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The search for the Divine during Purim

FEBRUARY 22, 2018 – The Jerusalem Talmud teaches us in the tractate Megillah:

Rav Yohanan said: the books of the prophets and the writings will become invalid in the future but the five biblical books will remain forever as it is written [Deuteronomy 5:19]: “A large sound that does not end.”

Reish Lakish added that the Scroll of Esther and the laws also will remain. It is written here: “A large sound that does not end” and there [in Esther 9:28] it is written: “their memory [the days of Purim] will never end [be forgotten] by their descendants.”

What makes the Scroll of Esther so unique among the Biblical books and Purim among the Jewish holidays? Why will it be an echo that will continue throughout eternity? And why will a carnival holiday still be needed in Messianic times?

We have to first clarify the concept of Messianic times. This refers to a moment in time in which we will all reach a new higher level of awareness, and an era of collective consciousness and world peace will dawn. Free of worries and threats, study will flourish and wisdom will increase among all the nations.

What is missing in such a glorious, perfect time and state of being seems to be that which can be gained from overcoming adversity with a sense of humor.

There seems to be a part of Torah missing that can only be fully appreciated through the story of Purim and the style of the story of Esther.

The comic aspects of the book are not incidental. They are the essence of the book itself.

Esther has to be read with elements of satire and burlesque, as a series of misunderstandings and irreverent, serendipitous moments.

The book mocks the whole imperial system, the efficient kingdom and the concept of an “all powerful” monarch and his subordinates who are caricatured with their capricious decrees that range from the ludicrous to the genocidal.

The tension that is lived in the narrative, when the extermination of the Jewish people seems to be imminent, is dealt with touches of the farcical and irreverent. This happens throughout the story, until the end when the reversal of fates empowered us over our enemies and vengeance is presented with a sense of irony (in a very non-Jewish way; Jews merely mimic and execute their oppressors using their plans and methodologies).

Humor always has had the power to keep us going, to continue standing in the face of adversity, oppressive power, and even the threat of annihilation. It has been one of the quintessential elements for the survival of Jews and Judaism and seems it will continue being so until beyond the end of times.

Purim’s survival is precisely because it is the holiday that was created in Galut, the Exile, when the Divine was hidden, “in disguise,” and hard to be felt. It was there, in the disguise of comedy, charades, and midnight dreams, where the Divine was found once again.

May the celebration of Purim continue reminding our fellow Jews everywhere to unmask the Divine that dwells in disguise all around us and may the sound of the great laughter never be forgotten by our descendants.

David Cohen-Henriquez is the spiritual leader of Temple Sinai in Marblehead.

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