Skip to main content

You Gotta Laugh

It’s a topsy turvy world and Purim’s tale is a topsy turvy story. Here is that story once again.

A long, long time ago, in the land of Persia, and the city of Shushan, there lived a king and queen.

One day Queen Vashti refuses to dance naked in front of the drunken King Achashverosh and his friends. Flummoxed by her refusal the king consults with his male advisors who say, “Now all women will ignore men’s commands. They will refuse all of their husbands’ demands. Kick Vashti out of the palace.” The king is easily persuaded and goes along with their advice. And so, Vashti loses her crown.

And how does the king pick a new queen? He consults with his advisors who tell him to organize a beauty pageant. Esther of course wins the pageant. The Bible relates that she spent twelve months preparing herself: “Six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and women’s cosmetics.” We learn nothing about Esther’s character. We are taught nothing about her wisdom. We know only that she hides her Jewish identity and that is she is exceedingly beautiful. This is why she is selected as queen.

Meanwhile, her uncle Mordecai refuses to bow down to Haman, so the king’s most trusted advisor suggests that the king kill all the Jews. The logic and rationale of antisemites was, and perhaps always will be, elusive. Esther’s character emerges. Her wisdom shines. She fasts and prays. Esther reveals her Jewish identity to the king and explains how her life is threatened.

“Who is he and where is he who dares do this?” stammers the king. Esther points toward Haman. “The enemy is this evil Haman!” she declares.

Haman and his sons are hanged. The Jews make bloody war against their enemies. They emerge victorious, and their enemies are routed and killed.

The story illustrates that all plans can be upended, and every strategy turned upside down. What is expected does not always come to pass.

This tale rings true in our own age. Who could have expected what has transpired since we last celebrated Purim? Who could have planned for the year we just experienced?

And so, on Purim we are commanded not take ourselves so seriously and not bemoan our fate. We dare even to make fun of history. On this holiday we laugh or at least we try to laugh.

The Talmud says that we can only fully accept the Torah on Purim. Why? Because laughter is the key to acceptance. Because not taking ourselves, or even our history, so seriously is the recipe for redemption.

In messianic times all festivals will be abolished except for this holiday of Purim. When the messiah vanquishes evil and eradicates all the injustices about which we continue to despair we will still need to laugh.

We always require laughter—most especially in our own day, and in this year.