From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
Be Happy, it’s ADAR! It’s Purim time, and Adar is the Hebrew month in which we celebrate the holiday. When the month begins, we’ve been taught to say, “When Adar enters, joy increases!” In history, Purim was a festive holiday that provided a place in the Jewish calendar for the Jewish community to celebrate. The funny thing about Purim is that it’s a story that turns everything on its head. The strong are weak and the weak are strong; the powerless prevail and the powerful are defeated.
A familiar custom on Purim is to dress up in costume, but not just any costume. It isn’t uncommon for men to dress up as Vashti or Esther, and for women to dress as Mordechai or Haman. Everything is turned on its head. The hilarity of it should be obvious, but when it isn’t obvious the outcome can be unfortunate. There are those who don’t understand Purim and refuse to see it for what it is, namely, a moment in Jewish life that is given over to frivolity, an infrequent luxury in the long arc of Jewish history. Those who don’t understand would exclaim about the man dressed as Esther, “That’s one ugly queen!” or “I’m offended by these games in the synagogue!” Years ago, a teenager, whose parents lacked a sense of humor at any time of year, failed to find the fun in Purim songs that were parodies of modern tunes. Despite efforts to explain, he was unable to celebrate the holiday in ways that were as familiar in ancient Persia as they are in modern Israel. It was his loss for the fun he missed on Purim. It was also his loss, because the lesson of Purim is found not only in the ancient story found in the Book of Esther, but also in the ways it’s reflected in contemporary events.
A key to understanding Purim is seeing what is and isn’t really there and knowing the difference between them. I recommend keeping your focus on Mordecai and Esther, because their authenticity, though masked at first, is what carries the day. Haman, though he portrays himself to be King Ahasuerus’s confidant, is as evil as the day is long. Keep your eye on the authentic qualities of these characters even when they’re masqueraded, and you’ll finish first like Mordecai and Esther who are the heroes of the Purim story, and not last like Haman who was left hanging from the gallows.
Today, we wear protective masks, but not to cover up our identity or become someone else by deception. One day, we’ll discard our masks and reveal our strength and courage to persist despite threats of all kinds. Once more, truth and moral courage will save us again. They’ve always been the best antidotes to schemes to destroy us and the foundations on which we stake our lives and our future. The Purim story is a fresh breath taken in the midst of a congested atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Cast your lots with the Jewish people who have, despite clashes with evil rulers and anti-Semites, prevailed with strength of mind and faith in God.