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Ta Shema: February 1, 2024

What is the meaning of Purim?

I know I am supposed to say that “everything is topsy turvy”, but I think the message is much more nuanced and profound than that. I believe Purim captures perfectly the complexity of human interactions.

Nothing is as it seems but everything is exactly as it seems. 

Everything is one thing and its opposite, and both things are true, or at least are someone’s lived perception. 

In every interaction, there is how I interpreted what happened and most likely there is someone else who walked away from that exact same interaction with the opposite thoughts or experience.

Think of a first date–one person walks away thinking–wow, this person could be the one. The other walks away thinking–I couldn’t have ended this date fast enough and I will immediately block their number.

Purim captures that moment perfectly.

Is it a story of the triumph of the Jewish people or a story of a people stuck in the diaspora and just trying to stay alive?

Is it a story of the heroism of Mordechai and Esther in the face of great evil, or is it a farcical comedy with strawman plot points and over the top characters and plots meant as a balm for the Jewish diaspora?

I believe the answer is yes.

Nothing is as it seems but everything is exactly as it seems. Everything is one thing AND ALSO its opposite.

We have so many exciting things happening for Purim. Look no further than our website and email blasts–Mishloach Manot, Hamentaschen, and our Seussical Purim Party and Carnival will be attended by the Who’s Who of Whoville.

In preparation for all of that–I would encourage everyone this year to REALLY read the story, in advance of the Megillah reading. The Megillah reading, often as part of the carnival aspect of Purim, is done quickly and with a lot of noise interruption. I know personally, I can’t read anything meaningfully that way. 

Read the story slowly and intentionally at home. Pay attention to the small details, the side conversations, who is talking to whom, who is making the decisions that push the plot forward. 

You will realize that not everything is as simple as our interpretive Purim Shpiels would have us believe.

Then when you go to the Megillah readings, follow the narrative arc of one character. If you go to more than one Megillah reading, follow another. Just for fun, follow the characters that might seem like throw-aways. You will see the story completely transform in front of your eyes as you enter the world of that character. And you will quickly learn that there is no such thing as a throw away character in the book of Esther.

For instance, did you know that King Achashversosh was an amoral genius and in no way a blundering buffoon? Read the story again and think of the way he, like Don Corleone, orchestrated everything perfectly behind the scenes without getting his hands dirty.

Remember: Nothing is as it seems but everything is exactly as it seems. Everything is one thing AND ALSO its opposite.

This Purim, pay attention to the little details, the little guys, the things that no one pays attention to. You might learn that those things are what held everything together the entire time.

Happy Early Purim to everyone–may it open your eyes to what has been in front of you all along.



Rabbi Bender

Tue, June 18 2024 12 Sivan 5784