Thursday, January 1, 2009

1:8:23: Sunrise

I have a secret preference for the major post-Biblical holidays:  Purim, Chanukah, and Tisha b’Av – these are the holidays that most touch my heart.  The Biblical festivals were declared by Hashem, but the post-Biblical holiday have a special connection with us because they have human (very human) fingerprints on them. 

And today is a happy day as well because in the secular Gregorian calendar, it is New Year’s Day.  In my mind, this is a day for hearing Strauss-family waltzes, watching the Rose parade (how improbable at this time of year – ah Pasadena), and watching really good football games (part of a glut of games making up for all those college games we lost on Saturdays in Fall). 

And 2009 brings new promise with it as well – in the United States we are about to have a new President – and we are both hopeful and anxious about what his administration will bring. 

What a happy time this is – so optimistic, to celebrate one of our most fun and joyous festivals, Purim, through study-seder of Sefer Ha-Bloggadah.  (As an aside, I’d like to recommend Adele Berlin’s commentary on the Book of Esther in the JPS Commentary series – it is accessible and compelling and a nice scholarly take on the book of Esther, in which she convincingly argues for a comedic reading of Esther.)

This portion of the Sefer ha-Aggada deals with particularly nasty slander by Haman against the Jews to Ahasuerus.  He takes particular delight in denouncing the Jewish festivals.  But there is a response: 

"Beside, 'their laws are diverse from those of every people' [Esther 3:8]--they do not eat with us, drink with us, or intermarry with us. 'Neither keep they the king's laws' [ibid.]--they spend the entire year dawdling and lolling about. They say, 'It is the Sabbath, it is a festival,' and thus get out of doing the king's work." Haman then proceeded to reckon the Jewish festivals: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks, Feast of Tabernacles, New Year's Day, and the Fast of Atonement. At that, the Holy One said to Haman, "Villain, you would cast an evil eye on their festivals? I will cause you to fall down before them, and to celebrate your downfall they will add still another festival."

Let us remember, when we are in the darkness, that darkness is the seed of sunrise, and that through the wisdom of the Aibishter (the One above), our darkest moments lead to our happiest festivals.

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