PURIM: OUR MOST IMPORTANT HOLIDAY
There is an ad which is currently airing on national television for a Christian dating service, which in many ways captures the spirit of Purim.
The ad states, "Sometimes we wait for God to make the next move when God is saying, it's your time to act."
I love this ad because it flies in the face of the way so many within the Judeo-Christian tradition live.
Many seem paralyzed when it comes to taking action.
When considering important decisions, often it seems easier to ask for divine intervention, than to weigh the pros and cons ourselves.
I believe in prayer. It centers us. It enables us to focus and tune out life's distractions. We turn to a higher power, and temporarily give up control. And often this inspires us to do what is right.
Yet, sometimes we abdicate that responsibility, and "wait for God to make the next move." And in some cases we wait a long time.
It also explains why many of our ancient rabbis actually considered Purim to be most important holiday on the Jewish calendar.
What about Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover?
"No," say our rabbis.
Within the Torah, it was God who commanded us to celebrate Judaism's major festivals. The Torah lays out the dates, and sets in motion a number of observances which exist to this day.
Not so with Purim.
It is a day to bake funny shaped cookies, to consume "energized" beverages, to mock our institutions and traditions. We are encouraged to make rude noises when the name of a certain evil character is mentioned.
And perhaps most importantly, we're supposed to provide gifts of friendship (Shalach Manot) to elevate the spirit of those who are ailing.
We read from the scroll of Esther which recounts how a modest woman named Hadassah (Esther) exposed a Persian plot to kill the Jews. We survived, and the celebration continues to this day.
And therein lays the beauty of this holiday.
Our ancient rabbis pose the question, "Where is God mentioned in this story?"
And the answer is "nowhere."
Although tradition implies that God inspired the events of Purim, they note that more importantly Purim provides an important lesson regarding the power of human beings to exercise free will.
The Rabbis expand on this theme. They note that while the Torah was originally accepted on Mount Sinai, there may have been just a bit of coercion involved.
The Israelites, fresh out of Egypt, were weak and vulnerable. There is a gnawing suspicion within theTalmud, that our people accepted the Ten Commandments under duress.
The Talmud actually insists that the Jewish people ultimately accepted the Torah on Purim, not because of what God did, but because of what God didn't do.
It was Mordechai and Esther who concocted a scheme to infiltrate King Achashverosh's palace. They executed their plan with a bit of sex and intrigue. And in the end, the Jewish people survived.
The Rabbis love this holiday because it teaches that sometimes it is humanity and not God which needs to act. We possess the free will to make life happen.
How many of us procrastinate when it is time to make an important decision? We often wait for a sign. We consult horoscopes. We look to the heavens, or confer with countless mentors and advisors, when often the right thing to do lies in front of us.
Indeed, our tradition tells us that when the Messiah comes, there will only be one holiday which will survive.
It will not be Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover or Chanukah.
It will be Purim, a holiday where Judaism reminds that each one of us possesses the capacity to take control.
God exists in our lives as a divine partner, but it is up to each of us to find our own way.
And once we achieve that realization, then life can take on meaning and joy. It can even turn into a great celebration.
Are we ready to seize life and to challenge what hold us back?
In the words of the great rabbi Hillel, "if not now, then when?" Indeed, sometimes, it's not God who needs to provide. For as Hillel also taught, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me?"
Let's enjoy ourselves this weekend. It's a time to sing, laugh, eat, enjoy and act silly.
God knows we've earned it. God also knows that in life, we need to have fun too.
As we take the next bold step into our future.
Chag Purim Sameach (Happy Purim).
Rabbi Irwin Huberman