Face painting on Purim at Chabad of the North Shore.

Holding pain within joy.

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Holding pain within joy.

Face painting on Purim at Chabad of the North Shore.

North Shore rabbis offer insight on celebrating Purim during dark days

Shortly before the pandemic lockdown of 2020, the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks posted a message on social media: “We will not be defined by our enemies,” he wrote. “We will live with the threats and even laugh at them because what we can laugh at, we cannot be held captive by.”

That, he said, is what the joy of Purim is about – surviving and thriving, even as darkness looms over us.

Rabbi Sacks passed away just about eight months after that post. This Purim on March 23-24, as the community grapples with the aftermath of Oct. 7, the ongoing war in Israel and Gaza, and the global increase in antisemitism, the Journal spoke with several North Shore rabbis for their insights on how we can – or if we should – access the joy of Purim this year.

“Purim is a day of joy,” said Rabbi Richard Perlman of Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody, “But it also is a day of recollecting and remembering that we were oppressed, and that Haman – which today we probably would call Hamas – cast lots to try to kill us.”

Perlman, like Sacks, finds meaning in the balance between these two: holding both the grief of Oct. 7 and its aftermath with the joy of the current, immediate survival of the Jewish people.
“You have to be mindful of the fact that there are hostages,” said Perlman. “But yet, have you seen the ones that were released? They’re hugging their families, they’re home with their families – we have to rejoice in that freedom. We have to rejoice in that.”

Rabbi David Kudan, of Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester, is leaning into the “opposites” piece of the Purim story – and what those can teach us.

“Sometimes, by looking at the opposite of our values, we might see more clearly what we really do hold as important and good,” he said. “And by wearing masks and costumes, we may get a better idea of who we truly aspire to be, and become aware of the masks we wear every day to hide our real feelings.”

For Kudan, the joy of Purim serves a purpose unto itself.

Rabbi Yossi Lipsker shows the Megillah to a student on Purim.

“Purim is the one day when frivolity and fun could hold free rein, and the normal rules and restrictions are relaxed for a short while,” he said. “It is a healthy thing to be able to poke fun at ourselves, and our community, in order to let off steam, and to become more humble and even human.”

Rabbi Alison Adler of Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly is thinking about the narrative of the Book of Esther in terms of the challenge of a joyful Purim this year. She described how the tail end of the story comes about with the Jews killing 75,000 in a reversal of the decree of mass death against Jews.

“There have been in the past and will continue to be Jewish communities who revel in this part of the story, but we do not, especially this year,” Adler said. “Maybe we do a moment of silence, or a special prayer for return of the hostages and peace in Israel and Gaza. Maybe we state our values and how to balance the human impulse for revenge with the need for self-defense, as well as the grave responsibility of morality and honoring life amidst war.”

Adler noted how, as Jews traditionally smash a glass at a wedding to signify brokenness amidst great celebration, so too can we bring in an acknowledgement of the fragility of life and the importance of cherishing every moment. She suggested focusing on Matanot La’evyonim – gifts to the poor, which is one of Purim’s four mitzvot.

“This is an opportunity to donate to local or international organizations providing for humanitarian needs or those who keep working hard for coexistence and peace,” she said.
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, founder of Chabad of the North Shore, is thinking about how joy deepens our relationship to God.

“True joy is merely the most concrete expression of faith available to us,” said Lipsker. He noted that this doesn’t mean that expressions of joy are a substitute for the human actions that can effect change, but still, the expressions of this pure, holy joy show God our faith.

“Prayers that burst out of our innermost depths, that are borne aloft on the wings of joy, signal our expectation that God has what it takes to get us through this,” said Lipsker.

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