Saturday, April 10, 2021
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A deeper explanation of the story of Purim

Excerpted from manuscript Magic of the Ordinary 

Gershon Winkler, 2001

 

… On the literal plane, the ancient Hebrew scriptural Scroll of Esther is the story of a people about to be annihilated but are spared at the last minute by the crescendo of a series of graduating events that miraculously lead to their rescue. The predator in the story is a man called Haman. The heroine is a woman named Esther, and the hero her uncle, Mordechai. Seated along the dividing line between these two realms of villains and heroes is the King, Achashverosh, who empowers both, Haman in his plot to destroy the Jews, and Esther in her struggle to save them. On the mystical plane, this is a parable about the dance between Ohr and Choshech, between the realm of Sitra Achra and the realm of Olam, with the King in the story representing God, mediating between the two opposing realms.

File:Scroll of Esther, Wedding gift (8528811037).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Scroll of Esther: Wikimedia Commons

Esther represents the concealment realm of the concealed light of the divine, or the Olam. Esther literally means “hidden.” Scroll of Esther in Hebrew reads megilat esther, which, when translated literally, means: “the unveiling of the hidden.”  Haman represents the Sitra Achra, the force that seeks always to make everything one and the same. In the story, Haman’s allegations against the Jews is that “they are a very different sort of people; their customs are unlike ours, and accordingly he plots the complete annihilation, the complete swallowing up, of the Jewish people. His immediate gang is comprised of his ten sons, or on the mystical plane, the Ten Sephirot or spheres of divine manifestation. Whereas Esther is described as surrounded by seven maidens, meaning, mystically, Seven Sephirot, the seven lower ones that are engaged with matters of the here and now, of earthiness, of Olam. Accordingly, the Zohar describes these seven “maidens” as the seven sky beings that empower and influence our earthly realm: Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Sun, Venus, Mercury, and Moon. And Esther herself is depicted by the Zohar as representing the Feminine Presence of the Divine, or the shechinah, when she is described in the story as clothing herself in the robes of mal’chut, the name of the tenth Sephirah, the sephirah most symbolic of hereandnow earthiness. While Esther’s Seven Sephirot are detached from the absoluteness of the upper three Sephirot, Haman’s Ten Sephirot are all connected and intact, leaving no room for diversity. In fact, the custom has always been for the reader of the megilah to read the names of the ten sons of Haman in a single breath!

Haman and his ten sons, therefore, represent the Sitra Achra and its overwhelming force of unification, while Esther represents the Olam, and its magic of diversity. The king, the ancient rabbis taught, represents God, the source of both realms, who reigns over both, who empowers both since there cannot be one without the other. “The Sacred Wellspring is both revealed and concealed. Nothing can exist without the Presence of Creator, and nothing can exist with the Presence of Creator. Therefore, the simultaneous presence of both Olam and Sitra Achra, of God Concealed and God Revealed, is a reality we are confronted with moment to moment in our personal lives and in the world around us.

Mordechai is described in the story as the one “who nurtures hadasah, she is Esther.” Hadasah literally means a myrtle branch. The myrtle is one of the four species of plant that we employ in our ceremony during the final harvest, or Sukkot. It is a plant that retains its aliveness and aroma long after having been severed from its roots, akin to the earthly manifestation of the divine, that flourishes and continuously evolves long after the Big Bang, long after its separation from the Primordial Root. Not by accident, then, is the king in the story called Achashverosh, the Hebrew spelling of which reads arua jt “Brother of the Root” when we read the word without the assigned vowelization. Mordechai is therefore that which nourishes the Shechinah, the force behind the realm of Olam. What nourishes the Shechinah is you and me and our endeavors to make sacred our choices, our actions, our words, our conduct. Mordechai represents the beings of creation who through their positive choices and actions further the manifestation of, and the nurturance of, the Shechinah. The text does not describe him as having nurtured Hadasah, in the past tense, but in the present tense: “And he nurtures Hadasah.”

rabbi and her mentor on purim | Rabbi Nancy Wechsler-Azen an… | Flickr
rabbi and her mentor on purim Rabbi Nancy Wechsler-Azen and Carry Cohn celebrate the triumph of Esther games and costumes at the annual Congregation Beth Shalom Purim Carnival, (Flickr)

The Scroll of Esther instructs the Jewish people to celebrate one day out of every year as purim, meaning lotteries. This is because in the story, Haman casts lots to determine a date that would be most advantageous for implementing his genocidal scheme. The effects of the Sitra Achra are like the proverbial gods throwing dice, random chaos that swallows up life in one fierce, unanticipated gulp. Purim is a brazen, inyourface festival during which we are instructed to become so ecstatic that we can no longer discern between Haman and Mordechai, between Sitra Achra and olam; to celebrate one day out of the year the shared Primordial Root of both realms. We are bidden to nurture the Shechinah by feeding the poor and exchanging gifts with one another, and also to become so swallowed up by the Sit’ra Achra that we can no longer see the difference between the Ohr and the Choshech, between the realm of Absolute Oneness and that of Relative Diversity. And therefore, we also masquerade, concealing all distinction, overriding all individuality, everyone interchangeably becoming someone else, men dressing as women, women as men, the pious as Haman. And we do all this at the cycle of the full moon in the final month of our calendar, surrendering to the Black Hole of the godhead that awaits us all at the other end. But the celebration happens from a place of personal power, not a place of surrender. We encounter the Sitra Achra as did Esther confront the king in the story: in full power and regalia, with selfconfidence, after having prepared herself for three days reminiscent of the three days of preparation which the ancient Israelites underwent before their great encounter with the Divine Presence at Mount Sinai

It is no wonder, then, that this story was inspired by the Jewish people and for the Jewish people at the genesis of their first, and therefore most traumatic, exilic experience: to remind them through this tale that even severed from their roots, the myrtle, the hadasah, is still alive even in exile, nurtured by our practice of the central creed of our tradition: lovingkindness. And to teach us that God is as much with us at the core of our tragedies as is God with us at the core of our celebrations; that the evil we experience at times is as divine as is the good we experience: only, evil is the divine light when it is translated or experienced in its absoluteness and its overwhelming extreme, and good is the divine light in its more subdued relativeness; and that the two realms are brothers of the same Primordial Root, of the King Achashverosh, or the “One Sovereign of the Brothers of the Root” who mediates between them.

God has also set one thing opposite the other; the Good opposite the Evil, and the Evil opposite the Good; Good from Good, and Evil from Good; the Good defines the Evil, and the Evil defines the Good. (Sefer Yetsirah 6:4)

Both good and evil, or each their equally sacred root forces, are essential to Creation’s existence. Together, they represent the mystery component that holds everything together, that creates moment to moment the tension that makes the magic of physical existence possible. Our life journey, then, is analogous to the fragile dance of a metallic particle hovering between the opposite pulls and poles of two magnets aimed at one another and deflecting off of one another. “Also, this opposite the other did the Source of Powers create.” (Koheleth 7:14)

Purim is therefore an incredibly essential celebration because it is more than a holiday, it is a reintegration of the timeless Myth of Life, and as such it is the only holiday, the ancient rabbis taught, that would remain with us in the World to Come.

(from manuscript “Magic of the Ordinary” © 2001 by Gershon Winkler,

Walking Stick Foundation

P.O. Box 1865

Cuba, NM 87013

U.S.A.)

Reproduced with permission

Rabbi Gershon Winkler is a Danish, non-denominational Rabbi, a scholar, teacher and author whose special interest is indigenous Judaism.

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