Friday, March 18, 2011

Happy Purim

There are many intriguing aspects to Purim, the Jewish holy day celebrating the salvation of the Jews of Persia through the daring of Queen Esther. First there is the fact that intermarriage is central to the story: if Jewish Esther had not married the Gentile King the Jews would have died. Second, there is the fact that God plays no role in the story: it is Esther who saves her people, not God. Third, there is the tradition of allowing cross-dressing and the skewing of rabbis as part of the holy day fun. Fourth there is the custom of giving gifts and tzedakah (charity). And fifth there is the tradition of getting so drunk on Purim that you can no longer tell the difference between Mordecai and Haman, i.e. Good and Evil. Couple these with the fact that the entire story is fictional and based on the Babylonian Gods Ishtar (Esther) and Marduk (Mordecai) you have a deeply compelling tale of existential spirituality.

Unfortunately too many Jews think of Purim, which falls on March 19-20 this year, as a kids’ holy day—sans the alcohol. In the interest of full disclosure, I have never gotten drunk. I don’t even like Rum Raisin ice cream, so getting beyond good and evil with the help of alcohol falls outside my experience. And yet…

The relationship of good and evil is central to much of my thinking. I believe in both, and see each as a necessary corollary of the other. Just as you cannot have front without back, so you cannot have good without evil. They go together. Good and evil are part of the binary dynamic of the phenomenal world, the world that you and I experience moment to moment. So what might it mean to go beyond these?

That would be a wonderful discussion for adults to have during Purim. Raising the level of our holy days in this way would capture the imagination and intellect of adult Jews and help bring about a revival of Judaism. Using Purim each year to discuss the state of moral discourse and to explore ever more deeply the nature of good and evil would help return Judaism to relevancy in the lives of many Jews for whom it is largely inconsequential.

So whatever else you do this Purim, make some time to talk with friends about good and evil. And for those Jews seeking to blur the divide between Mordecai and Haman, remember: Jews don’t let Jews drive drunk.


Maggid said...

Happy Purim!
(take the bus . . . )

Changeless Chariot said...

A plug for one of my favorite discussions of this issue: Stephen Batchelor's book "Living With The Devil: A Meditation on Good and Evil." Sure to get a good (and evil) Purim conversation going...!

Unknown said...

Rabbi Rami, I am interested in reading the story of Ishtar and Marduk. Do you know of any online resources where I can read this?