Women in Religion at Williams College
Disagreement for the sake of heaven

Purim approaches

PurimPurim begins tonight at sundown. I used to not really get the appeal of this holiday, but over the years I've grown fonder of Purim.

Yes, for kids it's a fun opportunity to dress up and to make noise in the synagogue (drowning out the name of the wicked Haman.) But there's something here for adults, too. Purim comes one month before Pesach; it's a stepping-stone toward the coming spring.

Purim offers us a megillah (scroll) in which God is never explicitly megaleh (revealed). God's explicit presence is nistar (hidden) in this book -- as Esther (whose name shares a root with nistar) hides her Jewishness when she enters the royal palace.

But Esther reveals her Jewishness when her people need her, and God's presence is palpable throughout the story in the twists and turns of providence. Purim is a holiday of hiding and revealing: Vashti refuses to reveal her body; Esther hides until she needs to reveal her identity; God hides in plain sight.

And Purim is a holiday of inversions: Achashverosh exiles Vashti rather than accede to a woman's will -- and then winds up doing what Esther wants. Haman builds a gallows for Mordechai, and winds up swinging on it himself. Haman tells the king what should be done for someone the king wants to honor, and then has to enact that reward for Mordechai instead of himself. Haman orchestrates the massacre of the Jews, and instead the Jews are given the right to defend ourselves.

Purim is an opportunity to play. To turn things upside-down. To be silly. To hear a pulp fiction soap opera chanted or acted-out from the bimah (pulpit) instead of the kinds of material rabbis usually aim to present -- and to find the hidden meaning even in the silliness. And for the Hasidic master known as the Sfat Emet, it's an opportunity to ascend the tree of knowledge until we reach the high vantage point where our limited human notions of "good" and "evil" disappear into the Oneness of God. I can get behind that.

A freilichen Purim -- may your Purim be joyful!

If you like poetry, you might enjoy a pair of Purim poems I wrote a few years back: Hidden and Purim Pantoum.