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March 5, 2020
9 Adar 5780

Parashat Tetzevah
Exodus 27:20 - 30:10


Dear Friends,

This year, as we get ready for Purim, it seems as though everything that was up is down  and down is up. As in the tale of Purim, the outcome of our story is not at all clear. Living as we do in an era where our relationship to the Divine is extremely personal, the story of Purim is the perfect tale for our time.

Interestingly, the name of the Divine is not evoked in the entire Megillah. Thus, Divine intercession does not create an acceptable ending to this somewhat absurd tale. The courage of the two major characters leads directly to the positive outcome. We should note that neither Mordechai nor Esther acts totally alone. For example, if Mordechai did not have a connection in the palace (Esther), could he have saved the king from the assassination plot put forth by Bigtan and Teresh? Would Esther have had the courage to go into the king’s chamber without being called if the Jewish community had not supported her by fasting alongside her?

At this uncertain moment in our lives, we long for a sense of security. Just like the two heroes of our story, we need not cope with this uncertainty alone, because we are not alone. If you feel gripped by anxiety (as so many of us do), reach out to those you trust for help -- your friends, your family, and your community. Recognize the difference between what you can do and what you cannot. We can look to Esther as an exemplar. Prayer has power, especially when we join together.

March is Women’s History Month, so I cannot leave out my favorite character in the Purim tale -- Vashti, the defiant one. Coming long before the #MeToo era, Vashti puts her principles on the line as well. She is told to attend the king’s banquet that has been going on for months. She refuses. There is a midrash that infers that the king wanted her to dance naked before his friends and she refuses. Another midrash has her refusing to appear in front of the king because the angel Gabriel gave her a tail and she is embarrassed to appear in public (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 12B). Clearly, this strong woman who refuses a man’s command makes the men of the Talmud uncomfortable.

At this difficult time in our present world, we are reminded about the different ways in which we can display our strength. For some, like Vashti, speaking up forthrightly when confronted with injustice is just what we do. For others, Esther serves as our exemplar, one who clearly needs to work at gathering her strength. She pushes her anxiety away and does what needs doing, even as she puts herself at risk. Esther clearly goes through a process and must confront her fears before being able to act.

Purim could not come at a better time. As the Megillah ends, we are specifically reminded how we should celebrate this holiday -- in joy and merriment, of course. We are also told to bring one another small gifts of food, along with sending gifts to those who are in need. What could be a better way of affirming that over which we have control?

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Tue, July 14 2020 22 Tammuz 5780