Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Purim: An Opportunity to Lighten Up

Purim is, arguably, the only Jewish holiday with a built-in sense of humor. If the holidays gathered for a party, Tish’ah Be’Av would be sulking in a corner, Yom Kippur practicing self-denial in another room, and Purim would be a kibbitzing wise-guy, cracking one-liners and elbowing Pesah in the ribs. Not only do we dress in costume and behave raucously on Purim, but even the serious obligation of the day, the reading of Megillat Esther, is supposed to be rapid and funny. Some have the tradition of chanting the different characters’ lines in the story in silly voices. We fold the scroll like a letter, rather than respectfully rolling it. It is the holiday of anti-gravitas, a day of sheer silliness.

Purim 5775 at Temple Israel of Great Neck
And, as if to drive the point home, the climax of the story includes a line that mandates the tradition to lighten up on Purim. When Esther convinces Ahashverosh to issue an edict that the Jews may defend themselves, the response among the Jews is (Est. 8:16):
לַיְּהוּדִים, הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה, וְשָׂשֹׂן, וִיקָר
Layhudim hayetah orah vesimhah vesasson viyqar.
For the Jews there was light, happiness, joy, and honor.
This is a total reversal of where they had been - from mourning, sackcloth, ashes, and wailing to light, happiness, and joy. And these are things we all need a little more of. In fact, we invoke this line every Saturday night, year-round, as we bid goodbye to Shabbat during havdalah. Why? Because when Shabbat leaves us, we need a little lift, a reminder that although we return to work and the mundanity of the week, we carry a little light and joy with us.

Purim is, of course, the annual mother lode of joy. Megillat Esther, and really the entire holiday, remind us that we all run a regular deficit of joy and humor, and furthermore that we indeed have the capability of bringing those things into the world. Let this day of happiness and mirth remind us that we can bring those things to others every day, that we can share some of our own light, when we have a little extra to spare. Lighten up! It’s Adar.

Rabbi Seth Adelson
(Originally published in the Temple Israel Voice, Feb. 19, 2015.)

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