What’s this next Jewish holiday about? It’s what they’re all about: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.
The upcoming holiday of Purim has an even stronger message of resilience, though. In fact, we begin to anticipate it, practicing our capacity for joy in the face of tragedy and resilience despite historical trauma, as soon as we enter the Hebrew month in which it falls, Adar. Linking this topsy-turvy Adar holiday of a failed plot to destroy the Jewish people to the actual destruction of the Jerusalem Temple marked during the month of Av, the rabbis taught:
Just like as soon as Av has entered, we decrease in happiness, so too as soon as Adar has entered, we increase in joy (simcha). (Babylonian Talmud Taanit 29a)
כשם שמשנכנס אב ממעטין בשמחה כך משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה
Why increase in joy as the days until the reliving of an experience of attempted genocide decrease? What’s joyful about gathering the whole clan together, elders to infants, and saying, Let us in great detail recall the story of a jealous and powerful enemy, an ordinary man with too much power, who tried to facilitate our mass murder at the hands of our neighbors.
Brene Brown considers joy the “most terrifying” human emotional experience. In our scarcity-mentality culture, we’re fearful that any joy will be immediately ripped from our lives. Perhaps this is a Jewish impulse, too — after all, many of us have the habit of quickly adding keynahara, a Yiddish phrase that attempts to stave off the “Evil Eye,” the force that seeks to erase and reverse our fortune and joy. Joy makes us vulnerable; it exposes what matters to us, what’s precious to us. “When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability,” Brown argues, “joy becomes foreboding.”
“We’re trying to dress rehearse tragedy so that we can beat vulnerability to the punch,” Brown wisely notes.
Well, the Jewish people have been dress rehearsing (and experiencing) tragedy for generations upon generations. Why do we celebrate holidays, like Purim, that relive and dramatize — quite literally, with costumes and pageants — our near-annihilation? How can we do so when certain politicians accuse our people of causing any number of disasters around the globe? How…