Friday, March 18, 2011

Hiding and Flipping: Holiday of Purim Mirrors Life

Two themes pervade the Jewish Holiday of Purim, which celebrates the events in the Book of Esther this Saturday night-to-Sunday night.  The first is hidden-ness.  Just as Esther (who hides her real name, Hadassa) actually means "hidden," and her disguised background allows her to rescue Persian Jews from genocide (in approximately 356 BCE), we internalize that God may be hidden in our world, but remains in control.

The second theme is "flipping." The Purim story is one of bad flipping to good, in an astounding series of opposites reversing. Haman, the bad guy, gets hung on the gallows he prepared for Mordechai, Esther's uncle/guardian/husband--who flips from a death sentence (and cause of the decree to kill all Jews) to Viceroy.  Jews are first targeted for annihilation, then empowered to kill all anti-Semites.  We are reminded that any given moment could radically shift the very basis of our lives.

Japan. The earth lurches and thousands of lives are lost. The sea rears, and thousands more extinguished.  Everything appears orderly. Then it is chaos.

In the Israeli community of Itamar, a family sleeps peacefully.  Then an anti-Semitic intruder enters and slices a baby's throat, kills 4- and 11-year old children, murders both the parents and slips away.  The Fogel family attacked for the mere fact of being Jewish.

Most often, healthy turns to endangered or gone; stately turns to disgraced, or secure to shaky.  But the Book of Esther offers the hope of turnaround in the other direction.  Peril can shift to calm, and desperation to relief.  Pain can subside, and tension can convert to peace.

One excellent point covered in a Torah class I enjoyed this week is the ongoing need to unceasingly recognize that all reversals are ultimately God's, and that at a given moment, we are often unable to see a grander plan that will prevail.  Jews fast on the day before Purim (this year a bit earlier due to the intervention of the Sabbath).  This is not in emulation of Esther's three day fast before approaching King Ahashverus, but rather Jews' preparation for any act of war.  After Esther and Mordechai's triumph over Haman, when Jews were about to execute the decree allowing them to eliminate their enemies, they humbled themselves and fasted, in submission to the Force they knew would control whether they succeeded or failed.

It is this understanding of the behind-the-scenes Power that runs our lives moment-to-moment that motivates Jews to this day to fast before the most celebratory and revelry-filled holiday of Purim.  This year we are especially conscious of the way life can turn around in an instant.  With the tension of this week's events in mind, we will drink and dress in costume and celebrate Purim reassured that even shocking and discouraging events are ultimately for the good, and that you can't count on things to be just as they seem.


  1. Thank you for sharing the meaning of this holiday. As a Mormon, I enjoy learning about your traditions and religion.

    I love your thoughts and agree completely with the "flipping"-- chaos to order and the bigger picture, from God's perspective, who sees all time at one time is very different from ours.

  2. A wonderful reminder of God's goodness and control in the midst of much suffering. Thank you, Diane. Chag sameach! Love, Jen Tripp

  3. thank you Delia and Jen. Interestingly, some non-Jewish friends saw increased police presence near our Jewish Community Center and assumed there was a security threat instead of the family Purim carnival... It's a shame Jews are still seen as a target, in ancient Persia and today.