Several things come to mind when the holiday of Purim peeks though the maze of calendar days and dates. For example, there is the understanding that it is unique in the Jewish experience. Nowhere in our celebrations do we commemorate victory with merriment. In fact, we are taught that we have a duty, an obligation, to not rejoice over the misfortune of others.

For example, a midrash describes the salvation of the Israelites from the clutches of Pharaoh when they are cornered at the sea. There is nowhere to turn, no retreat, and only death in front. The Bible tells us that Moses lifted his hands over the water and it parted. The Israelites are spared, but the Egyptians drown in pursuit. Then the angels cry out to God as to why there should not be celebrating and rejoicing, to which God replies that the Egyptians are also His children—certainly no cause for jubilation.

While we may think of ourselves as different, no captor wished us harm for this reason alone. When Pharoah decided to enslave the Hebrews it was because he feared we were becoming too numerous and lived in the most fertile part of the Nile Delta. When the Israelites journeyed to their promised land, nobody wanted them to falter because due to their belief in the one God, but rather because Egyptians were concerned about their own survival as they were overwhelmed by the numbers of the Hebrews.

Even when the mighty Roman Empire destroyed the lands of Judea and Samaria, the destruction was due to insurrection and rebellion. In fact, the Romans had a great deal of respect for our culture and religious practices. History tells us that many Roman soldiers converted to Judaism because of its elements of connection and the value of life. It was our own hatred of one another that contributed to our destruction. The Talmud describes it as “Sinus Chinum.”

When the Nazis systematically designed a “final solution” (which included the indiscriminate murder of the Jewish Purim
people wherever they were located just because they were Jewish), the equation changed The Nazi agenda was short, simple, and direct. There was no pretense of Jews being too numerous or too strong.

Yet, here we are at Purim, rejoicing over the demise of villains determined to destroy us. Haman remarks in his diatribe to the Persian King that the Jews were “a certain people scattered about and dispersed among other peoples.” Haman issued an invitation to resent people who are different. How many times have we seen hatred surface when we do not understand someone or find someone so different from us that it frightens us?

Purim gives us an opportunity to escape from reality. We dress differently--we masquerade and shake our groggers all in a frenzy to elude the terrible misfortune that awaited us. Haman and his cohorts developed a scheme to rid themselves of the Jewish presence, not the Jewish people as such. Purim is the one exception that permits us to celebrate our deliverance in a way that enables us to escape to a world of make-believe, the stuff that dreams are made of. Like Cinderella’s coach that takes us to the ball, our deliverance is sweetness and happiness, giving us the ability to enjoy every moment of our lives in goodness and love.

However, the most unique aspect of Purim is the dialogue we have regarding its purpose and the supposed absence of God in things that seem to be evil. Purim is a holiday, the last in the Jewish sequence that allows us to examine our role in accepting what happens. We make the effort to extract from the experience the ability to allow our goodness to dominate our lives. Purim is a holiday that enables us to understand that we must take control of our destiny. Purim is a holiday that helps us comprehend the meaning of freedom as fully described in a holiday that follows just four weeks later – Passover, the ultimate expression of self-determination.

Dance, be merry, laugh, hide, be someone else, give charity, and then remember that Purim exists to encourage us to a brighter tomorrow with all its noisemakers and dancing. The name of evil is drowned out by the tumult. Perhaps at Purim we will fully understand the essence of the story that we learned from Isaiah, “Cease to do evil, and learn to do good…”

Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D