From Rabbi Johanna Hershenson

This month of March, we find ourselves between two Jewish holidays that focus on freedom and food. Last week during Purim, we read from the Megillah about Haman's evil plot and Esther's courage in saving the Jewish people. How does she do it? By throwing a feast, a dinner party, at which she can let her husband, the king, know that Haman's agenda threatens her personally. Before Esther speaks, she flirts and feeds.

In just a few weeks time, we welcome Passover into our midst. Again with the food. Unleavened bread symbolizing the haste with which we left Egypt. Bitter herbs to remember the bitterness of hard labor. And again with the freedom. We are Hebrew slaves in Egypt and a new nation of Israelites when we leave.

Of course there are significant differences between the biblical narratives and the mood we present at these two holidays. Purim includes drunkenness, frivolity, and comedy. God's name is never mentioned in the book of Esther. Passover requires drinking, buts it's drinking is about mimicking wealthy, free people and not drunkenness. Telling the story of our exodus from Egypt is a very serious matter. The meal in which we partake has a particular order, hence the Hebrew name for the dinner, Seder (which means order). In a traditional Haggadah, the name of Moses is never mentioned. Unlike Queen Esther, Moses, gets no credit. We should always understand our redemption from the narrow straits comes from God.

Our Middah of the Month, in March, is Silence and Mindful Speech. I think the choice to exclude God from one story and include God in the second is a great example of the teachings that surround when we are quiet and when we choose to speak.

The story and celebration of Purim is about letting go of the stress we feel at the hands of oppressors and even bullies. When we succumb to that power yielded over us, we voluntarily surrender to a Godless world. When we try to power through, fight back, or flee, all as if we are victimized alone, we find ourselves in a world of frivolity, objectification, and violence.

When we approach whatever it is that we perceive holds us back, not just on our own but with a sense of values or principles that are beyond us, God, we enter into a possibility of transformation. When our aspirations are higher ideals, shared ideals, we grow and evolve. When our aspirations are base, mere survival or victory, we remain in the world of politics, exploitation, and violence.

Spend a little time this month reflecting on the differences between Purim's solutions to oppression and Passover's response. What is our practice? Are we stuck in base responses to stimuli around us? Or do we choose to embrace and practice values and principles that lift us to new possibilities?

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