Not Every Day is Purim
Ein Hahoresh, Purim 2011
Not every day is Purim but it happens to fall two days from now. In recent year it seems like the holiday is gradually converging into one precept of those connected with it, focusing on one corner of the overall structure of the holiday – the feast or banquet (including drinking until not knowing...) and if successful then also “increasing joy”. However, it may be worth our while to adopt other precepts-tasks of the holiday.
The first task connected with Purim, although it may surprise some of us, is simply reading the Book [of Esther]. In other words, we have the obligation to learn and know the story, the backdrop on which this holiday came to be. The story of the Book (Megillah) is the string connecting generations of Jews to Purim, even if they fail to see eye to eye with the story, and even if the story throughout its chapters serves as a basis for interpretation and sermonizing, in the sense of “Each generation and its scholars”.
But I would like to take these things beyond the Book of Esther, since each holiday (whether national or local) has a book of its own, its own special story, to be returned to each year anew; to read from it and study it, to remember and remind. If each time we understand it differently, and even if we discover things hidden from us in previous years, this return to it and repetition of it is essential.
The precept of reading the holiday Megillah, each year, comes to tell us that this holiday didn’t just come out of nowhere, and that it is not devoid of any context. On the contrary, there is an idea behind it, a reason for it; it has a story and they must be verified each year from the beginning. All the more so if they need to be confronted (with current events or changing opinions).
In my opinion, the number of historical truths in the Purim story is of less importance. More important are the issues arising from it: relations between peoples, religions and cultures; attitudes toward killing, destruction and looting; the functioning of government mechanisms; the role and status of women; impulses as dictating human behavior, and other issues, each of which could serve as a point of departure for looking at ourselves.
This applies to other holidays and their books and stories as well. This includes modern holidays too, such as Independence Day and the anniversary of the kibbutz. Apparently, the ‘legislator’, author of the halacha (law) had the necessary foresight, and made reading the Megillah a precept, to keep us from falling hostage to the customs (the common expressions) and neglect the background story. In the case of Purim, this is so that the noisemakers, costumes and hamentashen will not dominate the holiday at the expense of the Book of Esther.