Purim, Passover And Pandemic

Two of my favorite Jewish holidays are Purim and Passover, and it may not be for the reasons you think. I obviously like Purim since it’s generally all around fun, and while Passover is one of the tougher ones as far as length and observance, my reasons for liking them both as a comic probably differ from most.
I usually look forward to these holidays, as they are times when I get to work, doing a job I enjoy. Since Purim is not a holiday restricting things that a Sabbath or equivalent holiday do, music can be played, shows can be had, and I’m often hired to perform at various Purim events. This past year was no different. Purim night I had a show in Palm Beach Florida and the following morning flew to San Francisco where I had one in Palo Alto. It was tiring but I liked it and the shows went well.

As far as Passover goes, for those who aren’t familiar, the now famous “Passover Programs” at various hotels all over the world, often hire comedians to come in and perform during the holiday. I’ve been fortunate enough over the years to perform in Croatia, Italy, Ibiza, Mexico, and all over the Unites States. This year I’ll be in Florida, Arizona and the Bahamas. Trust me though; it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. It can be very tiring hitting all these spots day after day, and if you have an early morning flight, you better hope there’s someone in the kitchen who can throw you a banana and can of tuna to take with you on the flight otherwise it’s basically Yom Kippur because of the eating restrictions. I’m still thankful for that kind of stress though since I get to do something that’s imperative to all of us. I get to work and make a living.

This year, these two holidays jumped out to me not only because it was the first time in three years things finally are open, but I didn’t have much fear my jobs would be taken away from me. It also occurred to me just how poignant they are in relation to what we all went through as far as lockdowns.

Our Rabbis teach there are always lessons in the Bible that relate to us today. I never thought that these two holidays would relate to lockdowns, but I was sorely mistaken. As Purim rolled around, I was just worried about making it to my show on time. As it was at a Reform synagogue and I was told they would not be reading the whole Megilah, once my show ended, I raced to the Orthodox synagogue in town as I knew they would be reading it at various times throughout the night. Everything went fine, but between the Reform Rabbi doing an amazing job of discussing the story with his congregants, and me hearing the Megilah read in Hebrew, one thing jumped out at me. It was something I never really focused on, but it got me thinking. What was Haman’s job exactly?

We know he was the perfect bad guy, but what did he do exactly? He is said to be a chief advisor to the King, and obviously fills him with awful advice, but when you boil it down, he was exactly one thing, a government bureaucrat. With no hard evidence to back up his claims, or knowledge of the repercussions of what slaughtering countless people would do, he proposed policies, which he thought was best… for him. Not for the kingdom, but for him. When a subject of the kingdom wouldn’t listen to him in Mordechai, it infuriated him to the point where he proposed not only taking away rights, but killing people as well. Sound familiar?

“I’m a government bureaucrat! Do what I say or else!” While I’m not comparing modern day bureaucrats to Haman, the similarities are frightening. “Stay in your house! Don’t buy this! Don’t buy that! Don’t go to school! Don’t go to work or socialize with your fellow man! Getting the shot will keep you from getting Covid! I’m in the government! I know best!” All the evidence points to the fact that you don’t, and Purim only reminded me of it.

When it comes to Passover, it was the ninth plague that jumped out at me as far as a relation to the pandemic. I’m just finishing Mark Gerson’s book called The Telling and it is all about the Exodus. It has nothing to do with Covid, but his review of the plagues certainly drew similarities. It was pointed out, as many other scholars throughout history have, that the plagues increase in severity as they go along. On the surface this seems to be true until you get to number nine, darkness. Darkness? Really? That’s worse than boils on your skin, losing your crops, frogs in your house and on and on? Just short of death of the first-born, darkness is as severe a punishment as it gets. The Egyptians went through this plague for only three days yet it is considered one of the worst things they had to endure. It was a kind of darkness where you could barely move, which means you were robbed of your freedom. No socializing, no working, nothing. Sort of like a … how should I put it? Oh! I know!! A quarantine!! It was so awful to do to someone that God felt three days was enough. Not two weeks, let alone two years, but three days.
Robbing people of freedom, especially when it’s bureaucrats who are doing the robbing simply highlighted for me how much we have to learn from our holidays. It was awful to go through then, and it was awful to go through now. I’m hoping that the next time a bureaucrat tries to put us all into a forced darkness, we can show that government official to holidays that taught us that maybe the damage that does, isn’t worth it. Our ancestors knew it, and so should we.

About the Author
Avi Liberman is a stand-up comic who was born in Israel, raised in Texas and now lives in Los Angeles. Avi founded Comedy for Koby, a bi-annual tour of Israel featuring some of America's top stand-up comedians.