Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Appreciation Wednesday

Next week is the Jewish holiday of Purim. For those of you not in the loop, Purim celebrates the events described in the Book of Esther. You can read the whole thing -- it's very dramatic!-- but to sum up, there was this powerful politician in ancient Persia named Haman who, with the cooperation of King Ahashverosh (not sure how to write that except to transliterate from the Hebrew) plotted to kill all the Jews of Persia. At the time, that was pretty much all the Jews, give or take. This took place while the Jews were in exile from Israel during the period between the First and Second Temples. I'm not an expert in Jewish history but I think we're talking about something like 2,500 years ago.

Anyhow, unbeknownst to Haman, the Queen herself, Esther, was a Secret Jew. When she revealed to her husband, the king, that she herself would perish under Haman's plans, the king (who had other Reasons of State to be upset with Haman at this point anyway, at least if you read between the lines and believe the midrashim) got enraged, sentenced Haman to death, and gave the Jews carte blanche to defend themselves against any Persians who dared to take advantage of the death-to-Jews decree. Thus the evil decree was overturned, and the Jews narrowly avoided what would have been Persia's "Final Solution." There are some other interesting subplots in the story regarding how it is that Esther came to be Queen, the input of her uncle Mordechai into the events, a conspiracy by two of the King's servants to kill him, and some personal animosity between Haman and Mordechai. But the gist of it is: There was going to be a Holocaust. And then there wasn't. And so the Jews Were Glad.

An interesting feature of the Book of Esther is that God's name does not appear anywhere in the book, which is unusual for a book in the Biblical canon! One of the themes of Purim is that, after the age of prophets, it's up to us to recognize God's hand in events. He doesn't speak to us from the heavens and tell us what's going on; we have to look and listen and trust Him, and try to figure it out on our own. As the events in the book were unfolding -- and the events take place over many years -- things were looking mighty bad for the Jewish people. And yet, if you step back and look at the sweep of those years, you see that there was a plan unfolding all along, a very intricate plan, and that eventually justice prevailed.

The Book of Esther is a great comfort to me when I get upset over things going on in Israel right now. From up close, things look very bad. But I do believe that from God's standpoint, everything will turn out OK, that justice will prevail -- whatever that means-- and ultimately the Jews Will Be Glad once again. It might take hundreds of years-- who knows?-- but time means nothing to God. I don't mean to say that I think the State of Israel is necessarily a step toward a Messianic Age, any more than any other event in history brought us one step closer to some sort of nirvana, but rather that I do believe there is a plan, a very intricate plan, and it's simply impossible to see it from up close. You have to be able to step way, way back -- which is impossible in our limitations of time and space.

So, on this Appreciation Wednesday, one thing I appreciate is that I was brought up to believe in The Plan, because when I feel helpless and like things are out of control, it's nice to remember that things don't have to be under my control, they just have to be under Someone's control. Sure, sometimes I have doubts about the Someone and The Plan, but most of the time I do believe in it-- even if it's just because believing in it feels a lot better than not believing in it, and isn't any crazier. I don't know what The Plan is, but it's nice to think that one exists.

Second, I appreciate the time and energy some people spend to make Purim extra fun. It's a really joyous holiday, with people wearing costumes, bringing food baskets to each other in a sort of reverse trick-or-treat phenomenon, and eating and drinking themselves silly. There is also a tradition to make "Purim shpiels," that is, skits that satirize our lives. High school kids write skits making fun of their schools, the YU newspaper puts out a special Purim edition with funny (fake) articles . . . think April Fools Day, but it goes on the entire Hebrew month of Adar. It's sort of tricky to write satirical material that is funny without being hurtful, but when people succeed it's great for a laugh. (Personally, I really want to write a parody of Sheryl Crow's "Are you strong enough to be my man" called "are you Ach enough to be my Ayd," which you understand if you've learned the eighth perek of Bava Kamma . . . but I don't know if I have time.)

So, I wish also to acknowledge "Jameel" of "The Muquta" for creating hilarious spoofs of various Jewish blogs. Some of them are really fantastic. You can see the whole list at Jameel's blog, or click here for my favorites, spot-on spoofs of Orthomom, RenReb, The Rabbi's Kid(a bit biting), and Ask Shifra. Oh, and Dov Bear. Putting together these spoofs must take a long time, and it's nice that Jameel and his team of writers have gone to the trouble. Thank you, people, whoever you are!

I'll try not to be hurt by the fact that no one has spoofed Chayyei Sarah. Perhaps it is because my words have blinded you all with their wisdom? Perhaps this blog is simply beyond satirizing? Perhaps no one dares to spoof the sacred?

This, I can handle. :-)

Happy Wednesday, everyone.

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