The joy of Purim is slowly dissipating and the arduous task of preparing for Pesach has descended upon us. Though only four weeks separate the two holidays, philosophically they seem to be polar opposites and convey diametrically differing views of religious life. Purim commemorates the God of secrecy who relates to mankind in a hidden and secretive manner. Even the holy name of God is excluded from the Book of Esther. Like a Hollywood script, His intervention is woven into the dramatic tale of romance, guile, deception and goriness. Pesach (Passover), on the other hand, relies heavily on God’s proactive directions. The ten plagues, the splitting of the Red Sea, and of course the revelation at Sinai, all highlight His participatory intervention on behalf of his people. Sadly, the presence of a deity limits the cinematographic creativity in Charlton Heston’s films.
This dichotomy would not be an issue except for the fact we are expected to emulate God. Thus the dilemma presents itself, how are we to behave? Which characteristic of God are we to emulate? Recently, I read an emotional article found on http://www.aish.com/jw/s/The-Orthodox-Community-I-Know.html articulating how a Jewish community responded to a family’s need. It caused me to focus on the Jewish communities that impacted greatly upon my life.
I often mention that when I was much younger, my family was on the receiving end of charity. My mother of blessed memory was terminally ill and in dire need of nurses around the clock. The costs were beyond prohibitive and we had little recourse and no expectations. To our shock and amazement, each morning I would open the front door and envelopes full of cash would be waiting. (It was akin to the manna coming down from heaven.) Month after month the envelopes continued to arrive without a corresponding name, address or phone number. The donors invisibility meant there was no one I was able to thank, but more so, no one that I had to be embarrassed to meet. I was reliving the Purim miracle daily; the hidden Jew emulating the hidden nature of God, intervening on behalf of his extended family, but expecting nothing in return. The donors would receive no gratitude or acknowledgement, only the silent inner satisfaction associated with saving another person from hardship. My family was not the exception, we were the rule. Throughout my life I have seen Jewish communities across the globe behave in exactly the same manner. The Haman’s of the world often malign our people as money hungry, usury driven, and selfish. Yet, the reality of my life paints an entirely different picture.
As always, there are two sides to the coin. What is often meaningful and correct in one situation fails miserably in another. I once met with the CEO of Westfield Holdings, one of the largest owners of shopping centers around the world, founded by Holocaust survivor, Frank Lowy (now in the capable hands of his children). He told me that for many years the family gave millions of dollars to charity but never wanted any recognition. Yet a few years ago they did an about face after realizing their humility was counterproductive to the charities they wished to support. Their consultants showed them that charity giving by their peers increased dramatically when the Lowy family’s support was publicized.
At the onset of the Seder we say, “all who are hungry, we invite to join with us.” Even though it is generally preferable to provide for the needs of others quietly, Passover night is different. On this night we emulate the revealing character of God; we understand that our visitors’ privacy, dignity, and respect, may be outweighed by the joining together with a family and the ability to celebrate with joy. Several years ago my wife decided to invite an elderly Russian woman to our Seder (perhaps she was Crimean, sorry Mr. Putin). It was trying for my children because she spoke very poor English; however we were lucky to organize an interpreter who helped us understand her. She told us in broken Yiddish how she vividly remembered the last Seder she attended in 1922, and how her father went into the attic to get the Pesach dishes. All through the evening a permanent smile was painted on her face as she relaxed and joined in with our family. She was reliving her past and reviving a part of her life that for almost 80 years was relegated only to her dreams.
Despite public education’s unwillingness to teach creation, it still stands as a basis of the Torah and our belief system. However, the God of creation is vastly different than the God of the Ten Commandments. Creation was done in secret, without recognition, whereas the First commandment describes the God who brought us out of Egypt. Which Godly characteristic should be emulated? Like everything else in life; it depends!
Rabbi Jack Engel
PS: Do you believe in coincidence? In the Megillah, the Book of Esther, King Achashverosh, opens his book of records and remembers a good deed performed by Mordechai. Though years have passed without recognition ultimately his due reward is received. Fast forward almost 2500 and we hear a similar story of 24 American heroes. Their bravery and heroism were finally recognized and honored when President Obama awarded two dozen Medals of Honor to 24 Army veterans — mostly Jewish, Hispanic or African-American — who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Tuesday’s ceremony follows a congressional-mandated review to ensure that eligible recipients were not bypassed due to prejudice. Interesting!
Thought for the day – What is your opinion on outreach to Jews who have broken their ties with Judaism? Did you know that Amalek the eternal arch enemy of the Jewish people was the great grandchild of Issac and Rebecca? Casting aside and banishing family can have dire consequences, often lasting an eternity