And So This is Purim!
(Sung to the tune of John Lennon’s: “And So This is Christmas”…because it’s… Purim!)
And so this is Purim,
And what have we done?
Another year over
And a new one’s just begun.
Let’s wear our Zoom filters
And don our Zoom masks
Let’s drink a L’chaim
And swig from our flasks
But party in private
No large Shushan feast
We increase our ‘happy’
But the parties decrease
So a very merry Purim
Take a moment to notice
We came close to disaster
But they couldn’t quite smote us.
(okay, not proud of that last rhyme but…it’s Purim so I can take rhyming liberties).
Today is Purim and we’re supposed to switch things up, listen to the Megillah, boo at Haman, and remember that being a Jew in exile means standing on the shifting sands of politics. This year, of all years, we don’t need Purim to teach us about how crazy the world can get. This year, we look for deeper messages of the holiday that can speak to us right now.
This morning, on my online weekly coffee discussion, we looked at the Megillah, and its message of privilege. This year I saw it clearly, while every other year it sat quietly in the text waiting for its moment.
The Megillah begins with a portrait of complete privilege: the king is hosting endless feasting and debauchery for his invited privileged guests. The description is surprising in its excess and the midrashim add details that complete the picture of privilege. Within this setting, Queen Vashti is told to appear. At this point, the story will unfold as an ongoing introduction of decreasing privilege. The queen, who has little choice, refuses, and is ‘gotten rid of’. The advisors have told the king that if his ultimate power (privilege) is challenged, then all wives will challenge their husbands — those of lesser power (privilege) will begin to question their standings, and challenge the rung above them. Esther is chosen as queen , and will gain privilege, but only as long as she hides who she is, Mordecai has told her she must hide her identity because he knows that knowledge of her people will rob her of any power she might attain. Esther can blend, she can pass, she lives the life of the imposter.
The stand-off between Haman and Mordecai plays out the same way. In fact, every detail from that moment onward speaks of a switching of privilege — the doors that open, the safety that privilege provides, and the redefinition of the society when it is challenged.
In the final moments of the narrative, the Jewish people (previously on the bottom rung of the ladder, facing a genocide) are allowed to arm themselves, and deliver a pre-emptive strike against those who had already armed against them. It is the eleventh hour reversal.
Up to this moment in the Megillah, Esther and Mordecai tell us of the events of their time, but they have not yet weighed in on what we should do because of it. Only in the last verses of the Megillah do they tell us to read their story every year, make it a day of joyous festivities and send presents to the poor. In other words, hear their cautionary tale, remember it is a repeating story of hatred and privilege, combat the sadness of that fact with the expression of joy, and fight the reality of privilege by reaching out to anyone in need. Try to equalize our society by sharing what is ours, and creating a bond across the strata of power.
I’m not sure that even Esther and Mordecai could have known how relevant their message has become. This year I read the Megillah with joy, and I add a measure of gratitude.
Happy Purim and shabbat shalom!
Check out Rachael’s revamped video for Purim:
Rachael hosts Food For Our Neshama, Coffee For Me Friday mornings from 10-10:30am ET on Zoom. The link is on our homepage.