Purim, and all that jazz

Do you get the feeling that Israel's leaders are intoxicated all year long?

olmert rice jlem 298.88 (photo credit: GPO)
olmert rice jlem 298.88
(photo credit: GPO)
I don't like Purim much. Not that I don't have a good time. Like most Israelis, I celebrate, make merry, put on a ridiculous costume, swing my gregger, the louder the better, even flirt with inebriation, ad lo yada - and all that jazz. It's just that I have never found Megillat Esther to be funny. Oh, there's plenty of partying and pomp there, even sexual politics. There's life-and-death intrigue, too, but after melodramatic suspense, the "good guys" - that is, the Jews - win! It's still not funny, because I can't get out of my head two frightening elements in the story: (1) that genocide of our people was being planned; and (2) that the perpetrators who had the power to get away with it were a pair of buffoons. What, then, is the Megilla, if not a brilliant revelatory satire on the Jewish condition in exile? The fickleness with which the fate of an entire people could be decided is enough to ignite within us who are living after the Shoah bloodcurdling reminders that the 20th-century Jewish predicament in Europe had no Mordechai and Esther to come riding in just in time, flip the hamentash on its head, so to speak, and all that jazz. WELL, THEN, haven't we in Israel blunted the satirical sting of the Megilla? Here in our own state we are not subject to the whims of foreign potentates and murderous anti-Semites (ha ha, and all that jazz!) Yet the satirical underpinnings of Purim and the way the Jewish people have been observing Purim through the ages - with drunken levity, ubiquitous masks, and pandemonium inside and outside the Megilla reading - all suggest a cutting relevancy precisely for us here in our ostensibly "galut-free" State of Israel. Take getting drunk, for example. Our sages taught that one should drink on Purim until he cannot distinguish between "blessed be Mordechai" and "cursed be Haman." The sages couldn't have been prescribing Dionysian snorting, certainly not orgiastic revelry. An implied message, however, might be for us to realize that only in an extreme state of intoxication could a Jew confuse the blessing of a fellow Jew and the cursing of a genocidal Persian (Iranian) anti-Semite. Yet could the sages have ever imagined that, someday, fully sober Jewish leaders of an independent Jewish state would be sitting down with latter-day Hamans like Yasser Arafat and signing peace agreement after peace agreement, only to see them violated shamelessly and murderously? One doesn't need to imbibe vodka to become intoxicated. One can become drunk over an idea, so that no matter how much contrary evidence is brought to disprove the validity of that idea, one hangs on, begging for "one more for the road." How else can we explain our addiction to a "peace process" with those who are unrepentant in their lust to lie to us, to terrorize us, to destroy us?... and all that jazz. OR HOW about the noise we make during the Megilla reading? Please note that not only children with their toy rattles, but mature adults with heavy wooden noise-makers all join in a cacophony of hooting, whooping, stomping on the floor, wiping out metaphorically all the generations of Amalek. For some of us, however, the satirical sting fixes our attention on another cacophony, the interminable gibble-gabble of political leadership, promising solutions based on surrendering land of the Land of Israel. And to whom? To those whose negotiating strategy is consistently and unreservedly to say no to any national Jewish existence in the Middle East. Through the cacophonous bedlam of "expert" analyses of what the independent State of Israel is to do with Gaza, and with Judea and Samaria (and we may as well add the Galilee and eastern Jerusalem), might we not ask the following question of our leadership: Is there a short-term, middle-term, long-term plan alternative to the by-now stillborn two-state solution? Is there a clear, resonant clarion call of a governmental strategy piercing through the roar of Hamas "greggers"? Or is the real symptom of our national perplexity our Purim masks? When do we take these masks off? THE USUAL assumption about masks is that we wear them to hide our identity from others… and all that jazz. But the nagging truth is that psychological anxiety - not to mention spiritual and ethical despair - set in when the masks we wear hide our identity from ourselves. Are we or are we not an independent nation living in its own homeland fighting for our legitimate existence and security? Or are we still living in exile, banking on the largesse of others who may at times be paragons of virtue, but who just as easily can be fools and scoundrels? This is not to say that sovereign states are completely independent in all aspects of their social, political, economic, and cultural being. But within the maelstrom of international give-and-take, a nation that has pride in itself learns how to maneuver to its maximum benefit, without surrendering strategic assets - certainly not to ruthless enemies. Let's be honest. Who forced us into the asinine Oslo process, and who dictated the unilateral disengagements from Southern Lebanon and Gaza, if not our confused selves? Talk about all that jazz! IT'S A pity that we don't have a holiday celebrating another historical event that took place at about the same time as the events of Purim. A group of Jews left the exile of Babylonia to return to Eretz Yisrael. The biblical record of this "Shivat Zion" - unlike Megillat Esther - is not satirical. It is a serious account, sober but optimistic in its hope for a rebirth of the Jewish nation in its homeland. It served throughout the last two millennia as a precedent for our blessed contemporary "Shivat Zion." But then again, we always had an unsatirical, unambiguous, glorious precedent for the rebuilding of our national pride - Pessah. Thank God, to modify a Wordsworth verse: If Purim comes, can Pessah be far behind?… and all that jazz…. The writer is rabbi emeritus of Moreshet Yisrael, a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem, and author of Torah Through a Zionist Vision (three volumes) just published by Gefen. www.israelbooks.com