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Words of Wisdom

03/18/2019 05:35:56 PM


Purim is one of the happiest days in the Jewish calendar:

For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor. In every province and every city, wherever the king's edict and decree reached, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.   Esther 8:16-17.

This joy, and the spirit of rejoicing, is the basis of the holiday that is always remembered and never forgotten from generation to generation: 

These days should be remembered and celebrated by every generation, family, province, and city, so that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews, nor should the memory of them fade from their descendants.  Esther 9:28

The link between joy and memory is of the utmost importance to a people that has suffered so much. For all of the days we remember destruction, on Purim we weigh the scales in the opposite direction: we remember triumph, survival, the conversion of darkness to light. On no other day are we encouraged to experience joy to the extent of Purim itself, with all its aspects of fun, the carnivalesque, and even the manifestly ridiculous. 

If memory is classically associated with yizkor (the prayer of remembrance for the dead), then the megillah, with its surrounding customs is a celebration of life. Memory is important to Purim because it is the memory of pure gratitude - the gratitude that only comes from survival against all odds. So what is it that we are remembering on Purim? Not only the miracle of Esther and Mordechai, the generation of Shushan, but also the simple fact of survival in each and every generation, the unexplainable fact that we are still here, and we are still celebrating, and we will still continue to celebrate for as long as we can breathe, sing, and read the Megillah. 

The verse actually says "Nizkarim ve Naasim" (remembered and re-enacted), to teach us that the key to celebration is re-enactment: we act out the story - we wear costumes just as Esther and Mordechai wore costumes; we hide our faces just as Esther hid her identity; and we feast just as the king of Persia feasted. We actually live through the transition from dark to light, from mourning to rejoicing, and bring with it our own human experiences of survival to reaffirm our Jewish identity. Am Yisrael Hay!

Fri, August 14 2020 24 Av 5780