The rabbis of the Talmud sought to anchor Purim in the Biblical tradition, with varying degrees of success. But one of the most striking rabbinic comments appears in a surprising place: in Massechet Shabbat, we find a curious reference to the events on which Purim is based: “’The Jews confirmed and accepted’—on that occasion they confirmed what they had accepted long before.” What exactly, did the Jews living in the Persian exile accept?
This year, Tu b’Shvat, the New Year for Trees, falls only a few days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Here is a poem that encompasses both.
What does the mitzvah of Hanukkah teach us about Jewish survival in a world of declining nation-states? And why does the Gemara never even mention the historical circumstances of Hanukka—the military victory and the re-establishment of a Jewish state? It turns out that these two questions are bound up together in some surprising ways.
While other holidays are said to be times of joy as well, Sukkot is singled out in particular by the Torah (D’varim 16:15): “You shall be altogether/only joyful.” But can we ever be “only” joyful? Is there ever a time when we are completely without other emotional states? Is the Torah asking of us the impossible?
Teshuvah means it is never too late! We always have the option of stepping outside of time, of finding the one thread that needs to be pulled to change our course. We have an innate ability to bend time to our will. If ever there was a season to prove it, it is now!
What makes one decide to leave behind the comfort of familiar surroundings, one’s mother tongue, childhood friends and extended family… all to set up home in a faraway land? Each of us has our own story and our own reasons, but there are some things that we share. We’ve have built a thriving society out of the ashes of the worst that they could do to us, and whatever may come, we’re home.
Throughout most of Jewish history since rabbinic times, the vast majority of Jews have lived in foreign lands, barely a step from slavery or annihilation. The focus of the Haggadah reflected that reality. It is only in our day that we can retake the narrative and change its emphasis to living free in our own land. A new Haggadah does exactly that, by adding back into the text a crucial part that was left out during the Babylonian Exile.
One of the more perplexing aspects of the Exodus story is the repeated “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart. This phrase—together with another that is equally mysterious—is the key to understanding the true miracle of the Exodus.
While the Book of Esther bears all the literary marks of a fairy tale, the underlying themes are far from trivial. At what point does a ruler become unfit to rule? When is civil disobedience not only allowed, but imperative? Why continue to believe in social justice in a seemingly unjust universe?
Tisha b’Av is an intentionally triggered “national flashback”. Any survivor will tell you that the anniversary of a traumatic event is the time when one is most likely to relive it. Rather than trying to “get over it”, we allow ourselves to acknowledge the loss. We acknowledge that there are some things that we should not just “get over”.