Chag Sameach — Happy Purim March 6-7

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 else 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. Yet, here we are, rejoicing over the demise of villains determined to destroy us.

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 many think of ourselves as different, none went so far as to wish us harm for that reason alone. When Pharoah decided to enslave the Hebrews, it was because he feared that we were becoming too numerous and lived in the most fertile part of the Nile delta. When the Israelites journeyed to their promised land, Amalek did not want us to falter because of our belief in One God, but because he was concerned about the survival of his people by being overwhelmed by our numbers.

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

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

Haman’s remarks in his diatribe to the Persian King of “a certain people scattered about and dispersed among other peoples...” is an invitation to resent people who are different. How many times have we seen hatred surface when we do not understand someone or find that person or persons so different that it frightens us? Also, Purim gives us an opportunity to escape from reality. We dress differently; we masquerade as someone else, all in a frenzy to elude the terrible misfortune that awaited us as Haman and his cohorts developed a scheme to rid themselves of the Jewish presence, not the Jewish people as such.

However, the most unique aspect of Purim is the dialogue we have regarding the absence of God in the narrative. Maimonides debates this in his Guide to the Perplexed and in his Mishnah Torah. He talks about good and evil, and the part played by God in both.

Purim is a holiday, the last in the Jewish sequence that allows us to examine our role in accepting that which happens or making the effort to extract from the experience the ability to allow 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.

So dance, be merry, laugh, hide, be someone else, and then remember that Purim exists to encourage us to see a brighter tomorrow with all its noisemakers and dancing. The name of evil is drowned out by the tumult. Perhaps then we will fully understand the essence of the story, that as Isaiah taught us, “Cease to do evil, and learn to do good. See justice and relieve the oppressed.” Maybe that is why we particularly distribute charity during this celebration of life’s journey



Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D