Purim and Pesach 5774 :: “Speak Up”
Purim and Pesach are two passion plays. Identity-making, child-oriented, and G-d-centered. Purim’s story is publicly chanted, while Pesach’s is re-recited in the home. They are historical events but intended to be life-sustaining within today’s Jewish context. Creativity is employed. Salvation from the jaws of near-destruction seems to be the common underlying theme. What is our individual role here? It is to be the Tzadik Ha’Ivri (the righteous Jew) or the Tzadeikah Ha’Ivriah in the king’s court, the Chacham or the Chachamah in the family constellation. To recognize our people’s way forward. To stand above the fray and engage in honest dialogue, not to fritter away the collective opportunity to converse for meaning and advancement. This is the secret essence of this season, and it lasts beyond the holidays: in all experiences we have the privilege of elevating speech. Stand above but with one caveat: stand among others and not apart. Esther is chided by Mordechai: “do not pretend that you will be spared the same fate as our people.” The wicked son sitting aloof disarms the proceeding of the Haggadah. The whole construct can readily tumble. We pray our children avoid cheap cynicism. Attitude either builds or brings ruin, so delicately precious is the work of conversation among us.
Hasidic masters say it sagely: People alert to their mirror-image tricks. We point out in others what we recognize in ourselves and say: “You can’t fool me.” The rabbis know we use guise and guile cloaked as cleverness and charm when we aim to fool others. In the end, we make fools of ourselves. After all, we are reclining before G-d at our seder table. The rabbis brook nothing but sincerity, genuinity. All we present to G-d is our bestfound truth, what we have realized to date.
Be wary also of the one person who dominates a crowd. These people overtalk their allotted space and time. There is a neurosis there. Sense the intention of pretense, of tension. They might lace the silence with the hidden phrase “listen to me.” It is not uncommon for the storyteller to arrogate with narishkeit, shamelessly without aplomb. Our raconteur uses us as a foil, not with honor but in the belief that there is little we could add to their topic. This is a person who only teaches, unwilling to learn. Breath feels foreshortened when others are not allowed to speak in paragraph. It’s best to tune out quietly in the face of such insecurity, such cheapening of language; there is no growth, no dialogue without multi-contribution. Tzadikim will never agree to such tomfoolery. They remain silent. Conversation must risk and dare with any possible outcome; the collective script is yet to be written. If chochmah is pursued, it stretches majestically heaven-bound. After all, is this not the purpose of words, of language: the pursuit of wisdom in consensus of community?
Do not judge the dialogue. Leave it alone. All our experiences are written out and placed before us, before G-d. For example, ketonet passim – the coat of many colors – contains the anagram Tanach m’Yosef, the Bible as culled through Yosef’s receiving it. Each of us ought to see our own character within the Biblical narrative. Yosef’s appellation is HaTzadik. He developed himself in the manner of his father. Yaakov Avinu pursued his own quest to know G-d through truth. Esav Harasha was a ruffian, Yaakov regal. Yosef honored his father by emulating him.
We are creatures of G-d, though many have lost their royal presentation. Yosef lost his garb, but not his noble comportment. When Yosef’s brothers presented the coat of many colors dipped in ram’s blood to their father Yaakov, they said to him in unison: “Do you recognize this?” Yaakov cried woefully but inwardly he held his peace. What he recognized now was his children’s ruse, and this he soul-searched within himself: “did my deeds and misdeeds spawn such connivance?”
We humans are masters of the cover-up. Tzadikim have the courage to expose this. They understand that those who dominate the airwaves feel a need to do so, perhaps because they had been snuffed from speech in childhood. We, however, must teach and be taught to be soft with one another. G-d is the true judge of each. Stand before the Aibishter yourself. Present your humility. Only your poorly-wrought pure will do. This is your work of a lifetime, and mine. Moshe Rabbeinu is the Jewish model of that quest. Shabbat, at home with family, is the given setting for our holy exploration.
Life is a mirror of what we strive for. G-d is in our history and we want to be chosen toward the future. This is the religious interplay of humans with the divine. May the upcoming holidays, Purim and Pesach, bring a glorious pride of achievement within your family. May the dialogue among you be honorific and uplifting. May love emanate from you and radiate to-and-fro in everlasting imprimatur to Father, Mother, and G-d, your Creators. Amen. May the holiday script bring out a clearer understanding of where you once were, and may you go further into a better unknown. Amen Sela.