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Congregation Beth HaTephila

An Engaging, Inclusive, Reform Congregation in the Blue Ridge Mountains

Between You and Me - February 2021

Its traditional to enter the Hebrew month of Adar (on February 13th) with the goal of increasing simcha, joy.  After the strain of the months we’ve endured sheltering in solitude while enduring a most difficult, polarizing election process, I offer this column which I see as marrying appropriate seasonal levity with an invitation to undertake sober self-reflection.

One of the most fun aspects of Purim is dressing up in costume.  This minhag, custom, is connected to the Megillah’s hero, Queen Esther, whose name comes from the Hebrew root S-T-R, meaning to hide, referring to the way Esther hides her Jewish identity when she is selected as Queen.  The final denouement of the Purim tale is when Esther takes off her metaphorical mask before King Ahashverosh revealing who she is, one of those people destined to die if Haman (boo!) gets his way.  By masking ourselves in the faces of the Purim cast, we get to see how a little of these characters is revealed in ourselves.  The truth is that each of these characters hides in us all year long, if we are paying attention.

For example, King Ahashverosh was a ruler notable for the largeness of his kingdom and the extravagance of his feasts.  Despite having it all, this king is not in charge.  Time and time again, he is manipulated by his advisors and enslaved by his concerns about what others think of him.  Even his own Queen Vashti refuses to entertain his excesses.  Is there a little Ahashverosh in us when amongst all our riches, we still feel we don’t have enough?  Does a little King Ahashverosh show up when we aren’t in command of our urges and go overboard into excess?

At other times, you might be visited by Queen Vashti, who knows exactly when enough is enough, especially when she is under pressure to acquiesce.  And she is willing to risk it all, despite the consequences being dire.  The Vashti in us shows up when we see what is wrong clearly and respond to it head on.

The Esther in us prefers that life be simple and easy.  She visits us when we are having the urge to stay silent instead of speaking up.  Unlike Vashti who unhesitatingly walks into the fire, Queen Esther prefers to hide in plain sight when danger is afoot.  When Esther eventually figures out she has no choice but to confront the difficulties before her, she also knows she can face them all if she calls upon her community for support and strength.  Remember that the next time Esther visits you.

Haman is no stranger to any of us.  Haman arises when our impulsive, reactive and ego-driven inclinations take over.  He is with us when we are desperately seeking control but are acting out of control.  The most insidious of Haman’s traits is his tendency to demonize a whole group because of the crimes of one. 

The mission my friends, should you be willing to accept it, is to watch carefully!  Unmask the villains and embrace the heroes, every time they appear.  Remember, the kingdom is in your hands.  You choose who sits on the royal throne.

Thu, August 18 2022 21 Av 5782