This is the month of Adar – a time to be happy and joyous. It’s a time to appreciate the madness and absurdity of all that surrounds us. It is also when we conceal the revealed, and reveal the concealed. We have the ability to mask reality and at the same time uncover an alternative reality. Purim is a complex paradox – it is a time that is so serious that it becomes a big joke. At least on the surface. Behind the veneer of stupidity is the essence of providence itself. It makes no sense, but we prevail. It is a fact of history that the Amalekite subjugators do not survive, but the Jewish people are eternal. Since Clive Lawton visited Perth last weekend I have been thinking about how to challenge the simplistic tone of the historic lesson. I’m starting to have a problem with the classic Jewish maxim – “They tried to kill us, we won, lets eat”. Not with the outcome, but rather with the process that leads us to this simplistic but nonetheless stunningly accurate summary that encapsulates Jewish cynacism in very pragmatic terms.
The Jewish people of Persia were under an existential threat – an infliction endured by the Jewish people not for the first time and not for the last time in history. But as was pointed out at the weekend, Jewish history is unfortunately all too often wrongly presented in negative terms. Today alone I’ve received dozens of emails about victimisation, media bias, anti-Semitism, and other such topics that do nothing other than to reinforce the idea that the world is out to get us and that Jews are being victimised.
I’m not saying lets bury our head in the sand and pretend that bad things don’t happen, or that anti-Jewish prejudice doesn’t exist. However I am saying that Jewish history contains periods of great achievement and accomplishment, of success and triumph, and of world changing idealism. How about sending around some emails about that? Too often we focus on the narrative of persecution and genocide at the expense of the story of freedom, values, and celebration which is the majority quantum and most important aspect of the Jewish historical experience.
It seems to me that particularly in these times, Jews who only hold a cultural or historical Jewish identity, or for that matter any identity that excludes religious and spiritual expression, simply miss out on understanding the positive aspects of Jewish living. They have no exposure to Judaism as a faith, and therefore do not experience the joy or meaning of being Jewish. How many Jews this Purim will sit at home reading emails about terrorists wanting to kill Jews, instead of sitting in good company with a mashka or two and having a good laugh about the demise of the regime of King Achashverosh and his modern day equivalents?
The role of the Jewish Diaspora comes into its own on Purim. Like it or not, Purim is a YomTov set outside of the land of Israel, and has an added dimension of Jewish universality. That does not detract from modern Zionism or the role of Israel, but it does recognise a Jewish history outside of Israel, and that it too is also not always a negative experience. Eli Kavon expresses this wonderfully in this must read article that is controversial (but in my view only partially accurate).
“Until the modern period, Jewish life in the lands outside of Israel was usually one of stability, economic success, and flourishing cultural and religious life. Zionist ideologists certainly presented a prejudiced, monotone, and lachrymose view of the Jewish Diaspora. The confinement today of Diaspora history in Israel to a museum in Tel Aviv is a cultural tragedy. As Jews, we all owe a great debt to the exile of the past from which we emerged.”
Moving one step further, and thinking about Purim in a contemporary Australian way, the same lessons of positive thinking also need to rekindle our attitudes towards the community and environment in which we live.
Enough of the doom and gloom about the sustainability of the Jewish community when we have an amazing number of young people in Perth who are so proud of being Jewish.
As for our economic environment, the dominant topic of our depressive daily news, this is worthy of Purim Torah itself. There is an illusion that our politicians and Government bankers have a degree of control over the economy, when we can see right through their actual helplessness. For example we have Wayne Swan throwing billions of dollars at select projects and initiatives like a bucket of sloppy excrement, and then he watches with us to see how much of it sticks, and how much slides. Power, gas, water, rates and health insurances all go up at rates of 8-30%, but inflation is only 3% and we are then supposed to take $950 (if we are eligible) and pretend that we all have more money to spend on retail therapy. The only economic stimulus that has yet to be tried is subsidised prozac. Yet despite the vulnerability and exposed nature of an economy built on the base values of accumulation and greed as opposed to social equitability and fairness, somehow we still survive.
Purim allows us to set the tzorres aside, and be happy that the real control of our world is in the form of spiritual power, not political power. The gift of Purim is that it sensitises us to a world beyond our own selves. It allows us to cherish the endurance and positive contribution of the Jewish nation to human civilisation throughout a period of 2000 years of exile, and it helps us make sense of a world that sometimes just doesn’t make sense.
Now that is indeed something to think about and celebrate this Purim.