by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
Purim has a secret to share. It is a Jewish holiday. But it's really about universal redemption and our shared humanity's struggle to remake itself in G*d's image and dwell in peace back in the garden.
In many ways, Purim is the signpost and marker by which to guide humanity, as represented byIsrael, back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were originally banished from the Garden -not because of sin and disobedience, but rather due to their inability to face and accept their responsibility for their actions. They weren't exiled for eating the "goodly fruit" per se. Rather, they were exiled for denying responsibility. They were caught. But they played the victim. They couldn't own up to what they had done.
Indeed, it is arguable that the idea of a return of mankind to the Garden is not only a boon from humanity's point of view, but is Divinely desired as well. It is arguably G*d's deepest desire for mankind, G*d's children, to become independent, responsible adults. They would be worthy of enjoying the Garden of Delights, but not until they can prove capable of having rightfully earned the honor of returning.
While Passover is clearly the epic narrative of G*d's redemption through intervention on an epic scale writ large, the Megillah, the Scroll of Esther, is quite oppositely indicative of the reverse transposition of mankind from being a humble receiver of salvation to an active initiator, whereby Divine intervention is noted only by its seeming absence. The Haggadah's Passover redemption narrative is replete with Divine credit even as the Megillah, the Purim narrative, pointedly celebrates the risks and cunning of Esther who heroically saves her people.
In the Garden of Eden, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil beckons the curiosities of Eve. The snake, the haughty contender for ultimate authority in the Garden, arrogating to himself the rights of Divine suzerainty, is brought low and humbled, forever to crawl on his belly, much the same way that Haman met his comeuppance for attempting to usurp the royal prerogatives of palace and power.
Upon discovery of the misdeed, the Man blames the Woman who blames the Snake who lives in the Tree (an echo of Chad Gadya), resulting in the expulsion. It therefore makes sense that an atonement and reversal of the judgment would necessarily entail a conscious retracing of the process. The flow in the chain of disavowal of responsibility went from the Man (Adam) to the Woman (Eve- who risked certain death, or so she feared, by "touching" the King's - i.e., G*d's, Tree) to the cunning Snake in his abode in the branches of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
Similarly, atonement mandates a reversal of the process. Redemption in the Megillah of Esther follows a vector of newly assumed responsibility from the Man (Mordecai) who lectures the Woman (Esther) as to her responsibilities to her people (who then risks certain death *unless* touched by the golden sceptre), who then points out to the King Haman's true responsibility for her people's imminent misfortune. Haman even falls upon the Queen and her couch, thus inthe end making himself responsible for his own downfall. Finally, he himself is hanged upon the branches of "the tree (haEitz)," thus neatly completing the process and chain of responsibility.
What demands our attention as to the text's ultimate universalism is the conscious echoing of the phraseology and the similarity in language between the number of Sarah's years (127) and the number of lands under the Persian Empire(127). Incredibly, in each case it follows the unusual step of placing a conjunctive link ("and") between each of the numbers comprising the ultimate tally. It does not read as "one hundred twenty seven," but rather somewhat awkwardly as "one hundred years and twenty years and seven years (Gen23:1)."
But what is even more fascinating is the reversal in the *order* of the numbers. The Megillah reverses the order of the Genesis narrative, reading now as "seven and twenty and a hundred lands (Esther 1:1)," much as the sin order and blame/responsibility order are reversed (snake to Adam/Adam to snake).
Sarai, upon her name change to Sarah, is told by G*d that she will be the mother of "entire nations" (Gen17:15,16). While she is particularly and immediately the mother of the*Hebrew* nation, she will ultimately be the mother of entire (read "many") nations (as Chava/Eve is the "mother of life" (Gen 3:20)). The birth of the Nation of Israel points to the ultimate redemption of humanity through the rediscovery of the ethical monotheistic imperative.
The Purim narrative functions as a paradigm for mankind's struggle with evil. Ironically the story occurs in Persia, the seat of Zoroastrian faith,which teaches of the dualistic forces of light and darkness in the world. But the Jewish reading of history is a sense of the ultimate conquest of good over evil. Indeed, evil is ultimately subservient to good, as both are sourced in the Source of all goodness.
Moreover, the Purim story is a blueprint not only for the Jews' redemption, but for all humanity who align themselves with goodness. Its message is one of responsibility for one's own salvation. Inaction in the face of evil is the guarantee for evil to flourish. Perish or flourish. The choice is ours.
The Edenic paradigm for mankind's return and redemption must be seen as the backdrop by which to make sense of the Purim story as well as current events. As the masks fall off, G*d's hidden presence is revealed. Ideologies and belief systems which deny the notion of a G*d who demands personal responsibility take on an aura of untenability.
From out of a sense of volition we learn to take responsibility in life to repair the earth and the hearts of its inhabitants. To wait for others or to postpone action is the recipe for continued exile or worse. Yet the opposite holds forth the promise of a renewed encounter with that other tree in the Garden- the Tree of Life.
© 2000 - 2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l
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