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Parashat Mishpatim

02/12/2021 10:07:27 AM


Rabbi Hearshen

This week we begin the month of Adar. The month of Adar is a special month for the Jewish people because it’s the month that we celebrate the holiday of Purim. The dictum from our tradition is that when Adar begins, we are commanded to increase our joy to demonstrate how wonderful this month, and the celebration of this holiday, are for the Jewish people. 

Purim is the holiday found in the short Book of Esther, which is one of the five Megilot found in the Jewish Bible, the TaNaKh. There are many peculiarities and intriguing issues in the Book of Esther that are worthy of discussion. For instance, the Book of Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not mention God. This actually made for a challenge when decisions were being made about what books were to be included, and which were not, in the Bible. There is also the issue of names. The specific name is of course Esther. The book is named for her… she is the central character and yet her name is not her real name. Esther’s name is actually Hadassah and for some reason it was changed to Esther. Was it to conceal her identity? Was it a mask she was wearing?

Above all other issues in the book, the one I find most intriguing is the flipping upside down of the entire world of the story. The Book of Esther is perfect in its ability to take everything that was assumed to be true and to completely flip it. Haman’s hatred of Mordecai was so severe that he sought to murder Mordecai and all Jews with him. Yet it will be Haman and his followers who will be killed on the very gallows that had been built for Mordecai. It is Mordecai who becomes the second in command when Haman is gone. It is Haman who is forced to lead Mordecai around on the king’s horse when he thought it was going to be him.

There is simply so much of the world being flipped in this story, there is not enough time to write all of it here. When I got to thinking about this aspect of the story, I began singing to myself Lin Manuel Miranda’s The Battle of Yorktown in which he portrayed the defeated British soldiers singing the English Ballad, The World Turned Upside Down. While the historical veracity of the account that the British soldiers sang this song while surrendering is not so strong, it’s a wonderful way of seeing that moment. In the eyes of the British, their cause was just and their strength was unequalled by any force in the world. The British could not imagine a world that did not contain British superiority and British domination. Here they were, a well-trained military both on land and at sea, and they were defeated by loosely assembled militias. In their eyes the world was not as it should be… it was upside down. Everything had been flipped and suddenly they were the losers when they had always been assumed to be the winners.

On Purim each year, we celebrate that it is possible. That it is possible for things to change. That it is possible for good to overcome evil. That it is possible to declare victory when all of the cards are stacked against us. That everything in our world is possible and that things can indeed be flipped entirely from the way that we assumed them to be. In life today, we often allow ourselves to become complacent as we assume, or rather we accept, that things are as they are and that they will never change. We accept defeat and we accept the negativity. This viewpoint is the antithesis of progress and of forward movement. We need to look and see that all around us is great opportunity and incredible possibilities. We need to see that we have the ability to change the world - and down can indeed become up. This is the spirit of every revolution and every fight that has ever been fought. This is the spirit that we need to engage in all that we do. We must have the courage to dream and to believe that things can and will be different. We can apply this on a micro or a macro level, and from that belief and worldview, we will in the end manage to see “the world turned upside down.”

Tue, June 22 2021 12 Tammuz 5781