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April 21, 2014

Andrew Silow-Carroll: Passoverkill? Suggestions to make next year's seders even more culturally sensitive

Sara Israelsen Hartley: Seeking the Divine: An ancient connection in a new context

Christine M. Flowers: Priest's execution in Syria should be call to action

Courtnie Erickson: How to help kids accept the poor decisions of others

Lizette Borreli: A Glass Of Milk A Day Keeps Knee Arthritis At Bay

Lizette Borreli: 5 Health Conditions Your Breath Knows Before You Do

The Kosher Gourmet by Betty Rosbottom Coconut Walnut Bars' golden brown morsels are a beautifully balanced delectable delight

April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review

Purim: Cynicism v Holiness

By Chief Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein





Often cast as a holiday celebrating a prevented genocide -- or wrongly as a Jewish Halloween -- Purim is actually about a much deeper, philosophical struggle

JewishWorldReview.com | What is the test of a truly great person? Is there some kind of litmus test which can identify our true essence?

Chapter 27 of the Book of Proverbs says Ish lefi mahalalo, which Rabbeinu Yonah, one of our great commentators from the Middle Ages, translates to mean that a person's definition is in accordance with what he praises.

If we want to know the true nature of a person, there is only one question to ask: what is it that they praise? What is important to them and what are their priorities? By answering that, we get a glimpse into the true character of a person. If we want to know about a society, we must ask who its heroes are and what are its priorities and values, for the things we value reveal who we are.

Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner, one of the great rabbinic leaders of the twentieth century, says that there are some people -- cynics -- who actually praise nothing. In the language of our Sages, such a person is called a letz, a "scoffer." For the cynic, life is empty; there is nothing worthy of praise, nothing important, special or meaningful. Cynicism means looking at life coldly and esteeming nothing. Thus, it is not only about what we do or do not value which reflects our true character, but whether in fact we value anything at all.

THE NAME 'PURIM' SIGNIFIES A PHILOSOPHICAL STRUGGLE
On the upcoming festival of Purim, the 14thday of the Jewish month of Adar, we read about the Haman's attempted genocide against the Jewish people and the great miracles that He performed to bring about the Jews' salvation. But Purim isn't just about an attempted genocide against the Jewish people and Mordechai and Esther's intervening in order to save them. Something else was taking place --- a much deeper, philosophical struggle.

To understand this, let us first understand why this festival is called Purim. Purim actually means "the casting of lots." When Haman decided he was going to wipe out the entire Jewish people throughout the Persian Empire, he cast lots to pick a date for the genocide. It came out to the 13th day of the month of Adar, the day that we now observe as the Fast of Esther. The Ibn Ezra, one of our commentators from the Middle Ages, points out that the word Purim is not even a Hebrew word, but a Persian one. Why does the festival get a name which signifies the random casting of lots? And why a Persian word?

This raises another question: Why did Haman cast random lots to choose a date for destroying the Jewish people, instead of picking a date that would be convenient for him? Normally, when planning an event -- and certainly when someone is planning genocide -- one would plan it at a suitable, carefully thought-out time. It's hard enough to plan the logistics of something of such magnitude; why didn't Haman pick a date that would suited him and his troops best (for example, a time of year when the weather is suitable, and other considerations)? Why did he cast random lots?

Haman came from the nation of Amalek --- the ultimate cynics. We see their true nature exhibited in the first attack against the Jewish people, which the verse (Deut. 25:18 ) describes as asher karcha baderech who "chanced upon you on the way." The word karcha, from the word mikreh, means "by chance," representing Amalek's philosophy that everything happens by chance. They believed in the randomness of life and were the ultimate cynics.

When the Jewish people came out of Egypt, no one would dare to go near them. The Torah describes the fear and trepidation that the nations felt in the face of this nation which had just emerged victorious from Egypt, the superpower at that time, and had witnessed the miracles of the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea. There was an aura of invincibility about the Jewish people, till Amalek came and tampered with this aura. The foremost commentator, Rashi, compares Amalek's attack to a boiling hot bath; no one wants to get in but after the first person jumps in, the bath cools off and then other people feel at ease to jump in as well. So too with Amalek: once they attacked, the Jews were no longer invincible and other nations felt at ease to attack.

What gave Amalek the confidence to attack the Jews? It was their cynicism. They saw the plagues and the miracles and it meant nothing to them. Their worldview was based on a philosophy of randomness, that life is meaningless and makes no difference and that things just "happen." Haman's method of casting lots for a date for the genocide stemmed from Amalek's worldview. The word Purim represents the philosophy against which the Jewish people were fighting at the time --- the philosophy of Amalek, the worldview that life is empty and random.

Judaism is based on a belief in purpose and Divine Providence. G-d created the world and it is perfect by design; it didn't just "happen." Each one of us is in this world because G-d wants us to be here. He has given each of us a mission to fulfill and therefore what we do is indeed meaningful and important. The whole Torah is based on the fact that what we do, each and every single day, is important; whether we avoid gossiping, whether we give charity, whether we eat kosher --- whatever it is, it is actually important to G-d. Everything we do on a daily basis has significance in His eyes; it is neither random nor meaningless. Amalek believed nothing made any difference, that nothing is important or special.

THE MEANING OF 'HOLINESS'
One of the core concepts of Judaism is what we call in Hebrew kedusha. It is a term that is difficult to translate, though it is generally translated as "holiness."


STIMULATION AND INSPIRATION

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Holiness means something that has been designated for a specific purpose, something which is special. This is why one of the components of a Jewish marriage ceremony is kiddushin, from the word kedusha, signifying that there is a special relationship here, and that this man and this woman have designated one another as spouse to the exclusion of all others.

Holiness means that there is something special in this world and thus it is the very opposite of the concept of randomness. The theory of random evolution seeks to exclude G-d from the creation of the world, claiming that this magnificent world in all of its perfection just came about randomly. But it's even more than that: it's a philosophy which says that life is meaningless. If life came about just by chance, if we are all here because of some big accident, then life is indeed meaningless and it makes no difference what we do, whether we are good or bad, whether we lead a good life or not. From the perspective of evolutionary theory, nothing we do matters because the whole world and our existence therein is simply an accident. This is the ultimate cynicism.

In contrast, Judaism teaches that life is special and significant. In fact, the recognition that human life is precious is the basis for morality: if there is no value to human life, what is the crime of harming another human being? Morality is founded on the principle that human life is sacred, and is not just an accident; human beings didn't just "happen"; they were created by G-d and they have a Godly soul which makes them special. This is kedusha, sanctity: recognizing that life is special, that what we do is special and that every human being is special; we are not here by accident.

According to Amalek's worldview, if human beings are indeed just an "accident," then there is nothing wrong with harming them. It's not coincidental that Haman was comfortable with genocide; when you believe life is a random accident and nothing is important, when you believe there is nothing special about human beings, it's not a far jump to genocide. But Judaism is about holiness, which means every human being is created in the image of G-d and, therefore, to harm another person is to trespass on the sacred property of the Divine.

G-D'S 'HAND', REVEALED OR HIDDEN, IS ALWAYS THERE
The great heroine of the Purim story is Queen Esther. The name Esther comes from the word "hiddenness," which the Talmud explains comes from the verse where G-d says "on that day I will hide My face." There are times in our history -- and in our own personal lives -- when G-d's presence is hidden; but although he is hidden, it doesn't mean He is not there.


Queen Esther came with the belief that G-d designed the world and imbued creation with a purpose, and that He is interested in what happens in the world at large and in our personal lives. He watches over human affairs, He guides the world and everything He does is ultimately for the good. Even though at times we go through difficulties and suffering and we can't see the bigger picture, we believe with perfect faith that He is there and guiding our destiny. Esther believed in Divine Providence, in a Godly purpose and a Divine plan, and therefore she stood up against Haman who believed in the randomness of things.

The message of the Book of Esther is that there is a Divine plan. G-d intervenes not only via open miracles such as the ten plagues and the splitting of the sea, but also via hidden miracles, guiding events behind the scenes. Queen Esther was appointed just in time to foil Haman's scheme; although it appeared "natural," it was not random. On Passover we celebrate the revealed hand of G-d, the open miracles; but Purim is about seeing G-d's hidden hand and recognizing that these miracles, although they are hidden, are no less important than the revealed miracles. They are all the work of G-d, who has a purpose and a plan for us.

This is why on Purim we celebrate like no other festival. It's a celebration of life itself, and the victory over Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish people and the epitome of cynicism. Our response to cynicism is inspiration and joy.

Judaism teaches us not to be cynical about life but to be inspired. We must not view life with cold emptiness; rather, we must view G-d's plan and design with passion and energy, living every moment like it is a precious gift because indeed it is. Purim is about seizing life and living it in accordance with His will and valuing what we do and who we are. How we live our lives is so important and so precious in G-d's eyes and when we realize that, it brings the ultimate joy: nothing is as joyful as knowing that our lives have purpose, meaning and eternal significance.


Previously:


Missing the Message
Prayer: Nagging the All Knowing to man's will?
Rosh HaShana: The Birth of Freedom
When economics becomes a disastrous utopian delusion
The Holistic Healer --- and doctors
In the army now . . . and always
Living with ideals --- in reality
Expansion Of Spirit
Laughter And Destiny
Truth Stands the Test of Time


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The author is the Chief Rabbi of South Africa and the author of "Defending the Human Spirit: Jewish Law's Vision for a Moral Society," which explores the Torah's legal system compared to Western law. In using real court cases he demonstrate the similarities and differences between Judaism's view of defending the vulnerable and Western legal practice.






© 2013, Rabbi Dr. Warren Goldstein

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