Not High But On High Alert
As the Purim story goes, Haman was a narcissist who planned to massacre all Jews in Persia because the Jewish Mordechai refused to bow down. Mordechai preserved the integrity of his faith and dignity and Haman took insult. This is a story of ethnic hatred that ended up in misfortune and defeat for the haters while the Jews were spared. Till this day we commemorate our lucky moment with merrymaking, gift-giving, costumes and a bit of booze. The Vilna Gaon (18th century Lithuania) teaches that the word Purim shares the root of the name of another Jewish holiday, Yom Kippurim or for short Yom Kippur. Thus Purim too, like Yom Kippur, is a time for inward reflection.
Recent events are particularly calling us to reflect this Purim. The Tree Of Life massacre, the Christchurch massacre, and the growth of violent white supremacism. Do we have any part in these extreme events, perhaps by omission if not by commission? Greta Thunberg, a high school student from Sweden, has initiated an international school strike to bring attention to Climate Change and the perilous future we are handing our children. Have we been doing enough to secure a sustainable environment for the next generations by omission, if not by commission? Haman engaged in Jew harassment, are we doing enough to prevent ethnic based harassment/massacres in our own times? Are we doing enough to prevent the extinction of species and the dangerous alteration of the climate?
[floating image: 'grogger']
The holiday of Purim is fun-filled. The Talmud advises us to wear masks, get high, and party. In fact we are told to dress in costumes pretending to be someone else entirely. The full story and observances of Purim indeed give voice to deep spiritual and ethical principles, such as humility, courage, tolerance, mystery, beauty, wit, love, joy of life, and more.
[floating image: 'grogger']But when we examine the story’s dramatic core we are reminded not to get high but rather to be on high alert, mindful of the rise of evil and insanity in our midst. This Purim as we slip on our costumes let us actually unmask. Let us stop the pretense that all is well. Let us become the fierce activist dormant within us. Let us make our hopeful voices heard louder than the noisiest groggers drowning the name Haman. Let us assure safe streets, safe places of worship, and a safe planet for generations henceforth. May our grandchildren, great grandchildren and beyond enjoy many costume parties that reenact ancient and purely symbolic stories of long forgotten wows. Long forgotten. This Purim let us assure the integrity of life, faith, and dignity for all peoples for all times.
Rabbi Reuben Modek
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