Archive for the '4.1 Purim' Category

A Matter of Perspective

Yesterday we celebrated Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah. For the occasion he prepared a Shiur. He allowed me to post he class here. It was a true pleasure celebrating the extraordinary person he is becoming. So here is what he said:

To quote from a book that my family enjoyed reading together “If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

In preparation for today I wanted ( or at least my Abba wanted me to) do a siyum. Over the last year I have learned Masechet Megillah as part of my Bar Mitzvah Bucket list. I wanted to share a short shiur– lesson as a completion of what my father and I learned.  

My favorite sugya in the Gemara was Megillah 16a which tells a crazy story:

When Haman goes to get Mordechai to dress him in the king’s clothes and parade him around town,  he finds Mordechai himself giving a shiur to the  Sages on the halakhot – laws of kamitzah. What you say is the kamitzah?

Image result for ‫קמיצה‬‎

Good question self. Well the kamitzah was the three finger measurement of fine flour used in the meal offering in the Temple in Jerusalem. When Mordechai sees Haman he tells the Sages to leave so they don’t get burned by his coals.

Which is interesting in that part of the meal offering itself, but back to the story in the Gemara.

Mordechai bravely stands alone before Haman, puts on his tallis and starts davening. We are left with a bizarre image of Haman patiently waiting for his mortal enemy to finish his prayers while Mordechai thinks he is about to be killed. After Mordechai finishes, Haman tells him that the king has commanded him to clothe Mordechai in the king’s clothes and parade him around town on the king’s horse. Mordechai says that he can’t do that because he is dirty and needs a haircut.

Why is he dirty and need a haircut? Excellent question self.

Seeing that his fortune has changed from nearly being killed to being paraded around town by his enemy – Mordechai leaves his state of mourning  and starts to toy with his adversary.

While that occurs Esther closes all the barbershops and bathhouses. She is mean that Esther.

In order to obey the king’s decree Haman had no choice but to cut Mordechai’s hair and bathe him. Haman then dresses him in the king’s clothes and bends down so that Mordechai can climb onto the king’s horse. As Mordechai is climbing on to the horse he kicks Haman. Haman responds quoting Proverbs (24:17) and says “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.”

While doing so Haman’s daughter, lets call her Antikke is standing on a roof and sees Haman walking and Mordechai on the horse. Antikke thinks that the person being lead around in the King’s clothes is Haman her father and the person leading him around is Mordechai. Thinking it is Mordechai from that distance she throws a chamber pot full of poop onto her father’s head.

When I think about this story in the context of the entirety of Megillat Esther I think we can learn some important lessons but I will let you be the judge of that:

1) There are many perspectives in this story that are alternating between comedy and tragedy. In the beginning of the story Mordechai’s perspective is that he is about to be killed. Antikke’s perspective is that she thinks she will punish her father’s enemy but instead punishes her father. Throughout the Megillah it seems that  G-d isn’t actually present, especially in this story we, with the reader’s perspective  see a majestic plan unfolding.

 

2) I as a reader find it problematical that the so called victims of the story are mistreating people. For example Esther’s effort to close the barber shops and showers just seems cruel in that it is engineered to shame Haman. Similarly when Mordechai kicks Haman. He didn’t just kick him, he responds to a Torah quoting Haman by  dismissing him outright, being mean spirited and being dismissive of non- Jews. This is resonant with what we see at the end of the eighth perek when the Megillah. There we read “Moreover many from among the people of the land declared themselves Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.”( Esther 8: 17)  I appreciate that they were feeling oppressed, but why do they need to make others feel oppressed?  

This is especially troubling because of current events where groups are being persecuted as in the Megillah. I hope that we come together as a nation to end persecution of anyone. The root of hatred is fear, we cannot fight it with more hatred, only with more love. This can only happen when we don’t tolerate bad behavior but also don’t behave badly ourselves. We have to strive to keep the highest standard of conduct.

I wanted to summarize what I have learned in light of my becoming a Bar Mitzvah.  There seems to be two main ideas here:

1) In this sugya as in life the line between comedy and tragedy is perspective. As Abraham Lincoln said- We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. In becoming a Bar Mitzvah I think about this quote whenever something goes wrong or someone does something wrong. I remind myself to regain the right perspective so that I can bring my best self. I try to do this because, lets say if, not that this ever happens, but imagine that Shama and Emi are fighting, and no one was around. They both tell my mom what happened individually and no matter how hard they try, they will tell the story slanted towards themselves. So in order to hear what really happened you have to see the situation from both perspectives. In any conflict there are always three perspectives: his side, her side and the truth.  I think this is why my family liked Wonder so much, because every chapter was told was a different perspective.

2) The other big idea is that we have to be just in our ends and our means. As we saw in this sugya even Mordechai himself might confuse the blessed Mordechai with cursed Haman in being unnecessarily cruel to his adversary. It is a hard lesson to learn for myself or even for our people but I realize that being the victim is never an excuse for behaving poorly.

Thank you friends and family for helping me get through this journey of sorts. Thank you all who came from out of town, from Canada to Argentina. Thank you Abba for learning Masechet Megillah with me and helping me with this speech, thank you Mami for teaching me troupe and the Mincha service, thank you both of you for helping me navigate through this strange world and thank you Shama, Emi and Libi for cheering me up when I was down, and making me feel proud of who I was, from any perspective.

Motherless Child: Esther And Our Nation

On Purim we are introduced to the heroine Esther who risks her life to save her people. At the start we read:
There was a certain Jew in Shushan the castle, whose name was Mordecai the son of Yair the son of Shimei the son of Kish, a Benjamite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives that had been carried away with Yeconiah king of Yehudah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter; for she had neither father nor mother, and the maiden was of beautiful form and fair to look on; and when her father and mother were dead, Mordecai took her for his own daughter.(Esther 2:5-7)
So much attention is paid to her rise to power and how she risks everything for the sake of her people that we forget her humble origin as an orphaned refuge child. All of us are filled with images from across the world of refugee children from recent crises. Thinking about her I recalled Shlomo Gronich & The Sheba Choir cover of the classic Negro spiritual “Motherless Child”

Most people think that this song was composed by the children of slaves who were sold to other owners being raised without their parents. There is something haunting about a group of black Ethiopian immigrant children singing : “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, Long way from my home”. Understanding  the loneliness of all of these children make me appreciate Esther in a deeper way.
In this light, Esther’s courage is significant beyond her as an individual. All of us in diaspora are living away from our mother land. Despite our salvation on Purim, we do not end up as an autonomous people in our own land as we do on Hanukkah. This is the reason we do not say Hallel today. We should still take a moment and appreciate that the”Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor” ( Esther 8:16) amidst the darkness of hatred and bigotry. Esther represents our national courage to survive and even thrive in diaspora.
 Chag Purim Sameakh 

Fifty Shades of Purim

In the Midrash we learn:

Rav Assi said that young children began their Torah studies with Leviticus and not with Genesis because young children are pure, and the sacrifices explained in Leviticus are pure, so the pure studied the pure. (Leviticus Rabbah 7:3.)

I understand why people might think that the story of Genesis is too nuanced or even elicit for a young child and their initiation to learning. But still my children come back from kindergarten telling me stories of the Garden of Eden and not the sacrifices of the Temple. I find it similarly interesting that my children are taught the story of Esther at such a young age. Like the successful Fifty Shades of Grey the story of Esther is basically pornography.

Beyond the obvious nudity and drunken debauchery at the start of the story, there is some material that I do not think my kids are ready for yet. We read:

And it was so, when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favour in his sight; and the king held out to Esther the golden sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther drew near, and touched the top of the scepter. (Esther 5:2)

As Freud is said to have said “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” And sometimes a scepter is not a scepter.  Please do tell me how you might put this on the big screen.

Even the whole ceremonial cookie is pretty elicit. Some times  Persian Fertility cookie is just a Persian fertility cookie. Have festive holiday.

Fifty Shades of Anti-Semitism: Talking with Our Children About Purim

When my children were in Kindergarten they learned about the story of Esther in preparation for Purim. Five years ago, at the Purim Seudah, or festive meal, Yadid shared with me what he learned about Purim in school.  He learned that, Haman’s punishment (for attempting genocide) was having to walk behind Mordechai, who was riding on the royal horse, and pick up the poop. Yadid added with a smile that this is his favorite part of the story. This year at Purim, like every other year, I will try to fulfill the commandment to mistake the blessing of Mordechai with the curse of Haman. It struck me this year that I have been acculturated to expect Haman. He 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 you are supposed to.” I am thankful that Yadid was not taught of Haman and his sons being put to death, but I realize that in retelling the story of Purim, we have normalized anti-Semitism. From a young age Haman is not excused but he is to be expected.

I was reminded of a Sarah Silverman piece in which she corrects her niece who was astounded that 60 Million Jews died in the Holocaust. After correcting her that it is 6 million Jews, not 60 million, her niece responds “What is the difference?” There is a difference, “Because 60 million would have been unforgivable.” We make fun, but 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. As if anti-Semitism is normative, if not normal. That’s black and white.

You might argue that the hatred of Jews is a central theme of Jewish history. You would be correct. But when is it appropriate to share this with our children? Why would you want to raise your children to think that being hated is expected? Isn’t it black and white?

It is particularly scary raising Jewish children in a world in which there is a revival of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, ISIS is on the rise, and Iran is inching closer to having weapons of mass destruction to aim at Israel. In my mind part of the problem is that we have made it normal to hate the Jews. In each story in our history, we are left trying to figure out who loves us and who hates us. It is a sort of pornographic horror- we hate it, but we just cannot pull ourselves away from it. Like Fifty Shades of Grey, the global audience enjoys watching anti-Semitism. Purim is a time of grey, not black and white.  Esther is the queen and also the object of hate. It is the time when we confuse Haman for Mordechai and blessings for curses.

The rest of the year we need to know what is good and what is evil- black and white. Hating people for their religion, racial identity, gender identity, orientation, or ethnic identity is simply wrong and there is nothing normal about it. How will our children understand the horrors of anti-Semitism without trivializing it? We need to confront evil beyond making bad people “pick up the poop.”

-reposted from the Canteen


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