It goes without saying that this has been quite a year. A year that stopped the momentum of our lives fast in its tracks, causing us to either take our lives in new directions or patiently wait until we could once again continue as we did before.
This has also been a year of deep and serious separation between people, both physical and ideological, in a way we have not known in our generation. The retreat into the confines of our homes due to COVID-19 has put our social lives on hold and has challenged us to keep up community life from a distance. Virtual reality has taken on a whole new meaning as our schools, offices, gatherings and events have taken place via digital platforms such as Zoom. We could still see each other through our screens of various sizes, but we have been lacking that very human need of physical closeness, of conversations over tea or coffee, of reassuring arms around our shoulders, of comforting hugs, of visiting one another without worry inside our homes.
On top of this, we were hit this past year with unprecedented division in the sphere of politics, especially American politics, as the already existing polarization between Democrats and Republicans became even more severe around the election and its results. People became ever more deeply entrenched in their affirmations of support for or disgust with Trump.
And so Purim comes at the perfect time, like medicine for a sick world, like an outstretched arm offering to take us out of our individual and insular realities and reacquaint us with the idea of the community we once knew.
The lowest part of the Purim story is when Haman describes the Jews as “a people scattered and dispersed”. This disunity and distance between one another, physically and ideologically, allowed our enemy to rise against us. It was only when Esther instructed Mordechai to “assemble all the Jews”, reminding them of their true essence as one unified nation, that the tide began to shift and the process of salvation was thrust into gear.
To highlight this essential message of Purim, the Sages implemented the custom of mishloach manot (gifts of food) and matanot l’evyonim (money for the poor) as part of the celebration of Purim, since they knew that strong community and unity amongst Jews was not only something that healed and saved the Jews in Persia thousands of years ago, it has been the secret to our survival and success in every generation since.
So this year, instead of saying, “But I haven’t seen so-and-so all year, I’m not going to send him/her mishloach manot” or “this year’s different, I’m not really in the mood for so many mishloach manot “, dive deep into this beautiful custom and let its secret power do its magic, clearing the cobwebs off of relationships put on hold, on communities frozen by COVID-19 since last Purim, and awaken us to our need for each other in our lives, despite, and even in spite of, our distances and our differences. Let our eyes open to the myriad more qualities that we hold in common and to our shared visions for joyous lives and a better world.