On Purim: Beyond Wrong and Right

On Purim there is an obligation to get to a point of “not knowing” the difference between “blessed Mordecai” and “cursed Haman,” to no longer be able to distinguish between friend and foe, good and evil.

Why on Purim? The story of Purim itself has the opposite tone—it speaks with great clarity about enemies and friends, and good and evil, and highlights the power of acting on this moral clarity, as Mordecai and Esther do to great effect. The lead-up to the holiday—the reading of Parashat Zachor, with its eternal obligation to remember and eradicate the evil of Amalek—only adds to this mood of moral clarity.

So what is this “not knowing” business? We do know what is right and what is wrong and, if anything, the story seems to encourage us to act on it!

It is precisely in this place of great clarity that a seed of “not knowing” needs to be sown. Even when we are most certain—yes, precisely when we are most certain—we need a little humility about our “knowledge”; we need to be reminded that we are not gods, but human beings with limited and subjective vision and understanding. Too much certainty about who is good and who is bad is a dangerous thing in this world.

By moving outside of the frame of “good” and “bad,” Purim invites us to enter a space of non-judgment and non-blame, in reference to both ourselves and others. Some days, we spend so much energy worrying about who is right and who is wrong that we don’t really connect to anyone.

To let go of judgment is to allow for connection. When we judge, we create distance; when we let go of judgment, it no longer matters who is right—we are no longer focused on ideas of right and wrong, but on the very real person standing in front of us. As the Sufi poet Rumi writes, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” The field of non-judgment is indeed a meeting place, a place of connection.

And above all, Purim is the holiday of connection. We send mishloach manot ish lere’eihu¸ packages of food “one person to her fellow” and we eat and drink and hear the Megillah not alone, but joyously together.

In this political climate of deep divides, I, too, have been having great moral clarity about who is right and who is wrong, and I think we are in many ways obligated to act on those convictions. Nonetheless, I am looking forward to Purim, to taking the opportunity to let go of judgment for this one day, to learn a little humility and to remind myself to value love and connection over constant judgment.

[Please note: These ideas grew out of a discussion of ad delo yada in my Sefat Emet  study group.  Thank you to the participants for thinking with me.]

About the Author
Rachel Anisfeld holds a PhD in Jewish Studies and studies and teaches Torah in a variety of Atlanta adult education settings.
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