The Torah portion of Teruma seems like quite the opposite of upcoming holiday of Purim (more below): there’s a list of materials and clear instructions how to build something very precise and specific. And still, even there, where everything is “obvious”, if we look underneath the surface, we’ll see it: the temporary is permanent, and the permanent – temporary. Take the Ark, for example: solid wood and “travelable”. Or the Menora made of solid gold – with blossoms.
Rashi in his commentary to Exodus 25:9 says on the verse’s ending – “and so you shall do” – ‘for generations (ledorot – לדורות)’ = forever. How could he say that, challenge other commentators? By the his time, the Tabernacle = Mishkan – משכן was long gone and event both Temples were destroyed. What could he mean by ‘do this for generations’? it can’t possibly be “this” – this exact building, but maybe do this – “a” place. Our materials, design and location might be different; that is all secondary. After all, the first one was mobile and in a desert, but making space for G-d in our life, is something we should always strive to do.
The day before Rosh Hodesh Adar, horrific headlines fill the news of yet another school shooting, leaving at least 17, mostly young people, dead and who knows how many deeply wounded, physically, emotionally and spiritually. On top of the obvious, we wonder, “Davka today? Don’t we say, mishenichnas Adar, marbim besimcha, when Adar begins, we increase our joy”?
Rabbi Sharki of Machon Meir in Jerusalem teaches that Adar, the month of Purim, is the saddest month of the year. Wait, not The month of Av, with the destruction of the Temple and all its calamities? But, rather, Adar, because this is the time we encourage ourselves and others to “increase joy”, and we only tell someone to “cheer up” when we’re sad.
Why are we sad? Purim is such an exciting holiday!! Eh, for kids. Maybe. As we grow up, the intense confusion and discomfort of the day, is easily felt. We can’t decide who “we’ll be”; we can’t tell who is who – which in some places can offer not only a “discomfort”, but a real risk of safe and security. We can’t tell where G-d is; who’s good and who’s bad. The story also brings no comfort. It starts bad, gets worse and ends up well, bad, not good and definitely not great.
It’s the only book that takes place fully in “chutz-la’aretz”, outside of Israel. We’re in a place where we have little to no control over what’s going on. We are subject to the whims of a weak king and his envious advisor. The clear voice of G-d which is so present in every book of the bible, directing us this way and that, is absent. Attack can come from everywhere; defense is in the most unlikely places. No one behaves as expected: take, for example, the minor case of Mordechai telling about the plot of Bigtan & Teresh to get rid of the king. Imagine, G-d forbid, if our dearest person was captured and taken against her will to be the wife of a powerful, corrupt man we dislike. Now we hear that someone wants to get rid of him. Shouldn’t it be good?? Why is Mordecha saving the person who holds Esther?
Wherever we turn, there is chaos. And all this is exasperated by excessive drinking, loud noise and general mayhem.
How are we to make sense of this story and actually enjoy this day which some say is as holy as Yom Kippur (“KiPurim” literally means “like Purim”)?
The Talmud teaches that “Haman” was already mentioned in the Torah. Where? The easiest source would be “haman” – the manna in Exodus, but that’s not where the Talmud is going. It brings us a verse from the Book of Genesis (3:11): …המן העץ אשר צויתיך did you eat from the tree I commanded not to? asks G-d. Why choose this verse which is barely remotely resembling Haman – using only the letters of the word hamin?
The verse is also strange because it has G-d asking a question. Why should G-d ask questions? Doesn’t He know what’s going on? The serpent of the Garden of Eden mixes and blurs facts with fiction leading to mistakes, fights and separation . This is also Haman’s role in the megillah: Haman is considered part of Amalek, and we saw Amalek do just that only a few Torah portions ago, by launching a war “on the weak, from behind”. Amalek in gimatriya equals the Hebrew word for doubt, safek -ספק. This most destructive force, even without doing much, can turn our world upside down.
Despite our best intentions, there is chaos in the world. And not all of it is explainable. In that regard, Purim is most important.
Finding G-d where everything is beautiful and orderly, is one thing. Sitting on top of Half Dome and feeling the wow – or alternatively, in the perfectly constructed mishkan – can make sense. But then there is being reminded that G-d is with us, even in the chaos, even when it’s not obvious, where there is no name or known presence. In spite of the discomfort and maybe irony, that is a much more holistic view of G-d.
Purim is pushing us beyond where we’re comfortable, beyond where we’ve been. There to find new horizons.
The Purim parade is called “adloyada” – עדלאידע as the three Hebrew words: ad lo yada – עד לא ידע “until one does not know”, taken from the Talmud (Megilla 7:b), where it says, “a person is obligated to drink (on Purim) until one does not know (the difference) between cursed Haman and blessed Mordechai”.
We often pride ourselves on Jewish learning. But, what does that mean? Finding answers to everything? Or keeping the questions?? Answers are nice; they give us comfort; the more decisive, the more defined – and confined we become. Questions remove the roof off our heads, leaving us open, vulnerable, searching, reaching for more, helping us grow, knowing we don’t know and we’ll never fully know. That too is ad lo yada, reaching beyond and some. On Purim we don’t stumble on confusion. we don’t avoid it. We work to create it, enjoy it and celebrate it. May it be a good month!
עדלאידע – 1956 ו- 2017