Saturday, 3 March 2007

Purim Sameach

Tonight, the night of the 13th of Adar, the day that Haman chose for the extermination of the Jews, the night they were saved by G-d through Queen Esther, begins the joyous holiday of Purim. This year, with a total lunar eclipse of the full moon on its way, there is just that extra touch of magic.

On this night, when Queen Esther dared to appeal directly to the king himself for the saving of her people, Jews are commanded to drink until they cannot tell the difference between "Blessed be Mordechai (Esther's cousin)" and "Cursed be Haman." To see a world turned on its head, you need to be off yours.

This past Thursday, I was looking forward to reading from the Book of Esther during mass. It is one of my favourite chapters of the year, Esther 14 - and not least because my secret pleasure is that it always falls on the Thursday nearest Purim:

Then Queen Esther, seized with deadly anxiety, fled to the Lord.
2She took off her splendid apparel and put on the garments of distress and mourning, and instead of costly perfumes she covered her head with ashes and dung, and she utterly humbled her body; every part that she loved to adorn she covered with her tangled hair. 3She prayed to the Lord God of Israel, and said: ‘O my Lord, you only are our king; help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, 4for my danger is in my hand. 5Ever since I was born I have heard in the tribe of my family that you, O Lord, took Israel out of all the nations, and our ancestors from among all their forebears, for an everlasting inheritance, and that you did for them all that you promised. 6And now we have sinned before you, and you have handed us over to our enemies 12Remember, O Lord; make yourself known in this time of our affliction, and give me courage, O King of the gods and Master of all dominion! 13Put eloquent speech in my mouth before the lion, and turn his heart to hate the man who is fighting against us, so that there may be an end of him and those who agree with him. 14But save us by your hand, and help me, who am alone and have no helper but you, O Lord.

Unfortunately, this lovely, amazing, courageous woman got bumped by that peevish travel agent for guilt trips, St Paul, because it was the feast of St David (I'm sure the Welsh would have preferred to hear Esther). And of course, the disappointment was all the sharper because it meant that I didn't even have the smallest share in Purim this year.

I love the wild abandon and sheer joy of Adar. When I taught at the Hebrew Academy, Adar was the month teachers remembered to lock our doors, otherwise you were likely to find all your desks shoved together in the centre of the room. The laughter that rang through the hallways from good-natured practical jokes made us all grin during the bleakest of Februaries. There's an unrestrained passion and fearlessness to it that I miss in Catholicism, which feels so sanitised - an acceptance that G-d is as much in the letting go as He is in the rigid self-control. More so, perhaps.

Purim's topsy-turviness draws me in like a magnet - nothing is quite as it seems. What seems assured can disappear; what was hopeless materialises; what is hidden is revealed. It's like stepping into the chaotic realm of the trickster. Stay awake and stay alert - but step into it knowing that with G-d, anything is possible.

It is a day that has given me, a Catholic, unexpected gifts since sundown. A moment of profound sharing with someone I often see, but rarely speak to. A vision where I sat in my childhood bedroom with myself at seven and told her how proud I was of her and thanked her for allowing me to become who I am. A bus ride seated behind someone most people might avoid, probably homeless and with an unusual view of reality - but he made me laugh and dropped two comments that made me wonder how 'mad' he really was:

I commented that I was only "visiting planet Earth." He responded, "As long as you're visiting, Earth will entertain you. When your body dies and your spirit leaves Earth, you take the good you've done with you to another world."

Just before I got off, he put his hand out for me to shake, and I took it. He held onto it, looked at me and said, "Don't fall in love until your lover deserves you."

Welcome to Purim and a full moon. I wonder what the second half will bring, so I will step out courageously into Loki's land: awake, alert, fearless and hopeful.

I wish the same for you. Purim sameach, everyone.


david said...

of course, esther 14 isn't in the hebrew text, but appears to be a later addition.

Irim said...


I thought as much, but I love it anyway, apocryphal though it may be. Probably because I imagine that must be how she felt and what she might have said to God in the privacy of her room.

I'm guessing Paul didn't say, "so much rubbish" either... ;-)


Anonymous said...

In the Middle Ages in England there were similar events in the church to those happening in Adar - among children at schools there would have been a child appointed who was 'Lord of Misrule'... Is today more sanitised? 'Fraid so.

Can we see anything in the church as unrestrained as what you describe? 'Fraid not. It wouldn't be proper/dignified... More self control? More anal retention? More tedium? (At least you can then appreciate the greater joy expressed at Purim, not that that legitimises things in the church!)

Yours sincerely,

fan of Esther (and of Irim!)