Purim and Esther

The delightful celebrations of Purim are distinctly odd. It’s partly what makes them delightful. There are so many messages conveyed that are fully found here and less elsewhere. And the costumes! So many wonderful costumes.

The message I get is that you have a right to live, to continue living, to not only resist evil against you and yours, but to actively fight against it. Furthermore, on the example of Queen Esther, you can very well succeed! Notwithstanding that any number of Broadway shows and other musical numbers have been adapted to tell this story in a wacky and wonderful variety of ways, the story itself is something serious.

And where else, so early in our literature, was the hero a heroine? So many people want to “cast shade” on the Torah for its patriarchal bent, but there are many great stories in it of women who achieve marvelous things, and nowhere is the story so closely focused on a woman as here. A very courageous woman, who dared to risk her life to save her people. Not with a sword, though. For that, we’ve had to wait for Marvel Comics and the recent Amazon telling of a snippet of the Lord of the Rings stories. Lara Croft, Tomb-Raider she is not. For my money, whatever the history of the tale (and of course it is disputed eight ways from Sunday), I find it, on the whole, believable. Even without a sword or martial arts kicks, you can make a difference. In fact, we are taught that we must make a difference and we are shown that Esther did.

Another thing we get to do in Jewish festivals and celebrations is to actively participate. Whenever that awful man whose name began with the letter “H” is mentioned, we twirl our groggers and yell out “boooo!” We’re on the team. We have a side. It matters. Nobody has the right to kill all of a people, our own or anyone else’s.

I’m confident there are all sorts of esoteric (means “hidden”) symbols in the story, from the absence of deity being named, to the characters in it. There are a wealth of ethical things to contemplate as well (aren’t there always?). We are not only people of the Book, but we are a people soaked in stories. They form part of the vocabulary of our lives. Just as you
can’t speak without words, it’s difficult to perceive meaning without the medium of stories. This is a particularly rich tale, even without the costumes and show tunes. May its meanings enrich our lives.

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