Purim Inside and Out
What a good time for sharing good news. Baruch Hashem, this week there two new engagements. Ilana is engaged as is Aviva Montrose. So far so good-Adar is fulfilling its promise of being a month in which you can (and should!) increase your joy.
Which reminds me of food.
The Purim story begins with the Jews attending Achachveirosh’s feast. The sages see this as an event of such overwhelmingly callousness to everything holy that they actually attribute Haman’s planned genocide to this seemingly harmless act. The issue wasn’t kashrut-the individualized portions made it possible for anyone to order whatever level of kashrut he wanted. The issue was the pleasure they felt when they should/could have heard and seen more than the ambience of the absolute luxury surrounding them and the gorgeous food on their plates. They could/should have seen that the entire event was staged to aggrandize everything that they couldn’t believe in and to mock everything that was real and holy. Achashveirosh wore clothing that was made for a Kohein Gadol, and served his guests with utensils that were earmarked for the Beis HaMikdash. The statement of both is that the Bais HaMikdash and everything it stood for is gone, and has been replaced by the icy heart of crass materialism that Persia epitomized. The material world was created to bond us with its Creator, that food, clothing, etc. are all gifts to make us aware of the love of their Giver. Once they become walls that separate us from Him instead of being bridges that draw us close to him, deep and sometimes irreversible changes take place inside us. The Outside replaces the Inside, and the Inside disappears.
How do you feel about food?
Personally, I am pro. Food becomes problematic is when it teaches you the wrong lessons. When you end up equating immediate gratification with real simchah, you are addicted whether or not your addiction shows up on the scale. No pleasure is more easily accessible than eating. The reason that so many of us fight the battle of the bulge with such limited success is not necessarily because of the lack of self-esteem etc. that we may have been fed (ugh-what a terrible pun) I think that It stems from the simple fact that so many high calorie treats taste awfully good. There is nothing wrong with enjoying food unless it replaces your ability to enjoy the rest of life, the part of living that could be sanctified. The pleasure it gives you can be the outer layer of what a meaningful life is meant to be. The traditional foods served on Purim (and on erev Yom Kippur, which has a very similar feel-redefining your relationship to material pleasure) are foods that have both and inside and an outside such as hamentashen and stuffed cabbage. The inside is concealed, you have to break through to get at it. You savor their flavors and let them “inform” you about what the holiday’s message really is. The custom of the costume (an even worse pun) has the same message, things aren’t always what they seem to be on the outside; underneath the mask is a real person who may tragically in real life rarely feel secure enough to remove his “mask” or the persona he adapts for other peoples consumption. The same holds true for the custom of men (yes dear girls, you read right; men, not you!) drinking to the point of intoxication. They live out the reality that the Jews of Shushan confronted. What your sober mind tells you is ultimately only the outside of reality. Their minds told them that they are part of a huge civilization and that there is no way out other than submission. Their emunah, their inner reality was touched when Mordechai didn’t bow or bend. At the moment, they felt he had betrayed them and endangered them. Later his example and his dedication to Torah ignited their faith. The other component of the turnabout was Esther’s fasting and praying. This gave them access to who they really are, and got them past what they were short time ago when they attended Achashveirosh’s feast. They learned that their faith in Hashem is the only force that’s going to pull them through.
The most lenient fast in the Jewish calendar is Ester’s fast. You aren’t obligated to fast if you feel the least bit unwell. Nonetheless, in many ways the fast is what opens the gates to the simchah of Purim. You are more than what you eat; you are what you believe and know and love.
Har Nof is no doubt going to be full of literally dozens of Queen Esther this Purim. Each little girl knows that the spiritual strength that Ester had when she faced down Achashveirosh and Haman is what saved the day. The Megillah is named for her even though the salvation came through both heroes, Ester and Mordechai. As you hear the megillah try on being Queen Ester for size; feel her faith and her desperation and apply it to your life and your struggles. Let yourself feel the
But don’t let it just touch the outside, let it touch the inside to the point that when you hear the word Light, you think Torah and not electric. When you hear the word simchah, you think Yom Tov-each holiday demonstrates a different dimension of Hashem’s love for us. When you hear the word Joy, you think of the joy of circumcision, and what bringing a new generation of people for whom the covenant is engraved their flesh would mean to you, when you think of honor you think of tefillin and living a life in which you head and arm and heart are all bound together. You got it! One day you will not only live it, but you’ll find the right people to bring into the circle (which is one of the reasons that I am so happy about Bnos Avigail’s opening next year), which is what sending mishloach manot and giving charity on Purim will do for us all.
Have the best Purim ever!
Let It Snow
The snow was beautiful.
It began falling late Thursday night, making Friday and Shabbos a kaleidoscope of frustrated travelers, delighted kids, creative would be sculptors, and the timeless Jerusalem hills outside my windows looking (as usual) ancient and new at the same time. This time I saw the white stuff from my window, and much to my surprise was not at all unhappy to watch the scene with a hot cup of tea in my hand. I will be going back to work more or less full time starting tomorrow, which is something for which I will always owe a debt to Hashem that no human being can pay. I had two physiotherapists, one from the hospital and one from Kupat Cholim. Neiher of them know about the existence of the other. I felt no need to burst the beurocratic bubble that gave me so much of the coaching that I needed. I graduated. They have a finite number of exercises they put you through, and once you can do them easily, you are done. Since walking is good for me, (unlike standing, sitting, or going anywhere by car) I will have an excuse to go on long walks early in the morning or late at night as is my delight. I will, however skip the forest for a while. My friends have put me on food therapy, so moving around may get some of the extra weight off. I also have hopes that the entire event will make me a bit – less tied down to the kind of pettiness that traps me far too often so that I can keep my eye o on the bigger picture.
If nothing else, you guys learned enough Torah during the time you were at Neve to at least know that there is a bigger picture. I read a survey about what people define as success. The results were depressing. Nothing enduring came up. The endless ping pong game (earn it spend it) seemed to be the main theme. Every so often you might want to test yourself. Ask yourself what you mean when you say, “that was a really good day”. If there was some real simchah, giving, moving forward, then it was a good day. If it was a day in which you looked at reality with emunah it was a good day. If you resisted drowning in nonsense it was a good day. Without the Torah these treasures are awfully elusive (especially simchah that is almost impossible to maintain without a meaningful trusting relationship with Hashem). Last week’s Parshah spoke about the commandment to build a sanctuary through which Hashem will dwell in you. The Haftorah is about how Shlomo (King Solomon) built the Temple. It ends with the words, “Hashem will not abandon you”. That says it all. You’ll have your ups and downs, and days that work and days that don’t, but there’s always today a free gift with real possibilities. This week’s Parshah takes you further inward. It begins with narrating the construction of special garments that were worn by the kohanim. Before giving us the Torah, Hashem said that He is choosing us to be a holy nation and a kingdom of kohanim. That means that we have a capacity and responsibility to be living examples of what humans were created to be, and that we have the ability to bring down blessings and raise the animal aspects of the human psyche (which is what the sacrificial offerings were about). You may very reasonably ask what the garments that the kohein wore in the mishkan or in the Bais HaMikdash have to do with you in Chicago, Detroit, or the wilds of Flatbush. The garments of the soul are thought speech and action. These are the ways your deepest inner reality birth your identity. You are able to be part of something bigger than yourself and to forge an identity that follows the role of the kohanim in the sanctuary. The Vilna Gaon points out that everything begins with thought. If you want your speech patterns to change, and to be less negative and critical (and tinged with lashon hara) you have to learn to see people differently. Every Jew is in G-d’s image no matter how deeply he buries it under the barriers of ego and desire that are the source of all separation from their higher selves. If you can step back and watch your thoughts, you may be able to see others more positively if you are willing to judge them favorably rather than defensively. Your speech makes your inner life accessible to the world, it’s the beginning of having a self that is entwined with others. Your deeds will almost certainly follow your thoughts and your speech. If you began with looking for G-dliness in the other person, you will take this search to the way you seek G-dliness in the world you live in through bringing G-d with you so to speak as you live your life.
One of the girls asked me some questions about tzniut. She lives in Brazil. From her question it was clear that she does her best to keep the halachot properly. Wherever she goes, the message that she takes with her is, “there are alternatives”. Dignity is possible. You can make choices what a kohein she would have made!
Maybe write in some of the choices you made to take who you are on the inside with you. We all need a little encouragement.
Oops! Before I forget- the good news is that Brachah Bruce and Shoshanah Weiser are both engaged.