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Should we close our shuls for Purim?

When Esther removed her mask, the Divine light shone forth. Now is the time to be a light unto the nations
Now more than ever, we need the blessing of the light (iStock)
Now more than ever, we need the blessing of the light (iStock)

We’ve been getting a lot of calls about Purim celebrations this year.

“Is the shul going to cancel Purim?” I’ve been asked. I mentioned it over the dinner table last night.

One of my daughters stood up indignantly, “You can’t just cancel Purim!”

But should we keep the observances to a bare minimum? Should we advise people to stay home? Maybe we should avoid exchanging Mishloach Manot gifts this year?

Parshat Tetzaveh opens up with “And you shall command the children of Israel, that they bring unto you pure olive oil beaten for the light, to raise a Ner Tamid (continuous light).” Our Sages ask: Concerning all the other items, God says that they are ‘For Me,’ such as, “Make Me a Sanctuary,” “Take for Me an offering.” Why for the Ner Tamid does He switch the focus from Himself to Moshe and the Israelites?

Rabbi Aba taught, “I have created light even in the midst of darkness. Do I need your light?” (Vayikra Rabbah 31:7) Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (Meshech Chochma) explains that the light was not for Hashem but it was for Moshe to ensure that he would enter the Sanctuary each day full of light. Light represents positivity, joy, and a spirit of optimism. A person’s mind is only clear when there is light. In order to perform the Divine service properly, Moshe required the appropriate conditions as he entered the Sanctuary. The light provided by the Ner Tamid illuminated his life and filled him with joy.

When King Solomon built the Temple, he constructed the windows in such a way that they would be narrow on the inside and wide on the outside. Regular houses draw in the light from outside and diffuse it inside. The light of the Ner Tamid emanates from its Divine source in the Temple out to the world, infusing every living creature with joy and renewed vigour to carry out our Divine mission.

The days and weeks ahead will be a challenge for humankind globally. In the midst of the crisis, we may be tempted to stay home and avoid the plague outside. But, now more than ever, we need the blessing of the light. The only remnant of the menorah in our synagogue sanctuaries is the Ner Tamid. When we enter the synagogue, we derive strength and light from the Divine light. Seeing the Ner Tamid serves as a constant reminder that Hashem is infusing our lives with His spirit. No matter the difficult times we are experiencing. He will carry us through and help us to remain positive and full of joy along the way.

It was hard for Esther to feel Hashem’s guiding light as she found herself surrounded by so much darkness in the palace of Ahasuerus. Her people were facing an existential threat and she felt incredibly torn. As an individual, she would be OK, because she had concealed (‘hester’) her identity.

But then she took a major risk. She decided that it was time to put her own security aside. She removed her mask and hoped for the best. But an amazing thing happened. The Divine light shone forth from her new-found confidence and the wicked decree was annulled.

This Purim, just like Esther, we must remove our proverbial masks. When others stay away, we must reveal our inner strength and let the light shine. We must draw joy and positivity from the ultimate light and become vehicles to spread that light to the entire world.

We can’t afford to stay away from our source of spirituality. We need to see that Ner Tamid and be comforted and infused with Divine energy. At the Kotel, they recently arranged a public prayer service to beseech God to have mercy upon all the Coronavirus victims around the world. Because the Divine light shines forth from His abode to bring strength and positivity to the world. And likewise, apart from those who are physically weak or at risk, we must proudly show up to shul this Purim (not to mention Shabbat Zachor).

And that’s our mission as the Jewish people. When others are hiding away, we must be prepared to do everything we can to help the victims. They will need medical attention. They will need assistance with meals. Grocery shopping. School runs for their children.

Of course we must do everything to take the necessary precautions to stay safe. At the same time, however, we must be bearers of the Ner Tamid. Hashem has given us a portion of His light to bring joy, positivity, and strength to the world, even during the darkest hour. The Ner Tamid, will fill our lives with light and joy this Purim, as the megillah states, “Layehudim hayta ora v’simcha v’sason v’yekar.”

About the Author
Rabbanit Batya Friedman is the senior rebbetzin of Hamsptead Garden Suburb Synagogue in London, UK. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Brooklyn College and her MBA from the University of Alberta. She previously served the community in Edmonton, AB Canada.
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