Posts Tagged 'Purim'

Consuming Role

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Korach, along with Dattan, Aviram, and 250 men from the tribe of Reuven, challenged Moshe’s and Aaron’s leadership. Eventually Korach, Dattan, and Aviram, along with their entire families were swallowed up by the earth, while the 250 men were consumed by a heavenly fire. While they repressed a threat to Moshe’s and Aaron’s authority their extreme nature of their punishment seems out of proportion. At the end of the Torah portion we read that Aaron is appointed as Cohen Gadol, high priest. Aaron’s election is confirmed through a “test of the staffs”. There we read:

17 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shall write every man’s name upon his rod. 18 And you shall write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. 19 And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 20 And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ 21 And Moshe spoke unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. 22 And Moshe laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 23 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moshe went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 24 And Moshe brought out all the rods from before the Lord to all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod. (Numbers 17: 17-24)

This seems like such a more reasonable way to resolve conflict. Each loser takes his staff home, no one gets eaten by the earth or burned to death, and the winner gets an almond treat.  It seems that the Levi bracket in the tournament was really tough. Why did we need to have the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery?

Before I discussed this idea and its connection to the story of Esther. This time I wanted to discuss it in the context of the story of Yonah. Near the start of his story we see him on the run from being a prophet for God. God sends a storm to thwart his escape by boat. To preempt the ship being destroyed he and the people drew lots to see who was causing the storm. Just as the almond staff bloomed for Aaron, this lot fell on Yonah. He is thrown from the boat only to be swallowed by a giant fish just as Korach was swallowed up by the ground.

What do we make of this juxtaposition of these two stories? Where this is the end of Korach’s story, this seems to just be the start of Yonah’s story. Korach was never really satisfied with his role as compared to Moshe’s role. From being swallowed Yonah turns his life around and finally fulfills his appointed role.   I often reflect on my role in life. How do I  come to accept it? Figuring that out can be quite consuming.

 

- A special shout out to our friends Ari and Adina on the bris of their son Yonah Shemer. I think that is how I got Yonah on my mind. Mazel Tov.

 

MISSION PURIM

Mission Purim

MISSION PURIM

Good morning Agent Shushanberg. The woman you are looking for is Esther Achoshveroshakov. She is known to be well positioned in the government. We have discovered through our sources in the capital that she has ties to the resistance. Upon learning this we had our man there Mordecai Benyamini on constant watch. Unfortunately he has not been able to make direct contact or turn her to support the opposition. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to make contact with Esther and encourage her to influence the King. To make contact with Esther you will need to use her code name Agent Hadassah. She will only talk to you if you have fasted for three days so you might want to eat the contents of this package before your mission. As always, should you or any of your Mission Purim Team be caught, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. This message will self-destruct in five seconds.

Good Luck. Tizku LaMitzvot and have a wonderful Purim.

Agents Adina, Avi, Yadid, Yishama, and Emunah

NOTE: STOLEN FROM Mishloach Manot

Hidden Ingredient

Teachers, curricula, grades, rulers, pencils, erasers, chalk, markers, handouts, hands up, heads up, mouths shut, black boards, white boards, smart boards, and (all too often bored) students: the ingredients of formal education. If we were to reject these in the name of awaking our children to the joy and splendor of Jewish life, we would be relegated to the realm of informal education. But calling it informal seems too limiting. By calling it informal we are defining this mode of education by what it is not, as compared to defining it by what it is. That is why I prefer to call it experiential education. But, what is experiential education?  In general the core of excellent experiential education is plainly put: excellent education. But if experiential education does not follow the recipe of formal education, what is its secret in ingredient?

copy 110707.CampJRF.-207So even before I get started I want to say that I believe assessment, evaluation, and accountability are crucial to the educational project, but here I want to explore what positive things happen in the educational kitchen when we take away the grades and remove the perception of judgment. With this move away from presumptive hierarchy, the weight of the education needs to be born out on the shoulders of the relationships. It is only when the educators meet the students’ basic needs and achieve a mutual trust that we get cooking. In an environment where we are giving grades we need to be transparent, otherwise we run the risk of being unethical. How can a student be held accountable for something that they did not know that they were going to be tested on? In experiential education, the deepest learning often happens when educators help students get out of their own way in the service of their learning. We often need to use obfuscation and trickery. Being transparent often destroys that magic. Obviously this manipulation can be misused, but if we maintain that trust, the process will yield future revelations and breakthroughs in learning.

It is interesting to think about this aspect of education in the larger context of revelation. When the People of Israel were about to receive the Torah at Sinai, the Torah says, “And Moshe brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood under the mountain.”(Exodus 19:17) What does it mean “under the Mountain?” On this, in the Talmud Shabbat 88a, Rabbi Avidimi ben Hama ben Hasa said that this teaches us that the Holy One raised the mountain above them like an inverted cask and said, “If you accept the Torah, good; if not, this will be your burial.” So our experience at Sinai was less an intimate moment under the chupah, and more, a carjacking. Rabbi Aha ben Yaakov noted that accepting the Torah under duress presents a strong challenge to the obligatory nature of Jewish law. How can we be held liable for a contract that we were forced into? But Raba said that they accepted it again in the days of Purim, as it says in Megilat Esther, “The Jews fulfilled and they accepted.” (Esther 9:27) Why the doubling of language? This means: they fulfilled what they had already accepted. The fulfillment of the added laws of Purim demonstrated that they accepted the laws of Sinai from thousands of years earlier. The difference being that this time there was no duress. It was not only that there was no God to push them into it, in the entire book of Esther there is no reference to God. God is hidden.

The story, and the holiday of Purim, seems to be a theater in which we are exploring what is hidden and what will be revealed. Esther’s name and identity are hidden. When will they be revealed? We explore this with all of our customs of costumes. The fate of the Jewish people is unknown. When will that be revealed? We explore this with our community gatherings and of course our eating. There would be no story of Purim if all we had was transparency. Purim seems to be a holiday of delayed revelation.

I am not arguing that formal education is bad. I happen to love it and it has a huge role to play in education, but it is clearly not the only way. We need different ingredients to meet the needs of different learners. The delayed revelation of Purim points to a secret ingredient of experiential education. What does the world look like without a judge or judgment? The absence of God made it possible for Esther to be a true heroine. If there was transparency, Esther would have never learned the nature of her commitment to her community. We see many aspects in camping where it is a child centered institution free of judgment because the adults are hidden and there are no grades. The joyous Judaism and the freedom of camp hide the highly organized and intentional program. If we had to be transparent about our intention to make another generation committed to our future we would not be successful. As we read in Megilah, “The Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor.” (Esther 8:16) It is only at the end of the story of Purim that the hidden became clear, but boy were they glad.

- Also posted in the Canteen

Hoist By His Own Petard

Mi Sh’nichnas Adar, Marbim b’simchah- With the advent of Adar we increase joy in preparation for Purim. Each of us find different ways to bring joy. Here I want to explore Schadenfreude one distinct genre of humor. Why is the pain of other people such a rich source of laughter for so many of us?

I think that Megillat Esther might provide us some interesting insights into this question. The whole story  seems to get started when  Achashverosh asks his queen Vashti to come his banquet in her crown. When she rejects him he is angry and turns to his inner court for counsel. There we read:

And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: ‘Vashti the queen has not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the peoples, that are in all the provinces of the king Achashverosh. For this deed of the queen will come abroad to all women, to make their husbands contemptible in their eyes, when it will be said: The king Achashverosh commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not. And this day will the princesses of Persia and Media who have heard of the deed of the queen say the like to all the king’s princes. So will there arise enough contempt and wrath. If it please the king, let there go forth a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, that Vashti come no more before king Achashverosh, and that the king give her royal estate to another that is better than she. And when the king’s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his kingdom, great though it be, all the wives will give to their husbands honor, both to great and small.’ ( Esther 1: 16-20)

So just like that, by royal decree, the queen was out, women needed to listen to their husbands, and honor was restored to the men.

Later on in the story we meet Haman the kings lead counsel. Haman has ascended to be all-powerful, he has been given permission to kill the Jews, and he recently was invited to a very exclusive party with the king and Esther the new queen. And despite all of this he is unhappy because Mordecai sits at the kings gate and will not bow to him. There we read:

Then Zeresh his wife and all his friends said to him: ‘Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and in the morning you should speak to the king that Mordecai may be hanged on it; then you can go in merrily with the king in to the banquet.’ And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made. ( Esther 5:14)

The story continues that Haman follows his wife’s advise and goes to see the king where he is met with an interesting question. “What shall be done to the ma n whom the king delights to honor?”( Esther 6:6) Assuming the king was talking about himself he suggests that the king bring out the royal apparel so that the person being honored can ride around the streets on the king’s horse wearing the king’s crown and being led by the kings most noble prince announcing that this is how the king honors people. Then the king said to Haman:

‘Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as you have said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sits at the king’s gate; let nothing fail of all that you hast spoken.’  Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and caused him to ride through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.'( Esther 6:10-11)

It is noteworthy that while Mordecai is honored to be led around by his nemesis Haman he does not get to wear the king’s crown.  Why is this the case? The king could not sleep at night so he read the chronicles where he saw that he had not appropriately honored Mordecai for saving his life.  And why was the king awake? Well I think it might be because some Jackass listened to his wife and kept him up all night building a gallows. On a number of levels Haman is hoisted by his own petard .

So, if you are anything like me you ask, what does it mean to be hoisted by a petard ? The petard, a rather primitive and exceedingly dangerous explosive device, consisted of a brass or iron bell-shaped device filled with gunpowder. This was attached to a wall or gate using hooks and rings, the fuse lit and, if successful, the resulting explosive force, concentrated at the target point, would blow a hole in the obstruction, allowing assault troops to enter. So this phrase means “to be harmed by one’s own plan to harm someone else” or “to fall into one’s own trap.” So on one level Haman wanted to have the king honor him and in the end had to honor Mordecai in that same way. On another level the gallows on which he hoped to kill Mordecai was the reason the king was awake. In the end it was means by which Haman and his family were killed. So that plan really blew up on him. And on yet another level we see that the whole story was set into motion to preserve men’s honor and ensure that their wives would listen to them. Haman is killed because he listened to Zeresh and Achashverosh listened to Esther.

So going back to the question of Schadenfreude. There is nothing noble about laughing at someone’s pain, but is seems justified when the one in pain is being hoisted by his own petard. Hell I am honored to do it. Have a very joyous Adar.

 

 

Purim: Korach Remix

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Korach, along with Dattan, Aviram, and 250 men from the tribe of Reuven, challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership. Eventually Korach, Dattan, and Aviram, along with their entire families were swallowed up by the earth, while the 250 men were consumed by a heavenly fire. While they repressed a threat to Moses and Aaron’s authority the extreme nature of their punishment seems out of proportion. At the end of the Torah portion we read that Aaron is appointed as Cohen Gadol, high priest. Aaron’s election is confirmed through a test of the staffs. There we read:

 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shall write every man’s name upon his rod. And you shall write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ And Moses spoke unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony.  And it came to pass on the next day, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds.  And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord to all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod. (Numbers 17: 17-24)

This seems like such a more reasonable way to resolve conflict. Each loser takes his staff home, no one gets eaten by the earth or burned to death, and the winner gets an almond treat.  It seems that the Levi bracket in the tournament was really tough. Why did we need to have the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery?

An answer to this question might come by looking at the connections between these stories and the struggle for power in the story of Purim. In Megilah we read about Haman the number two to the king who wanted to kill all of the Jews. There we read:

And Haman said to King Achashverosh, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your  kingdom; and their laws are different from all people; they do not keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. (Esther 3:8)

Haman paid the king for the right to kill the Jews. He cast a pur-  lot – to determine the day of their extermination. There we read:

Wherefore they called these days Purim, after the name of pur. Therefore because of all the words of this letter, and of that which they had seen concerning this matter, and that which had come unto them ( Esther 9:26)

There was a lottery to determine the day to kill a people who the king’s number two portrayed as not keeping the king’s laws. Clearly on Purim we were spared and this horrible day was transformed into a day of celebration for the generations, but what about the whole ordeal with Korach? Aaron was person of significance, the brother of liberator of the people, and Moses’s interpreter (foreign minister). One could even say that Aaron like Haman was the king’s number two. Korach came forward and clearly represented a challenge to Moses and Aaron and the law/rule of Moses. While Haman is not swallowed up by the ground, he is hung from the etz- gallows that he built for Mordecai. After putting down the Korach insurrection Aaron might have lost his role as the number two, but instead his staff sprouts and his leadership is rejuvenated. While everyone walks around with a dead tree in hand, Aaron’s power in reinforced as the Cohen Gadol and the  staff (etz- tree) in his hand is alive.

It seems that the Purim story itself might be a remix of our Korach story, but what do we make of this juxtaposition?  Regardless of our perception of God’s presence or absence in the world as the authority, the main story line in history is people want power and want to maintain their own authority. We need to learn to swallow our pride or we risk getting swallowed up by our own ambitions. What are better ways of dealing with our insecurities? Do not leave it up to chance or aggression. I say find a way to get your love at home.

Customer Service

A few months back I  was trying to explain to my children why I hate Halloween.  While I did not want to get into the history of the whole idolatry thing, I was able to explain that it was just not our custom. They thought I said costume, and objected. “But Abba, you love costumes on Purim”. That is true. I do love Purim. Then I got to thinking, why do I love Purim and hate Halloween?

While we dress up in costumes and we give our treats on both days, Purim is just a better holiday. While on Halloween the person wanting the treat needs to go around the neighborhood collecting said treats, on Purim the obligation of traveling around is on the giver and not receiver of the treats. It is  not that you spend any more or less money on treats on either day, it is just that Purim has better “costumer service”.                                                                 -Chag Purim Sameakh

Purim: Blessing and Curse

Our oldest child has reached the age where he is eligible to go to overnight camp for the first time, and we have been giving a lot of thought as to when would be the right time for a child to leave home.  We know firsthand that camp is an amazing utopia where 24/7 joyous Judaism is the expectation, but it is normal to think about when the right age to expose our children to a new loving community outside their home and family is.

aviConversely, I’ve found we are not as thorough when it comes to judging when to expose our children to some other important life lessons and experiences.  Like many other children, my kids learned about the story of Esther in preparation for Purim.  A few years ago, when my eldest was in kindergarten, he shared with me what he had learned about this ancient holiday.  Haman’s punishment for attempting genocide was to walk behind Mordechai, who was riding on the royal horse, and pick up the poop.  He added with a smile that this was his favorite part of the story.

This year on Purim, like every other year, I will try to fulfill the commandment to mistake the blessing of Mordechai with the curse of Haman – the only day of the year on which we are commanded to not differentiate between good and evil.  But truthfully, while Purim is clearly a story of survival and joy, it is told against the backdrop of hate and anti-Semitism.  Unfortunately in our society, a presence of “evil” or hate is expected; Haman is a stock character in our history.  As the adage goes, “What is the definition of an anti-Semite? It is someone who hates Jews more than they are supposed to.”  It is astounding to realize that the expectation of anti-Semitism has made us fulfill the commandment of mixing up Mordechai and Haman all year-long.

I am thankful that my young son was not yet taught of Haman and his sons being put to death.  But, what is the right age to tell your child about the history and existence of anti-Semitism?  It is a curse to think that anti-Semitism is a normal part of our world.  It is a blessing to live in an environment like Jewish camp that loves you and cherishes and celebrates your identity.  It’s common to sit down to discuss the appropriate age to send one’s child to summer camp for the first time.  But if we are willing to put such thought into whether they are ready to enter a new community- a community that will provide them with love, independence, pride, skills, and fun- shouldn’t we give at least as much thought to when and how to expose our children to the reality of and presence of anti-Semitism in our history?

We live in a time of freedom, but we can never forget that this freedom comes at a price.  We need to make sure the confusion of Purim is the exception and not the rule.  It scares me to think that my children might grow up without strong memories of knowing a survivor of the Shoah, (Holocaust).  How will they understand the horrors of anti-Semitism without trivializing it?  We need to confront the idea of evil with our children beyond making bad people ”pick up the poop.”

- Cross posted from The Canteen


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