I haven't posted a Tov! update for a while, but a few new episodes are out the past month and one of them is keyed to Purim which begins tonight. Listen right here or on YouTube (it's just audio), or check out the episode page with the audio and full show notes. Or just subscribe on any of your favorite podcast apps. Simchat Purim, wishing everyone a joyous and meaningful Purim celebration!
I've had fun making these, and hopefully you'll enjoy learning a bit about Purim and the month of Adar, one short bit at a time. A couple more are coming in the next few days. "Hamentashen for thought"!
You can click on the video and watch it here, expand it, or click on the three horizontal lines toward the top that appear, which will reveal the whole playlist.
This post is based on the D'var Torah I gave at services on Saturday, March 9, 2019. I also plan another post with some thoughtful articles on the topic from other sources.
I always set out extra books for services in addition to the Siddurim (prayerbooks), on the cart outside the Sanctuary and in the small Chapel too. They are not just for you; when I am not leading a service, I use them too! On Thursday evening in the Chapel, I took a Tanakh (Bible) instead of a Siddur and read from the Megillah, the story of Esther. We are in the month leading up to Purim in less than two weeks.
For most of us, the Bible that’s most familiar is a kind of Sunday School Bible. The Book of Esther that we have learned that way is a hilarious story. Even in the parts related to Haman’s plot to get rid of all the Jews, the story is funny and over the top. The Megillah is like that all the way through Haman’s being finally exposed and then executed by the king.
In the real, complete Tanakh, that’s not the whole story. There’s a lot more text, and it is not at all funny.
On Thursday night, what I did was to read the Megillah to myself, but starting at chapter 8. That chapter follows immediately the demise of Haman. Mordechai is installed in power by King Achashverosh in Haman’s place. But when Queen Esther asks the king to revoke his original edict against the Jews, the king says he is powerless to do that. All he can do is to authorize them to fight back legally, with another royal edict. Chapters 8-9 tell about the many people Jews kill all over the empire as they defend themselves, and they tell the fear that the Jews elicit because of their fierce response. Here is a verse you most certainly did not learn in Hebrew School:
וְרַבִּים מֵעַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ מִתְיַהֲדִים כִּי־נָפַל פַּחַד־הַיְּהוּדִים עֲלֵיהֶם: …V’rabim me-amay ha-aretz mityahadim ki nafal pachad hayehudim alayhem -- "many among the peoples of the land passed themselves off as Jewish, because fear of the Jews had fallen over them” (Esther 8:17).
Achashverosh, the king, comes across in the last three chapters as someone who loves his Jewish wife Esther, who appreciates or at least respects his new Jewish vizier Mordechai. And as someone who possibly feels intimidated by them, doing what he needs to do in the moment to restore peace and to stay in power.
Once the fighting dies down, Esther and Mordechai institute the annual festival of Purim. It’s a celebration of the reversal of fortunes for the Jews, and includes also mishloach manot and matanot la’evyonim -- bringing gifts to each other and helping those in need.
Chapters 8-10 of the Megillah are about Jewish power established in the immediate wake of vulnerability. They are about having powerful allies and knowing that alliance comes from both love of us and fear of us. They are about figuring out what to do with Jewish power and the power of our allies. And they are about what it’s like to remember a recent threat, to remember fear, from the vantage point of more recently achieved power. They are about figuring out what to do with this power going forward -- when to unleash it and when to worry about what it does to us.
I selected this part of the Megillah to read and meditate on Thursday evening, because it was a spot-on text for this past week. Reading it felt unsettling and reassuring at the same time. Which is exactly how I have felt all week as the controversy surrounding Rep. Ilhan Omar from my great home state of Minnesota continued to unfold. The words of hers were straight out of the Megillah -- fear of the power of the Jews. I had all these kinds of reflections during the week: It was good to see the power we have as American Jews at work against repeated slanders rooted in anti-Semitic stereotypes. It felt strange and weird to be the center of attention once again, so soon after Pittsburgh, which I have certainly not yet gotten over. I wondered whether I am living up to the responsibility that comes with so many people paying attention to anti-Semitism -- whether I have been a person who fights against hate directed at others as fully as I expect others to fight against hate directed at us.
It is important, it is spiritually critical, to have a swirl of these kinds of reactions, and not to let ourselves settle on only one. If we are only thinking one thing right now -- if we are not acknowledging the many such reactions within our own community -- we are lying to ourselves, and hiding from ourselves and from each other -- and from our responsibilities.
I want to fill in some information, and then propose a way of thinking about our responsibilities. What’s the mitzvah here always has to be the grounding Jewish question.
Part of what I say I hope has merit for you because I personally hear Rep. Omar and am horrified out of my own religious, leftish Zionism. I have said from the bimah (pulpit) in the past that the eventual freedom of Palestinians as a nation will become part of our own Jewish story of being agents of freedom in the world. I have been involved for a long time in AIPAC, where my view about the Palestinians is widely and openly shared, though probably not by the majority. If your perspective in anywhere near that, or anywhere to the right of it, I think you’ll be able to hear me.
Part of what I can tell you is because I’m a Minnesotan, and I know rabbis who live and work in the Minnesota 5th, Rep. Omar’s congressional district -- particularly rabbis involved in progressive circles. They have been right in the middle of trying to fix things; they are the people most frustrated by Rep. Omar's repeated slanders. The district includes the city of Minneapolis and many of its first-ring suburbs, including St. Louis Park, which is the Brookline-Newton of Minneapolis. Some of the Jews you may know of who grew up there: former Sen. Al Franken, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, Columbia University development economist Jeffrey Sacks, the Coen Brothers. When I was young, that’s where you would go for kosher meat and Jewish books. There are today about as many Jews in the Minnesota 5th as in the state of New Hampshire.
When the district elected Rep. Omar, an immigrant from Somalia and a Muslim and a woman, a lot of us native Minnesotans were very proud. The story of Somali immigration in Minnesota has at times been very difficult, and Jews have been active in fighting the anti-Muslim and anti-African bigotry surrounding the integration of Somalis. And that’s what has made the congresswoman’s recent statements particularly painful, for the rabbis and progressive Jews in the district.
Beyond what you’ve read in every article, Rep. Omar said a couple of other things at the DC bookstore where she spoke at length about a week and a half ago. She said that the Jewish constituents who have met with her to speak about her AIPAC comments talk about Jews in Israel as their family, but don’t seem to have actual family in Israel. She also said that the Jewish activists who have come never talk about the Palestinians and their suffering.
Rep. Omar is not telling the truth about the Jewish people she has been in touch with about all of this. I know who they are, and I can tell you that they include both moderates and progressives, including people from an organization called Jewish Community Action, a social justice group that my parents are often involved in. JCA members are people who have stood up previously to vouch for Rep. Omar publicly even when other Jewish groups haven’t, and who have been in vocal and active solidarity with Palestinians, even when that puts them at odds with others in the Jewish community. So Rep. Omar is either misrepresenting them, or somehow unable to hear them.
My friends who are in the thick of this in Minneapolis are befuddled and confused and angry. They don’t understand why Rep. Omar is invested in misrepresenting their views, and putting them as Jews in boxes where they are so clearly not. They do not feel that things are in a good place right now, despite a lot of dialogue. They who are up close are also committed to trying and trying again with her, and remaining in solidarity with the Muslim community in the district. As one of them put it a couple days ago: we are doing the best we can, and we are exhausted.
This is part of a larger story of Jews not being seen or acknowledged or even allowed in certain places on the activist left, unless they leave behind nuance about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and agree not to say that there are Palestinian leaders who are also responsible for the fact that it continues.
Even on Thursday, the day of the House resolution against anti-Semitism and other hatreds, a fundraising letter went out from Rep. Ocasio-Cortez that said: “It’s official -- AIPAC is coming after Alexandria, Ilhan, and Rashida”, the three recently elected representatives from New York, Minnesota, and Michigan. Which is completely false. And the letter is easy to read as: the rich, bad Jews are going after us, and dividing us from the good Jews who support equality and would want to be with us.
And all of this is a form of anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism does not have to come in the form of a white supremacist attacking a synagogue to deserve our attention, or to be a palpable threat to us. It is not all right ever for any political leader or any political movement, even while promoting other good things, to tell lies about Jews. It is not all right to say things that can easily be taken to justify terror attacks against Israeli civilians.
So what do the final chapters of the Megillah tell us, about our power in this kind of situation and the mitzvot we ought to be doing?
One mitzvah: We need to build alliances with the Achashverosh-es, to use our power so that people in positions of power want, and think it’s in their interests, to stand up for us or to stand behind us as we stand up.
One person I have been reaching out to is my own congresswoman, Rep. Annie Kuster. I wrote her a few weeks ago when this began to heat up, asking for her support on this question of “dual allegiance”, and more than that, asking her to reach out personally to Rep. Omar. Because both of them represent areas with small but politically active Jewish communities of the roughly same magnitude, and Rep. Kuster has such good relationships with me and many Jewish leaders and Jews who are prominent in New Hampshire Democratic politics. Annie has offered more than once to come to Beth Abraham and speak about her own experience visiting Israel and her views about the situation. She supports two states and has voted for Israeli military aid, and she is very well-informed. I suggested that she could talk with Rep. Omar about how she does this. I am pleased to tell you that I got not a standard note back, but a phone call from her office affirming her support for Israel. It's a conversation I intend to continue when I am in DC this coming week.
Another mitzvah from the end of the Megillah: We need to get and build our power so that we have the confidence to go to difficult places without fear for our safety. We, or at least some of us, need to be willing to go into difficult places where the anti-Semitic canards are incubating, and engage there. Those of us on or closer to the left need to take responsibility for talking with people on the left -- just as those on or near the right need to do it there.
So another thing I am doing: Last week at the monthly meeting of the Nashua Area Interfaith Council, I said that I know people are talking about Rep. Omar, and announced that I will have coffee with anyone who wants to talk about it. Many of the people in that group come from denominations or organizations that have supported boycotts of some sort against Israel. Before I left and in e-mails starting that day, people jumped up to tell me they want to talk. In response to one Facebook post, from an activist I know and respect, I held back the comment I was going to write but probably wouldn’t have been heard. Instead I wrote my e-mail address in the comments with invitation to anyone on the thread to talk. And I separately reached out to the person who posted to get together, and we’re going to do that.
There is trust that I have built painstakingly with many people in the interfaith council, and I know we can talk. I am going to offer a class this fall, I decided this week in the fall in the RISE and OLLI programs -- about the Israel-Palestine conflict, from the Zionist viewpoint that I have described to you. I am a popular teacher there, and I know people will sign up.
We are fortunate in Greater Nashua that we have not been driven apart from other people whose causes we share because of Israel. There is no coalition here that I can’t be a part of so far because of my Zionism. I am much more interested in cultivating these local relationships and talking to people, really getting into questions and sharing information, about all the factors from Arabs and Israelis that have kept the conflict in place -- that is much more important for me to do than responding with a written public statement to everything that national actors say or do.
And a final set of mitzvot from the end of the Megillah. The practices that Esther and Mordechai instituted begin but do not end with retelling the dynamics of a past threat and how we fought it. On Purim, we read the Megillah twice, evening and morning. Twice we marinate in the story of the plot against our lives, rooted in statements about our disloyalty. But Esther and Mordechai wanted to make sure that the lesson of Purim was not just about remembering that, and not just about building ourselves up in anticipation of the next such battle. So they instructed us to do at least three acts on the day of Purim from an open heart and an outstretched arm. To send food to at least one friend, and to give to at least two people in need.
So a rule of thumb for today -- a 3:2 match. For every two acts of fighting anti-Semitism, three acts of compassion. One act to build up our own Jewish community in a joyful way. One act of being there when someone in our Jewish community needs comforting or needs help. And one act of standing up for a person or group outside of us who is the target of hate.
I have been trying to take this as well to heart. Because I've said these kinds of things out loud or published them, I was invited to give a blessing at the local African-American MLK event in January. There I heard a speech from a senior at Nashua North named Jamila-Ashanti Scales about all the racism that has been directed at her from grade school through high school. I offered to her that morning to be an ally if she ever needed one. Sure enough, two days later in the local paper, she was dragged into a conflict within the Board of Education, on the day of her final exams no less. I reached out to her family, who I know and some in our shul know, and asked what I could do. As a result, I published something supportive of her in the Telegraph, and I spent an hour with the school board members who were involved, cajoling them to make it right until they agreed to a step I suggested.
The last chapters of the Megillah are not easy ones, and the work we have in front of us right now is not easy. Why should it be. I don’t know, and my colleagues in Minnesota don’t claim to know, whether we’ll reach a good outcome with any specific leader we are at odds with. But I do believe that we can succeed and build here, where we actually have the power to influence people. We will not make everyone into lovers of Israel; that’s not the measure. But with hard and long work, we have it in our power to make the anti-Semitic into true fringes on the left and the right, and to help make all forms of bigotry a fringe within our own souls and our community.
And who knows, as the Megillah also says in a more familiar part, whether it was for a time like this that we have been given so much power.
This was my D'var Torah last Shabbat, the Shabbat preceding Purim.
Max Friedman is a young member of our congregation. He recently graduated from George Washington University, but even before graduation Max was a digital entrepreneur. What makes me proud that he is part of our community is the way Max has channelled so much of his enterprise into tzedakah -- for instance his startup Givebutter, a fundraising platform that helps student organizations and nonprofits raise money online.
I mention Max today, though, because of an article he published in Fast Company about ten days ago. Max wrote this on Facebook when he shared the article:
"...two years ago there was an article that was written about me with the headline 'Is This GW Student the Next Mark Zuckerberg?'
"And while it was cool to be even remotely associated with Mark, it sparked something inside of me that I had never felt before - I felt like an imposter. I did nothing wrong, and I had nothing to do with the article aside from being featured in it, yet for some reason I could not shake off these feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and self-doubt. I thought the whole thing was a mistake.
"Since then, I've learned that there's actually a term for this; it's called Imposter Syndrome, and over 70% of people report being affected by it to some degree in their lives."
Max’s whole article is called, “How I Beat the Imposter Phenomenon as the Youngest Person in the Room.” He talks about how he handles carrying the burden of a label -- “The Next Mark Zuckerberg” -- a label that he didn’t ask for, that follows him or that he often has felt follows him when he walks into a room to pitch a potential customer or investor.
Another word for this kind of label, or the “Imposter Phenomenon” that goes with it, would be a mask. Something people see that is not real when they look at you, or me. Being seen with a mask on is the story of Esther, and it’s what we all enact on Purim.
A mask could well be a compliment -- “The Next Mark Zuckerberg”, “the greatest mom I know”, etc. -- but that mask leads to the imposter feeling of being seen in an undeserved way. And masks can of course be negative. We all know the judgments that people make based on how we look, the masks they attribute.
Masks come from the outside world, from the culture, or from assumptions people make when they don’t get to know us first. And we can create our own masks too when we don’t know what we really want to reveal, or when we want to show other people only what we think they will value or appreciate.
In the Megillah, Esther has not just one mask, but a series of masks placed on her. She is born as Hadassah, Hebrew for the myrtle tree, which is something whose essence you can’t really suppress -- the distinctive leaves, the aroma.
But she gets turned into Esther, which is a pun on the Hebrew word הֶסְתֵר hester, which means hiddenness. Esther is the ethnically unidentified teenage beauty that Mordechai tells her to be. Then she is in the care of the king’s harem-meisters for months, as they cover her face with makeup and her whole body with lotions. Then she is the queen of an empire, but only as an ornament.
None of these Esthers are who Hadassah is. Though to tell the truth we have no idea, when the story begins, who Hadassah is. Neither did she, probably. That’s one reason we let ourselves take on masks from other people, or put them on ourselves. Masks come in ready-made models, and it’s easier to have one on sometimes, than to figure out exactly who I am, and then to figure out exactly how to show that.
But even when we present ourselves with a positive mask, and maybe especially when we do, we experience what Max Friedman calls “insecurity, anxiety, and self-doubt.” We can sense the gap, or we fear a gap, between the mask and the real face that we don’t want to show, or we don’t know how to show.
On Purim we deliberately put on a mask -- and then we take it off. Both together constitute the costume ritual of the holiday.
What can we learn about taking off our masks, getting out of imposter mode -- from Queen Esther, and from Max Friedman?
In his article, Max shares two lessons that he discovered, and to me they are also explanations of Esther.
Max’s first lesson is: “reframe ‘inexperience” as ‘gaining experience.’” For Max, that meant changing from the mask of “the next Mark Zuckerberg” back into "students working on a project...seeking advice.” This was an identity he and his collaborators could embrace, and as Max explains it, “we spun our inexperience into something forward-looking and true to ourselves.” Youth became not a mask, but a face, and an exciting one.
When Mordechai came back to Esther and told her that it was time to act like the queen, she did the same thing. Her first response was that she was an imposter queen -- the king doesn’t even want to see me. But soon, Esther embraced both the fact that she wasn’t yet that kind of queen -- and that she would try to act as a true queen would for her people.
It wasn’t a simple matter of taking off her mask, because there wasn’t something for Esther to show yet. Only when she decided to serve her people, to step out for a higher purpose, would the mask really be off. Esther would be, to use Max’s words, “forward-looking, and true to herself.”
Max’s second lesson is: “use friendships as your foundation.” He talks about how hard it can be to find mentors who know you well enough to advise you about your work and your path -- but friends can do a lot of that. Max writes about the importance of his best friends and his parents, and says: “For me, imposter syndrome is most potent whenever I’m featured in a public setting–in the press, on a podcast, at an event, etc. I’ll often feel irrationally insecure and struggle with fits of self-doubt. In these moments, I always turn to my closest friends.”
Esther didn’t have friends -- that stretches the analogy a bit too far. She had to believe in her support system outside the palace: Mordechai encouraging her, people praying for her.
But the lesson from Max, at least, is that real friends help us get out of the mask. There is a gift that I give to many of our community’s kids when they are about to go to college. It’s a little handheld mirror. I say: This mirror shows you what you look like as the image of God. And if you can see yourself this way, you will find yourself becoming a true friend to others, the person who shows them what they look like not in their mask, but as the image of God in their own unique way.
When you take off a mask, we see your face. A mask is frozen -- that’s why it’s false, that’s why it makes us feel wrong. It highlights the uncomfortable difference between who you pretend to be and who you are at the moment. But a face moves. It expresses all our feelings, our happiness and disappointment with ourselves, our surprise and our pride as we learn and grow. Your face is how you show who you are and who you are becoming, and the gap between them isn’t embarrassing anymore, because we all wear that on our own faces.
Who you are and who you are becoming. From inexperience to gaining experience, not just in work but in relationships and tikkun olam. With friendships as a foundation. Notice the masks you put on -- we all do it. Then take it off, and show your face.
This was my D'var Torah on Saturday, February 17. It is part of a series leading up to Purim, and a response to the recent shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida.
Rambam (Rabbi Moses Maimonides) teaches: “All the books of the Prophets and all the Writings will become annulled, will be extraneous, will be vaporized in the messianic age, except for Megillat Esther. It will endure like the five books of the Torah and like the laws of the oral Torah...and even though all memory of troubles will be erased, the days of Purim will not be erased.”
So in the messianic times, when the world is perfect and all our suffering and troubles will be wiped from our memories -- when there is no memory of Solomon’s Temple in flames and Jews being led into exile; when we no longer need prophets to goad and inspire us, or David’s psalms to help us sing -- still the Megillah will exist.
What is Rambam getting at?
I had this teaching in front of my mind because I taught it this week to about 130 Jewish professionals at the start of the week, as part of a Beit Midrash on what we can learn about resilience from the history of the Jewish people.
But it came to me again immediately when, just as I left the conference, I heard about the shootings and killings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The violence out of nowhere, in the kind of place where millions of us send our kids every day without thinking -- that’s the Megillah, that’s Purim.
The roll of the dice, that of all the ways this young man could deal with his life, his lot, he chose to take it out against these children and these teachers -- that’s Purim.
The fact that even so, we want to make some sense and take some action, restore some safety and some sanity -- that’s Purim.
This what Rambam is saying: The Megillah is the basic definition of our world, so much so that maybe even the Mashiach can’t erase it. And therefore, we need the Megillah to give us somehow the roadmap to interpret our world, and give us lessons for how to respond.
One of the key phrases in the Megillah that is often quoted to stand for the whole story is ונהפוך הוא v’nahafoch hu, which means -- it’s upside down, it’s the opposite of what we thought, it’s overturned. Vashti, so powerful, becoming banished. The young girl Esther, a foreigner in exile, becoming the queen of an empire. A peaceful land where Jews have religious freedom, turning into an realm ruled by an edict of genocide.
That’s one way to see Parkland. A school -- everything that a school is -- in a small town, smaller than ours... ונהפוך הוא v’nahafoch hu -- this is the opposite, this is a world upside down.
But I think what is even scarier, and even more at the center of the Megillah, is another phrase. It’s the one I put in my bulletin column, words that Mordechai says to Esther: מי יודע mi yode’a. Who knows.
This, I think, is at the core of Rambam’s teaching about why the Megillah has to stay, has to be in any Torah that is worth being an enduring Torah. The sufferings and the troubles in the other parts of the Bible all come from some intent. From an enemy on the outside or a corrupt ruler on the inside, or even from God (that’s how they saw it, not me). But the troubles of the Megillah come from מי יורע mi yode’a, from the who-knows aspect of life. Purim means the roll of the dice. Which date shall be the date when we kill them. The randomness of: which day of calm and quiet and regularity will become the high school in Parkland.
Most days aren’t the day that the lot falls on. Most schools aren’t that school. Most troubled people don’t become that shooter. Most, even overwhelmingly most -- but מי יודע mi yode’a?
The who-knows world is a world where what is supposed to happen often happens, but not always. It’s the world where what we intend can come to pass, but it’s not guaranteed. And it’s the world where our actions have some impact, but the effect is sometime imperfect or murky, partially blocked or hard to see. It’s a world not of moral order, but a world of a moral-ish order. Sometimes more so, and on terrible days less.
So how does the Megillah show us how to live in that world?
Mordechai says to Esther: ומי יודע אם לעת כזאת הגעת למלכות? U’mi yode’a im l’et kazot higat lamalchut? Who knows whether it’s for this kind of moment that you have become the queen?
It’s not obvious what to do, it’s not a slam-dunk -- but act like the queen anyway, even though the king hasn’t asked to see you.
Act as though there is some order, as though intentions lead to outcomes, as though actions lead to change -- not because they always do, but because they might, and they should.
So Esther acts like the queen she isn’t, knowing as she says to Mordechai that she could die because of it.
And the Jews gather, and pray and fast for her. Not because thoughts and prayers are enough, but because they might help the one who is in a position to do something.
No one in the Megillah says: It’s all for naught. There is no moral order here, it just doesn’t matter, violence is all there is.
The Megillah says that when there is trouble, when there is violence, when things seem random -- that’s when you act as though you can earn some redemption for the world.
So if you are in power, you get on the ball about the guns, the powers of law enforcement to act on leads, and the imperative to make sure there are more resources for mental illness. It’s simply not possible for a person to kill this many people without the semiautomatic. Some, but not as many. You work on these things if you are in power, not because we know that with the right policies, no one will ever kill someone in a school -- but because there is some relationship, and who knows if you were put in office to save a life?
And if you work in schools or in law enforcement or as a counselor, and you worry about someone who is too alone or too bitter or at risk, you err on the side of pushing the issue, of following up. Not because you will for sure stop someone from doing something terrible, but because who knows if you were put in that position to save a life?
And if you are neither of these, you lobby those who are, you thank those who are. You find someone you know who is still suffering because they or someone close to them is the victim of violence, or an illness out of nowhere, and you don’t just pray in the synagogue but you try to bring them comfort. Not because you know for sure they will get through it with your support, but because who knows if you are that friend for just that reason?
And when the troubles have ebbed, keep connecting, build community. משלוח מנות ומתנות לאביונים, mishlo’ach manot, matanot la’evyonim. Exchange food with your neighbors, take care of the poor. It doesn’t ensure that no Parklands will happen. It’s just a way to live the opposite, in the face of what we know could happen anytime.
But first, most of all, an Esther moment. Risking something, to save lives, taking a chance your words or your actions, my words or my actions, might matter, even though the force on the other side is powerful.
And that’s what gives real meaning to the first phrase I mentioned, ונהפוך הוא v’nahafoch hu, it’s inverted, it’s overturned. The Megillah uses this phrase at the end -- when Esther’s vulnerability has turned into her power, when Haman’s edict has turned into the saving of the Jews. ונהפוך הוא v’nahafoch hu means the disorder was turned over, and things that were upside down are now turned right side up.
I am thinking that I get now the reason for the strange custom of getting so drunk on Purim that you can’t distinguish between ארור המן Arur Haman and ברוך מרדכי Baruch Mordechai, “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.” The point isn’t to get drunk. It’s so you can wake up from the fog and get clear, and experience what is like to realize the difference. To know that you know the difference, and you can do something about it.
“All the books of the Prophets and all the Writings will become annulled, will be extraneous, will be vaporized in the messianic age, except for Megillat Esther.” But actually, this is a teaching about now, about those days and weeks when the Megillah suddenly seems like the truest Torah we have.
We’ve heard enough prophetic calls after shootings in schools. And it’s not enough to recite Psalms for the dead and the survivors. מי יודע mi yode’a -- Who knows, maybe exactly for a time like today, you have arrived.
Purim is the holiday of masks and costumes. The Megillah is a story of hidden identities. Only at the end is everyone understood completely for who they are, for better or for worse.
Another interesting article, from Professor Carol Ingall, professor of Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, comparing Esther and Harry Potter!
Both the Kadosh Barukh Hu and J. K. Rowling know what makes for a gripping story: take an orphan, afflict him or her with tsuris, and watch the true mettle of the hero emerge. The eternally enchanting Book of Esther and books of the Harry Potter saga depend on similar elements to cast their magic spell: questions of parentage, identity, abandonment, separation, initiation, the presence of a mentor / nurturer, and a reconnection to one's people.
Dr. Michal Govrin is a writer and director, and lectures at the Schechter Institute, the Conservative movement's academic center in Jerusalem. She has a fascinating article called "Seriously Laughing to Death: Couples' Games and Masks in the Book of Esther" online at the Institute's website. It's kind of long, but worth it. Here's a taste:
Against the male threat on the woman and Jew-as-woman, the Megilla presents a woman with exclusive power to cope. Mordechai, in his different-ness, provokes Haman's hatred, and is left helpless against its catastrophic consequences. True to the archetypal Diaspora Jew, dependent on the kindness of others, he can only grieve:
"Mordechai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went through the city, crying out loudly and bitterly.." (4:1).
But his prayer, unlike the prayer of Hannah, Moses or Elijah, does not manage to pierce through the Hiding of the Face and alter the decree. He and his prayer are left outside "the King's gate" (4:2).
Esther, however, as her name implies, remains hidden. Even when Mordechai addresses her, she dares not act. Mordechai urges her, by tearing away her defensive royal mask: "Do not imagine that you of all the Jews will escape with your life by being in the king's palace" (4:13). He then boosts her courage with a prophetic vision:
"If you keep silent in this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from elsewhere, while you and your father's house will perish...And who knows, perhaps you have gained royal position just for this time" (4:14).
Here the Megilla reveals a profound mutuality between two complementary forces. Mordechai cannot on his own deal with the king's anger, but the man is the one who stirs the woman's latency, making her aware of her own strength and enabling her to make the transition from concealment to revelation. Esther indeed undergoes a transformation as she confronts Mordechai. She dares to take responsibility for her otherness as a Jewess and a woman. She is aware of the double threat against her: as Queen, having replaced another whose deviation brought about her death; as a Jew, whose people by their different-ness brought upon them a decree of annihilation. Esther's strength and sense of responsibility to her uniqueness offers a model for redemption. She grapples with the mask as seen by others, which is racist and stereotyped. She strives to remove the threat of otherness, to present a human face and allow Ahasuerus to accept the other - the woman and the Jew - without fear.
Yet, Esther also knows that her femininity and her Jewishness are her only weapons. Thus she first emerges from a latent state to declare her bond to her people and her God:
"And Esther sent back a reply to Mordechai: Go and assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan and fast on my behalf; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will observe the same fast" (4:15).
And then, relying on her feminine power, trusting in fate and risking death, she will "go to the King, though it be contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish" (4:16).
After three days of fasting and prayer (reminiscent of the three days preparing at Sinai to receive the Torah), "Esther donned royal apparel and stood in the King's inner courtyard..." (5:1). Esther stands face to face with the King "sitting on his throne....facing the entrance of the palace." (Here, too, are parallels with the entrance to the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, lending an air of a direct meeting with holiness).
It all hangs on the split second glimpse of the woman standing in the doorway at her own peril. At that instant, her fate is sealed. As Ruth determined events by walking, Esther does so by standing. She is in royal attire, interpreted by Rashi as being draped in Divine inspiration, and this instant of a woman standing is described in the Talmud (Tractate Megilla 14b) as a moment of prophecy.
Yet how does she transform the revealed female body from an object of desire to a human visage?... (read the entire article)
Mishenichnas Adar, marbim b'simcha -- when the month of Adar begins we go out of our way to be joyful! Purim is fast approaching. Can you guess who I will be dressed like this year? Send in your vote, and each week I'll post the tally (yes, I have already decided). Whoever guesses right, something special awaits on the day of Purim.
Update on the voting, as of Thursday 3/17/2011:
Lady Gaga leads with 3 votes
Harry Potter has 2 votes
1 vote each for: Annoying Orange, Statue of Liberty, Woody, Buzz Lightyear, a surfer dude, Charlie Sheen, Mahmoud Ahmedinjad, Katie Perry, Darth Vader
Here is me the last couple of years, though I don't think it will give you any clues...