What Does Purim Teach Us?
Many a rabbi has pointed out the midrashic wordplay that indicates that Yom Kippur is, in fact “a day like Purim” (Yom haKi-Purim). Others have noted that some sources indicate Purim to be the holiest Jewish Calendar day of them all. At the heart of Purim does, in fact, lie the holiest deed that any human being can commit oneself to.
For all of us, Jewish or otherwise, the Book of Esther is a celebration of triumph against greatly unfavorable odds.
On the one hand, the King of Persia (whose name has perplexed people reading the text out loud in English translation for centuries) has a temperament that is difficult to predict and a personality that is very difficult to define. On the other hand, there is Haman, who deems himself very powerful, very worthy of respect and has step-by-step and concrete visions for a plan to kill all Jews in the kingdom.
In their midst to clandestinely thwart Haman’s efforts are Mordechai and Esther, who do not feel empowered by the circumstances at all and often speak between themselves in uncertain terms in realizing their plan to save the Jews (in contrast to Haman’s confidence).
Even when Esther thinks of the possibility of having herself and her people destroyed, she still presses onwards. Yom Kippur also contains very much a similar idea–that despite the numerous difficult circumstances created by our misdeeds–on a personal, communal and national level (if not in fact considering the whole human species)–we will nonetheless ask to move forward by being written and sealed in the Book of Life.
Purim is, above all, a celebration of risk taking, to which we as a species and Jews the world over (as well as other peoples) owe all of our accomplishments.
Purim and Yom Kippur also come at times of the year in which the seasons are waning away, in which winter despondency gives way to celebration and the mirth of the sun’s rays gives way to solemnity. In both holidays, despite everything, there is sadness and reflection on this sadness but never paralysis, and this reflects the type of determination that entrepeneurs, visionaries and resistors need to embody in 2018 and beyond.
As the head of my own company, I think of all of the ways that I have needlessly been hindered by my own self-doubt and limiting beliefs. Esther and Mordechai could have done the same, but then I wouldn’t exist and by extension the Jewish people would have been a memory.
On Purim I revel in the possibility that we will embrace who we truly are, with our primal optimism, and reflect the very best aspects of the human experience, unfettered by negative emotions weighing us down, that any Supreme God or human being would be very proud of.
Happy Purim to all you risk takers out there, and to all who have yet to take a chance. Go on, have the first bite!
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Jared Gimbel teaches Jewish and Nordic languages and also sometimes works as a seasonal synagogue cantor. Having mastered 18+ languages spanning almost all continents, he also works as a translator from various languages into English. His new video game, “Kaverini: Nuuk Adventures”, a cartoon adventure game set in contemporary Greenland, is set for release in 2018. He currently lives in Brooklyn.