Olive Oil for Purim?

We head out for a quick tiyul (trip) to the Galil. In Israel, spring is springing all around and the hills, to paraphrase John Muir, are calling. Climbing up less traveled, steep roads to gorgeous views among beautiful wildflowers and shades of green trees, this week’s teachings come to life.

The Torah instructs us about olive oil for the menorah, and while we might be satisfied to know that this is simply the oil that was available then and there, our sages of different generations found additional meanings in it, especially since in the Prophets (Jeremiah 11:16) we are compared and named by G-d as a “fresh, beautiful olive”. The Netivot Shalom (1911-2000) comments about this week’s Torah portion of Tetzave, that “an olive is the only fruit that asides from its mere existence as such, hides within it a special power. After it is beaten down and smashed, it reveals a new power stored within it; the power to light a light, grow and sustain a flame. Just like”, continues the rabbi, “our souls, sometimes might need to get “wacked” through life’s “school of hard knocks”, but often, it’s the trials and tribulations that bring out the best in us too, helping us light a bigger light”.

And while we’re on hidden things…

On route back from Israel, I have a stopover in Istanbul. It’s my first time taking Turkish Air and really, so far (:) no complaints. It’s just that, Turkish is a language I don’t even know one word in; the sounds are different as are the written words. It’s very obvious I am very much in “chutz la’aretz” -that’s the way Jews divide the whole world: there are only two parts: a tiny plot of land on the east side of the Mediterranean, and the rest of the globe.

Purim is the only holiday that takes place outside of Israel, and therefore, special celebratory prayers, like Halel (“praise”), are omitted. Wait, ask the rabbis of the Talmud, is this statement really true? What about Pesach, the plagues and the exodus which takes place in Egypt? The Giving of the Torch in the desert? Sukkot about the journey? Well, the orientation of the exodus and everything related, is towards arrival in “The Land”, while Purim begins, ends and remains abroad.

Furthermore, the Purim story is all one big confusion. Things have no rhyme or reason. There is a crazy party for more than 180 days (6 months!!); decrees that are made just because; people rise and fall from power due to the king’s whim, and the king himself is influenced by drinking, beauty, and sweet-talk, rather than good or bad deeds, strategic planning, values etc. Things are happening haphazardly. And, not to minimize in the greatness of hidden miracles, but even those are only “so-so”: we manage to not get killed and are allowed to defend ourselves, but we stay in the diaspora with future disasters just around the corner, and – with a “brown-out” and a disconnect from each other and the Divine. Our identity is not clear: the diaspora Jews of the story are either too quiet and embarrassed by who they are, or too boisterous, “in your face” and get everybody in trouble. There seems to be no way in between, while G-d’s Holy Name is not even mentioned in the whole megilla.

By complete contrast stand these season’s Torah portions, usually read around Pruim– all about the construction of the mishkan, the mobile Temple. The almost obvious connection is the lavish, colorful cloth, as well as gold and silver vessels described in both. The midrash tells us that Achashverosh, the Persian king, and his advisors, calculated that the Jews will not be able to return to their land and therefore, assumed all this wealth, which was taken from the Temple, was his to stay.

But maybe there is something else. Unlike the Purim story, the mishkan is precise and predictable; it’s about order and reason. There is a specific way to hook up the curtains; an exact place for the aron (the Holy Ark) and its poles; a certain way to light the menorah. The mishkan introduces order into the journey. It’s mobile and at the same time, not chaotic but allows for a focused place of worship, atonement, unity, peace and growth.

I am on route west, and my official address has not been in Israel for many years, so I am not writing this to preach. Just to remind, maybe first and foremost myself, that in spite of any difficulties in Israel, there might something very disorienting for us as a people about constantly being away from where we’re supposed to be.

Shabbat Shalom & Happy Purim.


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1 Response to Olive Oil for Purim?

  1. neskama says:

    Very much like the juxtaposition of the haphazardness of Purim and the organised detailed building of the Mishkan….Thanks Michal….

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