Purim celebrates the good and bad in all of us

Purim 2012 begins at sundown this Wednesday, March 7, and all I can say is thank you God! Of course … Continued

Purim 2012 begins at sundown this Wednesday, March 7, and all I can say is thank you God! Of course that’s a bit ironic because despite the fact that both this holiday and its story appear in the Hebrew Bible, God is never mentioned. That’s right, among other reasons to love this holiday is that from its very inception, and to this very day, it could be shared by believers and non-believers alike.

Why is that so important? Maybe it’s the fact that each day brings new stories in which faith and/or faithlessness are used by politicians and their proxies to vilify those who don’t share their beliefs. Perhaps it’s because the language of who is evil and who is good are being used more and more to describe conflicts both at home and abroad. Perhaps it’s simply that I cling to the notion that we don’t have to demean those with whom we have genuine disagreements, or even those with whom we may need to do battle – cultural or physical.



Schoolchildren wear costumes during a parade ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim outside the Bialik Rogozin school in south Tel Aviv March 6, 2012. At Bialik Rogozin, children of migrant workers and refugees from 48 states are educated alongside native Israelis.

Whatever the reasons, and it’s actually a combination of all of the above, Purim reminds us of a key insight –one which doesn’t shrink from difference, or even the need to fight existential foes –and it all comes down to knowing that we are one. Even in a world where people speak of good guys and bad guys, sometimes appropriately so, those same people are part of a single human family. Truly knowing that fact should change how we battle, when we battle, how long we battle, etc., whether with words or with weapons.

It is no accident that Mordechai, the paradigmatic good guy of the Purim story, and Haman, the paradigmatic bad guy in same, are cousins descended from their common forefather Issac and foremother Rebecca — one through Jacob and the other through Esau. In this story, as in much of life, the good guys and the bad guys, whichever side one chooses, are more related than either side can typically see.

In fact, the Talmudic directive that on Purim we must drink so much that we can no longer distinguish between “blessed be Mordechai” and “cursed be Haman” is more than a measure of one’s blood alcohol content – though as someone who enjoys an occasional drink, I appreciate that aspect of the holiday! No, the Talmud’s teaching is much more than that.

With the right “help” we can help ourselves see what we may otherwise choose to avoid or simply not know. With the right help, we live out another Talmudic insight – “when the wine goes in, the secrets come out.”

The secret, when it comes to Mordechai and Haman, is not simply that they are more related than one might have otherwise assumed. Purim’s bigger “secret” is that we ourselves will fail to distinguish between Mordechai
Haman because both of them lie within each of us. That is why it takes but a few drinks to confuse them. Both of their identities were always within us anyway.

I am not suggesting that there is no difference between Mordechai and Haman, nor am I suggesting that we are all equal measures of each of them. I am simply suggesting that, as with all great dramas, on Purim we are meant to identify with each of the characters in the story and see at least a bit of them in ourselves. Only when we see ourselves and each other in that way can we hope to use the political power and influence, which Purim celebrates, in genuinely ethical ways.

Show me the candidate who operates that way, and they will get my vote. Show me the community that operates that way, and they will get my participation. How about you?


Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • WmarkW

    I agree that there’s a major problem in politics today about calling opposing political positions “evil.” It’s not evil in the absolute sense, either to require health insurance to provide birth control. or not to.

    Every controversial issue is some kind of compromise, that’s why its controversial. Neither Sarah Palin nor Barack Obama is evil; they’re just vacuous.

  • ccnl1

    Bringing Judaism into the 21st century:

    New Torah For Modern Minds

    “Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

    Such startling propositions — the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years — have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity — until now.

    The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called ”Etz Hayim” (”Tree of Life” in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine doc-ument.

    The notion that the Bible is not literally true ”is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis,” observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to ”Etz Hayim.” But some congregants, he said, ”may not like the stark airing of it.” Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that ”virtually every modern archaeologist” agrees ”that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all.” The rabbi offered what he called a ”LITANY OF DISILLUSION”’ about the narrative, inclu

  • shilotoren

    what a PurimShpiel! who needs your drek!

  • shilotoren

    what a PurimShpiel! who needs your drek!

  • Kingofkings1

    Rabbi, I was hoping you would mention that even that even though we all have good and evil within us, the proportion of good and evil can be different among individuals, such as between mother Theresa and John Wayne Gacy, and we should strive to have an increase proportion of one characteristic over the other

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