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What is the message of Purim?

At our senior staff meeting each week, we focus on either the Torah portion or upcoming holiday. This week we asked what is the “moral” of the Purim Story. The story is a challenging one, there is hiding of Jewish identity, ancient Anti-Semitism, and killing of Persians at the end of the story. While there are elements of fear, violence, sexism, and intolerance there are also themes of pride, trust, courage, community, and family. So what do we teach to our children? What do we learn for ourselves? In addition, what do we take from this ancient story in the year 2020?

Since the beginning of January, I have engaged in a daily Talmud study. Called “Daf Yomi” “or Daily Page, Jews all over the world for over a hundred years have studied one page of Talmud a day with the goal of studying the entire Talmud in 7 years. Each community studies the same page every day, 365 days a year. Yesterday’s Daf Yomi contained a famous story about fish and a fox. The fox tells the fish it is dangerous in the water they should leave and come on to the land with him for protection. The fish say to the fox – you are the smartest or most cunning of all the animals. You say it is dangerous in the water, how much worse would we be with you? Here is the water, we are surrounded by what is familiar, we are comfortable, and we are together. There we would be in danger and in new circumstances. This is how Jews are with their sacred texts, says the Rabbis. You are scared and fearful of how much worse would it be if you abandon your sacred texts.

I share this parable because it reminded me of the wisdom of our sacred texts. Why do we read stories about anti-Semitism? Because in every generation there are, those that seek to divide people by their differences. Why do we read stories about revenge and killing of the enemies? Because it is human nature to exact a toll on those that set out to hurt you? So, what is the lesson of Purim? Speaking up is hard. It requires incredible sacrifice. Vashti lost her power, Esther fears for her life and that of her people. It is an easier option to hide our identities and try not to be noticed. Do not think you will not be found out, warns Mordechai to Esther. If we abandon our tradition, if we stop telling the stories of our sacred texts, if we do not follow the mitzvot, then, we will be like fish out of water, in even greater danger.

At this time in our communal life when things feel unsettling, or even scary, remember we are here. Our community is here to hold each other; our clergy is here to support you. Our tradition is a tree of life.

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