The inimitable Naomi Chana posted some excellent thoughts on Purim in response to my first Purim post. I'm amazed that it never occurred to me that Esther and Mordechai are thinly-disguised variations on Ishtar and Marduk. That's a pretty classic forehead-slapping moment, there. I guess I was so familiar with the story that it never occurred to me that these aren't exactly standard Hebrew names. I'll have to re-examine the Purim story in light of that, and see how that awareness changes it.
This morning in meditation, Jeff told a lovely story attributed to Reb Nachman, about a kingdom where all the grain became infected with a disease which was going to turn everyone mad. There was only enough untainted grain to feed two people, so he decided to save it for himself and his primary advisor; but the advisor observed that in a kingdom of madmen, "sane" people would be considered mad. So they decided to eat the infected grain, too, with one caveat: each marked the other's forehead with a black thumbprint, so that in future, when they saw each other making mad decisions, they might each remember the madness of the world.
The story relates to Purim in a certain way. The world, Jeff pointed out, is pretty mad. In the Torah we learn that God said, of creation, that it was good -- but clearly the world is not what it could be. It can be hard to look directly at everything that's wrong with the world, for fear of becoming overwhelmed by how badly things are broken. Purim is our chance to accept, momentarily, how topsy-turvy and out-of-control things really are...which, ideally, helps us keep things in perspective the rest of the year.
I don't derive the joy from costuming that some of my friends do, and I'm still not real into drunkenness, but I'm grudgingly starting to admit that there may be more to Purim than meets the eye.
There's a saying about the Hebrew month of Adar, the one we're currently in: mishne-nishnas Adar, marbim b'simcha, "When Adar enters, joy increases!" (From Ta'anit 29a.) Whether or not you're celebrating Purim, may your Adar (and mine) be joyful.