It’s funny that right after Purim your mind is already focused on Passover. Perhaps its like the Thanksgiving/Christmas juxtaposition. I don’t know because I’m not a goy. It’s funny that this year has gone by so quickly, and I’m holding onto dear life as we rush forward.
Things are definitely moving forward. I’ve sent in my applications to Hebrew U and have begun more intensive job networking. I’m forcing myself to listen to more Israeli radio (sorry NPR but I’ve got to become native) and read more Hebrew. Eric’s got a few clinical/biotech job possibilities and he’s slogging through ulpan too. And this weekend we’re visiting Haifa again to take a closer look at it.
We still don’t know where our fate lies, but that’s what we’ll be deciding in the next few weeks. It’s crunch time. I’m really glad we’re getting a big chunk of time off from Pardes so we can buckle down and make these big life decisions. Meanwhile I take yoga and listen to Lizz Wright to keep breathing 🙂
Before the memory of Purim has faded completely, I have to devote some more attention to this sacred/profane holiday. First I’ll say that I’ve had the best Purim ever–and not just because it’s lasted 3 days. It was my first time reading from Megillat Esther, and I wasn’t that nervous!!! I will try posting a video of me–but last time I tried it just took too darn long.
The Thursday night reading at Pardes was so much fun. We’ve started a new tradition at Pardes where two of the chapters are read twice–one as the serious version and one as the silly version. Both are still as exact as could be. People are especially finicky with regard to hearing each and every vowel for the Megillah of Esther because we are actually commanded (by the rabbis) to read the scroll. Reading and hearing are two separate categories. The reader, then, is actually reading on behalf of everybody else.
I was assigned a double chapter, and Aviva, another Pardes student read the silly version. The people who read the silly versions even brought their own props and tried to make their voices sound like the different characters. Aviva made puppets for her version, and another reader, Will, brought wigs, clothes and a version of king Haman’s scepter. There was actually one reader who didn’t have a double chapter who made his silly anyway–and when it came to to play Haman’s wife, he let out a bloodcurling imitation of her voice.
We had a great time at all of the Pardes get togethers, including the party and spiel after the Thursday night reading. Of course there was ridiculous amounts of things to nosh on. Eric figured out how to make a Cookie monster costume out of burlap and plastic shopping bags. He also found these styrofoam balls which he stuck on the ‘head’ of the costume. I was very impressed. I found fuzzy antennae and created a bee costume using face makeup, a black skirt and a yellow shirt.
The spiel was on the whole quite entertaining. One of the highlights was watching Pardes student’s Matt Bar’s Biblerap video about Haman, which featured Pardes teacher Rabbi Zvi Hirschfield, as Achashveros looking like a pimp from a 197o’s film. Not to be outdone by Pardes teacher DLK (i.e. DL to the Kissle) who himself dressed up as a rapper (with basketball jersey, scarf, shades, microphone and bling to boot) and did a rap about teaching Cain and Abel in his very British accent.
And then there was the film that the Educators, who are currently in the U.S. on their teaching assignments, made while all of us went on the Golan tiyyul. The film opens with Rabbi Landes lauding the educators for their devotion. We then switch to a scenes showing our educators sitting around the table grasping bottles of alcohol and lying around in various states of stupor. (This is of course a joke–all of these guys are very serious, hardworking types.)
During the spiel our Talmud class did a song where each of us did various imitations. Jonathan did a dead-on imitation of Rav Schweiger (okay Hevrei! just one more thing!). My imitation of our classmate Peter was a hit. Peter has a very melodious Hungarian accent (because he’s Hungarian) and some of the things he’s said are just hilarious. Particularly when he gives his deadpan announcement about his cleaning out the fridge at Pardes. “We are cleaning out the fridge today…please label your bags or else they will be thrown out.” (It’s hard to simulate it in writing) We are good friends with Peter, so my imitation was done out of love.
Besides all of the partying that went on (I didn’t even mention the two meals on Sunday and the fact that Eric got tipsy at our teacher Dr. Meesh Hammer-Kossoy’s house), we also got some great Torah from our teachers that helped bring the holiday into perspective. Purim is definitely not all fun. It’s actually quite tragic. (Not to mention disturbing: a very young Jewish woman basically prostitutes herself into power, and Jews have to fend for themselves in the end and slaughter a lot of people.) It’s interesting to note this story takes place after the destruction of the 1st Temple in the Galut (Jewish exile) and during a time period when Jews were invited back to Israel–but many stayed in the Galut and subjected themselves to the whims of their rulers.
My teacher Rav Schweiger said that Megillat Esther is about things not being as they seem. It’s a world of the Galut, where the rules are arbitrary and the authority figure, Achashverosh is not a real ruler. For example, he talked of how the first chapter talks about all of the luxuries the king showed off at his party, particularly the dishes. The Midrash says that all of these dishes were actually from the Jewish Temple. But these dishes are not being used to show off the glory of G-d, rathery they are used to show of the riches of an ordinary king, a king who spends his time drinking and making ridiculous rules to show his power. In response to his wife’s refusal to come to his party and show off her beauty (to basically show him off), he creates a ridiculous rule about women having to obey their husbands.
My Chumash class explored the psychology of the narrative, and we made a good argument that Achashverosh had an insecurity complex. Let me backtrack slightly: first our teacher Judy Klitsner showed us how language in Megillat Esther echoed and borrowed from language in other parts of the Tanach–as if to legitimize itself as being part of the Jewish canon and tradition. Then we talked about different midrashim that suggested Achashverosh wasn’t very politically stable and was therefore very paranoid about the slightest threat.
In this light you can perceive why he overreacted to Vashi’s slight. You can also see how he could have been easily convinced to dump Vashti and why he later consent eto the destruction of the Jews–if it threatens him, get rid of it. In fact, Haman is able to convince him to destroy the Jews by telling him; they don’t abide by our laws (i.e. they don’t accept your authority) and they are scattered (i.e. hard to control). As Schweiger said, this is a kingdom that uses law to control so anything that threatens that is a no-no.
As Judy pointed out the story echoes stories throughout Jewish history, the Jews were often at the whim of specific characters and we had to learn their idiosyncrasies, disguise or change our identities, use manipulation in order to survive. The Galut is therefore an insecure and vulnerable place, but the Jews always find creative ways to save themselves.
What I also concluded from these teachings, is that it takes more than just an evil person to create evil. You need to have a facilitator or collaborator, particularly somebody that can be easily bought. A ruler or a people who have insecurities, who are looking for scapegoats, and who are therefore easily manipulated create fertile opportunities in which evil can flourish.
Come back and visit me next week. I can tell you more about my exploration of the Haggadah!