From the Rabbi (March 2017)
The month of March takes us into the Hebrew month of Adar with its celebration of the Feast of Purim. Purim is a joyous event and we will be celebrating with the Megillah reading on both the evening of March 11 at 6:30 p.m., and again on the morning of March 12 at 9:00 a.m. Later in the morning we will have a Purim program for the school which will have a considerably shorter version of the Megillah for younger children. We encourage families to attend on Saturday evening and on Sunday. We plan a fun powerpoint slide show to accompany the Megillah reading to make it easier to follow for those whose Hebrew is weak. I love to incorporate the voices of the characters into my reading and make this well-known story into a real melodramatic production. Come in costume in keeping with the tradition. As God’s face is hidden and not mentioned explicitly in the Megillah, though the Divine hand is very much in evidence throughout the book, so too do we cover our faces on Purim and create a Jewish Mardi Gras experience. Of course, no Jewish event is complete without the refreshments that will follow.
In spite of the joyous celebrations that mark the Purim holiday, there is at this season an undertone of deep concern and remembrance of past threats to our people including those which led up to the events of the first Purim. Even if those events did not actually happen historically, as some suggest, they represent the only too real history of attacks on our people throughout the ages. On the Shabbat preceding Purim, the morning of March 11, we mark Shabbat Zachor, on which we read from a second Torah scroll and a special haftarah which recall past encounters with Amalek, the prototype of those enemies of the Jews who, like Haman, tried to do us in. “Remember what Amalek did to you when you came forth from Egypt.” ”Blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.” Symbolically we do this with our graggers during the Megillah reading, every time we hear the name of Haman. However, this light-hearted response masks the true concern that arises in every generation when those who wish to be our enemies, threaten harm, perform wanton acts of vandalism and destruction on our institutions and, in some instances, bring about physical injury and loss of life to our fellow Jews. Parashat Zachor calls on us to remain vigilant in a time of rising anti-Semitism and to be alert to those who wish us harm and particularly to those who may be ready to act on those impulses. We seek inner strength to banish fear and allow us to withstand the hatred of those who would be our enemies.
It has been most heartening to see the response of others in the community who have come to support the Jewish community when it has recently come under attack. The response of the Muslim community in America not only issuing statements denouncing anti-Semitism, but raising funds to help repair damage to the desecrated cemetery in University City, MO are encouraging. Local responses from neighboring churches offering support in a difficult time are most appreciated. Working together with people of all faiths to combat hatred, bigotry, and violence throughout our society makes us a stronger community. Recent efforts from groups like the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom have brought Jews and Muslims together in over 50 communities around the country including our own and are a good start toward combating baseless hatred and getting past harmful stereotypes.
Our sages taught that it was sinat chinam, hatred without a cause, that led to the downfall of the second Jewish commonwealth in Roman times. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, the pre-state Chief Rabbi of Palestine, urged us to practice ahavat chinam, love without cause, in our day to combat this evil. May our observance of Purim this year and every year lead us to follow the path of Mordecai, “Doresh tov l’amo v’dover shalom l’chol zaro.” “Seeking the good of his people and interceding for the peace of all his kindred.” (Esther 10:3).
Chag Purim Sameach!
Rabbi Edward Friedman