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Upside-Down World

May 9, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Events in the Jewish world can sometimes only be explained while standing on your head.

We've just celebrated Purim, a holiday where nothing is as it seems, where the surface hides deep profundities, where the world seems turned upside-down and twisted inside-out. It's a world of venahafoch hu, a world where the Almighty's presence is concealed. His hand operates behind the scenes, pulling the strings of the puppets on stage, waiting for us, pleading with us, praying for us, to pull back the curtain and reveal His full glory.

But until we do, it's a world of opposites, contradictions and paradoxes.

On Purim, it's a custom to wear a costume. My husband and I dressed as "greasers," with unlit cigarettes hanging from our mouths. The flak I got stunned me.

"How could you do that? What will I tell my children?" (How about, "It's not lit!")

"It's not befitting a rebbetzin." (That's okay, I though you had to be a lot older and grayer and at least have a few grandchildren to be a real rebbetzin anyway!)

Where was the sense of humor? C'mon guys, it's Purim!

I don't support smoking, but it seems to me there are more important battles to fight.

It also seems to me there are a few more important battles to fight. I don't support smoking, but I wanted to ask all my detractors what they were doing to stop assimilation, the skyrocketing divorce rate, adultery...

Maybe their energy and outrage was just a little misplaced. Maybe it's venahafoch hu -- a world where you get serious fines for littering or not recycling (not to mention the scorn of your contemporaries), but where unborn fetuses are "disposed of" by the millions every year. It's a world where the politician who screams loudly about family values is then caught with a prostitute in a Las Vegas hotel.

It's a world where the Almighty's presence is depressingly dim, where holiness is submerged under layers of drugs, profanity and HBO.


When I read the news from Israel every day, when I nervously boot up my computer, I say to myself: It's venahafoch hu. When Arabs dance in the street over the death of a year-old baby, it's an upside-down world. When families dressed for Shabbos, holding tight to our traditions and values, are blown up outside a synagogue, it's an upside-down world.

When the silence of Jerusalem is pierced by bomb blasts, when snipers kill 10 Jews in a moment, when 15-year-olds can't have a birthday party at a pizzeria, or a Russian immigrant can't have a Bat Mitzvah, when innocence is destroyed, it's an upside-down world. It's a concealment of all that is moral and good and Godly. It's venahafoch hu.

When 15-year-olds can't have a birthday party at a pizzeria, it's an upside-down world.

When a U.S. senator says that the United States won't go to war over "New Yorkers who want cheap housing," it's a turned about world. (I had never looked at the West Bank and aliyah that way. There's certainly cheaper and bigger housing available in hundreds of cities across America, even in the valley surrounding Los Angeles.)

When Israeli civilians are murdered, and a picture of sorrowful Palestinian children graces the front page (their rocks and guns carefully concealed behind their backs), it's a turned-about world.

And when children in Palestinian schools are taught math by deducting the number of Jews killed, and to have your child die as a suicide bomber is a mother's dream, it's a turned-about world.

And when none of your friends "gets it," when no one understands, when they don't appreciate how small Israel is (only 9 miles wide at its largest point), how vulnerable Israel is (22 hostile Arab nations on all sides), how we have been constantly fighting for our land, our people, when you feel like banging your head against the wall, and crying and crying... we take comfort in the lesson of Purim, where evil is vanquished and goodness prevails.

Yes, our world is turned inside-out and upside-down. It's a world of confusion and insanity. But we can do something. We can emulate our ancestors. We can cry out to the Almighty. And we have to mean it. "We can't take it any more, God. We need Your help!"

And we have to peel away the layers to bring the Almighty's presence into the world. To move from darkness to light. Each act of kindness, each world of prayer, each minute of Torah learning, each donation to charity. All this slowly tilts the world upright on its axis again. From the axis of evil to the axis of good.

We must begin now, today, to build a better world for ourselves and our children. We have no choice. Sanity is slipping away and there's no time to lose.

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