Purim Shpiel 5782

I imagine that I will not be the only one attempting a “balancing act” this Purim: balancing joy & sorrow, past & present, and religion & life. Perhaps, there is no need for me to explain, and you, dear reader, are already beginning to get an inkling of what I am about to say. Purim is quickly approaching; yet, my thoughts are preoccupied with a modern-day Purim story, wherein the archvillain is intent on destruction, despite the opposition.

Abraham Heschel advocated for a Judaism that is not wrapped up in its past glory, in spite of the prevailing circumstances of life. How can I celebrate Purim in a joyous manner, knowing that a real-life situation demands my attention, prayer, and support? To go along with Purim-as-usual would create a great disconnect between what is meant to be a living faith in touch with the challenges of life and the actual challenges that present themselves, despite the timing.

The war in Ukraine will not be put on hold for the celebration of Purim. This is the stark reality that many of the Jewish refugees who have managed to cross the border know. And the unfortunate ones, who for whatever reasons are still in Ukraine, sheltering in basements, or fighting to defend their country also know this all too well. The rejoicing in Shushan and the lands of Ahasuerus did not occur until after victory was procured for the Jewish people, who were previously threatened by the evil designs of Haman.

Today, rejoicing over this past victory will in all likelihood be diminished in light of the present reality. Whatever lessons we are able to glean from Purim, I would encourage that these be applied to our response to the events of today. Otherwise, as Heschel wrote, we risk ignoring “the crisis of today,” “because of the splendor of the past” (Heschel, G-d in Search of Man, ch.1).

Shabbos Zachor: Ki Tisa 5782

“The L-RD said to Moses: Take for yourself – spices – stacte, onycha, and galbanum – spices and pure frankincense.”  – Exodus 30:34

The incense was offered every day in the morning, and in the afternoon.  The incense fragrance connotes the understanding that we are to serve G-d in a pleasing manner; inasmuch that we are His servants, it is our responsibility to serve Him.  Yet, He would like us to develop the inward desire to serve Him.  This is reflected in the two ways of obeying His commandments – out of fear, and out of love.

To observe His commandments out of fear, requires acknowledgment of H’Shem as “the L-rd thy G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2).  Accepting the sovereignty of H’Shem is primary; once we accept His authority, then the commandments follow as divine decrees (Baal Halachos Gedolos).  

Lifting up our hearts to Him will help us to develop ahavah (love) for Him. In serving Him out of love, we are commanded to love him with an undivided heart (Sifrei), as is written, “thou shalt love H’Shem thy G-d with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).  Moreover, Maimonides writes, “Once a person loves G-d appropriately, he will fulfill the commandments out of love” (Hilchut Teshuva 10:2).

Yet, both love and fear are necessary, like the wings of an eagle; for without fear (awe, reverence, respect), there is not the proper attitude conveyed towards Him.  Without love, we may not be able to fly towards Him, higher and higher on our journey; yet, we continue climbing, as it is, for we will reach Him with dveykus: constant clinging to His Essence.

This Shabbos we also read parashas Zachor, concerning Amalek. We flounder on the path at times, perhaps, symbolically, because of Amalek (representative of doubt), letting our avodah (service) to H’Shem cool down. Yet, we are reminded to persevere despite the challenges in our lives. Soon we will celebrate Purim and recall the hidden miracle: our deliverance from Haman, a descendent of Agag, an Amelekite; our victory over the enemy who rose up against us within the 127 provinces of King Ahasueros.

Around this time, we are especially called upon to recognize the miracles in our own lives.  The potential for us to experience shefa (everflowing grace) from H’Shem is always offered to us when we look towards Him in our struggles. We should be thankful to Him for the blessings that we receive every day. Additionally, we should praise Him every day, for He has given us the breath of life; each and every day is an opportunity to lift our voices to Him in appreciation, thanking Him for all that He has given us. 

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