This is a guest post by Rabbi David Locketz of Bet Shalom Congregation in Minnetonka, MN.
In just a few days, our community will celebrate Purim. We will read from the Megillah and eat hamantashen and some will masquerade as our tradition dictates. Yet the center piece of this celebration will undoubtedly be the Purim Carnival geared primarily to our young kids. It is of course our Jewish “Halloween” celebration and no child will miss it.
But how will the adults celebrate? Is this a holiday only for the children with the adults as bystanders?
Purim, in fact, has very adult tones to it in the Talmud, Midrash and commentaries. For starters, we are taught that one should, “Drink ad she lo yada – drink until you don’t know the difference between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordecai.”
The rabbis throughout time have had difficulty with this passage because drinking yourself to oblivion to fulfill the requirements of one holiday could cause a person to fail miserably in other areas for which the tradition certainly has expectations. Moses Isserles, a 16th century rabbi from Poland tempered this dictum when he wrote, “It is immaterial whether one drinks a lot or a little as long as his thoughts are directed at God.” In other words, have a great time and celebrate . . . but don’t do something thoughtless and without taste in the name of Purim.
The Purim story is an adult story and the drinking of alcohol fits right into it even if it doesn’t square with our modern sense of moderation.
The story of Purim which we read in Megillat Esther is full of long parties, heavy drinking, violence and ugly politics. But it is also a story of Jewish unity in the face of impending disaster. Perhaps that is what draws us to the characters of Mordecai, Esther and Haman. So many of our stories throughout Jewish history end badly. Much of our experience has been tragic. But the comforting moral is Jewish unity. And in the Purim story, the House of Israel prevails and we look to them with awe and affection.
So what does this story mean for us today? It serves as a reminder that in every generation there is a character like Haman; someone who has ill will toward our people. But yet we are here and we are strong. We have come together in the face of adversity and we have survived, and thrived, passing down the traditions of our forebears to those that come after us. The chain that takes us all the back to Moses on Mount Sinai remains unbroken. And that is something to celebrate.
And so we do celebrate. We celebrate in strange yet endearing ways. No one ever said we Jews have a lack of creativity. We have made a pastry out of the hat of the one who wanted to see our demise! (I prefer apricot!) We dress up and we retell this story and we boo and hiss and yell and have a good time. And while we do this, we recognize that the power of this story is its timeliness…it themes repeat themselves throughout history…yet we join together in joy and happiness and light and try to forget the woe in the world for just a short while. And there is nothing childish about that.
Check out the websites of the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox movements for ideas on how to bring Purim into your week:
And join us Thursday night (March 8th at 8pm) at the VFW-Uptown 2916 Lyndale Avenue S Minneapolis, MN 55408 for Cirque De Purim . . . our Minneapolis Jewish Community Young Adults Shushan Purim celebration.
[Eds. Note: TC Jewfolk’s upcoming events calendar has info on many of the local Purim events we think you’ll be interested in, including Cirque du Purim.]