Purim is happening. It’s the holiday of merry-making. Of things being turned upside down. We celebrate the historical events of a Jewish population in Persia (now Iran) being saved from destruction by an evil man named Haman. This happened in the 4th century BCE and is catalogued not in the Five Books of Moses, but in the Book of Esther (also known as the Megillah) which is found in the Writings (Ketuvim) portion of the Old Testament.
In the Jews’ greatest “hahaha” moment, the traditional food of this holiday – because we always have traditional foods for every holiday – is a cookie called “Haman’s Pockets” or hamantaschen, where we hide yummy fillings in a triangle-shaped cookie. We’ll show you, Haman!
The cookie is not terribly sweet, as Jewish pastries tend to not be super sweet, but it does contain a hidden surprise. It’s usually filled with mon (poppy seed filling) or jam (apricot is my favorite) or chocolate. This year, I made “s’mores”-filled hamantaschen with a tiny square of chocolate, 1/8 of a marshmallow, and a tiny piece of graham cracker. Hidden surprises in a cookie.
And indeed, this holiday is one of hidden surprises. It’s why we dress up in costume for Purim. (Some call this “Jewish Halloween,” although it’s more than that.) We all wear masks. We all pretend and dress ourselves up. As a comedienne, I wear masks all the time. And I get paid to hide and pretend and, in a certain sense, hide from what I really feel when I’m on stage. It’s comforting, but it’s also scary to hide. If you hide enough, you start to lose bits of who you are.
The heroine of the Purim story is Esther, who had to hide her Jewish identity (it wasn’t popular to be a Jew in those days in Persia…) and in order to save the Jewish people, she had to reveal her identity to the King and risk her life in the process.
The notion of merry-making which the holiday engenders feels somewhat lost on me this year. My father died almost a year ago, and I just don’t feel right. We took our kids to a Purim carnival last weekend and while I enjoyed watching them play carnival games and climb a rock wall and bounce on one of those trampolines while suspended from a bouncy harness, a part of me felt like I was still hidden or hiding. Was it my joy that was hiding? Was my exuberance and zest for life hiding? I don’t know. I just know that I wasn’t all there.
And this week revealed another global tragedy. Terrorists brainwashed by the belief that true allegiance to God comes from killing yourself while killing as many other people as possible blew apart the center of Brussels and the center of sanity in Belgium.
So it felt hard to be merry. It feels hard to be merry. All of those people dead, and all of those people hurt. Mothers torn from children, and limbs torn from bodies…I want to hide it all.
One of the traditional things to do on Purim is to drink alcohol and lose yourself in the blur that is intoxication. So that you can’t tell the enemy from the hero, they say. We are encouraged to embrace the confusion in order to come out of it with more clarity.
There are so many ways we try to hide from what’s painful. People use alcohol, drugs, shopping, monitoring social media, seeking out people to have sex with… We do so many things to try and feel comfortable but in a lot of cases, we are actually hiding. And if you hide enough, you can lose parts of yourself.
Purim comes right at the start of spring, a great time of year to explore what is hidden and what is revealed. The possibility of new growth and life emerges out of the darkness of winter and we revel in new colors, new tastes, new smells, and the birth of so many things.
I thought of the song, “The Rose,” as I contemplated this Purim in particular.
When the night has been too lonely and the road has been too long
And you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong,
Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snow
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes the rose.
Purim is the celebration of a darkness that threatened to swallow us up. And it is the commemoration of the possibility that courage and bravery can transform that darkness into light.
There is a lot of darkness now, and Belgium is in darkness in particular. Many parts of the world are dark. Syria and Russia and Turkey and all of Israel and Gaza and the West Bank appear in the comments of my social media feeds as individuals all over the world mourn the losses in their communities that terror has brought.
We do things to hide from this stuff, and we may wear masks to try to hide, but reality is waiting for us when the masks come off and the alcohol wears off.
I hope that the spring brings for us goodness revealed and flowers in bloom and some sort of collective understanding that there are certain things we can not hide from, and there are certain things we can not avoid. But we also have a responsibility to show up for each other, to reveal our best selves even when it’s the most difficult, and to believe that courage and bravery can bring out the best in us all.
Just like the winter reveals for us the beauty of roses again and again out of bitterness and a landscape that almost makes us believe again and again that nothing can thrive, I have to believe that light, and hope, are possible.