Survival Means???

by Arliene Botnick, February 25, 2021

We have just celebrated Purim, the most raucous, irreverent of our chagim. We are commanded to feast, to drink to excess – “One should drink until one no longer knows the difference between blessed be Mordechai and cursed be Haman”. An interesting aside: one of those men wanted to murder an awful lot of people, and the other actually did, according to the story, initiate and accomplish the murder of an awful lot of people.

During the Purim shpiel and the reading of Megillah Esther, we are commanded to make excessive noise to drown out the name of our arch enemy Haman, descended from Agag, the Amalekite. We are commanded to blot out the remembrance of Amalek and then told not to forget.

And there are the social/community mitzvot of the holiday:

1. Mishloach manot – sending gifts to one another
2. Mattanot l’evyonim – giving gifts to the poor

It’s a holiday that is interpreted to extol the bravery of women. Vashti sacrifices her life in order not to be demeaned by dancing naked in Ahasuerus’s court and Esther jeopardizes her life by speaking to the king on behalf of her people. It tells us that we should not or perhaps cannot “mask” who we are, our Jewish identity. It speaks of the dangers of living in a diaspora where laws can be made by merely tossing dice (lots).

And our Mishnah tells us that in the Olam Haba (the world to come) when all other holidays need no longer be celebrated, Purim will continue to be celebrated. Quite an honour!

Yet, many have suggested, that in some ways, Purim is the false salvation, the false spring. And that the true spring, our true celebration of Jewish salvation, comes one month and a day after Purim. So, on the 15th of Nissan, we will celebrate Passover. Rabbi Englander would always say that between Purim and Pesach there is always one more snowstorm to remind us that Purim isn’t the be all and end all and that our identity is rooted in Pesach.

The differences: There is really nothing very Jewish in the Purim story (other than antisemitism). There is nothing that Mordechai or Esther do that is Jewish. We do survive and that’s vital, but we drink and eat and party at the end of the story to excess, as did the King and his court did in the beginning of the story. We appear to be emulating our enemies. And God is not mentioned in the Purim Megillah. It does teach the lesson that we do have to act on our own behalf, but it differs most strikingly from the Passover story.

Both stories emphasize our survival. But in the Purim story, it is physical survival. In the Passover story, it is both physical and spiritual. We are reminded, when we read the Haggadah, that God, with an outstretched arm, led us out of Egypt. We feast, but on unleavened bread, the bread of affliction and slavery.

We recite the 10 plagues as we spill 10 drops of wine from our wine cups. We are not to celebrate the destruction of those who oppressed us. We must remember their blood was shed too. Passover will lead us 50 days on to Shavuot, where at Sinai, we truly become a people as we accept our brit (covenant) with God – Naaseh V’Nishma. We will do and we will hear.

So, there is fun-filled Purim – and though I hope Rabbi Englander’s prediction will not materialize, we probably will have one more snowstorm. Then, we will be at our Seder tables (this year virtually) remembering the Exodus and telling our children the story, as we are commanded. Survival is paramount, but we must always ask what, as Jews – does survival mean.

The answer comes at Shavuot.

Everyone, Keep Healthy!

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