a dark side to this story—the death of Haman and his sons, the mandate for the Jews to take revenge upon Haman’s gangs. Even if we accept the tale as a kind of canonical superhero comic book, a revenge fantasy on the order of Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 film, Inglourious Bastards, it’s still challenging to cut through the carnage to the ikar (essence) of the khag—the deep knowing that we can never fall out of God, that love is woven into every occurrence and challenge of life. The mitzvoth of caring for the poor, gifting of food to friends, feasting and rejoicing, are all intended to liberate that love energy, to remind us that beneath all our differences, we are each a unique expression of the One. It’s for this reason that the Sages asserted that Purim would be the only holiday celebrated in mashiakhvelt, a holy day that elevates us even beyond Yom Kippur’s wiping away of sin—into a state of consciousness, of wholeness of being, in which Oneness is universally perceived and, in the absence of the good/evil dichotomy, joyful celebration is eternally possible.
How might you celebrate Purim this year?
© Rabbi Diane Elliot 2020
Purim Katan Written 2022/5782
Since this is a leap year on the Hebrew Calendar we have two Adars, Adar 1 and Adar 2. Purim this year is the 14th of Adar 2, which will be March 16 – 17.
So what about the 14th of Adar 1, which is on Feb 14 – 15 (overlapping this year with Valentine’s Day)? The Rabbis have instituted Purim Katan — “Little” Purim!
So what do we do on Little Purim? There’s a Chabad essay based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The rabbis in the Talmud argue about when Purim should be celebrated, in Adar I or II. They decided on 14 Adar II. The official day of joy, feasting and celebration. But what about Little Purim on 14 Adar I — the day that would have been Purim if it wasn’t a leap year, a day when there’s no Megilla reading or special service?
Ah, says the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This is a time for increasing festivity and joy. without any obligation to do so. Imagine, a mitzvah without any obligation to do, or not do, anything! Wow — senseless joy — what a mitzvah!
(For more about the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s teachings on this, including “the beginning is in the end, and the end is in the beginning,” check out Always Happy.)
One further reflection. Rav Kook said, if we believe that we’ve destroyed the world through senseless hatred, then we must also believe that we can heal the world with senseless love.
Think of the world we’re living in now, with so much gloom and despair. Maybe we can bring a little healing with some senseless joy! I invite us all to see if we can do and share a little something this Monday night and Tuesday that brings us senseless joy!
From Rabbi David Kasher
THE PURIM TORAH
There is a curious passage in the Talmud (in Chullin 139b) that asks:
Where can we find Haman in the Torah?
המן מן התורה מנין
Now, this doesn’t make sense. Haman isn’t in the Torah. He is the great villain of the Purim story, in the Book of Esther, which is set almost a thousand years after the story in the Torah, and takes place in ancient Persia, not the Sinai Desert.
Yet the Talmud has an answer:
In the verse: “Is it from the tree I commanded you not to eat that you ate?” (Genesis 3:11)
המן העץ (בראשית ג, יא)
This verse comes from the Garden of Eden story, when God asks Adam and Eve if they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. So what has it got to do with Haman? The connection is linguistic. The word for, “is it from,” in Hebrew, is ‘ha-min’ (המן), which is spelled with the same Hebrew letters as, ‘Haman’ (המן).
This is a strange bit of wordplay; one wonders why they went to the trouble. But then the Talmud goes on and does the same thing for Esther and Mordechai, the heroes of the Purim tale, and again finds obscure ways of spelling out their names in other, seemingly unrelated verses in the Torah.
The question is, why are the Rabbis of the Talmud so intent on reading the main characters of the Book of Esther, in particular, back into the Torah? There are, after all, so many other books in the Hebrew Bible to draw from. They could have connected Ruth, or Daniel, or Job to verses in the Torah as well. But it seems that there is something about Purim that the rabbis feel compelled to trace all the way back.
We may detect the beginnings of an answer from another passage in the Talmud, which also connects Purim to the Torah. In Tractate Shabbat (88a), there is a famous story of how God forced the Jewish people to accept the Torah by picking up Mount Sinai, holding it above them, and warning them that if they do not accept the Torah, “this will be [their] gravesite!” It is a startling image, and provokes from one rabbi a very reasonable uncertainty:
Rabbi Aha ben Jacob said, ‘This provides a strong protest against the Torah!’
א“ר אחא בר יעקב מכאן מודעא רבה לאורייתא
What he means, of course, is that if the Children of Israel accepted Torah under duress, this undermines the sense of obligation we associate with a willing commitment. And more than that, how meaningful is the life of Torah anyway, if there was no other choice? The Talmud quickly attempts to resolve this problem with a citation from – of all things – the Book of Esther:
Said Rava, “Even so, they reaccepted the Torah in the days of King Ahashverosh, for it is written (in Esther 9:27), “The Jews confirmed, and accepted…” That is, they reconfirmed what had already been accepted long before.
אמר רבא אעפ“כ הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש דכתיב (אסתר ט, כז) קימו וקבלו היהודים קיימו מה שקיבלו כבר
So the acceptance of the Torah again, in the days of Esther and Mordechai, somehow validates the lack of voluntary acceptance in the original giving of the Torah. But why does this happen only now, centuries later? And why does it happen in the Book of Esther?
The answer, I believe, is that the Purim story is fundamentally about the threat of cultural assimilation. Yes, there is ultimately a threat of violence as well, but that is prompted by the unwillingness of the Jews to fully assimilate into Persian society. When asking the King for permission to attack the Jews, Haman describes them this way:
There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the King’s laws; it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them. (Esther 3:8)
יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם-אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים, בְּכֹל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתֶךָ; וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת מִכָּל-עָם, וְאֶת-דָּתֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֵינָם עֹשִׂים, וְלַמֶּלֶךְ אֵין-שֹׁוֶה, לְהַנִּיחָם.
In other words, if the Jews would just act like everyone else, they would be tolerable. It is their stubborn insistence on their own way of life that is so infuriating to the ruling authorities. All they would have had to do to save themselves is to drop their identity and merge into the surrounding, mainstream culture.
It is in this context that the Jews confirm their Jewishness. This is not like the acceptance at Mount Sinai, by slaves on the run, who had no other choice. Did God really hold the mountain over their head back then – or is that just a metaphor for the impossibility of choosing any other way of life when this Torah and this God are the only available salvation? The Jews of Purim, meanwhile, could have easily let the Torah go and simply become good Persians. They chose their Jewishness when they did not have to, and that is why their choice is truly meaningful, and why it finally validates the commitment made by their ancestors.
And that, to circle back to our original question, may explain why the Rabbis wanted to read the Purim characters back into the Torah. The events of Purim, and the commitment of those Jews who did not have to commit, is what gives meaning and legitimacy to the Torah itself. And so it must be that this eventual confirmation of the Torah can somehow be found embedded in the Torah itself. It is inconceivable, the Rabbis think, that our most sacred Covenant existed for nearly a thousand years without being truly valid. It must have been that the seeds of that validation were already germinating in the original Torah. It must be that the Torah anticipated Purim.
Today, most of us are much more like the Jews in the Purim story than the Israelites of the Exodus story. We are not wandering through the desert, struggling to simply survive, with nothing to turn to but God. Instead we live among the peoples of the world – sometimes happily, sometimes anxiously – and if we live Jewishly, it is because we choose to. Most of us could easily choose otherwise, to assimilate into the surrounding culture, and fade into the crowd. Some of us would even feel much safer if we did.
Our Judaism, then, is a choice. And so it is that much more meaningful. Because we not only make the commitment our ancestors made, we re-confirm the legitimacy of their commitment.
In that sense, the Torah has been waiting for us. We must be able to find ourselves in it. For it was written with us in mind.
From Rav DovBer Pinson
The “Day After”: Purim and the Day After Purim
This is a 17 minute YouTube.
From the Hebrew College
By Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
“You may not turn your back and say amen”
One of my favorite practices on Purim is the mitzvah of mishloach manot — delivering gifts of food to friends and neighbors. Rabbi David Hartman relates this mitzvah to the fact that the Book of Esther, which we read on Purim, does not mention the name of God. Purim speaks to all those times and places in which it is difficult
to discern the presence of the divine in our world. For Hartman, the obligations of Purim teach us that the religious response to the hiddenness of God is radical human responsibility. What do we do when we can’t see God’s face? We turn our faces toward each other, we take care of each other — by delivering gifts of food to friends (mishloach manot) and by giving tzedakah to the poor (matanot la’evyonim).
Why don’t we say a blessing over the mitzvah of mishloach manot? According to the Seridei Esh, R. Yaakov Yechiel Weinberg, the mitzvah of mishloach manot is intended to increase peace, love and friendship in the world— and as such, it is a mitzvah t’midit – a perpetual mitzvah that is incumbent upon us at all times and has no break. It is a mitzvah we can never say we have fulfilled, a mitzvah over which we can never say amen.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Stop hiding; let yourself go free – by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
The festival of Purim (coming up this Saturday) is a holiday of concealment. At Purim we read the Scroll of Esther, a delightfully bawdy Persian court soap opera which doesn’t appear, at first glance, to have much to do with spiritual life or with God. Jewish tradition doesn’t shy away from this oddity — we embrace it and find meaning in it.
The quintessential act of Purim is להתחפש, a reflexive verb which means to dress oneself up or to conceal oneself. We do this when we dress up in costumes on Purim. Esther does this when she hides her Jewishness (until the moment comes for her to reveal herself and in so doing save the day). God does this in concealing God’s-self entirely; God is never even mentioned in the megillah (though to the discerning eye God’s presence may be subtly manifest even so.)
Purim is about the self-reflexive act of hiding. But what happens when we shift that verb and make it no longer reflexive? We get the verb לחפש – to search. And searching is one of the quintessential moves we make before Pesach. On the night before Passover begins, there’s a tradition of lighting a candle and searching our homes for “hidden” hametz (leaven), a physical hide-and-seek game that represents a deeper inner searching. We read in the book of Proverbs (20:27) that our own souls are God’s candle — just as we search for hidden leaven by the light of a physical candle, God uses our souls as candles to illuminate all that’s hidden in the world.
When we search for hametz, we’re not just looking for bread crusts. We’re also seeking spiritual leaven, the puffery of pride and ego, the sour old stuff within us which needs to be discarded in order for us to move toward freedom.
The shift from להתחפש to לחפש, from concealment to searching, is the fundamental move we’re called to make as spring unfolds, as we move from Purim (festival of masks and concealment) to Passover (festival of searching and liberation). At Purim, we may be hiding — from others, and even from ourselves. Maybe it feels dangerous to let ourselves be known. Maybe there are truths we don’t want to admit. Maybe we think there are parts of ourselves we have to hide in order to move freely in the world. Maybe we think we are better off if we conceal the parts of ourselves of which we are ashamed, or the parts of ourselves which don’t meet others’ expectations.
But in order to move toward freedom, we have to turn the reflexive verb outward: we have to move from hiding (from) ourselves to searching for what’s been hidden. If God hides in order that we might seek, then it stands to reason that so do we. We have to unearth precisely our own stuff which we have hidden from the world. We have to unearth precisely our own stuff which we have hidden even from ourselves. The hopes and yearnings that we’ve tried to keep under wraps, the sorrows and fears that we’ve tried to hide, from others and from ourselves.
May we do that unearthing through therapy, or hashpa’ah (spiritual direction), or a writing practice, or a prayer practice. Maybe we do that unearthing through conversations with a trusted friend who can help us see ourselves more clearly than we could see on our own. Maybe we do that unearthing through studying texts and delving into the passages that resonate with us. There are many ways to do the work of searching for who we really are. What’s important is that we light the candle and we do the searching. Passover will come in the fullness of time no matter what, but the journey of the Exodus will mean more if we’re willing to do this inner work.
The hametz we need to root out is not our imperfections (because everyone is imperfect) but the way we try to hide our imperfections, the way we shame ourselves for our imperfections. The internal narrative which says that we are only lovable, or only worthwhile, if we keep parts of ourselves — our quirks, our mistakes, our tenderest places — hidden. The need to conceal oneself can become a kind of Mitzrayim, a place of constriction. In order to emerge from the tight places in our lives, we need to stop hiding. We need to move from concealing ourselves to searching for ourselves in order to let ourselves go free.
And the journey takes us one step further. We move from concealment (Purim) to searching (Pesach) to revelation (Shavuot.) Purim primes that reflexivity: first we own (and prepare to relinquish) our own hiding. Then we search for our deepest truths and begin to experience the freedom of wholly being who we truly are. Only then can we be ready to receive revelation anew. The journey to revelation begins right now. The places where we’ve hidden our hearts from others or from ourselves aren’t impediments to the journey: they are the spark that will ignite the inner spiritual journey of our transformation.
From Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
God’s Hidden Call
Chazal, our Sages, asked a strange question in the Gemara of Chullin (39b): Esther min haTorah minayin? “Where do we find a hint in the Torah to the book of Esther?”, the last book of Tanach to be canonised. The Gemara answers with the words, v’anochi haster astir panai, “I will hide my face on that day.” Hashem’s most fearful warning had always been that there would come a time when there would be hester panim, the concealed face of God, when it would look as if, God forbid, Hashem has stopped communicating with us.
That is how Hazal found a hint of Esther. We know that Esther is one of the only two books in Tanach which don’t contain the name of Hashem, the other one being Shir HaShirim. But where as Shir HaShirim is a book about Hashem’s love for us, Esther is a fearful book because it records the moment when it was resolved Lehashmid laharog ule’abaid et kol hayehudim mina’ar v’ad zakein taf v’nashim beyom echad, “to destroy, to slay, and to exterminate all Jews, young and old, children and women, in a single day,” when the first warrant for genocide against the Jewish people was issued. Purim is the only festival in the Jewish year set entirely in Galut, in Exile. Every other festival is either based on an event that happened in Israel or on the journey toward Israel. Purim alone is set in the place of hester panim, when we are out of Israel and where it is harder to feel the presence of God.
That is the book of Esther. It comes from an almost secularised world, where we search for the presence of God in history and we fail to find it. Yet there is one line in the Megillah that cuts through me like a knife and represents the most powerful statement in Judaism I know that Hashem has not abandoned us.
Towards the end of the fourth chapter, we find Esther telling her uncle Mordechai about all the problems there might be in interceding with King Achashverosh regarding the fate of the Jewish people. Mordechai listens and then responds to her with the famous words, Im haharesh tachrishi, ba’et hazot revach v’hatzlah ya’amod layehudim mimakom acher, “If you are silent and you do nothing at this time somebody else will save the Jewish people.” U’mi yodeia im l’et kazot, higa’at lamalchut? “But who knows, was it not for just this moment that you became a Queen, with access to King Achashverosh in the royal palace?”
This, for me, is the ultimate statement of hashgachah pratit, that wherever we are, sometimes Hashem is asking us to realise why He put us here, with these gifts, at this time, with these dangers, in this place. Hashgachah pratit is our fundamental belief that God never abandons us, that He puts us here with something to do. Even in the worst hiding of God, if you listen hard enough, you can hear Him calling to us as individuals, saying U’mi yodeia im l’et kazot higa’at lamalchut? “Was is not for this very challenge that you are here in this place at this time?”
That is the essence of the first word of the third book of Torah [we started reading last Shabbat] – Vayikra. When you look in a Torah you will notice the word is written with a very small Aleph at the end. Commenting on this, Rashi draws a distinction between the phrases Vayikra el Moshe, “And He [Hashem] called to Moses” and Vayikar el Bilam “And He [Hashem] appeared to Bilam”. The Hebrew language, says Rashi, has two words that sound the same, but are in fact completely different, even opposite, mikrah and mikreh. Mikreh is used to describe something that happens accidentally, that involves no Divine providence. Mikrah, on the other hand, is used to describe a calling from Hashem, specific to you with a particular task involved.
Why, then, is the Aleph – a letter which makes no sound – written small? To teach us that sometimes it can be very hard to hear Hashem’s call. It might even be a silent call. In Hebrew, this is a known as kol demama daka, a voice you can only hear if you are listening. Even in the worst hester panim, Hashem is always calling on us to do something.
One of my great heroes was a man called Victor Frankl, I write about him often. Victor Frankl was a psychotherapist actually working with university students in Vienna and was taken to Auschwitz during the Second World War. There never was in all history greater hester panim than in the Holocaust. Yet Victor Frankl was a man of faith, and he knew Hashem was calling on him to do something even there, even at the gates of Hell itself. He asked himself, what does Hashem want of me, a psychotherapist, in the middle of Auschwitz? He came to the answer, Hashem wants me to give my fellow prisoners, my fellow Jews, a will to live, because only if they have that will, will they have the strength to survive. So he went around to each prisoner that he thought was about to fall into despair, and gave them a role in life, one they had yet to fulfil. This sense of renewed purpose helped force these men, women and children to stay alive, survive Auschwitz, be liberated and then go and do their calling. That is what Victor Frankl heard, even in Auschwitz, a Vayikra with a tiny Aleph.
There is another story of a man named Eddie Jacobson. Eddie was an ordinary Jewish guy from the Lower East Side of New York. When Eddie was a child, his parents moved to Kansas City and there he met a child his own age. Soon they became close school friends, did military service together during the First World War, and decided that when the war was over, they would go into business together. They set up a clothing store in Kansas City, but the business was not a great success and soon they drifted apart. Eddie Jacobson went on being a travelling salesman selling clothes. His friend, Harry S. Truman, took a slightly different route and landed up as President of the United States.
In 1947-48, the Jews of the world needed the support of the United States of America for the state of Israel to be proclaimed and recognised. The State Department was against it and advised the president not to support the creation of the state of Israel. Jews and Jewish organisations tried their utmost to see the President in the White House, and every single attempt was refused. Even the leader of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann, the man who would become the first President of the State of Israel, was refused a meeting.
As time became desperate, somebody remembered that Harry S. Truman had a childhood friend called Eddie Jacobson. So they reached out to Eddie and asked if he could get the President of the United States to meet with Chaim Weizmann. So Eddie phoned up President Truman and said he had to come and see him. Truman’s officials tried to block the meeting, but Truman said “This is my old friend, Eddie, from school, Eddie, from the Army, Eddie, from our shop together! How can I not see this man?”
When Eddie arrived at the White House, Truman said “Eddie, you can talk to me about anything, except Israel.” “Okay”, said Eddie and he stood in the Oval Office, in front of the President of the United States, and began to cry. “Eddie, why are you crying?” asked the President. Eddie pointed to a marble statue in the room and said “Who is that, Harry?” “That’s my hero, Andrew Jackson”, Truman replied. “You really admire this man?” asked Eddie. “Yes.” “And he had an influence over you?” “Yes” said Truman. Then, said Eddie, “I have a hero. His name is Chaim Weizmann. Harry, for my sake, see this man.” Harry looked at Eddie and he knew that he couldn’t say no to his old friend. That is how Chaim Weizmann got to see President Harry S. Truman, and that is how America voted in favour of the creation of the State of Israel. If they had not voted, Israel would not have been brought into being. What’s more, Harry S. Truman made the United States the first country in the world to recognise this State when David Ben Gurion pronounced it.
I don’t know exactly how Hashem writes the script of history, but if it can happen to Eddie Jacobson it can happen to any one of us. U’mi yodeia im l’et kazot higa’at lamalchut? Hashem is calling on each of us, saying there is a reason why we are here, because He has something for us to do, something that only we can do. We can hear Hashem’s voice even when there’s hester panim, when He appears hidden, even when the call, Vayikra, is written with a very small Aleph that you can hardly see and hardly hear.
In the third chapter of Hilchot Teshuvah, The Laws of Repentance, Rambam teaches us how throughout the entire year, we should see ourselves as if we as individuals and the entire world collectively are evenly poised between merit and sin. Our next deed may tilt the balance of our life, it may tilt the balance of somebody else’s life, it may even tilt the balance of the world. We never know when an act of ours will have consequences. Did Esther, growing up with Mordechai, know that one day, the entire future of the Jewish people will rest with her? You never know what significance one friendship or one little moment might have for you and for somebody else that might just change the world.
You don’t have to change the world to change the world. Let me explain. If we really believe, as the Mishnah in Sandedrin, says Nefesh achat k’olam malei, that “A life is like a universe” then if you change one life, you can begin to change the universe the only way any of us can, one life at a time, one day at a time, one act at a time.
We must always ask ourselves, what does Hashem want of me in this place, at this time? Because there is always something Hashem wants of us, and we don’t have to be anyone special to have a sacred task. We can just be a Jewish woman called Esther, or a Jewish man called Eddie, and yet, somehow or another, our acts might have consequences that we cannot even begin to imagine. Even though you may feel sometimes that this is a world and an age in which there is hester panim, where you look for Hashem and you can’t find him, He is still saying to us U’mi yodeia im l’et kazot higa’at lamalchut?, “Was it not for this moment that I placed you here on Earth?”
When Hashem calls, may each of us have the courage to say to ‘Hineini, here I am, Hashem, tell me what to do and I will do it.’ May we go out into the world, walking tall as Jews, walking unafraid, as Jews, and may we be true to our faith and a blessing to others regardless of their faith. May we hear the call of Hashem and answer it. May we all bring blessing to the world.
Chag Purim Sameach!
From Kol Aleph
A Scent of the Soul by David Aladjem
Purim means lots:
Lots of noise
Lots of food
Lots of drink
Maybe too much of everything.
The Sfat Emes had a different idea:
He saw the smell of our joy
Wafting through the air
Filling us with a hint, a scent
Of the perfume of Gan Eden.
A scent can take us to another land
A place far far away
Many years ago.
Yet, it seems like it is
Right here, right now.
Maybe that is what he meant
Lots of noise and food
From the place we yearn to be
Can be a distraction
Leading us astray.
But the perfume of heaven
Feeling that we must turn aside
To see the bush that burns
Leaves us breathless
And is not consumed.
From that place of vision
A place where the perfume ascends
Like the sweet smell of the altar
To a rendezvous with the Divine.
Now, Purim comes into focus
Bringing its own sense to bear
Not vision, not hearing, not touch nor taste
But the most modest of senses
The sense that is humble, like Moses.
Leading us upwards
And as this sense opens like a rose
Our souls open up and we smell the scent of Gan Eden
Lifting us through the fiftieth gate
Until we become
Our own sweet savor.
May this be our lot for Purim.
The Holy Scent of Purim
By Rabbi Cherina Eisenberg
Purim is a holiday that rouses the senses. We engage in the mitzvah of hearing the megillah chanted aloud, we eat symbolic foods like hamentashen, we watch colorful costume parades, and we reach out and touch others through sharing Purim gifts, called mishloach manot.
The one sense unaccounted for is smell.
Smell is the hidden sense of Purim. It is also the most essential, which befits Megillat Esther, in which the most significant parts of the story are hidden.
The Talmud states: “Rava said that one is obligated to make oneself intoxicated (l’bsumei) on Purim until one cannot tell the difference between ‘cursed be Haman’ and ‘blessed be Mordechai’” (B.T. Megillah 7b).
Yehuda Leib Alter, a late 19th-century Hasidic master known as Sfat Emet, makes the connection that the word l’bsumei shares a root with bisamim (fragrance/scent). This demonstrates that, through our sense of smell, we are able to blur the boundaries of knowing the villain from the hero of the Esther narrative, entering into a different type of consciousness in which duality does not exist.
The quintessential symbol for this type of God-consciousness is found in Gan Eden. Here, division and separation from Source do not exist, and all creatures live in peace and harmony. Yet, once humans eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they are expelled from God-consciousness and enter a compartmentalized, complex, and challenging world that we inhabit today. To attain the perspective of Gan Eden, it is not surprising that we might need to become intoxicated to go beyond our rational mind and ego into a new level of consciousness.
Both Mordechai and Esther, the two heroes of the story, are compared to scents.
The Talmud explains that Mordechai’s name can be found in parsha Ki Tissa (Ex. 30:23), which states God’s command to Moses to create a fragrant oil of spices that will anoint and consecrate the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting), the ark, the altar, lampstand, table and utensils. This sacred oil’s first ingredient is mar deror or myrrh. In Aramaic, mar deror translates to mira dachyia, which, when said with a bit of an accent and a slight slurring of the tongue, sounds remarkably like Mordechai (B.T. Chullin 139b). Although a winding path of logic, Mordechai’s connection to the sense of smell showcases the power of his holy perfume, which had the ability to help save the Jewish People in the Purim story.
Esther’s connection to scents can be seen through her Hebrew name, Hadassah (B.T. Megilla 10b), derived from the word hadas, meaning myrtle, which is one of the four species used on Sukkot, particularly prized for its fragrance (B.T. Sukkot 37b). However, her given name of Esther – אסתר – comes from the root meaning hidden, and contains an even more nuanced relationship to scent, God, and Gan Eden.
When spelled backwards, these letters represent the initials of the words for rosh (head/top), toch (middle), and sof (end). These are combined with the letter aleph, which is not only the beginning of the Aleph Bet, but moreover, serves as a euphemism for God’s holy four letter name. In gematria, the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) numerically equals 26, as does the letter aleph, when viewed through its parts: א is comprised of a yud (10) on either side of a vav (6), making 10+10+6 = 26. Esther’s name symbolizes a God consciousness that goes beyond the confines of time and space.
The Hebrew word, emet (truth), shares the same sense of timelessness found in the word Esther. Containing an aleph (the first letter), mem (the middle letter) and taf (the final letter) of the Hebrew alphabet, emet conveying a truth that goes beyond human conceptions, limitations, and preconceived notions. Perhaps that is why we recite the name YHWH with the word emet twice daily after the third paragraph of the shema, proclaiming: “Adonai Eloheichem Emet” –YHWH, your God is truth! Esther reminds us of God’s truth that transcends time and space, which is hidden – yet present – in all creation.
This hidden truth is the God consciousness of Gan Eden. Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Shapira of Dinov writes that the sense of smell was the only one of the senses unaffected by the sin of the snake in Gan Eden (B’nei Yisachar, Mamrei Chodesh, Sivan 4). His proof text is Genesis 3:6-8, in which we learn that “the woman saw….she took…he ate…they heard”. However, smell is not included in these narrative descriptions.
Thus, only through smell, we can once again attain that state of God consciousness. Each week, we are invited into that opportunity through the ritual of havdalah. After reciting, “…and for the Jews there was light, happiness, joy and honor” (Esther 8:16), we continue by offering brachot, including one that expressing our gratitude to God for “borei minei v’samim,” creating species of fragrance.
The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 297:1) explains that we smell these sweet spices in an attempt to comfort ourselves from the sadness of losing our nishama yitera (additional soul, B. T. Taanit 27b), which enriches our capacity to experience the love, unity, and peace of Shabbat, our mini-taste of Gan Eden each week. These spices have the ability to arouse within us the knowledge and conscious memory that the God-consciousness is ever-present all week long, even if it is often hidden from our view.
Scientists confirm that the olfactory receptors are our oldest sense and are most highly connected to our emotions and memory. This is why the smell of your grandmother’s kitchen, or a beloved’s perfume, can elicit memories and emotions quicker and more intensely than our other senses.
As we smell, chemicals and air enter our nose and connect to our brain, allowing us to remember that which we might otherwise forget. Smells guide us back to Gan Eden, to a place in which the duality of “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai” do not exist. This place, beyond our rational mind, requires that we become l’bsumei, intoxicated with a fragrance powerful enough to subdue our ego and intellect so we can see beyond our human perception into God-consciousness.
Purim offers us a chance to imagine and live in this state of being, remembering the hidden secret beyond the confusion of our human existence by inhaling the scent of God-consciousness. As our mind whirls around in the desire to make sense of the senselessness of the Purim story and our own lives, we can become aware of God’s presence in the air and return to our natural state of being: a place in which – perhaps, if we are very still – we can recall the moment when the ruach hakodesh (the holy wind) blew into our nostrils and created our living being.
Like smelling salts, the aroma of Purim can revive us, providing clarity of God-consciousness with a single whiff of sweet, reyach nichoach, pleasing fragrance.
This year as I co-lead our Purim festivities, I will carry a small sachet of bisamim to our Megillah reading, a reminder that in order to truly appreciate this holiday, I must look beyond the surface delights of taste, touch, sight and sound, and connect with the holy scent hidden in this holiday of Purim.
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
At the beginning of this exercise, everyone should put on a mask. Let us spend a time looking at each other with masks on. Let us spend a time behind our masks, in silence. This will be an exercise in reality with a mask, the unmasking of reality, the deep reality that lies at essences, beneath surfaces and underneath the mask.
Purim is the holiday of masks. Question: what does it mean to wear a mask, or what does it mean to be the master of the mask, or discuss the progression from one whose mask is the master to one who is the master of the mask?
It may also be instructive to think of the year as an inner journey, a spiral of inner development, so that each holiday is related to each other one in some significant way. If we are thinking about Pesach, coming soon, as the celebration of our freedom, both the freedom of a people and the inner freedom of the individual, then we might want to think about Purim as the last stop in the inner spiral of awareness before we celebrate release and freedom.
Now let us reconsider what it means to be master of our masks, as a penultimate stop along the way to freedom. Master of the mask, demonstrating what? Why is that necessary for the freedom story? What does it signify to be master of the mask and why is it necessary before Pesach?
To the story:
Let us note that the book of Esther, the story of the Megillah, has one glaring omission: there is no expressed mention of G*d, not once, in the entire story. What is the significance of that?
How is it to unmask the G*d story in Esther, where is the G*d-story in the Book of Esther? Think about the God-story in the book of Esther as unmasking, like unmasking the G*d-story in the world, in existence. So is the G*d-story in existence — somewhere deep beneath the mask –the deep story, the really real.
Let’s take some time speaking about that. Or – thinking it. Feeling it. The G*d-story, the deep story that is lurking within, the search for it, the attachment to it, this a part of the Purim unmasked story.
It’s all there, unmask it.
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield
On Four Purim Practices
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
Kabbalistic Secrets of Esther
Truism: The name of God does not appear in the Book of Esther.
Truth: The names “Elohim” and “YHWH” do not appear.
We speak about God with many other words, too: Majesty, Presence, Infinity, Source – words important in Kabbalah. And we can find some of those words in the text of Esther. At first glance, they seem not to refer to God. Did the author of Esther hide Kabbalistic hints to God in the story’s language?
A simple “yes” would seem anachronistic. Esther was written in the 5th century BCE – 1500 years before Kabbalistic concepts took shape. However, as our sages say, eyn mukdam u’me’uchar baTorah – time does not exist in Torah. Empirically, earlier writings provide language and themes for later ones; later writings respond to earlier ones. Theologically, scripture expresses Divine speech, which is deeper than human speech. Divine speech carries multiple meanings and possibilities. These hide in stories, sentences, phrases, individual words and other units of meaning, waiting to be discovered.
What has been hiding in the text of Esther, waiting to be discovered?
Kabbalists teach that God Itself is infinite (eyn sof), unknowable, and hidden. God is revealed to us through spiritual qualities (sefirot), such as wisdom, love, beauty, endurance, majesty, presence, and other portals. Some teachers describe the qualities as livushim, garments of God: they enable God to go out in public, but hide the inner God.
Most popular of these spiritual qualities is Shechinah, experienced by many as God’s maternal presence, and known also by the name Malchut, majesty. Midrash teaches that Shechinah accompanied Jews through their exile in Babylonia, which later became Persia, Esther’s home. In the Book of Esther, Shechinah seems to be everywhere in the Persian royal court: the word malchut appears 17 times.
When Esther prepares to approach the King to save her people, va’tilbash malchut – she clothes herself in garments of majesty (5:1). Literally, she puts on her ceremonial Queen’s dress. Kabbalistically, she puts on the guise of Shechinah. Midrashically, she protects the exiled Jews. Metaphorically, she reveals God’s presence, from which no one is ever exiled.
After the Jews are saved, Mordehai enters the public square b’levush malchut – clothed in garments of majesty (8:15). The city is happy; the Jews are illuminated; many Persians convert to Judaism. Literally, Mordehai has been promoted to prime minister, dresses the part, and shows the power of his people. Kabbalistically, he too wears the guise of Shechinah, revealing her constant majestic presence. Spiritually, all who see are awakened and transformed.
Hidden and revealed. Hidden and revealed. This, says Kabbalah, is God’s dynamic nature. Linguistic patterns in Esther’s book lay bare the teaching. Eight times, significant adjectives are paired with the word malchut. These include keter (crown or portal), devar (revelatory word), kol (totality), levush (disguise). Through the portal of the open-ended word, Esther says, we can experience a total mystical union with God. Though the experience is temporary, it grants us a permanent vision: ability to recognize Eyn Sof behind all its disguises.
May the revelation of Shechinah this Purim transform you; may you know no exile this year.
My two favorite words in the Talmud is “ma’ee matzlei?” / “what does God pray?”
Though the gemara has an answer, today’s most important question is – what is your answer???
If you were to stop for a moment and listen, what does your heart and soul tell you God is praying today? What is the unique prayer that God has crafted for you and is waiting for you to pause and hear, to pause and receive???
Every day of the year we are accountable to God hearing our daily prayers, Purim is the day to hear the prayer that God is praying for the world we dwell in, for the life we shape, for the personal being we cultivate.
Please, allow yourself to take a moment to turn to the One and Only, to tell God, “I see You, I hear You!”
How do you need God to dress up today? And what prayer have you been waiting a lifetime for God to offer on your behalf???
May you give yourself the gift of pausing to hear this prayer today!
Purim sameach and much love!
Gragger: The Mystical Angle
From American Jewish World Service
Rabbi Sharon Brous
Masks and Flasks, Love and Light
When I finally got back to my Upper West Side apartment at the end of the day the planes hit the World Trade Center and the world changed forever, there was a raging party at the Underground, a bar on my corner. I heard the pounding bass from almost a block away, and as I got closer I saw windows trembling and drunk men and women pouring into the street shouting “Carpe Diem!” Having spent the day counseling an endless stream of distraught people who walked into the synagogue desperate for a sense of stability, a way to help and answers to unanswerable questions, I was shaken by the cognitive dissonance between catastrophe and celebration.
The sudden realization of the capriciousness of life leads some to search for meaning and comfort among the faithful, while others surrender to the meaninglessness—determined to eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we may die.
Purim, considered by some the most electrifying day of the Jewish year, instructs us to do both. For one day, we come face to face with the chilling reality that no matter how hard we work to control our lives, how diligently we plan and prepare, life is dramatically and inescapably unpredictable. “Life changes fast,” Joan Didion writes. “Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.” Or, in the language of the megillah, on a whim the Jews of Shushan saw their whole world turn upside down—“grief turned into joy, a day of mourning into a day of celebration.”1
The reversibility of fortune, the capriciousness of life, is a message Purim shares with Yom Kippur. Known in the Talmud as yom k’purim, “a day like Purim,” Yom Kippur compels us to reflect on the unavoidable uncertainty of our lives. But on Yom Kippur we dive into this terrifying reality with austerity, reflection and spiritual wakefulness, whereas on Purim we respond by celebrating, imbibing and masquerading.
Our Rabbis teach that on Purim we are to ply ourselves with wine, drinking ad d’lo yada—until we can no longer tell the difference between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordecai.”2 We wear costumes that simultaneously mask who we are and reveal the part of ourselves we work all year to hide. We eat, drink, dance and laugh in the face of our darkest fears—the possibility that human life and human history can change on a dime, that everything we know to be true could be a farce, that everything we love might disappear in an instant, that there is more chaos than order in the world. It is an exercise in radical spiritual destabilization. And the response is the closest Jews come to carpe diem—one day a year when our otherwise exacting tradition understands that sometimes drunken revelry is the only reasonable response to desperate vulnerability.
Yet Purim is more than a day of rowdy gluttony. It also dictates acts of generosity and community: “Make them days of feasting and gladness and of mishloah manot (sending portions of food) one to another, and matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor).”3 We embrace the confusion and moral ambiguity of Purim with a renewed commitment to social transformation, responding to the mess of life by giving our family and friends sweet gifts and by giving generously
1 Megillat Esther 9:22.
2 Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 7a. 3 Megillat Esther 9:22.
to the poor. In other words, the only way to make sense of the absurd randomness of life and the social order is to honor the loving relationships that sustain us and work to address the imbalance of fortunes that leaves some with abundance and others with nothing. Mishloah manot and matanot l’evyonim come to reinforce that while we cannot control the world, we can control the way we live in it.
Remarkably, we learn regarding matanot l’evyonim that, “We [should not be] exceedingly precautious with money on Purim. Rather, we give to everyone who puts out a hand.”4 Today is not the day for discernment or judgment. Give, regardless of what you fear he might do with the money. Give, not because you have determined that she deserves, but because she has asked.
This mitzvah acknowledges our lack of control over our destinies: Give generously today, for tomorrow it could be you begging for a little spare change. Give because you know in your heart that it is only an accident of history that you are here and the poor are there. Give because it would be intellectually and morally corrupt to tell the story of our people’s miraculous triumph, to celebrate history’s reversibility, without sharing our bounty with those who sit now on the other side of fortune.
So Purim is simultaneously an acknowledgment of life’s meaninglessness and unpredictability and a wholehearted last-ditch effort to pierce the chaos and shatter the darkness. “There is no greater or more wonderful joy,” says the Mishnah Berurah, “than to make happy the heart of a poor person, an orphan or a widow. This is how we become God-like.”5 Even from the heart of darkness, we refuse to cede agency. We make up for God’s absence in the Purim narrative by redoubling our capacity for God-like living in our own. We respond to the threat of emptiness by pouring more kindness and sweetness into the world.
May it be a day of masks and flasks and love and light for you. Chag Purim Sameach.
From Rabbi Mishael Zion
Being the Servant of Ahashverosh
From Rabbi Gershon Winkler
THE SCROLL OF ESTHER:
JUDAISM’S ONE AND ONLY
A Teaching from Gershon…
That’s right. Some o f you may already have known about this, read it in a Jewish book on trivia, or heard it from a teacher of Judaica, or on the History Channel. The holy Book of Esther makes absolutely no mention of God. Judaism’s story of the most important miraculous event ever experienced by an entire people outside of the Revelation at Sinai – the overnight turnabout of a tragic decree that would have annihilated the entire Jewish population of the Persian empire some 2400 years ago – makes no mention of God. Such an awesome miracle!! And no mention of God. Nil. Zilch. What was Esther thinking when she composed this sacred writ? After all, she was considered by our sages as among the prophets of Israel in her time, and as among the few prophets of Israel whose writ was canonized and included in our Sacred Scriptures, our Bible – the Tanakh! And yet she leaves God out of her recounting of the magnanimous miracle of Purim? And why would the elders of our people have chosen to include such a Godless writ as part of our holy scriptures?
Blasphemy! How dare…
Okay. Of course there’s some meaning behind all of this. Some reasonable reasoning.
Esther taught us something very important. She reigned as queen and as prophetess in an era that saw the climactic end to the First Jewish Commonwealth. She knew this was the very end, and foresaw that even though her son would permit the exiled Jewish nation to return to the Homeland, they would never again enjoy total independence as a nation of their own as they had until a few decades earlier before the Babylonians invaded Israel and destroyed the Temple. She knew that the ensuing centuries of Jewish “statehood” was bogus, as we would continue to remain under the rule and polity of Persia, then Greece, then Egypt, then Assyria, and finally Rome. She knew that the Great Exilic period had now begun, and we had to wean ourselves somehow from the breast of the Motherland and rediscover our relationship, our Covenant with God, on alien shores, in a whole new paradigms where miracles would no longer grace the land in the conspicuous fashion in which we had known them yesterday. As our prophet and teacher, she deliberately wrote God out of the picture, challenging us to shift our awareness of the God of Conspicuousness to our awareness of the God of Subtlety. While in the past we were accustomed to experiencing God overtly through blatant and dramatic miracles, we were now being taught by Esther to experience God covertly in the heavy disguise of everyday life. And so she wrote the account of the Great Miracle of Purim absent any obvious allusion to any miraculous, supernatural intervention by God, let alone any mention of even so much as any of the names of God – sort of like the game “Find Waldo.” From now on, we would have to find God and the supernatural within the “natural” occurrences of everyday life circumstances. That is what Esther intended in the very deliberate writ of the Purim story, as if to challenge us: can you find the “hand of God” so to speak in the miraculous turnabout of events in the Purim story? In your own story? Or must it still be spelled out for you? Are you ready to graduate from the loud drama of roaring thunder on the mountain to the still small whisper on that very same mountain? Remember how God was trying to get this number across to the prophet Elijah a few hundred years earlier? “And a great wind split the mountain and shattered into pieces huge boulders – but God was not in the stormy wind. And after the wind, came a deafening roar – but God was not in the deafening roar. And after the deafening roar, came a great fire – but God was not in the fire. And after the fire, came a very light whisper…” and therein is where Elijah encounters God, in the stillness of a very faint whisper (First Kings 19:11-13).
If you think about it, you and I have a very difficult time leaving God out of our conversations, even within a few sentences, whether we believe in God, or not. We mention God when we curse, we mention God when we get a paper cut, we mention God when we get a phone call from someone we don’t want to talk to, we mention God when we’re pissed, we mention God when we are okay, we mention God when we are not okay, we mention God when we speak of our faith, we mention God when we speak of our doubt…
So, can you imagine what it took for Esther to leave God out of nine chapters?!! Great skill, yes. Even greater restraint.
But being a prophet, she was also a mystic. That is essentially the meaning of her name: אסתר– Esther — which translates literally as “I will conceal,” and conceal she did. The Name of God, that is. Yes, that very ineffable God Name we know as the Tetragrammaton, the י-ה-ו-ה. She skillfully concealed it as part of the practice she wanted us to engage, to discover God hidden within the subtleties of life, within the mundane, the camouflaged miracles of our every breath, our every moment of good health, good feeling, and even the grueling challenges that ennoble us and catapult us to heights of personal evolution we never thought possible. Where is this Name concealed? In the Purim story where Esther says to the king: “Let the king and Haman come to the party I have prepared for him today”(Esther 5:4). Or, in the original Hebrew:
יבוא המלך והמן היום אל המשתה אשר עשיתי לו
Of course, you and I are wondering together why, of all the passages in the story, would Esther have chosen to include the name of the evil Haman as part of her cryptic encoding of this very holy God Name? According to many of the ancient sages, however, wherever “king” is mentioned in the Scroll of Esther without a name, it is a cryptic reference to God, to the One Who Reigns over all the worlds (Midrash Abba Gurion 1:15 and Zohar, Vol. 3, folio 109a). As for “Haman,” he represents all that is topsy-turvy in this world, all of the yuk, the inexplicable evil, the so-called Dark forces. The prophetess thus incorporates this invite into the Sacred God Name because she is writing the following prophecy: “Let the king [God] together with Haman [all that appears antithetical to God] come to the great feast that I have prepared for him” — not for them, in the plural, but for him in the singular, joining the two as one. That one day, a feast shall be prepared, so to speak, that will unify the seeming contradictory qualities of the Divine Attributes such as Mercy and Judgment, Good and Evil, Light and Darkness, for all opposites emanate from and are enabled by the One God, as is written: “And you will then know that I am God and there is no other, who fashions Light and creates Darkness, maker of peace and creator of evil. I am God, Who does all of this” (Isaiah 45:7).
Indeed, we look forward to that day when the king and Haman join together in the One Root that they both share, so that we can finally party. This is the true meaning behind the Feast of Purim. It is a prophetic feast symbolic of our hope not for tomorrow, but for Today.
After all, the king’s name in the Purim story is Achash’verosh אַחַשְוֵרֹש. Change the vowels around and you get Ach Sho’resh אַחשוֹרֵש- “Fellowship of the Root.”
(Move aside Tolkien.)
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Raza the Secret of Purim
March 5, 2012
The Secret of One and Many
Confirmed and accepted,
A day like Purim
is Yom Kippur,
all our prayers are given in we,
the communal atonement.
we removed the obstacles,
became masters of the masks,
the surfaces released
and God appeared everywhere,
the unexpressed everything.
We are one with each other,
this is our joy.
Because of what happened to us,
we confirmed and accepted,
singular and plural.
That’s why Yom Kippur is a day like Purim.
On Yom Kippur we diminished it,
we increased our joy
by becoming one,
with each other.
we will become one
EXCERPT FROM THE PURIM READER: Chapter 6
The Deepest Form of Joy- The Joy of Purim
“When Adar enters we increase in joy” (Ta’anis, 29a).
There are five principal types of joy, corresponding to the five times the Torah asks us to rejoice, above and beyond the basic Mitzvah of being happy and joyous at all times. Four of these joy ‘types’ correspond to the four letters of Hashem’s name, the Yud-Hei-Vav-Hei, and the fifth level corresponds to the crown above the Yud.
1: Physical Joy
Physical joy corresponds to Shabbos and the final or ‘lower’ Hei of Hashem’s name. The lower Hei represents the sefirah of Malchus, or ‘nobility’. On Shabbos, we celebrate the completion of creation, by resting from certain creative activities. It is a mitzvah to be joyous on Shabbos (Sifri, Bamidbar 10:10). The joy of Shabbos is one in which the entire physical self is incorporated, resting from the day and taking pleasure in it with food, drink sleep and so forth.
2: Emotional Joy
Emotional joy corresponds to each Yom Tov/holiday, and the Vav of Hashem’s Name. The Vav (the six letter in the Alephbet) within the Name represents the six basic emotions. The Torah tells us, “You shall rejoice on your festival, and you shall be only joyous.” On Yom Tov, we can feel a heightened sense of Hashem’s love for us, for example on Pesach, when we celebrate Hashem taking us out of Egypt. This is an emotional joy, a joy of feeling loved by the Beloved, an emotional joy.
3: Intellectual Joy
Intellectual joy corresponds to Sukkos, and the ‘upper’ Hei. The Torah mentions three times that we should be joyous on Sukkos (Yalkut Shimoni, Parshas Emor 247:654). These three times allude to the three intellectual traits, Chochma, Bina and Daas/ wisdom, understanding and knowledge. The Torah says we should sit in a sukkah “…l’maan daas ki b’sukkos…” “in order that you ‘know’ that I sat you in sukkos.” The idea of the holiday of Sukkos is therefore to bring Daas, deeper intellect, down into our lives. Sukkos culminates in the celebration of Simchas Torah, ‘the joy of knowing’. This is a mindful joy, a joy of being aware of your blessings and the miracles Hashem does for you the individual and you as part of the collective.
4: Spiritual Joy
Spiritual or prophetic joy is the nature of Simchas Beis Hashoeiva, the nights of the intermediate days of Sukkos called the ‘Joy of the Water Drawing.” This corresponds with the Yud of Hashem.
In Temple times, the joy of this event was so overwhelming that the sages of the time declared, “One who did not see the joy of Simchas Beis Hashoeiva did not see joy in his life.” Tosefos, in Tractate Sukkah, says that the word hashoei’eiva, ‘drawing’, alludes to the fact that the participants drew down prophecy, as they danced with joy. On this day we can tap into ru’ach ha-kodesh, ‘holy inspiration’, and prophecy. This is a spiritual form of joy, a joy of expanded and expansive consciousness.
5: Being Joy
Paradox and the joy of being, is the joy related to Purim, and it is symbolized by the crown of the Yud.
This crown is ‘beyond’ the four letters of Hashem’s name, and Purim is like Yom Kippur, is lifnei Hashem/before Hashem, but literally, ‘beyond Hashem’, as-it-were. This alludes to the Essence which is beyond the opposites of Divine and mundane, and yet includes them both.
The joy of Purim includes all the four types of joy, above, but also transcends them. This joy cannot be limited by definitions or descriptions, even by the description ‘unlimited joy’. It is beyond joy; it is joy ad d’lo yada/until you do not know, beyond what is known as joy. On the other hand, the first letters of ad d’lo yada spell the word yada—‘knowing’; the joy of Purim also includes every kind of joy.
This is why our sages say that in the Era of Moshiach, all the holidays will be nullified, except Purim (Shocheir Tov, Mishlei 9). Regarding this statement, R. S’Z Auerbach gives an interesting Halachic ruling. One aspect of Purim will indeed be nullified: the mitzvah of drinking until we transcend knowledge, ad d’lo yada.
The deeper meaning of this ruling is that now, living in exile and hardship, we need to ‘go out of ourselves’ in order to be absolutely joyous and access the realm of Keser. However, in a Moshiach reality, we will be absolutely joyous in every situation, and we will naturally embody the realm of Divine paradox. Therefore we will not need to use drink or any other means of entering transcendent states of consciousness.
Adar is the matrix that gives rise to Purim, so much so that every day of Adar sparkles with the light of Purim. So much so, that under certain circumstances the unique mitzvah of Purim–chanting the Megillah–can be fulfilled anytime during Adar, not only on the day of Purim.
All throughout the month of Adar, we have the power to convert cynical laughter into positive and holy laughter, and anxious doubt into positive doubt.
May the power of this month bring true and lasting joy to all of us
Rav DovBer Pinson
From Amichai Lau-Lavie
The Dress: A Purim Fairy Tale
The dress, blue and billowing, appeared out of nowhere and vanished right back. Maybe it never really existed? The facts don’t matter much. This is a different kind of knowing. The dress, a perfect fit, taught me the most unusual and subtle of Jewish commandments: Know yourself by transforming yourself: turn reality upside down, silly and sacred, for just one day a year. A mask of sorts, the dress transformed me into another, teaching me how to be my very self by being, briefly, not myself at all.
‘On the Holiday of Purim’, instructs the Talmud, ‘one must be sufficiently intoxicated so as not to know the difference between the evil Haman and the righteous Mordechai.’ As far as the rigid system of Jewish laws goes — this is a wild card, obligating the pious to step beyond the safe and ordinary codes of conduct, endorsing chaos and the blurring of boundaries. The commandment originates in the Biblical scroll of Esther, echoing the moment in which the tables are turned and the Jewish would-be-victims seize control: ve’nahpoch hu — upside down, topsy-turvy, and transgression as a state of mind. Purim commemorates this mythic moment with an obligatory annual day of celebration complete with drinking beyond capacity and dressing up. It’s a complicated commandment, rarely fully obeyed. It was always my favourite. From an early age — as young as five years old, I’d wait for Purim. As soon as Yom Kippurim was over I’d start planning my costumes. The masks and make believe, the fabrics of fabrication, this carnival of imagination, gave me permission to play, to pretend, to paint outside the rigid lines of religious regulations.
Only many years later I would learn how deeply connected Purim and Yom Kippurim are — each offering the human soul another attempt at change and transformation. But as a child I cared only for the shiny fabrications of self: A medieval troubadour in green velvet, Dr. Doolittle with stuffed animals pinned to my hat, a British Palace Guard, an astronaut. But mostly, and most often, I’d dress as a girl: my cousin Rachel, Mary Poppins, an old Russian Babushka, a bride. There was that time I dressed as a princess, and went with mother and a basket of chocolate covered strawberries to visit Tante Jenny in her nursing home nearby. She held court in her immaculate tiny lounge, barely seeing, wrapped in a floor length evening gown, silvery and shining, from those days in Berlin, wrapped in a fur, dripping with diamonds. Her fragile friends, in jewels and ball gowns, sat around her, sipping cognac from crystal goblets, laughing a lot and loving my costume. That was her last Purim. And that was the last time I was permitted to wear a dress on Purim. ‘You are a big boy now’, mother explained as she drove us back home. I was 9. ‘Enough is enough’.
There is another commandment, a religious law, prohibiting cross-dressing. Chapter 22 in the Book of Deuteronomy is perfectly clear: ‘A woman must not wear the
garments of man, nor may men wear the dress of a woman — these are abominations.’ (Deut. 22:5)
But somehow, sometimes, the forbidden blurs, as commandments collide, crossing over the invisible boundaries of proscribed and prohibited, familiar and feared. And there, and then, in that no man’s land of legal obscurity, the threshold of Purim, is when the dress appeared, twice in a lifetime, shaking things up.
It was blue, crisp cotton, with white polka dots, puffy short sleeves, and a full skirt and it showed up in the costume box, just like that, on the day before Purim, a few months after Tante Jenny died. The costume box was a large trunk, stationed along the wall in our back yard, next to the plum tree. Lace curtains became veils inside that box, and ragged rags turned to magic cloaks. On Saturday mornings, after we came back from synagogue, the box would open and we would play: bull fights with Gypsy the dog, weddings under the grand piano.
I hadn’t seen this dress before but somehow knew it once belonged to my mother. I vaguely remembered a black and white photograph of hers as a very young woman, smiling, radiant, lit by a Mediterranean sun, a dark dress with white dots tight on her body.
Slippers appeared, too: Black, pointy, with low heels, open at the back. I slipped them on, and wore the dress, and trotted out into the street, one hand pinching the hem of the dress, the other clutching the black velvet skullcap, which I had taken off. It was mid afternoon, and the streets were quiet and empty as I made my way, heels clicking on the pavement, off to meet my friends at a pre Purim party. The walk was long and I remember the heat, and the quiet, an occasional glance from a passing driver, slowing down, a figure in a window, pulling curtains aside to get a better look. I remember the shame, and the sinking feeling in my stomach that something was terribly wrong and that nothing is the same as it used to be or will be again.
No other costumes were worn that day at my friends’ house. One of the girls put on makeup; another one wore a large beret. None of the boys did. Except me. There’s a photograph: we are all on the street, in front of Tami’s house. One of the girls is holding two fingers behind some boy’s head. Everyone is laughing. I’m sitting on the floor, slightly off to the side, legs stretched ahead, hands leaning back and tongue sticking out at the camera, black slippers off, but visible in the frame. Were there tears? Did I walk home alone? I don’t remember. Mother was right. Enough was enough. It was the last time I put on a costume for Purim, of any sort at all. Purim became insignificant, minor, and somewhat tolerable. And with time, the same attitude took over my religious life: practiced, but not with fervor. Nothing was as it used to be.
And then, twenty years later, she returned.
It was the morning before Purim. I opened my closet, at home in downtown New York City, to get dressed for work. An unfamiliar shape and colour caught my eye. A dress, blue, billowing, with white polka dots was hanging, simply, among my suits.
I didn’t question its existence or origin. It smelled faintly of familiar perfume.
And it fit just right. That night I wore it to the Synagogue, dressing up, for the first time in all those years. There may have been shoes too, or makeup, perhaps a wig. The scroll of Esther was chanted, the music started, I danced, carefully at first. We were laughing a lot, and sipping cognac from flasks and, later, crystal goblets. Free to be someone else I was more myself than ever before. The dress was just a garment but I wore it on the inside, too.
I wore it the next day, visiting friends for Purim feasts, giggling, giddy, delivering little baskets of chocolate covered strawberries, Hershey kisses, bottles of wine. She slowly emerged — a wise widow, teaching and preaching deep secrets I did not know I knew — yet all who listened loved and wanted more. Purim was back — a carnival of colors, a masquerade of myth and magic, permission to ponder and penetrate secrets, to peel off a mask and wear another, or perhaps, none at all. At some point I walked up a staircase, hearing the click-clack of high heels on marble, the familiar sound of my mother, aunts, grandmother, coming up to tuck me in and say goodnight. The heels were mine, but whose were the memories? I paused on the staircase, breathless with the knowledge that I was them, all of them, understood them for the first time, and knew who I was and why I loved them, and loved me, just as I was, perhaps, again, for the very first time.
And then, at dusk, I took the dress off in the bathroom, hanging it up before changing back into the ordinary. It was left alone in the bathroom for just a moment when the fire began. Was it the candle that caught on cotton? Was there a candle at all? When I ran back, in stockings, smoke filled the bathroom and soon the apartment, and the alarm was wailing and the dress was gone.
No photographs were taken that day, and no tears spilled. But the singed smell lingered in the bathroom, like mystery, like loss. Fact or fiction? Was there really a dress at all? Ad D’lo Yada — The Commandment of Purim is to not know at all and none of this is about real knowledge, hard facts. It doesn’t really matter. Purim has never been the same again, and nor have I. She wrapped me tightly, blue and perfect, reminding me to live and learn and laugh and love and care for the most complex of all commandments, Jewish, human, timeless: Know yourself to know the other— become yourself, with all true colours of compassion, polka dots, permission, tears and fears and courage: at least one day a year.
Is Passover connected to Purim?
What if the Haggadah is an operating manual, a yearly guide, to help orient us through the intellectual process of finding ourselves and learning how the world works? Furthermore, what if the purpose is to link what we learn from the searching and questioning of everything we see, use, and do on Passover, to a midway point on Yom Kippur, which is also a time of intensive soul searching and questioning and continuing on to the ultimate goal of arriving at a level of self actualization, faith, trust and maturity such as existed in the Purim story.
As previously noted, Purim has no mention of God whatsoever, yet the hidden hand of God is everywhere. The story of Purim is replete with startling coincidences that thwart court intrigues, diabolical plots and a heinous nihilistic scheme.
Passover, a Torah mandated holiday to be observed without fail by every generation, is ironically abrogated by a fast initiated by Esther a little known Jewish orphan, chosen in a beauty contest as the Persian King’s new wife.
In the story of Purim, inconceivably the entire Jewish population unites to observe this questionable three day fast over Passover on Esther’s behalf.
So why the reason for this puzzling fast which thus connects Purim and Passover?
One of the main lessons of Purim is that there are no “coincidences” in life. Though indiscernible, the hidden hand of God is obviously at work throughout Megillat (Story) of Esther .
In contrast, the Passover Haggadah (Story) elaborates painstakingly on the overt hand of God in the miracle of Passover. In fact, the essence of the story of Passover is God’s clear intervention in freeing the Israelites from slavery.
Could it be that one connection is in the “timing” of the Holidays? Timing is in fact the very essence of what constitutes the underpinning of most miracles.
Passover falls in Nissan—the “First” month of the Jewish Calendar. So perhaps the Haggadah is essentially a beginner’s guide to a year long searching and questioning process. Yom Kippur’s emphasis on introspective soul searching is thus indeed the midway point. Purim, which falls exactly a month before Passover, and therefore the final month in the Jewish Calendar is a graduation celebration in that we have attained the insight, trust, and faith to no longer need saving by overt miracles.
Posted by Malka
In addition to all the points above, Queen Esther was from the Tribe of Benjamin, as was Mordechai, while most of the Jews in Persia were from the Tribe of Judah.
Yet,incredibely this additional point of possible contention too wasoverlooked, and all the Jews united as one people to fast on Pesach, going against everything that they would normally have believed in.
The rabbis hold that in Messianic times the Book of Esther will be the only one to remain from the scriptures. How amazing is that? Especially since it also is the only that the name of G-d is not ever mentioned!
The story of Purim ultimately encourages us to look beyond reality, unify as one people, and forgo judgement and trust the good in each other.
Perhaps the greatest and most incredulous miracle of Purim was how all the Jewish people remarkably united and rallied and placed their complete trust in Queen Esther, a woman they really didn’t know, who was married to a non-Jewish King, and she was advocating that everyone fast on Pesach.
It is generally accepted in the rabbinic tradition that the original three-day “Fast of Esther” mentioned in chapter 4 of Book of Esther occurred on the 14th, 15th, and 16th days of Nisan, these being the eve and first two days of Passover.
Esther had reasoned to Mordechai that it would be better to fast on one Pesach lest they all be destroyed and thus never be able to observe future Pesachim.
May Purim always become a symbol of such absolute unity, trust and respect among all Jews!
For a very different kind of Purim music:
The Budapest Klezmer Band playing “Purim.”
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
Purim Katan: a koan of a festival
In a leap year, as previously noted, there are two months of Adar. Each month of Adar has a 14th. On the 14th of the second Adar, we’ll celebrate Purim. On the 14th of the first Adar, we celebrate “Purim Katan,” “Little Purim.” Because leap years arise only seven times in every nineteen-year cycle, Purim Katan is a relatively rare occurrence. So what does one do on Purim Katan? The rabbis of the Mishna tell us the following:
There is no difference between the fourteenth of the first Adar and the fourteenth of the second Adar save in the matter of reading the Megillah, sending mishloach manot (reciprocal gifts of food), and gifts to the poor. (Megillah, 6b)
Let’s unpack that. The Mishna is telling us that there is no difference whatsoever between the two Purims — except the actual acts whose performance signifies Purim! On Little Purim, we don’t read from the scroll of Esther, we don’t send mishloach manot, and we don’t give charity to the poor. So what can it mean to say that there is no difference between them, when at first glance it appears that they have nothing in common save their name? (I can’t help thinking of the quote from The Muppets Take Manhattan: “It’s just like taking an ocean cruise, only there’s no boat and you don’t actually go anywhere.”)
But I think we can find, in the koan of this invisible festival, a deep teaching.
Sometimes our celebrations take visible forms. Reading the megillah, dressing in costume, making noise to drown out the name of Haman — sending mishloach manot, and feeding the poor — these are the visible external signs of Purim, just as eating matzah and telling the tale of the Exodus are the visible external signs of Pesach, and eating dairy and studying all night are the external signs of Shavuot, and so on. The external manifestation of each holiday does matter! The physical acts which embody the observance of a festival help us experience that festival wholly.
But sometimes we can evoke the emotional and spiritual valance of a celebration without actually doing the acts we associate with the holiday at hand. Imagine if, a month before Thanksgiving, you had the opportunity to spend a day meditating on gratitude and family, thinking about the festive meal you were going to prepare and enjoy, imagining your dinner table and the people who will join you there. You wouldn’t actually make the turkey or the cranberry sauce, but you’d think about them, and you’d contemplate gratitude and thankfulness and what role those spiritual states play in your life. How might that change your experience of Thanksgiving a month later?
That’s the invitation of Purim Katan: to spend the 14th of Adar I meditating on the deep mysteries of Purim (the God Who is hidden from the simple text of the megillah, but plainly manifest all over the story; the queen who pretends to be something she isn’t in order to preserve and celebrate who she truly is; the need, once a year, to ascend to a place where binary distinctions, like those between Haman and Mordechai, are no longer relevant) in order to begin to prepare ourselves for the festival that’s coming, so that when the festival gets here, it’s different for us than it otherwise might have been.
There are a couple of tiny ways in which Purim Katan is traditionally marked. We don’t say tachanun, the (weekday) prayers of repentance, on Purim Katan. The tradition also prohibits fasting on this day. And many sources argue that there is an obligation to celebrate and rejoice. One d’var Torah I found online, written by Greg Killian, makes the point that “Purim Katan has no halachic requirements. Whatever we do to increase our joy on Purim Katan, we do because we want to, not because we have to.”
Here’s a teaching from Rabbi Moshe Isserles, known as the Rema. (This teaching is based on a talk given by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; I found it online here.) The Rema begins his commentary on Orach Chayim, one of the sections of the Shulchan Aruch (a central text of Jewish law), with a quote from Psalm 16:8 — “I place God before me constantly.” Later in his commentary, on the subject of Purim Katan, the Rema writes that in his opinion, it is not obligatory to feast on Purim Katan, but one should still eat somewhat more than usual, quoting Proverbs 15:15 “And he who is glad of heart feasts constantly.” Note the two usages of the word “constantly.”
The sages tell us that his first use of the word “constantly” (in the quote “I place God before me constantly,” shviti Hashem l’negdi tamid, which I’ve written about before) is understood to suggest reverence for God; his second use of the word “constantly” (in the quote “he who is glad of heart feasts constantly”) is understood to suggest joy. He mentions reverence first because it’s a necessary precursor to doing mitzvot; he mentions joy second because joy is the natural outgrowth of doing mitzvot. What strikes me, reading this, is that there are no active mitzvot associated with Purim Katan. This holiday challenges us to experience the shift from reverence to joy without actually “doing anything.”
Purim Katan begins this Thursday evening. How might you choose to mark this rare minor festival — how might you reflect on the Purim story’s teachings, and increase your sense of joy, so that in thirty days’ time the observance of Purim itself can be more meaningful and more sweet, and so that your reverence can transmute directly into joy?
This link take you to other Purim teachings listed on the Velveteen Rabbi website.
From Reb Sholom Brodt
Reb Shlomo zt”l, would teach us that Amalek is the one who tells you that your connectedness with Hashem is only temporary–it won’t last. He tells you that you will always return to your old ways, so why even bother trying to change, anymore.
On Purim we are celebrating our very real connectedness to Hashem, to each other, to the whole world.
“When you love somebody very much, you think about them even when they are not there,. This is ‘shalach manos’; it is telling somebody that you are sending them your love, your thoughts , even when they are not there.” (Reb Shlomo zt”l)
“All year long, when I learn Torah, it gives me life, like food, it keeps me going. On Purim i want different Torah. I want Torah that touches every secret in my heart. I want Torah that connects me to every Jew. I want Torah that strengthens my friendships, my relationships with every Jew. “Go and gather together all the Jews.” That is the essence of Purim” (Reb Shlomo zt”l)
“Everybody knows that the downfall of the world is ‘loshon harah’. The Gemara says that Haman is the master of ‘loshon hara’. Mordechai and Ester are masters of NON-’loshon hara’. On Purim we do not send ‘shalach manos’ face to face; we are telling each other “even behind your back, I shall not speak evil about you.” (Reb Shlomo zt”l)
Rabbi Gershon Winkler 2007 Part 3
The 2500-year-old Jewish festival of Purim is therefore an incredibly sacred important face festival during which we are instructed to become so ecstatic that we can no longer discern between Haman and his ten sons, the Villains, and Esther and her uncle Mordechai, the Heroes; to celebrate one day out of the year the shared Primordial Root of both realms. And therefore we also masquerade, concealing all the distinction, overriding all individuality, everyone interchangeably becoming someone else, men dressing as women, women as men, pious as wicked, heroes as villains. Making no mention of God Whatsoever, this scriptural story brings home the lesson that we are to experience the presence of God not solely in the pomp-and-circumstance drama of splitting seas and resurrecting corpses, but more importantly in the ordinary unfolding of everyday life events.
On the literal plane, the ancient Hebrew scriptural Scroll of Esther is the story of a people about to be annihilated but who are spared at the last minute by the crescendo of a series of unfortunate events that miraculously lead to their rescue. On the mystical plane, this is a parable about the delicate dance between the two opposing realms of what we glibly call Good and Evil, and how thy both reconcile not in the convenience of black –and-white absoluteness but in the confusion of grey relativity.
It is no wonder, then that this story was inspired by the Jewish people and for the Jewish people at the genesis of their first, and therefore most traumatic exilic experience: to remind them through this sacred story that god is as much with them at the core of their tragedies as is God with them at the core of their celebrations; that the evil we wxperience at times is no less severed from the divine than is the good we experience; that the ttwo realms represent the Fellowship of the Root, of the same Primordial Root, of the Singular God who mediates between the opposites. As the mystical book of the Zohar puts it ”There is nothing of the Other side which does not have within it a spark of the Divine Light. All things cleave to one another, the pure and the impure. There is no purity except through impurity” (Zohar, Sh’mo’t, folio 69a-b).
The celebration of Purim helps us to penetrate the surface of Evil so that we might grasp the heart of it; to break though the seemingly impregnable bulwark of this intimidating force, which often seems more powerful than we are, and to disassemble it piece by piece; to follow it to its very end in order to discover even there – God.
The message of this joyous festival, then, is simply this: “Welcome to the Garden of Paradox. Enjoy your stay.”
Rabbi Gershon Winkler 2007 part 2
As King Solomon wrote some 2800 years ago: “Also this opposite the other did God create” (Ecclesiastes 7:4).
Purim is a day when we remember that God is Singular, and therefore all opposites are unified in the Singular God, for whom light and darkness, for example, are one and the same (Psalms 139:12). In one of the most powerful of ancient Hebrew Scriptures, God is described as “creator of light and creator of darkness, maker of peace and creator of evil; I am God who makes all of these” (Isaiah 45:7). In fact, the ancient rabbis alleged that some of the greatest of the Jewish teachers were direct descendants of Haman himself ( Talmud, Sanhedrin 96b), demonstrating that evil is not without its potential for good: and that the Temple fell because of the excessive humility of one of the greatest spiritual leaders of the time, demonstrating that good is not without its potential for evil (Talmud, Gittin 56a).
Good and evil, Judaism teaches, are the creations of the Singular God, yet they have no existence of their own other than the forms we give them by the choices we make. For example, god did not create donuts, only wheat and sugar cane. Donuts are created by the choices we make about what to do with raw wheat, about the dormant potential of life’s givens, of life’s possibilities. Like wise did God create the capacity for good and evil – their possibility. But it is we humans who make the choices that give form to either one, for better or for worse. Good is not always the better, nor is evil always the worse. It is evil to lie, and it is good to tell the truth, is it still good? And would lying then still be evil? As absolutes, neither has any footing on this plane. They come alive only in dance, only when animated by the relative nature of the human experience. They then become viable seeds of potential capable of bearing fruits of one or the other according to the intentions that forge our choices.
One the the most ancient of the Jewish mystical writings, Sefer Yetzirah, or the Scroll of creation, tells us as follows: “God has also set one thing opposite the other; Good opposite the Evil, and the Evil opposite the Good; Good from Good, and Evil from Good; the Good defines the Evil, and the Evil defines the Good” (Sefer Yetzirah 6:4). “From good can come evil,”” states the ancient Kabalistic writ of the Zohar, “and mercy can come stern judgment; all are intertwined one within the other, the impulse toward good as well as the impulse toward evil…for each was interdependent on the other at the time of Creation” (Zohar, Vayik’ra, folio 80b).
The ancient Hebrews understood that the possibility for both good and evil emanates from the Singular God, not form two opposing forces. They becomes opposite to one anther only in the realm of translation, our world of relativity, but in their common divine root they are one and the same and neither, all at once. Good and evil, or each their equally sacred route forces, are celebration, a brazen in-your essential to Creation’s existence. Together, they represent the mystery component that holds everything together, that creates moment-to-moment the tension that makes the magic of physical existence possible.
From Rabbi Gershon Winkler 2007 Part 1
Purim: A Festival of Paradox and Contradiction
… Purim stands out as an anomaly, as an unusual, out of character celebration of a biblical story that in itself stands out from all the other Jewish scriptural stories. For example, the Scroll of Esther is the only Jewish scriptural book that makes absolutely no mention of God. And while the national heroes and major personalities of the biblical stories are descendants of or allied with the party-line dynasty of King David, the heroes of the Purim story are all descendants of the very enemy of King David, a man named Shim’i, who is described in the Book of Samuel as an avowed loyalist and member of the clan of of the failed King Saul, who sought relentlessly to kill David, and whom David eventually replaced. In fact, Shim’i assaulted and cursed David when David was dethroned by his son Absalom during a short lived coup-de-tat (2 Samuel 16:5-6). The sole heroes of the Purim story, Esther and Mordechai, are described as being descendants of Shim’I himself (Esther 2:5). What is even stranger is that Mordechai, a descendant of the antagonists of the primary ruling tribe of Judah, of whom David was a scion, is described in the Scroll of Esther as “A man of Judah”! (Esther 2:5)
Another surprising thing about this story is that while Mordechai lays his won life on the line, plus that of the entire Jewish people, by refusing to compromise on his religious beliefs, and publicly wearing his religious identity as a Jew on his sleeve (Esther 3:2-3), he nevertheless instructs Esther to conceal her Jewish identity from the king when she is selected to become the new queen (Esther 2:11).
So is this story one more ancient recounting of Jewish History? OR is it a clever mythology designed to shake us out of our stupor, to stir us out of our tendency to label everything, peg-down everything, box-in-everything, such as the Judah/Davidic dynasty as the sole representation of authentic Judaism, or the tendency to perpetually brand descendants with the stigmas of their ancestors. And what is this rite involving the obliteration of the lines between villain and hero, predator and victim, good and evil? Just when we thought we had it all figured out, that there is Good on one side and Evil on the other side, are now being told that they both share the same side?
It appears like all of the above is correct. Purim is a festival during which we do more than celebrate the miraculous survival of our people from total annihilation over two millennia ago. IT is a festival during which we are challenged to integrate all opposites, all paradoxes and contradictions, into the single root they all share. Notice the king’s name, Achash’verosh, a Hebrew word which, when you split the word in two and change the vowels around a bit, can just as easily read “Ach Shoresh”, or: Fellowship of the [Same] Root. In fact, the ancient rabbis, wrestling with this strange tale, proposed that the king in the story might also represent a metaphor for God, who mediates, as does the king between Good and Evil, between Haman and Esther, signing the decree for abolishing the evil. As King Solomon wrote some 2800 years ago: “Also this opposite the other did God create” (Ecclesiastes 7:4).
Recorded at the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco, March 13, 1972
How Pinchas learned to say “GOOD PURIM ! ! !
Once a poor shlepper, Pinchas, came to the Kozhnitzer Maggid on Purim, and said in a weak voice, “Good Purim”. So the Kozhnitzer said to him, “Pinchasl, you are my best friend in the whole city; how can you come to say Good Purim to me without bringing me a gift?” Pinchasel didn’t have a single cent; he didn’t have money for his feast at home. so he said, “Rebbe, I’d love more than anything else in the whole world to give you a gift, but how can I possibly do it?” So the first thing the Rebbe did was to teach him how to say Good Purim. The Rebbe says (loud and strong), “GOOD PURIM!” and Pinchasl answers weakly, good Purim”. Again. “GOOD PURIM!” “good Purim.” No. I’ll try again. GOOD PURIM!” “Good Purim.” Finally he is roaring out like a lion, “Good Purim, Good PURIM, GOOD PURIM!” Then the Rebbe said, “Okay now, Pinhasel. Now I’d like you to get me a gift for Purim. Okay. So Pinchasel goes out on the street, and he is yelling at the top of his lungs, “GOOD PURIM, GOOD PURIM, GOOD PURIM!” He went in to a grocery and he yells out, “GOOD PURIM” Then he said, “Listen, I know I owe you money from ten years back already, but this time I want you to give me a special bottle of wine and some fruit, because I want to bring a gift to the Rebbe.”
There was something about the way he said it that the man had to give it to him. So he brought it to the Rebbe, and the Rebbe said it was the greatest gift he ever had for Purim.
Meanwhile, Pinchasle was walking home, and he thought, “I brought something nice to the Rebbe, and my own wife and children are starving. I better bring them something too.” So he walked back into the grocery store and yelled,”GOOD PURIM! Listen, I need gifts for my family too. I can’t just walk home. It’s Purim.” Pinchasle was shining, and the grocery man forgot; he forgot the bill, he forgot about the money. The grocer gave him fruits and wine, and all kinds of things for Purim. So Pinchasl went home. The way things used to be when he was a real shlepper, Pinchasl would walk around the house and his wife would yell at him his children would yell at him, and his house was really a bad scene. But this time Pinchasl walked in like a lion, and yelled, “GOOD PURIM!!” His wife looked at her husband, and he seemed like a different man. Pinchas said, “It’s Purim, we have to celebrate!” So they had a great feast and told his children the story of Purim. His house was completely different. His wife and children were looking him in a completely different way. He was teaching his children how to say “GODD PURIM!!!” the way he learned.
In the middle of the Kozhnitzer Maggid’s feast the Rebbe said, “Shhh… be quiet, because everybody in Heaven is quiet, they are listening to Pinchasl teach his children how to say, “GOOD PURIM!”
The next morning Pinchasl walked into the rich man’s house and told him, “listen, last night I decided I want to be a rich man too. I want you to give me a loan of ten thousand Rubles.” Pinchasl said it so strongly that the rich man trusted him. That’s how Pinchasl became the top holy rich man, the top holy beggar of Kozhnitz. Purim gave him the strength.
House of Love and Prayer, San Francisco. Purim 5732
From Rabbi David Mivasair
A Purim teaching: hidden miracles in everyday life . . .There is no mention of God in the Megillah, the story of Purim in the Bible. Some of us take that as a clue that Purim and the month of Adar are about finding the נס נסתר (nes nistar) – the “hidden” miracles — in everyday life.
The next month, Nisan, is the month of Passover and points to the נס גלוי (nes galui) – the obvious, “visible”, i.e. supernatural miracles — such as the Ten Plagues and the splitting of the Red Sea that are in the Passover story.
Adar is the last month of our year and Nisan is the first.
The template seems to be that in the beginning of our journey perhaps most of us need something out of the ordinary to get us going, to open our eyes, to give us an inkling that there is more to this world than appears at first on the surface. In the book of Exodus, God is said to have said that the purpose of those supernatural Passover-connected miracles is to make us believe.
However, by the month of Adar, twelve months later, at end of the journey, by the time we have traveled far enough and have reached some kind of maturity and wisdom, we no longer need the supernatural and can find God in the normal, everyday experience of life.
I think that is a very good teaching and so am sharing it with you. It came to me from the brief teaching below from Bnei Yissachar as well as other traditional teachers.David
Among the mystical secrets (in the book Megaleh Amukos) is:
“The angel of the month of Adar is named Avrachiel and there are twenty-five angels below him, all of them with names that indicate benevolence.”It appears to me that this angel’s name in gematria is numerically equivalent to the word seder [“order” in Hebrew]. In Adar, there began the “hidden” miracles, those which are garbed in the natural order of the world, that is as it has been set in order since the six days of creation.
This is not the case for the “visible” miracles, those which upset the natural order, which are only temporay and occur only by the decree of the One Who is Blessed to change the natural order out of love for “His” children.
— my translation
______________Bnei Yissachar is a two volume exposition in on the spiritual qualities of each month in the sacred cycle of the Jewish year written by Rabbi Tsvi Elimelech Shapiro of Dinov (1783-1841) and first published in 1846. This excerpt is from page 130a.Megaleh Amukos is a foundational east European work of Kabbalah by Rabbi Nosson Nota Shapira of Krakow (1585-1633) first published in Krakow in 1637.
Another Teaching from Reb David is below:
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Purim teaching: If I perish, I perish
Behind the fun of Purim are serious messages, teachings for life. Stuart Crown, Ahavat Olam’s treasurer, reminded me of one this morning. Esther has to face herself. She is the queen, elevated to a position of great ease and comfort in the palace, far from want or worry. To get along, all she needs is to go along. Keep her head down. Not rock the boat. But suddenly, she is called upon to put everything at risk to take a chance – and only a chance — at saving her people. We each are called to face ourselves, possibly every single day. Not as dramatically as risking our own lives to stop a genocide, but we are confronted with moral choices every day. What are we willing to risk? How much of our comfort? Our position? Esther and Mordechai’s dynamics are instructive. At first, Esther objects that the risk is too great. Insecure, afraid to jeopardize her privilege, “Not me,” she implies. Mordechai assures her that if not through her, the salvation will come another way. What must happen will happen. He is sure. But, if she does not step up and do what she must, then she will indeed perish. Perhaps it is precisely for this purpose that Esther has been elevated to such a position. Esther gets it and takes on the task. Knowing she needs support, she calls on her people to fast with her for three days of deep spiritual preparation and then she goes and does what she must. Here’s what resonates for me: How am I willing to use my position and my privilege to be an ally and advocate for those who are not so advantaged. How much will I protect my apparent position by staying compliant, not using the opportunity my position affords me? May I learn from Esther . .
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld American Jewish World Service
Megillat Esther is a flamboyant, even farcical tale of good and evil. Its characters are caricatures of human virtue and vice. Haman is the ultimate villain, Achashverosh a fool; Mordechai is an unassailable tzaddik, Esther a paragon of virtue and beauty. As children, we are captivated by these characters in all their unambiguous glory. We try on their personae and imagine ourselves as absolutely courageous or cowardly, beautiful or ugly, good or bad. As adults, we learn to laugh at the absurdity of such absolutes, which leave little room for the subtleties and uncertainties of the world as we know it. Yet, a closer look at the megillah reveals shades of gray that illuminate our own struggles to act with hope, courage and moral responsibility in a complex and often terrifying world.
I have come to believe that the most important verse in the entire megillah—the verse that represents the pivotal turning point in the Purim story—comes near the end of chapter four, when Mordechai sends a message to Esther, urging her to reveal her identity to King Achashverosh and plead on behalf of the Jewish people.
Remarkably, Mordechai’s message to Esther hinges on two simple words that promise nothing and change everything. Mi yodea? Mordechai says—”Who knows?” Mi yodea im la’et kazot higa’at la’malchut?—”Who knows if it wasn’t for just such a time that you became queen?”
These are the words that set Esther in motion, that inspire her to take action in spite of her own resistance, in spite of her fears about her own fate, in spite of her doubts about her own position and power in the king’s court.
“Who knows?” This is hardly the kind of message we look for to motivate us to act with courage in a crisis. We generally look for a message that inspires a little more confidence: “This is precisely why you became queen! Your actions will make all the difference! This is why God put you in this position. Nothing happens without a purpose.”
But the world of Purim—not unlike our world—is a world without guarantees, certainties and signs from God. It is a world in which we don’t know—can’t know—the limits or possibilities of our own power. It is a world in which we can’t be sure where our actions will lead and whether our efforts will be for naught. It is a world in which, if we are able to discern God’s presence at all, it is through our own faltering attempts at courage and compassion.
Often when we say “Who knows?” it’s accompanied by a gesture of resignation—a shrug of the shoulders, an upward glance—as if uncertainty or not-knowing relieves us of responsibility. How can we effectively respond to poverty in developing countries? Who knows, it’s too complicated for me to get involved. How real is the threat of global warming, and what can we do to address it? Who knows, we just have to wait and see what happens. What can and must we, as Jews, do to end the genocide in Darfur? Who knows, I have no idea what I could do to make a difference. All too often in our own lives, “Who knows?” becomes an excuse for inaction, a pretext for paralysis.
But in this remarkable exchange between Mordechai and Esther, something quite different happens. “Who knows?” becomes not an excuse but an invitation:
Consider the possibility, says Mordechai, that you are here for a reason, that there is something bigger and more important than your fear, that you have more power than you imagine. Consider the possibility that it is up to us to act out of love and responsibility for each other in order to make room for God’s presence in this world.
Esther’s willingness to act on a possibility is what makes her a prophetess, according to the midrashic tradition. A few verses later, when she enters the king’s court, she is frightened, even terrified, and yet prepared to risk her own life. The text of the megillah says that “she clothed herself in royal garments,” but a linguistic idiosyncrasy in the verse leads the Gemara to suggest that what was really happening in this moment was that “she clothed herself in the Shekhina.” In other words, this is prophecy from the ground up. Not a heavenly voice intruding in human affairs, but a human being—full of doubts yet determined—bringing God’s presence down to earth.
“Who knows if it wasn’t for just such a time that you became queen?” This is the legacy that Mordechai and Esther bequeath to us—a dual legacy of humility and hope, of radical uncertainty and radical responsibility.
What are our obligations on this holiday of hester panim (the hiddenness of God’s face)—this day when we reckon with the ultimate mystery of the Divine? To take care of each other. To send treats to our neighbors and friends. To expand our circle of concern even further, giving gifts to the poor.
Through these small acts we choose interdependence over isolation, responsibility over the retreat into despair. We turn toward each other, and discover the promise of sweetness in the face of uncertainty, and love in the face of fear.
Who knows? Consider the possibility that this is why we are here
Wendy invited me to share this story, “Sarti,” which I published in Tikkun Magazine’s March/April 2009 edition. Enjoy!
By Abby Caplin
It was the week before Purim that Sarti died. Sarti—the tiny hermit crab we had brought home during Chanukah, an energetic, tough-minded, two-inch-long bundle of moving mouthparts and flirtatious eyeballs in a pearly shell—was no longer with us. Our nine-year-old daughter, Sarah, had just left for the weekend, kissing her “Crabby Boy” farewell and expecting to see him again soon.
We had noticed him slowing down, spending more time in his shell and burrowing into the gravel. But I was not prepared for the shock I felt when I picked him up and noticed a peculiar stillness. Hoping to wake him, I placed him gently near his water dish. Sarti’s tiny body, pale and brittle, fell from its shell and broke into several pieces. I stepped back, horrified. How quickly he had died! I called for my husband; I couldn’t look at the devastation.
He bravely gathered Sarti together with his shell and placed him into an empty cardboard Fuji film box, cushioning him with Kleenex. “Poor Sarti!” cried our four-year-old, Isaac. We decided to hold the funeral when Sarah returned.
Upon hearing the bad news, Sarah was overcome with shock and grief. I held her as she cried. After a while, she began to wonder. Had we cared for him improperly? Was he sick? How many “crab years” old had he been, anyway?
That night, our family solemnly gathered together in the backyard, dug a hole, and gently lowered the tiny coffin by flashlight. We took turns shoveling teaspoonfuls of dirt into the grave and used a discarded toothbrush as a headstone. In the windy dark, we told Sarti how much he meant to us in the short time that we knew him.
And then came Purim, the Jewish holiday when we recount the story of Esther. During Purim we remember how Haman plotted to kill the Jews, and how Esther concealed her Jewish identity from her husband King Ahashverosh, until she was able to expose the evil Haman. It is a time to laugh off danger, much as a person might enjoy a horror film once the lights have been turned on. Children and adults wear costumes and masks, disguising themselves as creatures of their own desire, temporarily shedding their constricted personae for a taste of unrestricted fantasy and mirthful laughter. But despite the costumes, treats, and carnivals, Sarti’s absence remained heavy in our hearts.
The next day we left our synagogue’s Purim carnival, carrying hamantashen (a three-cornered holiday pastry) and a boxed lunch of bagels, lox, and cream cheese, which had been prepared as a fundraiser by the synagogue teenagers. As we approached our car, we noticed a shabbily dressed old man on the grass, looking dazed and hungry. We decided that he was homeless and wondered how he would receive our offer of the boxed lunch.
“Excuse me, sir,” I inquired with Sarah in hand. “Have you had breakfast yet?”
As he looked up, the man’s elderly mask fell away, revealing the face of a twenty-year old. “No, I haven’t,” he replied, gratefully accepting the food. As our car pulled away, we waved, and I hoped that the Purim lunch would help ensure his survival.
That night, we drove to a mountaintop to witness miracles in the sky: the Hale-Bopp comet and the partial eclipse of the moon. I felt insignificant and, at the same time, completely connected to the mystery of the Universe. We recited the traditional Hebrew blessing upon witnessing a wonder of nature. Then Sarah turned to me and unexpectedly asked, “Mom, are you sure Sarti died?”
Was I sure Sarti was dead? An image popped into my mind of seeing little crab legs, still and quiet, as Isaac had taken his last look. I had briefly marveled at how my husband had managed to stuff Sarti so neatly back into his little shell before burial. Doubt sent adrenaline coursing through me. Bits of information, long forgotten, began to crowd my brain. I suddenly recalled that hermit crabs must shed their hard exoskeleton in order to grow, and that people can mistakenly believe their pet crabs have died!
Had we made the same mistake? Fear gripped me. Had we buried a living animal? Was it too late?
I confessed my fears to my husband, who wondered at my runaway imagination. He expressed concern at the thought of desecrating the grave of our beloved pet. What would the children think if they looked out the window and saw their mother behaving like a common grave robber? Buried alive! Even if we had done this, how could Sarti have possibly survived being packed in Kleenex and underground for a week?
I couldn’t sleep that night. When morning finally arrived, I counted the minutes until everyone left for school or work. Seconds later, I headed for Sarti’s grave, a kitchen spoon trembling in my hand.
My heart was pounding. I pushed away the dirt and tore open the soggy Fuji film box, which Sarah had lovingly wrapped and decorated. I gently took his pearly shell into my hand and tapped at it. Incredibly, I thought I detected some movement.
With a few more taps and lots of prayers, “Crabby Boy” peered out, his black beady eyes inquiring about all the commotion. As he pulled his body further out of the shell, I admired his colorful and fresh new physique. He did not notice my tears and relief as he stretched his legs and energetically scuttled across the palm of my hand.
For our family, Sarti and the holiday of Purim will forever be linked. Like Esther’s story, Sarti’s is about hidden identity, survival, self-revelation, and growth. It is about miracles and salvation. Like Esther’s, it is a story in which God’s presence is everywhere but never mentioned.
*Sarti- from the Hebrew word “hasartan ham’soogar” (hermit crab), lit. “closed crab.”
Abby Caplin, MD, practices mind-body medicine in San Francisco, help people with chronic illness lead empowered and vibrant lives.
In the spirit of Purim this is from Jon Greenberg PhD at http://www.torahflora.org
A tree that helps animals prepare for Purim?
(Elephants and the marula fruit; March 2008)
The festival of Purim, celebrating the averted near-massacre described in the Book of Esther, begins this year on the night of Thursday, March 20 and continues through the following day. The holiday continues for a second day in cities that were sufficiently developed to have a protective city wall in the days of Joshua. Several customs and commandments are associated with Purim, some better known than others. Regrettably, but perhaps predictably, one of the best-known of these is probably the tradition of celebrating this escape from calamity by drinking alcohol “ad lo yadah,” literally, “until one does not know” the difference between ‘Praised be Mordechai’ (a hero of the story) and ‘Cursed be Haman’ (the villain) [Megillah 7b].
The popular medieval Hebrew composition known as Perek Shira (‘Chapter of Song’) encourages the reader to view the natural world as participating in the celebration and praise of God by ascribing various laudatory biblical verses to various animals, plants, and other natural phenomena. As we will see, the African elephant is thought to play a role here that makes it a worthy symbol to lead Purim revelers in praising God.
A bit of southern African botany and folklore suggests how elephants might participate in the celebration of Purim. In the dry savannahs and parklands of Botswana and South Africa, one can find the marula tree (Sclerocarya birrea). This tree is related to several better-known tropical fruit trees, including the mango and cashew, as well as the poison ivy of the north temperate zone. The marula fruit looks like a large cherry or small plum that changes from yellow to brown as it ripens. The fruit is sweet and tangy, and contains four times as much vitamin C as an orange. The seeds within the large, hard pit are also edible, and rich in protein. The fruit must be eaten fresh or frozen for processing into beverages or sale as frozen pulp, because it tends to fall from the tree when ripe and ferment on the ground. Intentional fermentation of marula fruit is the basis of several traditional local alcoholic drinks, as well as industrial-scale production of several liqueurs, including Amarula, claimed as the world’s most popular liqueur by its manufacturer. Amarula may be unfamiliar to American readers because it has only recently become available here.
Elephants are reported to be very fond of marula fruit, and have been known to damage or destroy the trees while trying to retrieve the fruit from the higher branches. Local folklore maintains that elephants fill their bellies with marula fruit and then lie in the sun, where the heat is said to accelerate the fermentation of the undigested fruit pulp, making the animals drunk. When observing an elephant or other wild animal that appears sluggish, confused, or unsteady, South Africans will often comment that the animal has been eating fermented marula fruit. The repetition of this belief by marketers of marula liqueurs has encouraged its spread to other continents. A film was also made in 1974 that claimed to show elephants and other animals that had become intoxicated by consuming marula fruit. However, the authenticity of the film has been challenged by skeptics who concluded that it was staged. More importantly, a study published in 2006 in the scientific journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology calculated that the quantity of alcohol needed to intoxicate an elephant is simply not available in the amount of fruit that an elephant could realistically be expected to eat. Furthermore, elephants eat the fruit off the trees, not from the ground, where overripe fruits ferment and rot. The article also challenged the popular idea that the fruit ferments in the elephants’ stomachs as they lie in the sun after eating. Whether or not elephants or other wildlife really do get drunk on marula fruit, the story continues to appeal to consumers of marula liqueurs. You can read more about this study on National Geographic News: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/12/1219_051219_drunk_elephant.html
Attempts to domesticate the marula tree began in the 1980s in Botswana and Israel. However, both humans and wildlife continue to consume the fruit almost exclusively from wild, uncultivated trees. Experimental plantings and a modest commercial orchard have been established in the Negev, and a selective breeding program is ongoing. In Israel, the fruits ripen and can be fermented around September. Perhaps soon Israelis will be able to celebrate Purim with their own domestic marula liqueur. While we are waiting for this new product, even if the legend of the drunken elephants is not true, we can still take inspiration from the marula tree and the elephant as we offer praise and thanks on Purim for our rescue from annihilation at the hands of Haman. As the relevant verses of Perek Shira proclaim:
The wild trees say, ‘Then shall the trees of the forest sing out at the presence of God, because he comes to judge the Earth.’ (I Chronicles 16:33)
The elephant says, ‘How great are your works, God. Your thoughts are very deep.’” (Psalm 92:6)
August 20th, 2008 –
From Reb Zalman
« For PurimEsther / I Shall Be Hidden »For Purim (conclusion)
In Reb Zalman’s book, Yishmiru Daat, the following section is a continuation of the last post, For Purim. Gabbai Seth Fishman, BLOG Editor
[The previous section spoke of replacing the mantra of self-doubt associated with the remembering of Amalek with the mantra, “We are God’s treasure.”]
“Blot out the memory of Amalek” (Deut 25:19). How must we go about eradicating the memory of Amalek? By recognizing that we are no longer in the same position we were then. Now we are in the presence of a loving God, receiving Hir grace and blessing. Keeping the positive reminders in our awareness creates a situation for us which helps us find strategies to fight residual effects of having Amalek, self-doubt, within us. The positive reminders better enable us to look at our enemies objectively, without having our visions clouded by the past traumas and residual introjections, by other enemies or situations, by historic conditions which had once convinced us of our worthlessness, conditions no longer with us in the present, (such as the effects we still feel from the time when the Nazis wanted to destroy our bodies or the time when the Inquisition wanted to destroy our souls).
The commandment to remember Amalek, and to erase the memory of Amalek is hard to follow, (one doesn’t know how to simultaneously “remember-forget”). In truth, the contradiction is a very deep and profound koan, opposites held simultaneously, with which there is no better way of dealing than to transcend all knowledge: As the Talmud says (Meg 7b): On Purim, an enosh / a depressed person is to become so fully intoxicated until s/he reaches the level of beyond knowing whether Mordecai or Haman is to be blessed or cursed.
Amalek, has the same numerical value as the word SaFeQ, doubt, which comes from sending out dualities, Zweifel / doubt in German (the etymology literally means from which of the zwei / two to choose, a doubt of doubles or double doubt). Therefore, a time was designated in the calendar to deal with the doubt, and it calls for a topsy-turvyness of the mind (or as the Talmud puts it, “Turning the plate upside down, cf, Bava Basra 16), through intoxication.
Who could possibly think that Haman should be blessed? Yet, on this day one can see that without Haman there would have been no Purim. And in order that this should be a Purim, a day to celebrate light and joy and glee, a Haman is necessary! And how might one think that Mordecai is to be cursed? From the doubt place, one might assume that if Mordecai had knelt and bowed before Haman, Haman would never have thought of the idea to destroy the Jewish people. So for bringing all this anxiety onto us, one might think of cursing Mordecai!
In all truth, God’s divinity, may S/He be blessed, is beyond distinctions (eyn aruch), even distinctions like “blessed be Mordechai” and “cursed be Haman.” So from this perspective, and in order to become in touch with the requirement that “a person is to become intoxicated” [as written regarding Purim], think of it not so much as with the wine but rather with reaching to the place beyond distinctions, a place of unknowing, i.e., unknowing the distinction of blessing and curse.
A further thought concerning that intoxication can be seen in the word Purim which means casting lots. What especially will my lot be? Will it be a good one, one like “blessed be Mordecai,” or a bad one, one like “cursed be Haman?” Even this question of what the lot will be is not as important as the recognition that, as tradition says, in the days of the Messiah the holiday of Purim is to remain intact. Why? Because [just as God is beyond distinctions] so we can say that the moment of the randomness of casting lots is beyond distinctions of ethics, morals and equity / inequity.
From the way one responds to one’s lot or destiny, we can see whether a person is a Gever / person of great inner strength, an Ish / average, or Enosh / a weak one who does not reconcile hir fate and serve God from this place.
So when the Talmud says that an Enosh, the weakest one, is to become intoxicated on Purim, it means that there is a hope that also this weakest one will become connected with the hidden mystery, the secret of destiny, with the One who is not found in the Megillah text, the hidden One, (God’s name is not mentioned in this text). There is a hope that the intoxication will lead this Enosh to a place beyond cursed and blessed. A place of being deeply touched by destiny is much more profound than being touched when one encounters a visible providence of God.
Thus we have the real meaning of “Happy are we, how good is our portion, how delightful is our lot:”
First, the level of Yod of YHVH: Keter, Chochmah
“Happy are we, how good” – it is all good, and (Zohar III 129) “In Keter there’s no left side.”
Next, the level of Heh of YHVH: Binah
“How good is our portion / CHeLQeinu” – (Mishnah Sanhedrin 11), “We all have a share / CHeLeQ in the world to come”, and “there is nothing but You, our redeemer,” — in the “Brains of Greatness” (Chochmah and Binah)
Now, the level of Vav of YHVH, Zeir Anpin
“How delightful is our lot/destiny,” — the qualities of blessed and cursed
Last, the level of final Heh of YHVH, Malchut
“And how nice is our inheritance,” which comes to us through netzach, hod, yesod into malchut, of the patriarchs and the matriarchs, gratis, without any effort on our part.
The reason why it says that an Enosh, a destitute person, is obligated to become intoxicated is because the whole year s/he always has a sense of a lack, of being deprived of something. But on Purim, the rabbis say, (Jerusalem, Megillah 5, 1) “Anyone who holds forth his hand is to be given without question,” and on Purim one is to send presents and to give gifts to the poor, (cf., yalkut shim’oni mishle remez 947), and destitute. Out of this moment of generosity, the distinctions between blessed and cursed diminish until “[one taps into] “the head that knows not and that knows itself not” (Zohar III 288), i.e., until objective possibilities and the knowledge to inform become like subtle fragrances of haGORaL / the lot (GORaL an anagram for GeR – Lamed vav), the Lamed vavniks (36 saints) that are required for that time. For embedded in the lot is knowledge that gets sorted out through the lot whether to do a thing or not to do it.
Casting of lots means not knowing the outcome before the lot is cast. It calls for being in a moment of doubt. And as the Baal Shem Tov taught us, Purim is in a relationship to Yom Kippur – (This latter can be read as Yom k’Purim, a day like Purim). (Leviticus 16:8) On Yom Kippur a lot was cast on the two goats, both being of equal perfection, one of them to be offered to God and the other to Azazel. Before the lot was cast it was not clear which one was to be offered to God and which one to Azazel.
And this business of lots suggests the immensity of alternatives. (Study Gittin 48a, tosafos “Had R’Yochanan not said,” and you will see that there are many possible courses that we may navigate from the immense possible outcomes.)
The intoxication of Purim takes us to that place where, for a moment, it makes no difference to us whether people will consider us blessed or cursed. And if, God forbid, we seem to be as one who is cursed, we can take comfort that without Haman, no Purim and no celebration.
This is the same thing as Yom Kippur’s T’shuvah, turning to God, out of love, (cf, Yoma 86). T’shuvah from love, (as opposed to T’shuvah from fear), has the effect of turning even acts of intentional evil into merits. And on Purim, the same result comes about through the “intoxication.” If one is in a kind of peril [having committed questionable acts], now one can sweeten the matter and turn the world upside down (cf., Esther 9:1), and one can improve oneself through giving Tzedakah, gifts to the poor, presents to one another and wearing masks. In this moment of intoxication one recognizes that every face and facet of this world is nothing but a mask that God wears behind which God is hidden as in the Scroll of Esther (which comes from hidden / nistar).
From Rabbi Jill Hammer
These entries are all from The Jewish Book of Days
Removing the Masks
Today is Purim. Jews read the book of Esther in the evening and morning, blotting out the name of Haman with merry noise and celebrating Mordechai and Esther (and sometimes Vashti too) with cheers. Costumes are won as part of the celebration.
The costumes and masks we wear on Purim remind us of the masks in the Purim story. At the climax of the biblical story, Esther invites the king and Haman to a wine fest and begs the king to stop the massacre of the Jews. Esther unmaskes Haman as a villain; and she unmasks the king, who has callously and greedily agreed to allow Haman to kill the Jews so the king can get their property.
Purim unmasks all of us. It even unmasks the Jews in the story, who eagerly fall on their enemies once the king has given them permission. No one is immune from the truth about his or her own dark side.
In one midrash, Esther and Mordechai issue double coins in honor of Purim, with a man on one side and a woman on the other, or with a sign of grief on one side and a sign of triumph on the other. Purim is like this coin, showing us two faces in every person and circumstance.
Reb Jill also writes in Mordechai: The One Who Resists , that Haman is a descendant of Esau, and that Jacob’s family- Leah and Rachel, as well as their sons had to bow down to Esau out of fear. Mordechai is a descendant of Benjamin who was not born at the time. So
he was able to resist the demand to bow down to Haman.
Also, in The Lot is Cast, Haman is overjoyed that the lot on which day to kill the Jews falls in Adar. He knows that Moses died in Adar, so Haman thinks
that this time is ill omened for the Jews. He did not know, however, that Moses was also born in Adar.
Sources cited: Esther 3:7, Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 13B, Esther 3:2-6, Esther Rabbah 7:8, Esther 7:2-4, Esther Rabbah 10:12
From NeoHasid.org, Rabbi David Seidenberg
Vashti is Shekhinah
The Izhbitzer rebbe, Mordechai Lainer, on Vashti the queen:
When the Men of the Great Assembly saw that Achashverosh (Ahasuerus) commanded Vashti to come to him naked, they understood that God wanted to bestow upon Israel the true revelation, without any garments, as it is to be in the future, when God reveals God’s light without any garments whatsoever.
The Baal Shem Tov, z”l, said concerning ‘naked’, “And [Vashti] did not appear, for this state of ‘naked’ had not yet come.” That is, God gave Israel Torah and commandments, which are garments, through which they may reach to God’s essence, blessed be. For in this world, it is not within human power to reach God’s essence other than by means of material garments.
from Mei Hashiloach 1, Likutim Megillah v’hakarov
One thing I find so unusual about this text is that Vashti, who is not Jewish, symbolizes the redeemed state of the Shekhinah in the future. Of course Esther, who goes through months and months of preparation for her robing, is the Shekhinah in garments, who remains hidden, nistar, from the naked eye and in exile from the Holy One.
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