Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Finding the Diamond in the Rough

Purim.  It is almost here.  How did this happen?

I went back through all of my past Purim entries, and I am shocked at how little I have actually written on this holiday.  I always commented on making hamantaschen, what costume we each wore, and making gift bags to give to friends (mishloach manot).  There was one little entry about Vashti.  I never really get any deeper than that.  What is up with that?

We all know that the Book of Esther fails to mention G-d's name, and the events appear to be occurring without any kind of divine intervention.  We also know that this story and the Hebrew behind Megillat Esther has connotations meaning "revelation of that which is hidden."  We know of feminist themes, traditional interpretations, "hiddeness" like G-d's presence and Esther's Jewishness, etc.

We also know a little history -- like Hitler banning Purim, declaring a capital offense for possessing a copy of the Book of Esther, and death.  On Purim 1942, ten Jews were hanged in Zduńska Wola to avenge the hanging of Haman's ten sons.  In a similar incident in 1943, the Nazis shot 10 Jews from the Piotrkó ghetto.  Tova Friedman, a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau as a child, describes how she and other children observed the festival of Purim at the Displaced Persons camp at Leipheim, Germany, following World War II: 
We celebrated Haman the Jew-hater's defeat by our ancient hero Mordecai. Hitler was our Haman. We hung effigies of him by his head, by his feet, by his belly. All the children joined in. We drew pictures of him — a big Hitler with a little body, then a fat Hitler with a little head — making him look as ridiculous as we could. Then we poked sticks at the pictures. It was small revenge for what he had done to us.
These things we know.  And many others.  What, though, is new and fresh for me to take away from Purim?  Why do I have a hard time connecting to it on a deeper level?  For the last week, I have been seeking the answer to this.  What connects me this year?  What inspires me about Purim?

Two words:  The Fast.

Besides the fact that I find the ritual of fasting meaningful, the particular fast mentioned in this story happens to be three-day fast.  As you may remember, Esther asked her uncle, Mordechai to get the Jewish people together to fast for three days and then she would address the King about the fate of her people. 

The inspiring thing about this little snippet of the story is this:  No where in the whole Megillah is G-d mentioned.  No where.  The people were not directed to fast.  G-d did not tell Esther to organize it.  It is a rare Biblical example of the Jewish people being self-directed -- coming together, fasting, making a difference.  The rich, the poor, the this-Jew and the that-Jew.  We all came together and shaped our own destiny.  What was hidden?  Our absolute ability to unite despite differences, whether in ideology, philosophy, theology, life circumstance, whatever.  This kind of unity -- the aspiration for this kind of unity -- is inspiring to me.  It was their self0directed unity that positively affected the outcome of this story.

This Purim, I am going to draw upon this truth, and know that even now but especially in times of great crisis for us Jews, we can draw together in unity and positively shape our reality as a people.  In this way, may we bring light into the world.



No comments: