There is a folk legend that King Solomon once posed the following riddle: "What can you say to a happy person to make them sad, that will also make a sad person happy?"
King Solomon took a gold ring from his pocket upon which were engraved three Hebrew letters: גז"י – Gimel, Zayin, Yod. They stand for 'גם זה יעבור gam zeh ya'avor,' this too, shall pass.
The primary themes of Purim are a corollary to King Solomon's teaching: ונהפוך הוא / V'nahafoch hu. What is true in one moment can turn upside down. The Megillah is replete with examples. Queen Esther, who first appears as a closeted Jew, ends up saving the Jewish people by standing up to King Ahashverosh. Haman's evil plot to wipe out all the Jews of Shushan leads to his own demise. And the Jews of Shushan, once powerless subjects, become powerful actors, able to control their own destiny.
And so we will read in Esther 9:1:
"...When the king's command and decree were to be executed, the very day on which the enemies of the Jews had expected to get them in their power, the opposite happened [v’nahafoch hu], and the Jews got their enemies in their power."
With a heaping helping of heavy handedness (and an overindulgence in revenge), the Megillah reminds us just how topsy-turvy the world can be. In the words of my teacher Rabbi Benay Lappe, all stories ultimately and inevitably crash. V'nahafoch hu. Purim is a celebration of subversion, inversion, and transformation.
So much so, that the rabbis of the Mishnah took the time to warn against thinking v'nahafoch hu applies to reading the Megillah backwards, a practice they ruled does not fulfill one's obligation on Purim (Megillah 2:1). In classic Hasidic fashion, the Ba'al Shem Tov turned the Sages' caution inward by adding, "one who reads the Megillah backwards" is a person who only reads it in retrospect and neglects to pay attention to how its spirit is alive in their own day.
As the seasons change and the days grow longer, we seek out levity and instability, allowing the brittle interface of reality to loosen its grip on our souls. To remind ourselves that anything is possible, in our selves and in our world. On this Rosh Hodesh Adar II, may the promises of the rabbis come true and may the sliver of this new moon increase joy in your life.
Hodesh Tov 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.