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[KE CyberTorah] Upside Down

Upside Down

The world is a topsy turvy place.  Who would have thought that Ukraine, one of the most antisemitic places during the Holocaust, would have a Jewish president in 2022? And who would think that same President would have started his career as an actor playing a character who shockingly becomes President of Ukraine? Or that he would then become such an inspiring world leader? The world surprises us again and again. Surprises happen on the world stage and in our personal lives. We can think we are strong and healthy and then discover that our bodies are more vulnerable than we thought. Those physical limitations then require a new understanding of who we are as people. How can I still view myself as a strong person when I can’t lift up anything more than 15-20 pounds? The world turns us around with startling regularity.

We have made the story of Esther so central because her story shows a world turned upside down and around again. Out of nowhere, Haman takes it upon himself to wipe out the Jewish people. Esther, an unlikely hero too, ends up saving the Persian Jewish community. Haman is hung from the same tree on which he imagined hanging Mordecai. Security was turned to sorrow that was in turn reversed into joy. Ours is a world of changes.

Perhaps this is why drunkenness is a commandment of Purim. It is surprising that the Rabbis command us to get so drunk we cannot tell the difference between Haman and Mordecai.  Our drunkenness erases boundaries so that we are incapable of comprehending the difference between good and evil. Strangely, the inebriation enables a glimpse into a higher, more eternal world when we lose our attachment to the distinctions and patterns of the world as it is. We let go of our desire to be in control and that lets us see God behind everything. God is never mentioned in the story of Esther. This omission invites us to seek the Divine as we realize the God isn’t found in the topsy turvy of this world, but rather beyond all of what seems to be and to which we so easily get attached.

This is the hidden truth behind the teaching in Pirkei Avot that the Torah should be “turned upside down and round again for everything is in it.” While some see this to mean that Torah teaches biology and astrophysics, the true meaning is: Torah is the instruction book to help you make your way through the unpredictable world in which we live. Torah is with us when it goes well and guides us when it goes poorly. Torah is there to instruct and offer connection to the Eternal amid all the twists and turns of history and life. 

And so as Purim recedes this year, as we sober up and put away our costumes, let’s remember that the world as it is will always be full of challenges and surprises that we cannot control. At the same time, let us remember that God hides behind all those twists and turns and that we can find God, we can find something more true and lasting, that can help support us in all of that which is topsy turvy.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi David Booth

Tue, September 26 2023 11 Tishrei 5784