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Purim 2022: A deadly serious celebration

Updated: Dec 8, 2023

This Wednesday night we will come together for the light and joyous holiday of Purim.  Purim comes on the 14th of Adar, the final full moon of winter, when, in general, after the darkness of winter, we are ready for fun.  And exponentially so at this moment.  There has been a super-abundance of darkness on so many levels.  Yet, while megillat Esther masquerades as a tale of frivolous palace intrigue, from which God’s name is completely absent, behind the mask lies a life and death struggle, for the Jewish people and for Queen Esther herself.

In studying the text, it almost seems as if we are dealing with two Esthers!   The first Esther is known for her physical beauty and her acquiescent nature.  She moves from the home of Mordecai to the harem of the king, causing not a moment’s trouble even for the eunuch/overseer.

Her alter-ego, the second Esther, is a take-charge woman who risks her life to save the Jewish people. “V’ka-asher avadti, avadti- and if I perish, I perish”.  (Esther 4:16)   Where does she find this extraordinary reserve of strength and courage, and how might we similarly tap into that source?

It seems to me that one thing we can learn from Esther is how to look death in the face and say, “You have no power over me.”  By living each day, as the tradition advises, as if it were our last, by accepting the transience of life as a reality, we empower ourselves to achieve greatness.  Once Esther becomes reconciled with the possibility of dying, she fulfills her highest destiny.

We see that same courage in Ukraine.  Fighting for their lives, fighting for their freedom, we are in awe at their strength and commitment.  We are grateful to the nations of the world who are rising up in solidarity with Ukraine, providing support in so many ways.  Their struggles have touched our souls.  May they be blessed with the courage of Esther and the celebration of victory.

On Purim we look our enemy in the eye as we stomp out his name.  We reflect on the countless times we as a people have faced the ultimate threat as we rejoice in our survival.  Esther is our role model as we search for the spirit to do what must be done as individuals and as a community.

Purim is a time of frivolity, yet, at its core, we see this deadly seriousness.   This sense of balance is an integral part of our tradition.  At Purim, while we eat, drink and are merry, we acknowledge that we must confront our own mortality in order to live life to the fullest. Life is unpredictable; we never know what the next day, the next moment, will bring.

The people of Shushan had no idea that their lives were at risk.  The people of Ukraine couldn’t imagine that the wicked ruler would seriously invade and seek to destroy them. It is a mitzvah on Purim to give gifts to the poor.  It is a mitzvah this Purim to support the people of Ukraine.  There but for the grace of God go we.  As we enjoy our raucous celebration, let’s remember, too, the dark side of Purim and the dark side of this moment in history, and commit ourselves to be the light our world so desperately needs.






Esther 4:16, Purim, Queen Esther, Ukraine

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