March brings us the holiday of Purim. It is a very fun holiday. People dress up in costumes and act silly. You are even encouraged to drink. However, in a close reading of the megillah, the Purim story, there is a lot more to it. A lesson that really stands out to me for myself, and the students here, is one about choices and making decisions (or not making them) and how that influences us.
King Ahasuerus may not have been a great decision maker and was frequently swayed to do things by his advisors. It certainly made the path easier for him. Vashti chose not go to the King’s party even when commanded. As a result, she lost the throne. Today, many people feel that Vashti had been misjudged, and should have received praise for her brave decision. Our heroine, Esther, had many decisions and choices to make: Hide that she was Jewish, tell the King that she was Jewish, save herself or all of her people, approach the King even if it meant death. Mordechai could have bowed down to Haman and saved himself a lot of trouble but his convictions led him to the decision to stand up for his beliefs. What would have happened if Haman had been a different type of person? Would he have chosen to use his influence with the King to persecute the Jews?
Jim Nightingale, author of Think Smart-Act Smart says, “We simply decide without thinking much about the decision process.” In a classroom setting, we encourage students to look at the pros and cons and debate different sides of a decision. In real life, we don’t always take that kind of time. In an article in Wikipedia, it says that the process of decision making has long been the focus of research and that there are elements of psychological needs, environmental influences as well as logic and rationality.
For my purposes, as a Jewish educator, I am struck by the needs and values represented by decisions. Going back to the story, there are many elements of power, determination, courage and just letting things happen (which is a way of deciding). These things happen not only in the Purim story but in our daily lives today. How students treat each other, how they react to a bully, what kind of a person they become all result from decisions and choices they make. Teachers and parents influence and guide students in their decision-making process. We hope that the Jewish values of rachamam (compassion) and derekh eretz (literally the way of the land but more so the way you should go) serve as tools for students in making choices.
Through the characters of the Purim story to all of us today, choices and decisions made have a tremendous impact. As J.K. Rowling, in Harry Potter says, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
Chag sameach Purim – Happy Purim!
Toby Koritsky, RJE