The Ima is starting a new weekly theme-day: Tuesday Torah. This is how she descibes it:
We each have our own Torah*. It may vary from day to day or even from hour to hour.
(*Torah is the Hebrew word that means “doctrine or teaching” and refers to the Five Books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is often used to refer to the bulk of Jewish teaching in a general sense. Aside from the power that it holds for me as my favorite book, I like to think of “torah with a small-t” as our own personal stories, our own personal truths.)
We all hold these ideas inside us that are screaming to get out.
Sometimes they are profound.
Sometimes they are inspiring.
Sometimes they teach us.
But they are the truth, and they are ours.
So I invite you to seek truth, to share truth, and to open yourself up to truth…every Tuesday here at Ima on and off the Bima, we will celebrate our own Torah, our own truth.
Purim. Yesterday, a grown man said to me “Purim? Right…that’s the kids’ holiday.” Except that Purim isn’t really for kids.
Costumes and carnivals aside, there is a very sophisticated and substantive side to Purim. This holiday is a polemic against assimilation.
Consider the protagonists of the story. Mordachai and Esther have completely immersed themselves into Persian culture. The first tip-off? Their names. Mordachai is derived from the Babylonian god Marduk and Esther from the goddess Ishtar. Do those sound like good names for Jewish children? (Quite ironic, if you stop and consider.) The selection of these names was a marked decision by Mordachai’s and Esther’s parents to enable them to blend into the host majority culture.
And blend in they did. When Esther arrives at the palace, she “did not reveal her kindred or her people, for Mordechai instructed her that she not say” (Esther 2:20). She keeps her Jewish identity a secret and as far as the text is concerned, does not observe any Jewish traditions while in the palace.
Our Sages have gone to great lengths to condone Esther’s deliberate concealment. From R. Eleazar of Worms to the Vilna Gaon, commentators have rationalized her behaviour in their rather weak attempts to establish Esther as the heroine of the story.
She does emerge heroic but I think her heroism is strengthened by the reality that she was an assimilated Jew who ultimately came to accept her identity.
This tension — the pull of our Jewish identity as it sometimes clashes with our American culture — exists in a very palpable way for those of us who choose to (a) practice Judaism, (b)embrace modernity, and (c) live outside of Israel. How public we choose to be with our identity can have a significant impact on our daily lives.
Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day. Did you observe it? Did you know that it is actually a saint day, marked on the Catholic liturgical calendar? Do you even know who St. Patrick was? That he is celebrated for being the one to introduce Christianity to Ireland? Are you so certain that’s something you want to celebrate?
I am not Irish. I am not Catholic. For these two reasons, I do not observe St. Patrick’s Day. What if people suddenly decided to take Purim, strip it of its religiosity, focus solely on the frivolity, joyfulness, and imperative to drink, and say “on Purim, everybody’s Jewish?”
I want to live in an America that allows us to be different and celebrate those differences.
I want the children in our shul to devote as much attention to their Purim costumes (and attend the Megillah reading) as I suspect they devoted to the wearing of green.
I want my people to take their Judaism seriously.
And that’s my Torah this Tuesday.
What’s yours? Leave a comment linking to your Torah post here as well as see what others regard as their Torah. See you here next Tuesday!
Join the Purim Party! Check out what the Ima has to say today too!