Torah Talk for Purim 2022

Dear WJC Family,

Happy Purim! Today, Friday, March 18, is actually Purim’s exciting second day known as Shushan Purim. On Shushan Purim, the holiday is celebrated in cities that were walled in the time of Joshua. The explanation for the extra day is usually tied to a verse towards the end of the Megillah (Esther 9:13), when Esther asks King Achashverosh to allow the Jews of Shushan itself to have an extra day of celebration on which Haman’s sons will be executed. Achashverosh agrees.

While this would explain the extra day in Shushan, it doesn’t really tell us what other walled cities have to do with it. I think there may be more going on here. The truth is that by the time of the Purim story (circa 5th century BCE) many cities that were walled in Joshua’s time (circa 13th century BCE) no longer had walls; they’d been destroyed by invaders. While we may think that walls will protect us, that we have created an ordered society such that we are protected by metaphorical walls, in fact, walls can be breached and societal order can be warped, as it was by Haman. We don’t have to look too far today with a war of pure aggression being waged against the civilian population of Ukraine to see the truth in this. Walls can sometimes protect you from outside invaders, but can also trap you in – just witness the siege of Mariupol and the horrors unfolding there to see the truth of this.

Purim and Shushan Purim remind us that there is a difference between living in a well-ordered, “walled” place and living in a vulnerable, lawless place, but maybe not as big a difference as we think. The Jews inside the walls and the ones outside needed saving all the same. Ukraine is a faraway land, but also, not as alien as we might like to think. We are all residents of Shushan and residents of the countryside; we are all lucky to live in the United States, but only a stone’s throw from living in Ukraine. Shushan Purim reminds us that security and order are fragile, that the only true protection comes from God and from us when we act to represent God’s holiness and protection in the world. We are the walls and when suffering occurs and needs go unmet, it is we who have fallen down.

With that in mind, on March 26 (that’s a week from tomorrow) I am pleased to share our pulpit with our member and Scholar in Residence for UJA/Federation of New York, Rabbi Menachem Creditor. Rabbi Creditor will be reflecting on UJA/Federation’s Rabbinic Mission to Poland earlier this week where he observed firsthand the plight of the residents of Ukraine and the three million refugees and displaced persons fleeing their homes with nothing but their lives, and barely with that. I hope you will join us next Shabbat for Rabbi Creditor’s guest drash.

In the meantime, in the spirit of our being the “walls,” I want to remind you to please contribute to SOJAC’s Project Ezra Fund so that the seniors who rely on us for their Passover food will be able to celebrate when the holiday comes one month from now. Also, SOJAC is collecting medical and toiletry items for AFYA that will go directly to Ukraine and Poland to support the refugees there. See the list of required items here.

In the meantime we are back on a regular Shabbat schedule this week, but with the time change for Daylight Savings Time everything is an hour later—so 6:45pm for Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday evening and for Mincha Maariv on Saturday evening. At mincha/maariv I will be teaching about Parshat Shemini and the proper way to make a shiva call as demonstrated by Moshe—or is it? Saturday morning I will be speaking, reflecting on a Sermon of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called, “When Peace becomes Obnoxious,” and what we are really praying for when we pray for peace.

See you in shul,

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