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“Purim, the Calendar and the Cycle of Joy” Again, I want to remind you to keep those letters and cards coming. I have received some very interesting comments and look forward to getting more. Starting next week, I will try to introduce some of the questions into the course lecture. TWO BABY STEPS BACKWARD Until now, the major part of my agenda in this course has been to present the idea of the “holiness of time.” To me, this is not so simple an idea as the words might indicate. From what we know of the religions of the world, people can be holy, places can be holy and things can be holy. Think of the Pope for Catholics. Archaic doctrines like papal infallibility convey the sense that at least for that religion individuals can take on some measure of divine holiness. In terms of places, Jerusalem, Mecca, Medina, Rome, the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn (!) -- are all places that take on some measure of the resident holiness in the world. And things can also be holy. The Torah is holy, relics can be holy for some, shrines can be holy, etc. But time has its own special dimension of holiness which, for Jews, goes beyond the command to celebrate the Sabbath or a holiday on a particular day. In the same sense that divine holiness can be conveyed to people, places and things, divine holiness can be conveyed to time. The Sabbath day is holy whether or not we do anything to celebrate it. Yom Kippur is the holiest of days whether or not you fast or pray for forgiveness or go to the synagogue. Time -- all by itself -- can be holy. And this is a Jewish basic. At the same time, we have come to see that holiness is also a relative term. This too is a Jewish basic. In order for there to be holy time, there must be profane time. Find Koheleth (Ecclesiastes) in your Holy Bible, ch. 3: To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven; a time to be born, a time to die . a time to weep, a time to laugh. Great lyrics for a song! But you have it here -- things take on meaning (1) in terms of their opposites and (2) in terms of when they occur. Important events, in the overall scheme of Jewish basics, have their appointed time. It is as if Koheleth is telling us the purposefulness -- the rightness of events -- resides not only in what happens but in when it happens. It is not enough to celebrate the Sabbath; you must celebrate the Sabbath on the Sabbath day. ONE GIANT STEP FORWARD I truly hate to burden you with all this highbrow jargon -- in fact I hate to write it. But I have to because the Rabbis, the great teachers of the Jewish tradition, expressed files without this message by purchasing novaPDF printer () profound truths in earthy, homespun homilies that are just too plain and obvious for us modern folks to appreciate. Let me give you an example. In slightly less than 2 weeks Jews all over the world will celebrate Purim, the holiday of our deliverance from destruction in the Persian exile. The story of Purim can be found in the Megilla of Esther which you will find in the section of the Hebrew Bible referred to as the Five Megillot (Koheleth is also one of the Five Megilloth). In the historical narrative, Haman, the wicked first minister of King Achashverosh of Shushan (capital city of greater Persia) seeks to destroy all the Jews of the Kingdom. Mordechai and his niece Esther foil the plans of this adversary of the Jews. In the end, Haman and his sons are hung on the same gallows that he had prepared for the execution of the Jews. As you can imagine, this is the occasion for a joyful celebration and this is in fact the conclusion (Esther 9:17 ff.) of the Biblical story. For Jews, this is one of the happiest holidays and happiest seasons of the entire Jewish year. But wait -- seasons, year, happiness, emotions, opposites -- I feel the urge to draw a diagram! A TIME TO DRAW The Jewish calendar has twelve months. Think of the time line I asked you to draw earlier in the course representing the week. This is like a “micro cycle” of the Jewish experience. Now think of the wedding schedule I asked you to make last week. This is like the “pico cycle” of the Jewish experience. Now, if we do the same thing with the Jewish months, you will find that there are emotional ebbs and flows which you can chart. If you create a graph with twelve months on the X-axis and assign some kind of emotional value on the Y-axis, you can plot the “macro cycle” of the Jewish experience. Draw the chart and list the numbers 1 to 12 on the X-axis. 1 represents Tishrei, the month in which Rosh Hashanah falls and in which the New Year begins. This is actually, according to the Torah, the 7th month; but since the synagogue sends us a new calendar beginning with Rosh Hashanah, we will follow this convention and treat it as the first month. Adar, the month in which Purim falls, then becomes the 6th month. Let’s give this month a Joy Rating of 10. Just to make things interesting, give the 11th month (Av) a Joy Rating of 0 -- but midway between 11 and 12, throw in a Joy Rating of 5. There are many events that you need to chart to get a real sense of the Jewish year (a recommended activity), but these events are themselves very instructive. WHEN ADAR ENTERS . The Talmud, Tractate Ta’anith 29a reads: R. Yehudah the son of R. Shmuel bar Shelat said in the name of Rav: When the month of Av enters, we lessen our joy; IN THE SAME MANNER, when Numerically from Tishrei, Av is the 11th month of the year. It also happens to be the month, historically, in which both the First and Second Temples were destroyed. Adar is the month in which the season of deliverance begins. First, we were saved files without this message by purchasing novaPDF printer () from destruction in Shushan on Purim; in Nisan (the month, not the car!), the 7th month, we were redeemed from Egypt. This is the story of Passover. Accordingly, this is our annual experience or enactment of the historic deliverance of the Jewish people. You could say that the year -- the “macro cycle” of the Jewish experience -- recapitulates the ebbs and flows of Jewish history. But for us it goes beyond that. I hilighted the words ‘IN THE SAME MANNER’ in the quote from the Talmud. How can the experience of national deliverance be celebrated “in the same manner” as national tragedy? In the second half of this century, Jews began commemorating the tragedy of the Holocaust and the foundation of the state of Israel. Once you have deliverance, why bother to acknowledge the tragedies which are no longer relevant? Think of the United States -- the official American civic calendar celebrates the fourth of July. Were there no tragedies, massacres, national debacles that warrant annual commemoration to the extent that refraining from picnics and fireworks might be in order? The BASIC view of Jewish experience that we see in the calendar reflects the duality of joy and sorrow -- that is, they are connected. Joy should be experienced IN THE SAME MANNER as sorrow. To understand the month of Adar, you must first understand the month of Av. To understand the deliverance of Purim, you must first understand that the exile which placed the Jewish nation in a foreign land was the direct outgrowth of the destruction of the Temple (the symbol of an independent Jewish state). This is what Rav meant when he used the unlikely words IN THE SAME MANNER to connect joy and suffering. PURIM, THE CELEBRATION Once again we ask ourselves those critical and basic questions. We are supposed to increase our joy -- DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY!! -- but how? What does Judaism ask of me? How do I know it? First, the celebration of Purim is not like the Sabbath. There are no work prohibitions. Even the synagogue service is noisier and less serious. Purim’s Joy Rating of “10” is apparent everywhere. The requirements of Purim are as follows: To listen to the Purim story as it is read in the synagogue from a real Megilla scroll. Hearing the Book of Esther is required of men and women. We are required to send at least two portions of ready-to-eat-food to at least one friend. This is Mishloach Manot -- sending portionS. We are obligated to give charity to at least two poor people on Purim. This is Matanot l’evyonim -- giftS to the poor. A festive meal is eaten on Purim during the daytime. We should drink wine at this meal -- drinking wine until we cannot distinguish between “Blessed be If you have never been to synagogue on Purim, prepare yourself for an experience. It is a time-honored custom to blot out the name of Haman, the villain of the Purim narrative, each time it is mentioned. We do this by bringing noise-makers to the files without this message by purchasing novaPDF printer () synagogue -- groggers -- and when his name comes up, pandemonium! The kids love it. Customarily, we bake (or buy) a pastry called Hamentaschen, or Oznei Haman, for inclusion in the gifts we send to our friends. These “Haman’s Ears” pastries are tri-cornered and filled with fruit. It is also customary to dress in costumes on Purim. If you live near an observant Jewish neighborhood, I suggest you visit on the afternoon of Purim. You will see kids and many adults dressed in costumes delivering food gifts (mishloach manot) to their friends. Some have the custom of giving children who deliver Mishloach Manot packages money or candy. My children come home with enough candy, cookies and cash to last the year. Of course, it’s usually gone by Tuesday, but they do usually net a good catch! What about the wine? Am I telling you it is really a requirement of the holiday to get drunk? Actually, yes. But don’t take my word for it. Find a yeshiva or synagogue where they are celebrating Purim and you will find a party in progress. TOGA,TOGA!! Years ago I read a wonderful description in *9 1/2 Mystics* by R. Gershon Wiener of Purim with the followers of Rabbi Arleleh Roth in the Mea section of Jerusalem. The year that this took place, Purim fell out on which meant that the reverie of Purim gave way immediately to the The author describes how the ultra-orthodox celebrants were able to gears,” struggling to sober up and rally themselves as the Sabbath entered. Find that book if you can. And how do you know? The sources on the celebration of Purim are actually quite interesting. The Book of Esther is the only book of the Hebrew Bible which takes place entirely outside of the Land of Israel. That places it late in the biblical period. On the other hand, the biblical book contains not only the story of Purim, but describes the celebration of the holiday as well. Esther 9:19ff. reads: Therefore the Jews of the villages, who dwell in the unwalled towns, make fourteenth day of Adar a day of gladness and feasting, and holiday, and of sending choice portions to one another. . . and gifts to the poor. The biblical text explains why the celebration is so poignant: “because of the MONTH which was transformed from SORROW TO JOY.” (Esther 9:22) It sounds like the biblical author was working off his Joy Rating chart! In terms of literary documents, the Book of Esther is your first source. There is an excellent annotated Esther in the ArtScroll series. I highly recommend it. I also recommend the series *Popular Halachah: A Guide to Jewish Living*, 3 vols. in English. This was edited by R. Jacob Berman for the Torah Education Department of the World Zionist Organization. The laws of Purim are at the end of volume 2. files without this message by purchasing novaPDF printer () See also *The Jewish Way* by R. Irving Greenberg, an excellent conceptual approach to the Jewish holiday cycle. But to me, the real answer to “How do I Know?” can be found in our own personal experience. Like all other aspects of Jewish living, if you try it yourself you will find out whether the holiday requirements produce the emotions intended. Over the years, I have never succeeded in improving on this BASIC piece of advice: if you want to experience Judaism, find Jews to celebrate with. The best bibliography in the world cannot replace even one Sabbath with a family who observes it in full. BACK TO THE CHART There is one last detail I had you place on the Joy Rating Chart this week, and that was the spike in the 11th month, halfway to 12. T”U B’AV is the acronym for the 15th day of the month of Av (six days after the day of deep mourning for the destruction of both Temples). This is probably the most propitious day of the Jewish year for scheduling a wedding. While the day is a mere foot note in comparison to the major events of the Jewish year, it does teach us a lot about the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow. Our purpose in creating a Joy Rating Chart is to somehow acknowledge that emotions ebb and flow through the Jewish week, the Jewish year or even within particular Jewish events. Even in Av, the month characterized by sorrow (with weddings forbidden during its first nine days) sorrow must be referenced to joy. Now, count the months from Adar to Av. There are five complete months from Adar to Av -- 6 in a leap year. If you want to get fancy and add the two weeks from the beginning of Av to the 15th of the month, you can almost get a sense of a semi-annual cycle. Not exact, of course -- but if someone asks you to describe the Jewish experience in terms of time, history, emotions, celebration etc. you at least have some framework to begin to answer. The year is a cycle which recreates our national history. Our national history also has ebbs and flows -- cycles. Purim is critical in that it is a low point which is transformed to a high point. ********** ********** ************** **************** ************ Check out what arrangements you can make for Purim in your town. If you are new to Jewish observance, find someone to invite you; if you are an old-timer, invite someone else!!! REALLY HARD, MORBID PURIM TRIVIA Can you answer this question?: What is the meaning of the phrase “Purim, 1946”? Who uttered it and what was the context? To what was he referring in the Book of Esther? Send me your responses!! Answer (and winners’ names) published next week, be”h. ********** ********** ************** *********** ********* files without this message by purchasing novaPDF printer ()



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