The power of Purim:
On Tuesday and yesterday, I spent several hours in total shopping for and making my do-it-yourself costume. There was the regular work I do, which I did; and the world to attend to with its craziness, which I check in on regularly. And I learned of a sudden death in the family of my cousins. If anything, the world and my world were even a bit more upside-down Wednesday than they were on Tuesday. I sometimes fast the Fast of Esther, in solidarity with the people in the thick of a particular year’s horrors, but yesterday I didn’t because I didn’t think I’d make it with enough energy to what I would do in the evening. I felt guilty about that, and tried to say a blessing when I did eat and drink and dedicate that energy to the people who need it. “Several hours making a costume?” I asked myself.
Then I dressed up last night and so did others, and we sang Purim songs and read from a real parchment scroll the ancient story of a “world turned upside down” and then right side up again. The pulpit looks completely unpulpit-like in the process, the rabbi unrabbi-like; I committed fully as I always do, to the costume and the act and the joy.
And what I experienced, as I have for many years, is a spiritual lifeline. I believe that the week leading into Purim and the things we read and study for that week offer to take us deep into the hardest parts of the world, socially and existentially. Knowing that the costumes and the laughter and the singing and the scroll are at the other end helps me allow myself to feel more confused, discombulated, and powerless than I do most weeks. I think I’m supposed to allow those feelings (they are more than feelings, I search for the right word) to have me or me to have them, and to fling myself down a zipline that lands where the Megillah scroll is.
I don’t mean to overstate this; I don’t experience myself any real physical danger right now, Baruch Hashem, thank God. But for at least a quarter century that’s how I experience Purim. I am grateful to my ancestors – to Esther and Mordechai for their story and for putting themselves in it, as a bridge from the time of prophecy toward our kind of time. I do believe this process of making the costume and wearing it and thinking about what it means to take that time, put it on, and take it off is supposed to charge me to act better in the world.