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Secure the Soul

Purim is celebrated on Monday evening. With its penchant for costumes and carnivals, it is a day typically relegated to children. And yet the rabbis imagined otherwise. The Talmud commands: “A person is obligated to get drunk until they do not know the difference between 'cursed is Haman' and 'Blessed is Mordechai.'” (Megillah 7b)

This is derived from the concluding lines of the Book of Esther: “The same days on which the Jews enjoyed relief from their enemies and the same month which had been transformed from one of grief and mourning into one of festive joy, they were now to observe them as days of feasting and merrymaking.” (Esther 9). Nothing suggests feasting and merrymaking more than abundant food and most especially, plenty of wine and spirits.

Still, it is a curious commandment and gives one pause. This is how we are supposed to commemorate a victory over antisemitism? We are supposed to get wasted? This is counterintuitive. The only way to achieve victory over antisemites is by remaining clear headed. The essence of confronting evil and hate lies in the ability to draw distinctions. When we get drunk nothing is clear. Often the lines between right and wrong become blurred. And we must keep these straight. We must remain clear eyed if we are to face today’s threats.

Antisemitism threatens us in two ways. One is the obvious. Throughout our long history, and especially our more recent history, antisemites have succeeded in carrying out their lethal threats. We have been gunned down in synagogues and supermarkets. We have been murdered in Nazi concentration camps and chased from cities and villages. The list is lengthy. It is painful to enumerate. What began with Haman did not end with Mordecai’s victory. This threat remains forever clear.

The other danger is blurred. Antisemites threaten our soul. We can become consumed by the fear antisemitism ingenerates. Take our response to last weekend’s so called “Day of Hate” as but one example. The Jewish community, its leaders and members, discussed this in more detail and at greater length than the Nazis who promoted this day. (There is nothing neo about people who call themselves Nazis!). We became consumed by fear.

I understand the worry. I hear the nervousness. I am attuned to the fears. Still, I wonder. What is the cost of these worries to our spirits? What happens to a people who is forever on guard, who fears what dangers might lie in wait around every corner, who worries what threats may lurk beneath every word?

What about the security of the soul? How might we better attend to our embattled souls?

Just as we can become consumed by overindulging in the alcohol that our Purim celebrations demand, so too can we become consumed by our fears. On this Purim, I wonder if this was the hidden message contained in the rabbis’ command.

Antisemitism is real. Its threats are not unfounded. Let us recognize that its dangers remain twofold. The danger about which we can exert the most control we are the least attentive. It is within our power to banish fear. We worry about guards and cameras, doors and safe rooms and will continue to do so. We ignore the needs of the soul.

Take a cue from our tradition and Purim’s message.

Feast. Rejoice. Celebrate Jewish life.

And then perhaps the soul will feel more secure.