Over the last few weeks, many of you have confided in me that you don't really like Purim. Or that it makes you uncomfortable (for all sorts of valid reasons). There are even those among you who feel it is your least favorite holiday. And you are not alone. I too have felt this. So much so, that for the first few years of rabbinical school, I intentionally sat a meditation retreat during Purim. I saw Purim as yet another opportunity for the habits of Jewish fraternities to unleash itself themselves community. I felt unsafe in the presence of drunken peers. And even more so, I felt unsafe in a costume. Because in truth, I was working so hard to be seen as myself, it felt too vulnerable to dress up and risk losing it all. Which is precisely what Purim seems to be asking us to do. To loosen our grip, to blur boundaries, to invert truth. But why?
For me the answer comes towards the end of chapter 4 in the Megillah. Mordechai sends a message to Esther, saying:
“Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. If you keep silent in this crisis, release and liberation (רוח והצלה) will come some other way...And who knows (ומי יודע) if it wasn't for just such a time that you became queen?” (Esther 4:13-14).
The entire purpose of Purim is release and liberation. Purim calls us to live into our deepest longings, knowing that things are not as they should be. Purim reminds us that our struggles must be rooted in a vision of the world full of light, joy and delight (אורה ושמחה וששן).
Because who knows?
In the words of my teacher Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld,
"In this remarkable exchange between Mordechai and Esther, "Who knows?” becomes not an excuse but an invitation:
Consider the possibility, says Mordechai, that you are here for a purpose.
Consider the possibility that there is something bigger and more important than your fear.
Consider the possibility that you have more power than you imagine.
Consider the possibility that it is up to us to act out of love and responsibility for each other."
It was only when I understood this greater purpose, that I had the courage to look inside and discern what in me needed to be released. Where was I taking myself too seriously? Who/what else did I long to be? And perhaps most profoundly, what hidden joy might be possible in this difficult moment?
For the rabbis, Yom Kippur and Purim are two sides of the same coin. If Yom Kippur is characterized by an earnest pursuit of teshuva, Purim opens the space for an ironic vulnerability. In my experience, it is only when we lean into this spirit of release that we have the power to be transformed by it.
Who knows? Perhaps Purim might just become your favorite holiday yet.
Looking forward to seeing you all weekend long!
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.