Tuesday, March 6, 2012

PURIM AND EDEN; THE WAY OF RETURN

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman



Purim has a secret to share. It is a Jewish holiday. But it is really about universal redemption and about our shared humanity's struggle to remake itself in G*d's image and to dwell in peace as we return back to the Garden. In many ways, Purim is the signpost and marker by which to guide humanity, as represented by Israel, 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 in their misdeed. 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 their capability, by 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, while pointedly celebrating the risks and cunning of Esther who heroically saves her people, never once mentions G*d explicitly for His role in the salvation. He is working behind the scenes, teaching us an important lesson: while we may not see an open miracle sealed and stamped with Hashem's name on it, KNOW that every miracle in life is a result of His blessing. All the seemingly small coincidences in life are indeed a part of His plan, working together marvelously in a synchronistic orchestrated whole.

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 (Mordechai) 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 in the 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)). This idea is reinforced in the numerical correlation between the years of her life and the provinces under Ahashvuerosh's rule.

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!

Good Purim!

© 2000 - 2012 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 and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.

1 comment:

Leeba said...

Amen! (on your dedication of this piece)

I am happy that you brought out that Adam immediately pointed the finger at Chava, who of course then pointed the finger at the serpent.

We must learn that is is ok to point the finger at ourselves, take responsibility for our actions, apologise and then we can make teshuva. It is the only way back!
We are not victims in this play called life - we are all responsible for what we do and say and think.

Thank you for the article.

I wish you a meaningful fast and a chag Purim sameach!

NEVER GIVE UP!

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!