It’s Been a Year!

Some of this dvar torah was adapted from one written
by Rebecca Minkus-Lieberman of Orot.

Purim revelers with face masks

Photo from azcentral.com

It’s been a year…a year!
 
Purim 2020/5780 was the final hurrah before everything suddenly changed.
 
I remember that last year on Purim, we were aware of Covid-19, but not yet panicked. Our lives were still moving forward routinely. My family went to synagogue and celebrated Purim as we normally would - with our community, with raucous, shared fun and celebration. In big, crowded rooms filled with lots of people.
 
A day later, Tom Hanks announced he and his wife Rita Wilson had come down with Covid. Then a few days later, everything just stopped. Schools shut down; lockdown was imposed, and the world became a place we didn’t recognize, couldn’t understand, didn’t want to comprehend.

Sleeping Beauty "Wake me up when this is ove!"

Covid-19 Sidewalk Chalk Art by caseydrakemakes

In the backyard of my home, we have a strangler fig tree that sheds all its leaves in February. In the beginning of March, new buds appear and by the end of the month, the tree looks normal again, thick and full and alive.
 
Our world is beginning to bud again, in more ways than one, and as I watch the last remaining leaves drop, I am thinking about the poetic beauty of the relationship between this period of regrowth and Purim. 
 
Purim is about so many things: threat of annihilation, courage, hiddenness, joy, uncertainty and resilience. But what I love most are the central practices of Purim, ones that I think, this year especially, have the power to pull us out of our emotional caves and back to a place of connected joy and hope.
 
Chapter 9 in Megillat Esther:

כ וַיִּכְתֹּב מָרְדֳּכַי, אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה; וַיִּשְׁלַח סְפָרִים אֶל-כָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים, אֲשֶׁר בְּכָל-מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ--הַקְּרוֹבִים, וְהָרְחוֹקִים. כא לְקַיֵּם, עֲלֵיהֶם--לִהְיוֹת עֹשִׂים אֵת יוֹם אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לְחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר, וְאֵת יוֹם-חֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר בּוֹ: בְּכָל-שָׁנָה, וְשָׁנָה. כב כַּיָּמִים, אֲשֶׁר-נָחוּ בָהֶם הַיְּהוּדִים מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם, וְהַחֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר נֶהְפַּךְ לָהֶם מִיָּגוֹן לְשִׂמְחָה, וּמֵאֵבֶל לְיוֹם טוֹב; לַעֲשׂוֹת אוֹתָם, יְמֵי מִשְׁתֶּה וְשִׂמְחָה, וּמִשְׁלֹחַ מָנוֹת אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ, וּמַתָּנוֹת לָאֶבְיֹנִים. כג וְקִבֵּל, הַיְּהוּדִים, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-הֵחֵלּוּ, לַעֲשׂוֹת; וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר-כָּתַב מָרְדֳּכַי, אֲלֵיהֶם. 

20 And Mordecai wrote these things, and sent letters unto all the Jews that were in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus, both near and far, 21 to enjoin them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar, and the fifteenth day of the same, yearly, 22 the days when the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor. 23 And the Jews took upon them to do as they had begun, and as Mordecai had written unto them...
 
Purim is an axis, a turning point. As described here, Purim marks the pivot from sorrow to gladness, from mourning to goodness.

How do we mark that experience of pivoting from darkness to light?
 
We reach out our hands to others. We send packages of treats to friends and neighbors. We extend our hands to the needy and give them support. We reach outside of ourselves towards another and take concrete steps to knit the threads of connection and community.
 
The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks tells us about the nature of this simcha, this joy, that we are meant to celebrate on Purim:

Simcha is joy shared. It is not something we experience in solitude...
Happiness is something you pursue.
But joy is not. It discovers you.
It has to do with a sense of connection to other people or to God.
It comes from a different realm than happiness.
It is a social emotion.
It is the exhilaration we feel when we merge with others.
It is the redemption of solitude.”
 
“...we must emerge slowly from our wintering...
we must gradually unfurl our new leaves…
It often seems easier to stay in winter,
burrowed down into our hibernation nests,
away from the glare of the sun.
But we are brave,
and the new world awaits us,
gleaming and green,
alive with the beat of wings.
And besides, we have a kind of gospel to tell now,
and a duty to share it.
We who have wintered have learned some things.
We sing it out like birds.
We let our voices fill the air.”

It’s been a year.
 
Some of us lost loved ones.
Some of us still struggle with illness or loneliness.
Some of us have gotten clearer about our priorities in life.
All of us have been changed.
 
Purim offers us hope that even in the darkest days, salvation might be only one banquet away.
 
Yes, it’s been a year.
What have you learned about yourself? About our country? About the world?
Where have you contributed to make the Jewish people safer and better?
How have you helped those less fortunate?
 
May the mitzvot of Purim lead us towards a path of growing light and connection, trusting that we will emerge slowly but surely from our wintering. And as we emerge, may we find ways to reach out beyond ourselves while holding the wisdom of this pandemic time deep within, using it as our lodestar as we find our way forward.

Shabbat Shalom