Next Wednesday we will celebrate Purim with Costumes and Hamantaschen, but the true gift of Purim is the Megillah and our Speil. The rabbis and folklore applaud the Speil (some schpiel others spiel) as a form of subversion within our tradition. Watching our children adorn the masks of Mordechai and Haman is more than just cute; we teach to make fun of tradition just within the rules is very traditional. Like the child who cranks the grogger one more turn after being asked to stop. On this night, she is a master of unceremoniousness.
How else can we take a political story of politics, war, and genocide and wrap it in a spa week, beauty pagaent and parade? It’s all fun and games until it isn’t. The original plays of Eastern Europe were both PG14 and very polemic. Using the form of tradition to challenge power is the story of Esther. Watching our children make fun of themselves within our shul teaches that divinity is not only somber reflection but sharp and challenging with a wink to the knowing that it is not all fun and games.
I write this as my Great grandmother’s birthplace, Odessa, is being waged against by a tyrant and former mid-level spy who would be king. Putin is not funny. Criticizing and mocking his self proclaimed ubiquitous power can be. Zelensky, Ukrainian Jewish prime minister and former TV President and clown, has become a real time hero forged in the crucible of prime time soaps and social media. But make no mistake: he is no joke. Like Mordechai, he has seized the moment and carries the flag with honor. His leadership will never be forgotten and is now the prince in blue and gold.
The other lesson of our Purim is the mandate to read the ganza megillah, the whole scroll. Religiously, we do read all 10 chapters, from beginning to end, making sure we can hear and take in the lessons of this tale of mystery, statecraft and power. But I also read the commandment to read the ganza megillah as a mandate to not stop the story too soon, not after Esther wins the pageant (objectified), not only Mordechai refuses to bow (Moses redux) and leads the parade (pomp), not after the genocidal decree nor our retaliation.
The difference between a comedy or tragedy is only the ending. This story is not over. Our story is not over. We determine the finish and our children will be the authors. I don’t know the outcome, but I know the ingredients: warmth, humor, depth and a love of our people and our humanity. We are still mid-scroll… Hag Purim Sameach!
Rabbi Micah Hyman
Rabbi Micah Hyman has returned to SLO county after five years around California. Rabbi Hyman (or Micah) serves as the Executive Director of SLO HIllel at Cal Poly, and teaches about material culture and spiritual life. He has served pulpits in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Paris. Rabbi Hyman has also been an innovator in experiential education, serving the Jewish Museum in New York, the Spertus Institute in Chicago, and ANU: The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. He enjoys SLO living in all its Nature and Culture, smoking lox, on the water, and hiking with his sons Nathan (17) and Theo (14).