On Purim – Being an Upstander

These days I am experiencing Purim as a daily show--larger than life characters operating on impulse and often masking shadowy motives. Still, in the midst of it all, a call to find strength through engaging in the hidden and revealed, in the masked and the exposed, the Jewish Purim arrives!

Purim means “to cast lots.” We read the well-crafted drama of the Purim story from the Hebrew Bible, Megillat (The Scroll of) Esther; celebrate with a festive meal/seudat Purim; give tzedakah directly to those in need- mattanot l’evyonim - not through third parties - and give mishloach manot- deliver festive goodies to friends.We are encouraged to connect deeply with the Purim story, dress up in masks and costumes, hiding as it were, just like Esther did until her Uncle Mordechai challenges and supports her to reveal her true Jewish identity.

Even the Talmud discusses the practice of drinking “spirits” on Purim to the extent we can no longer tell who is good and evil, and are less able to make these internal distinctions in order to reveal our true selves. Esther’s name is derived from the word for that which is hidden or “nistar.” We enter the story, inhabit the roles, claim our true heritage and identity, then celebrate and release our tightly wound self-image.

There is a traditional playfulness and frivolity that developed around Purim, often in troubled times.We try on masks of shadow and light, explore our own stories without being too defined by them and in the process, reveal more about our essential selves.We can each step for a moment into what a different persona or costume might express, celebrate and lampoon our own foibles and loosen the grip of self- judgment.We also give ourselves permission to inhabit, test out and satirize our communal, national or global circumstances- where what is hidden and unspoken gets satirized in a way that gives us perspective and empowerment over that which is and is not in our control.

Esther’s journey (like God who is not named and is the “hidden one” in this book) moves her from obscurity to secrecy to revealing her true self and taking a stand for her people at great risk. Her story can inspire us as we respond to many issues that we try to tackle for the sake of justice in all areas of life and for the wellbeing of our planet. Thanks to modern Jewish feminist thought,Vashti, King Ahashverous’ wife, has been claimed as one of the champions of the story, as she risked and lost her own standing by saying “No to the King” as our own Rabbi Margot Stein sings in her co-written Purim song.

To me, this is actually in keeping with Esther’s own journey towards self-revelation and values- clarification. It is what we as Jews, partners and allies wrestle with as we do the dance of being safe enough to hide out and be loved for our patterns and viewpoints.We strive to grow and unmask our surface presentation. Together, we discover the deeper Divine potential locked in each of us.

Many of our inspiring b’nai mitzvah this year have reminded us that being an “upstander” is part of being an adult.This means stepping out of our comfort zone to defend ourselves, our families, our neighbors, immigrants or refugees, people who identify as LGBTQ, persons differently abled or our elderly, anyone under threat of losing healthcare coverage or gender or reproductive rights. It includes any group, including our own Jewish community, being targeted by our elected officials or fellow citizens with prejudicial intent.

I wonder what we will discover as we cast our lots (pur) together and unroll the scroll of our own stories and our people’s stories for all to hear once more Wednesday night, March 20 at 6:15 p.m. I’m also looking forward to celebrating with all of you at our multiple events this month at Mishkan and the many actions, marches for justice out of our membership in and work with POWER, New Sanctuary Movement, HIAS and more. Chag Purim sameah!



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