Eco Rabbi on Purim and Building a Good Society

purim-hamantschenThis week Jewish people everwhere, and in Israel,  celebrate the festival of Purim, which I would call the festival of communal identity.

The beginning of the Megillah (what Jewish people read on Purim) opens with King Achashverosh’s party, a seven-day-all-out-eat-your-heart-out party.

After spending an entire half-year celebrating throughout the country, the king wanted to impress the people in his capital. If you were ANYONE, or wanted to be, you HAD to be there.

The commentaries describe how it was a celebration of the temple NOT being rebuilt, how Achashverosh took out the holy vessels to show off, and how there was blatant disregard of the commandments. Talk about low communal self-image.

The story is a story about a people coming into their own. This cannot be done without leadership, and is rarely done without some unifying experience.

There are several points during the story where people are forced to choose where their loyalties lie. Whether it’s loyalty to their personal tenets, as Mordechai decided NOT to bow to Haman; or loyalty to communal tenets, as Esther had to decide to stand up for her people, not to mention the Jews of the city fasting for three days along with Esther once she decided to take on the challenge.

It is clear by the conclusion of the story that the process that these people underwent is seen as a point of reunification of the community.

Esther and Mordechai, at the end of the story, establish a holiday to remember how this day transformed from a day of mourning to a day of celebration. The communal pride was so great that conversion to Judaism became a fad.

There are several things that we are commanded to do in order to remember these events: Reading the story over, feasting, giving gifts to one another, and giving to the poor.

Each of these acts are declarations of being part of a community.
• Retelling of the story is remembering that we were grouped together, and no amount of “trying to be more Persian” would separate us out.
• Feasting, by its very nature brings people together.
• Giving gifts also creates connections with one another.
• Giving to the needy is a fundamental element of a community, ensuring that everyone has the bare necessities.
These acts are clearly designed to bring people together, and some 2400 years later people are still celebrating in the very same way as Mordechai instructed. There is good reason why people love Purim. It is a celebration of coming together during difficult times and being a community. There is a strong sense of power in this feeing.

Communities are very powerful entities. Through the support of the community Esther was able to stand up to the king. And because the community began respecting themselves, and stood up for themselves, their enemies did not wipe them out as the king had originally ordered them to do.

It is when people stand together that real change can happen.

Let us band together and work as a community to effect the changes we need to become sustainable. Celebrate the community of people who care about where they live, care about their future and are dedicated to ensuring that their children and children’s children will be able to live, grow and build. So in another two millennia our progeny will be talking about this great pivotal moment in which we are now standing and how we overcame it. Let’s hope they will be celebrating OUR communal power.

Image Credit: pinelife

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