Ahavat Olam

A progressive synagogue in Vancouver, BC, Canada

A Purim message

Purim is coming on the night of the full moon, Saturday, March 19, 2011. This year, for the first time, Ahavat Olam will not have its own Purim celebration. Everyone is encouraged to join in at another synagogue. Find the one that best suits you.

Usually Purim comes on the full moon after Tu be-Shvat.  (Tu be-Shvat itself is the full moon that begins the end of winter and sets in motion the transition from the quiet, potentialities of dormancy to the emerging of spring.)  This year, Purim will come two moons after Tu be-Shvat, not one.  That’s because we’re in a leap year and we add an entire month to keep our calendar in sync with the movement of our Earth around the sun.

There are four essential mitzvot of Purim:

  1. We read the Megillah, of course. That is one of the mitzvot of Purim. Meet Reb David at Beth Israel
    or go to any other synagogue.
  2. We dress up, make lots of noise, eat, drink, have a great time. That’s also a mitzvah.
  3. Ahavat Olam always has also joined together to bring some joy and needed items to folks who have very little. That’s also a mitzvah. It’s called matanot le-evyonim and is right in the Scroll of Esther (9:22) for us Jews to do that through all generations. So far, we’re still at it, thank God. This year, on the day of Purim, Sunday,March 20, we will join with Muslim friends in making and serving a much-needed nutritious lunch at the First United Church in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Sign up for a shift in the kitchen or serving at www.muslim-jewish.ca/feedthehungry.
  4. Mishloah manot, sending sweets and goodies to friends and family. We do this as individuals, not as an organization.

But, what does Purim mean – or what can it mean? What’s it for? And how can webring that meaning out for ourselves this year? We’re consciously living our Judaism. So, let’s think about this together. In no particular order, Reb David’s top ten themes and values of Purim:

  • Concealed / revealed – God is hidden in the story, never mentioned once but always present. Esther hides her identity. We put on costumes and masks to hide what we usually reveal and to reveal what we usually conceal. The rabbis of old say Purim is about the “concealed miracles” as distinct from the “revealed miracles” like the Splitting of the Sea and the Eight Days of Oil.
  • Surviving against great odds – Jews and their allies overcome the hateful plot to annihilate them. We have survived so much all through history. Many peoples have survived terrible near-genocides; others have not.
  • Liberation from tyranny – Evil is defeated. Good triumphs. Haman and all his sons, the last surviving descendents of Amalek, are eliminated for forever. Gone. Done. Does that mean no more evil? Or is it a different quality of evil now? What’s this part of the story?
  • Women’s freedom from exploitation – Esther is caught between being used because of men’s reactions to her appearance, and using her brains to save her peopleand herself. She ends up making the rules and telling the king and Uncle Mordecai what to do.
  • Taking risks, accepting our mission in life – Esther hesitates to speak to the king until Mordecai tells her, “Who knows, perhaps for just this you were made queen.”(4:14)
  • Effective strategies for dealing with powerful adversaries – Uncle Mordecai confronts tyranny head-on — and nearly gets everyone killed. Esther, on the other hand, hides her identity until just the right moment and saves everyone. When is it best to be “out” and when better to appear to accommodate?
  • Danger of a weak ego – Haman’s insatiable need for external affirmation leads to his demise . . . and nearly everyone else’s too. What’s the psychological component of some people’s need to dominate?
  • The foolishness of rulers – King Ahashverosh is shallow, simplistic, easily manipulated. Any contemporary parallels?
  • Real world redemption? Purim forever? – The Zohar noted that Yom Kippur is called yom ke-purim, a day like Purim. Why? Midrash says that in the Days to Come, all festivals will be cancelled, no longer needed, except that Purim will continue. Why?
  • Ad lo yada – no distinction between good and evil – The rabbis in theTalmud say we’re commanded to shift our consciousness until we no long can distinguish between “Blessed is Mordecai” and “Cursed is Haman”. Is this like Rumi saying “Out beyond the end of the field is a place beyond good and evil; that’s where I’ll meet you”?
  • Fuggeddaboutit and just have fun. – Meaning, shmeaning! Shake thatgrogger and pass another hamentashen!

To “get” the story of Purim, read the Scroll of Esther. It’s short, only a few pages, and is in every Bible and at Esther online.