Magazine article Tikkun

Purim: From Duality to Unity

Magazine article Tikkun

Purim: From Duality to Unity

Article excerpt

Using a Midrashic play on words, a Rabbi once referred to Yom Kippurim as Yom K'Purim-a day like Purim, but not quite as holy as Purim. This cryptic teaching is a bit shocking to those of us who grew up thinking of Yom Kippur as the holiest day of the year, and of Purim as a lighthearted and irreverent children's holiday for masquerading and noise-making. Not only is Purim seen as possibly more holy than Yom Kippur, there is an opinion in the Talmud that even in the Messianic era (when evil will be wiped out) Purim will be among the few holy days Jews will still be required to observe! What is so special about Purim that the Talmud rendered it "postmessianic," and how is it similar to Yom Kippur, the holy day of at-one-ment? In this essay I will offer possible answers to these two questions while also considering how aspects of my own life have been illuminated by viewing them through the lens of the Purim story.

The book of Esther, which we read on Purim, is a story filled with mystery, surprise reversals, and hidden identities becoming revealed. In fact the Hebrew expression Megilat Esther (the scroll of Esther) can also be understood as a play on the words megalah hester, revealing that which is hidden. For the name Esther, aside from its possible association with Ishtar, the Near Eastern goddess of love and war, in Hebrew means "hiddeness"-from the Hebrew root seter.

Even Purim's holiness, as the name of its heroine, Esther, suggests, is hidden from us. To find it we have to search beyond the literal story; not only does Esther hide her true identity as a Jewess from King Ahashverosh until the perfect moment for self-revelation, but the very name of God is hidden within the narrative of the Megillah. Throughout the text we hear about Ha'melech (the King), but we hear nothing about the ONE who fashions the heart of Kings and Queens. The closest we come to finding the YHVH name of God within the text is as a hidden acronym. As Esther invites King Ahashverosh to a feast with Haman she says: "Yavo Ha'melech V'haman H'ayom" (the King shall come with Haman today). (Esther 5:4) As Esther utters this invitation to the mortal King, she secretly offers up a prayer that God, the King of Kings, also be present!

The deliberate omission/hiding of God's name within this book of scriptures reflects the new reality that the Jews of Persia were experiencing-that of Galut or exile. Not only were they living geographically exiled from the Holy Land, but their experience of reality was that of Galut Ha'Shechinah-the Divine Presence in exile. The God of exile is a God in exile. Unlike the God of the Bible whose divine intervention in human affairs is directly perceived, the God of Exile works behind the scenes, cloaked in the mysterious unfolding of history. Living in exile, the Jews faced the challenge of maintaining faith in spite of the apparent eclipse of Divine providence and the loss of the sacred Temple rites which had been the focal point of Jewish religious life. Without the Holy Temple, the Jews of the diaspora had to begin to develop a new Jewish spirituality that would be relevant to their new historic context in order to survive. The Purim story takes place during this pivotal point in the diaspora's struggle to renew Judaisma renewal that ultimately resulted in a profound paradigm shift which placed prayer and study of the Oral Tradition, Torah She'be'al peh, at the center of religious discourse.

In many ways the era in which the Purim story unfolds reminds me of our times. Just as the Jews of Persia had to evolve their understanding of Judaism in order to survive the cataclysmic destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, our generation faces the challenge of creating a Judaism that can speak to our post-Holocaust and post-patriarchal theological concerns.

As a Jewess living in the diaspora, I also struggle with the issue of living outside of the Holy Land. After making aliyah and spending the 1970s living in Jerusalem as an Orthodox Jew, personal and family matters forced my return to America. …

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