December 2, 2023 /
I have always felt mixed when it comes to the holiday of Purim. On the one hand, it’s a holiday where we celebrate Jewish survival and overcoming the wicked Haman. On the other hand, our victory comes at a significant loss of life to many. With great glee, we read about hanging Haman along his ten sons (we are supposed to read this passage out loud without taking one breath between the names of Haman’s family) and then we read about how our ancestors killed seventy thousand Persians. One could say that we should be okay with it because all those who were murdered were our enemies. However, people always seem to get surprised when reading that part. Perhaps it’s because we leave it out of the kid’s version, but maybe it’s also because the holiday itself is one of merriment and joy and all the death at the end of the story seems to be antithetical to the mood of the night.
There is certainly enough in the story that should make us feel uncomfortable. We should feel outraged with how Queen Vashti was thrown out because she wasn’t willing to be objectified for the gratification of her drunken husband and his friends. We should feel mortified that Esther was forced to objectify herself in order to become queen. We should feel uneasy with how easily a dimwitted king can be seduced by anti-Semitism and lured into approving genocide. None of these are laughing matters, and society hasn’t escaped any of these wrongs today.
However, we also need to remember that the Book of Esther is a farce. It’s fictional. None of it happened. But even though it isn’t historically accurate, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t truth within its pages.
When it comes to Purim, we should celebrate it fully. We should have the family Megillah reading with Barb Sigman’s unforgettable “Balloon Drop.” We should have our adult Megillah reading and read the story cover to cover. And we should have our Adult Purim Extravaganza where we can put aside every difference that we may have and also put away the weight of the world and just have fun together. Let’s take a night off and forget about the Hamans of the world for just a little while so we can refuel our souls. And then when Purim is over, let us remember the plight of the vulnerable and that being Jewish is something more than just coming to services, but also being in service to one another.
Rabbi Philip Bazeley