Shabbat Tetzaveh: Forget All That

אָמַר רָבָא: מִיחַיַּיב אִינִישׁ לְבַסּוֹמֵי בְּפוּרַיָּא עַד דְּלָא יָדַע בֵּין אָרוּר הָמָן לְבָרוּךְ מָרְדֳּכַי. 

Rava said: A person is obligated to become intoxicated with wine on Purim until he is so intoxicated that he does not know how to distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai.

I heard this week that Jews are leaving shuls because Soul Cycle gives us everything we need spiritually. So I’m pleased to announce that our shul is in the process of buying 200 stationary bicycles!

Just kidding. That, my beloved companions in Torah, is called Purim Torah. We take everything that we hold sacred and get playful with it. Purim is the holy day upon which we are to transition from winter and its discontents to spring and giggles.

If that seems like a struggle to you, you’re not alone. Consider this Talmudic story:

רַבָּה וְרַבִּי זֵירָא עֲבַדוּ סְעוּדַת פּוּרִים בַּהֲדֵי הֲדָדֵי. אִיבַּסּוּם. קָם רַבָּה שַׁחְטֵיהּ לְרַבִּי זֵירָא. לְמָחָר, בָּעֵי רַחֲמֵי וְאַחֲיֵיהּ. לְשָׁנָה, אֲמַר לֵיהּ: נֵיתֵי מָר וְנַעֲבֵיד סְעוּדַת פּוּרִים בַּהֲדֵי הֲדָדֵי. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: לָא בְּכֹל שַׁעְתָּא וְשַׁעְתָּא מִתְרְחִישׁ נִיסָּא. 

Rabba and Rabbi Zeira prepared a Purim feast with each other, and they became intoxicated to the point that Rabba arose and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira. The next day, when he became sober and realized what he had done, Rabba asked God for mercy, and revived him. 

The next year, Rabba said to Rabbi Zeira: come and let us prepare the Purim feast with each other. Zeira said to him: Miracles do not happen each and every hour! [and I do not want to undergo that experience again.]  – BT Megillah 7b

You and I might feel like Rav Zeira – trying for happiness in our lives and getting, metaphorically speaking, murdered. Jewish tradition urges us: mishenikhnas Adar marbim simkha, when Adar begins, simkha increases – but events in Portland, in the U.S., in Israel all seem to conspire against joy. 

It’s in this context that we read in our Torah this week, Shabbat Zakhor, that we are commanded to forget Amalek, the Biblical figure who attacks us for no reason, as recorded in parashat Beshalakh. From the Torah until today, our people has a custom to name those who try to erase us as Amalek. (The bad guy in the Purim story is no exception.) What does it mean to erase evil?

Purim in that light is most interesting, because our ancestors were not less challenged than we in this way. They never give in to the world and its threats, though; and so we’re offered the support of a larger perspective, of history and community, to see our lives in some sort of context. Most of all, a community context (with or without bicycles). Amalek doesn’t prevail, after all.

There are only four mitzvot that we are to observe on Purim: 

  1. Hear the reading of Megillat Ester, the scroll of Esther – on Monday evening this year, which is Erev Purim
  2. Send gifts to the poor – matanot l’evyonim doesn’t mean only poor in funds but poor in spirit. Who needs a lift? Who might be cheered by the unexpected delivery of a small gift of hamantaschen or some other small treat?
  3. Share gifts with friends – mishlo’akh manot, also called shlakhmanos in some dialects, is a lovely idea because it has nothing to do with need. We’re just sharing some fun.
  4. Feast! Eat something you don’t normally allow yourself; Purim is that special occasion to open the bottle you’ve been saving. 

These mitzvot are all meant to help lift winter’s gloom, whether of meteorology or mood.  That’s why costumes help – anything that gets you out of your Self helps. Be silly! For a change. Try your best to lighten up your perspective, as the sky lightens in early spring and lifts us up just a bit.

Forget Amalek, we are commanded this Shabbat, just for a bit. Forget all that which looms murderously over your joy of life. Make like the daffodils! which are already singing the praises of HaShem as the snow disappears, and spring is surely on the way.


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