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This Week's Kavanot/Reflections
Writing Your Own Megillah: A Purim Drash
by Steph Breitsman
The story of Esther is one of garments and hidden truths. Queen Esther withholds her identity as a Jewish woman from her husband, King Ahashverosh, and she uses her royal attire to win his favor and support. The Zohar teaches us that Torah, too, is clothed in a garment: “Fools of the world look only at that garment, the story of Torah. Those who know more do not look at that garment, but rather at the body beneath that garment” (The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, vol. 8, p. 520.)
For the past few months, I’ve been studying sofrut (scribal arts) and writing my very own Megillat Esther. Many people have a distant relationship to the physical Torah and rarely come into direct contact with a scroll. Scribal training has been my attempt to remedy this — to build greater personal intimacy with the physical body of Torah. It’s been a chance to see beneath the garment, beneath the velvet covering and beyond the story.
In this scroll, I can see my anxiety, my rushed writing, my tentative and rough erasures, and I can see the places where I am starting to flow. I’ve learned that the Torah scroll is sacred, but it is not foreign. It is not other than us in the way that divinity can sometimes feel. It is of us. The scroll, the body of Torah, comes into the world through the work of our own hands. It sheds light on the truth of our imperfections, but also of our capacity for artistry, beauty and great care.
Rav Zeira Lets Loose: Purim Torah
by Rabbi Seth Goldstein
A famous Talmud teaching relates that it is obligatory to become intoxicated on Purim to the extent one cannot tell the difference between “Blessed be Mordecai” and “Cursed be Haman,” which, if you don’t know Hebrew, you have a 50-50 chance of mixing up anyway.
However, the Talmud goes on to share a story about how the sage Rabbah, in fulfillment of this commandment, murdered his friend Rabbi Zeira. The next day while nursing a hangover, he realized what he had done, prayed to God for mercy and revived his friend. The next year, Rabbah invited Rabbi Zeira over again, and he wisely declined the invitation, (snarkily) saying, “Miracles don’t happen all the time.” (Megillah 7b)
The lesson seems to be that while we should have fun and let loose a bit on Purim in order to embrace the tumultuous nature of the world, we also must be careful that we don’t overdo it.
But to fully understand this story we must ask, who was Rabbi Zeira? The Talmud relates that Rabbi Zeira would destroy his friends’ golems for fun (Sanhedrin 65b), got kids to take his tests for him (Menahot 29b), would sit outside the study hall just so he could suck up to Torah scholars (Berakhot 28a) and would passive aggressively get all up in people’s faces to get them to apologize to him for some perceived slight (Yoma 87a).
This puts the story in greater perspective. For while yes we should have fun on Purim — and yes, we should be mindful of excess — sometimes literally ghosting the jerks in our lives by killing and resurrecting them is a good way to get rid of them.