Purim 2021 – Even Now We Can Be Joyful

February 22, 2021

Purim 2021 – Even Now We Can Be Joyful

Purim recalls the story of the Jews of Persia, living under the rule of King Ahasuerus. Haman, the King's prime minister, plots to exterminate the Jews of the region. Yet the plan is foiled by Queen Esther and her cousin Mordechai, who ultimately save the Jews from destruction. We celebrate the holiday by listening to the reading of the Book of Esther, a raucous affair in which we dress in costumes, boo and make noise when Haman’s name is read aloud. And of course, we eat hamentashen, drink and have a -good time.

The rabbis teach: “When Adar enters, joy increases.” Adar is the Hebrew month during which Purim occurs. The Talmudic statement explicitly dictates that we are to have fun on Purim. I’ll admit to having a bit of cognitive dissonance with this phrase- given the state of the world with the devastation of the pandemic, evidence of racial unrest and economic inequity, not to mention the effects of climate change. Purim 2020 was the last time we were all in person in synagogue. It hardly feels like a time to be joyful.

To better wrap our heads around this tall order, it's helpful to understand the above in the context in which it was written. “When Adar enters, joy increases” is not found in the Talmudic sections covering Purim as we would expect. Instead, it appears in Taanit/Fasts, in the middle of a discussion of the most tragic date on the Jewish calendar, the 9th of Av in which we fast and mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple. The whole verse reads: “When the month of Av enters, decrease in joy, but when Adar enters, we increase joy” (Ta’anit 29a).

With the whole quote, we have a counterpoint – the sadness of Tisha B’Av in contrast to the joy of Adar. In comparison to Tisha B’av, Purim is indeed joyful. Context is everything.

There is a point to be made for the raucous, rowdy and over the top celebration of Purim, that allows us to put our cares aside and immerse in some fun. And yet, for those (like myself) who have a hard time disconnecting from the world, perhaps a more toned-down celebration will be in order.

It is no surprise that the rabbis understood the concept of a positive growth mindset when they essentially said: "no matter what the state of the world might be, we have to appreciate and celebrate what we have." In Shushan and subsequent times and places throughout history, we’ve survived terrible challenges. And we’ll survive the next challenge. So, let’s adjust our mindset, break out the costumes and grab a gragger.

Wherever you are on the joyful scale this year, may you and your dear ones have a Happy Purim.

- Rabbi Judith Beiner, JF&CS Community Chaplain