From the Rabbi Column – March 2023
Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,
March is supposed to come “in like a lion, out like a lamb.” March wears different guises, appearing one way as the month begins and another as it ends. How appropriate for us, as Purim this year falls in early March, and Purim is all about the difference between appearance and reality. Purim might seem like “just” a dress-up holiday for kids or a time to eat hamantaschen, but there’s much more to Purim than meets the eye.
At Purim we tell the story of brave Esther who hid her Jewish identity until the time came to save her people. We tell the story of Haman who insisted everyone bow to him, and who was incensed when Mordechai said, “I bow only to God.” Mordechai gets rewarded with the honor Haman most wanted, riding through the city on a royal horse after reporting an assassination plot. And Haman, who wanted to wipe us out, winds up swinging from the very gallows he had built for Mordechai, hoist by his own petard.
Notice how both Esther and Haman hide themselves … and then reveal who they really are: their true colors can’t help shining through. Meanwhile, Esther’s very name is a play on the Hebrew nistar, “hidden,” a term our mystics sometimes use to describe God. And alone among the books of the Tanakh, Megillat Esther does not mention God at all – though divine providence is everywhere in this story if we have eyes to see.
Every spring the story of Esther comes to remind us that our actions reveal who we most truly are. We all play different roles over the course of our lives. Each of us is first a child and then an adult, a friend, perhaps a parent, perhaps spouse, perhaps elder caregiver, perhaps elder – not to mention the different roles each person takes on over the course of a career, including retiree. Throughout all of these roles, what matters is not who we say we are, but who our actions show us to be.
And Megillat Esther reminds us to seek God even – or especially – when God seems silent or absent. In every life there are times when God feels far out of reach. (As always, if the “G-word” doesn’t resonate for you, try love, or justice, or hope.)
Purim comes to remind us that things may not be as they seem, and that hope and salvation can come from unexpected quarters… and that it’s good and right to celebrate with holy playfulness as we take the next step toward spiritual and physical spring.
Blessings to all,