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“Why Purim,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

March 3, 2023 | 10 Adar 5783

Welcome again to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat and then Purim on Monday night. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

Purim: Is its origin story true? Does it matter? How did it make it into the Biblical canon anyway?

It may be a silly story, but doesn’t every governmental household have:

  • An egocentric, maniacal, heinous person?
  • A naïve ruler whose life is dictated by those who surround him, who provide the narrative and sound bite for the people, but who hardly wonders like the king of Camelot, “what the people are doing tonight” as the song goes?
  • The “paradigm of ethics” who won’t bow down to any person even one who is almost as powerful as the king, but, who will, by the way, cast his niece/cousin/relative into the harem, as a way to get her into the palace?
  • The potential savior who doesn’t want to act for justice when the time arrives and must be cajoled, urged, pushed to act to save her people?

Does it bring comfort that Haman not only gets his comeuppance, but also that his whole family hangs for it (we usually skip this part)?

Does it soothe our souls that the history of the Jewish people has been summed up with the pithy summary: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.

Why is this story here? Could it be a way to prepare for the worst, but hope for the best? Could it be a tale of a time when everything that could have gone wrong actually didn’t, and the Jews survived? Towards the end of the story of Esther, after Haman meets his demise and the Jewish people are saved, a decree went out that the “Jews could avenge themselves of their enemies.” (8:13) The text actually shares an interesting and incredible piece of information: “…many of the people of the land professed to be Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.” (8: 17)

Imagine living in a land without power? They retrieved it back through imagination. They didn’t have to give up when they told stories. Back then, they may not have been able to protect themselves, but it seems to me that the story of Esther planted seeds of agency and strength.

What happened after? Did Vashti go on to live a life secluded from the whim of the royals or did she create a new kingdom with a welcoming palace where everyone was in charge of his or her own body and dance moves without influence of others?

Did Esther’s actions bring her closer to Ahashuerus where they finally ruled together in holy matrimonial bliss?

Or perhaps, empowered by her own voice, did Esther create a new organization where the women of the harem could gather to share their concerns about the palace and their role and work to make changes for all involved?

And what of Mordecai? Could he ever come down from his high horse-literally-of being led through the town by Haman himself after saving the king from a murderous plot? Did he go on to represent other princesses and queens, monetizing his skill as manager of beautiful and smart women?

The story of Esther may be made up, but the situation and the characters involved remain to this day. We could continue to make up stories, but we know now that we cannot stand or sit idly by.

We can no longer expect the worst. History has taught us to bring out the best in all of us. It may take a huge effort, but that is the better way for the story to end.

Shabbat Shalom!

Originally shared on February 23, 2018

  • Join us at 6:00 p.m. for Qabbalat Shabbat. We celebrate the namings of Zoe Kemp and Eve Ruiz. Qiddush will be recited by Asher Mezrich. Gather with us onsite or online on ZoomFacebook Live, or stream on our website. Let’s celebrate together.
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Torah Study gathers at 9:00 a.m. onsite or online (via  Zoom, on Facebook Live, or via Temple Israel’s livestream), followed by an oneg to connect with friends and community.
  • Thank Goodness it’s Shabbat gathers onsite at 10:00 a.m. No registration necessary.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom.

Share the fun of PURIMPALOOZA! with celebrations for All Ages, Monday, March 6

  • 5:00 – 6:30 p.m. Family Celebration: A family Purim celebration with costumes, crafts, activities, and pizza!
  • 5:45 – 8:30 p.m. Teen Celebration: All teens are welcome. Contact Fallon Rubin for more information.
  • 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Riverway Project (20s & 30s) Pre-Party: Get into the spirit with others in their 20s & 30s before the community-wide megillah reading!
  • 7:30 – 9:00 p.m. 21+ Megillah Reading: Onsite andonline.Join the full Temple Israel clergy for a night of silliness and fun for a 21+ reading of the whole megillah, irreverently read through the lens of our annual Purim games.
  • Purim Party for Families with Young Children Sunday, March 12, 10:00 a.m.
    The Village, FJECC Preschool, and Religious School are having a Purim Party with carnival style games, crafts, hamantaschen, gragger making, a concert for the younger children, and more! Families with young children attend from 10:00  a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher