The Meaning of Purim Unmasked — Esther’s Lesson For Today!

The effervescent levity of Purim each year spills over into the entire month of Adar (or two, as the case may be, like this year!) where it occupies a central position.  From the moment Adar begins, Jewish tradition commands us to be happy (never mind the fact that there was always, Oy Gevalt, plenty to worry about—and that is doubly true this year!).  The joyous holiday of Purim, celebrating the dramatic and nail-biting rescue of the Jews of Persia, is replete with wild antics, silly costumes, gala carnivals, and a touch of hilarity for good measure.  The antics and atmosphere of Purim, as we retell the story of Esther found in the Megillah, make it one of the most fun of all the Jewish holidays.   After all, who doesn’t love a good yarn full of a cast of crazy characters?   Sweet and winsome Esther, who hides her Jewish identity ’til the last moment, becomes an unlikely hero, at the urging of her cousin Mordecai, as she fights for her life and the life of her people against the dastardly plot of the despicable Haman.  In a classic battle of good versus evil, the good guys win out and we celebrate the miraculous redemption of our people.

Of course, it is the costumes and the carnivals that tend to camouflage the essence of the Purim holiday for most of us.  Esther’s very name hints that there is more than meets the eye in our story! [The root of Esther in Hebrew is ‘nistar,’ which means hidden.] Underneath Purim’s veneer of a frivolous frolic, lies an important message for all of us concerning risk taking, personal responsibility, and the ability of just one person to make a tremendous difference. If it were not for brave Queen Esther and her willingness to step up and take a stand for what really mattered, to speak out to save lives, our story would have had a very different ending.

The spirit of Esther continues to live within each of us, inspiring us to use our voices for good and to act so that we may make a positive difference in our world. While there are so many challenges facing our world today it could make your head spin like a grogger, we cannot despair or give in. Like Esther, we must reach deep inside to muster our courage and hope to tackle today’s Hamans, whether they be the evil forces like those that have attacked Ukraine or individuals that perpetuate gun violence in our communities or the greed and indifference that threatens our Earth and our very existence. Whether they be those who seek to   persecute immigrants and asylum seekers who are simply seeking a better life like our ancestors did or those who would deny access to affordable health care to so many, we are the inheritors of a rich tradition that calls to us, reminding us, that perhaps we have arrived at this very moment so that we can use our privilege, power and position to do what we must to build a world of justice and compassion for all. Please consider taking a stand for good and donating to causes that are helping to support the Ukrainians suffering under the brutal siege of the Russians. Here are two important Jewish funds you might donate to, as Ukraine is home to over 200,000 Jews, one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. One fund is organized through the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the other is through the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which has people on the ground in Poland and Ukraine and other surrounding countries providing vital assistance to those in need.

Be sure to join us on zoom or in person for all our Purim festivities this year, which will include our Family Service on Wednesday, March 16 at 6 pm, Hamentaschen Noahin’ at 6:30 (only in person!), and our Annual Hebrew Megillah reading at 7:00. At 7:30, we will be showing a wonderful Purim Shpiel—Back to the Future— created this year by Steve Marshall and the B’nai Israel players of Sacramento. Bring your groggers/noise makers! And, of course, on Sunday we will have our kids Purim Shpiel (with thanks to Karen Block for organizing this great production from last year!) and our Purim Palooza featuring the musical group Octopretzel!

But amidst all the fun and silliness of Purim, let us also not forget the hidden, deeper meaning of this joyous holiday. This Purim let us share our great joy and blessings with others. Let us choose to get involved and make a difference. Let us seize this precious moment when we can speak out and stand up for the values that we are most passionate about. In this way, we will continue be the bearers of the light that Esther taught us so very long ago not to hide.

Chag Purim Sameach,

Rabbi Greg