Yesterday Zoom invited me to a webinar. As far as I can tell they had no idea it was Purim. The description read, "In this webinar you will learn pragmatic ways to embed disruption into your strategy, leadership, and culture." I stopped and laughed. At this point we don't need to embed disruption, it has become our pandemic status quo. And then I thought, Zoom just tried to repackage the wisdom of Purim in a webinar.
Every year on Yom Kippur, we ask ourselves in what ways is the Day of Atonement like Purim, inspired by the linguistic wordplay Yom k'Purim? During the mincha service we integrate the spirit of whimsy and carnival to further open the heart.
What if the opposite is also possible? This year I am drawing more connections and noticing the ways that Purim is a lot like Yom Kippur.
Now, on the surface they look antithetical to each other. On Yom Kippur we wear all white. On Purim we dress up in costume. On Yom Kippur we fast from food and water. On Purim we eat and drink until we can't tell the difference between right and wrong. And yet, both holidays are replete with seemingly opposite practices that point us towards change and transformation, towards teshuvah.
The Sefat Emet explains that teshuvah on Yom Kippur happens through "affliction" -- abstaining from food, water, sex, and other bodily functions, and focusing on prayer and introspection. The Sefat Emet then asserts that on Purim, the work of teshuvah takes place through simcha -- joy, happiness, and celebration.
The most outrageous mitzvah on Purim is surely the instruction to get so inebriated that we don't know the difference between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman." The prospect of letting loose and letting go so that we blur the boundaries of what we know to be true is risky and vulnerable. And a subversive way to access that which is hidden, yet persistent and possible. The combination of levity, libation, costumes, and carnival creates a sacred destabilization of reality, embedded disruption if you will. Not for its own sake, but because it leads us closer to our truest selves and to each other.
In the words of Yehudah Amichai:
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
Or in the words of adrienne maree brown, "Laughter is important. Joy is important. It's not a guilty pleasure, it is a strategic move towards the future we all need to create."
May the laughter and joy of Purim soften our judgements and loosen our grip on what we know as fixed and true, ad d'lo yada, until we no longer know the place where we are right. And may the coming of spring be full of new possibilities and abundant growth for each of us.
Hag Purim Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Ari Lev
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Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari brings Torat Hayyim, a living tradition, to Kol Tzedek through thoughts about prayer, justice, and community.