Monday, March 10, 2014

May the Real Purim Please Stand Up!

Parshat Tzav (Zachor)
Vayikra 6:1 – 8:36
15 Adar 2 5774 / March 14-15, 2014

Hi MH’ers!

Hope you are ready for a blast-off week. In this week’s parsha we continue to learn about the sacrificial offerings and we hear the tale of the 7 day ritual which establishes Aaron and his sons as the Priests of the community. In traditional synagogues a special portion will also be read, Parshat Zachor – the Portion of Rememberance, which relates the commandment to blot out the memory of Amalek. Funny isn’t it, to be commanded to remember to forget something! 

Parshat Zachor fits neatly into the theme of Purim, as Haman is metaphorically associated with Amalek. Reminder, the Fast of Esther is this Thursday and Purim is this Sat. night and Sunday. Read on for some thoughts about Purim.

Many blessings!

May the Real Purim Please Stand Up!
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

Here is comes again! Purim. The holiday that celebrates Esther and Mordechai’s brave acts that seemed to turn fate on its head so that the Jewish people were saved and the evil people (Haman and his family) were hanged. Of course, as a side note, a simple reading of the Scroll of Esther also shares that many other people died as a result, soldiers who were just following orders. (Note to self: Do not do things that are just following orders.)

How do we celebrate this holiday? We give money to the poor and food to our friends. We dress up in costumes. And oh yes, we get drunk, so drunk that we cannot tell the difference between Haman and Mordechai, between evil and good.

At a certain point in time, this seemed really cool to me. A holiday where we celebrate by getting sloshed! Can there be anything better? When I consider some of the deeper messages of this holiday, I actually do think so. I am not sure that the way that I learned to drink is really getting at what the Rabbis wanted when they decreed, “Ad d’lo Yada,” Drink until you do not know the difference between good and evil.

Here are some underlying themes of the Purim story that can easily get lost when I am on the special sauce –
1.      God is not mentioned in the story of Esther at all! The world where the story takes place is the closest to our experience of the world today, more than any other holiday narrative. Life seems to happen at random and it can be quite a scary reality to live in.

2.      It is really difficult to stick your neck out for a greater good. The enticement of personal safety is so strong, though it must be risked, especially when your family (or any minority group) is being threatened.

3.      There is nothing in this world that is purely good or purely bad. In fact, these terms might be completely arbitrary in this world. When we look back at life’s events, we see horrendous tragedies feed into amazing advancements and joyous celebrations. We only know joy, because we know sorrow.

Purim is not just a simple story that calls for an over-the-top celebration of Jewish survival. It is an acknowledgment, and perhaps an uncomfortable one, that the world we live in makes no sense. Living a just life comes through immense sacrifice. Whether you believe in God or not, there is no guidebook for a happy peaceful existence, and maybe the point of existence is not even peace and happiness. These are scary facts to face, and often lead people toward abusing alcohol, since it is much easier to be drunk than to face these scary facts.

When the Rabbis were inviting us to get drunk, their intention was to engage us in a transcendent encounter with these facts. Similar to a dream state, where it is easier to process our difficult emotions, when we are drunk it is easier to deal with the harsh truths of this world in order to integrate them into how we approach living day-to-day. But it depends on how your drink. I learned to drink to forget and purge, not to encounter and accept. I experienced this kind of drinking before, when I was living in a Yeshivah in Brooklyn. Everyone was drinking around a table and singing songs with full passion. Dancing ensued, faster and faster and more ecstatic. Suddenly, a Rabbi pulled me over for an intimate conversation and gave me a blessing that I was on the right spiritual path. He spoke of the courage he saw in me and empowered me to continue to live my Jewish life authentically.

So I think Purim is a time when we embrace the doubt that we see in the world, in our communities, and in ourselves. We dress up and get playful because nothing is as it seems, and this is what we got, so let’s celebrate it. We drink, just enough, so we can more easily feel connected to each other, so we can throw our arms around each other and share blessings of beauty, strength, and comfort. If you can do this without drinking and with more presence, amazing! And then we do the real mitzvoth of Purim, Sending Food and Gifts to the Poor - we share what we have so that everyone will have food to eat, shelter to live under, clothing to dress in, and love and care to be nurtured.   

Have a Truly Happy Purim! 


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