These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Purim 5784

Posted on March 22, 2024 by Elaine Hochberg

Hello, I am Elaine Hochberg a proud supporter and Board Member of Pardes. Though I cannot be with you in person, I want you to know how delighted I am that you are learning and keeping our traditions alive and vibrant through your connection with Pardes.

And what better time is there to take joy in our tradition than at Purim, the quintessential festive holiday that commemorates Jewish survival in the face of existential threat. It is especially painful to think of this threat in light of all that has occurred since October, and yet the lessons of Purim point the way to resolution and the continued vibrancy of the Jewish people.

In the Purim story, threats abound. Yet the Purim story teaches us that those threats can be overcome when the Jewish people come together and work in a concerted way, united in belief and trust in the G-d, even though G-d seems hidden.

Mordechai and Esther, the primary protagonists in the Purim story, lead the way. They transform the danger and fear facing the Jews of Persia through a combination of deliberate, thoughtful strategic maneuvers and sincere religious actions that together ensure Jewish survival and, more importantly, restore the people’s relationship with G-d.

Esther in particular shows that reconnecting to G-d is essential in a time of trouble. Three days of fasting is what she puts before the people as a preamble to additional action. Our sages suggest that the fasts were really days of prayer, and it is this idea of prayer that I find the most intriguing.

I have learned that Maimonides in the Mishnah Torah, suggests that Purim is a holiday for prayer and that the Baal Shem Tov further links the Purim story to prayer through his derivation of the Talmudic principle that on Purim “all who extend their hand receive”. The Baal Shem Tov explains that extending ones hand to G-d is prayer, and that receiving is G-D’s answer.

So on Purim, amidst all the frivolity and tomfoolery, prayer is the true way to connect with G-d who, though unseen, remains the guiding hand in all existence.

And this is where you and Pardes play such an important role in the continuity of our people, especially on Purim. By choosing to invigorate our tradition through your learning and your work, you, emulating Queen Esther, will lead others to maintain their connection with our tradition keeping their prayers and connection to G-d alive. As the Purim story teaches, this is the way to ensure our future and the betterment of all humankind. This is serious work, and you and Pardes are fit for the task.

So thank you. I wish you well in your studies and future endeavors, and most of all I wish you a Purim Sameach.