Purim’s Lesson on How to Defeat the Enemy: Keep Calm and Carry On
A year ago we put on masks for Purim and haven't taken them off. Don’t panic.
While Purim is normally one of the happiest days on our calendar, this year it will mark a sobering milestone. Purim will essentially mark a full year of living through a pandemic that has radically changed our lives. While we are beyond grateful for the progress with treatments and vaccinations, the return to some sense of normalcy doesn’t seem imminent.
In ordinary times, when we meet someone, we shake their hand.The history of thehandshakedates back to the 5th century BCE in Greece. Shaking someone’s hand showed you weren’t approaching with a weapon.It was a gesture to communicate that you came in peace, that you posed no threat.
During this pandemic, handshaking came to symbolize a simple threat. It’s now a year since we last shook hands, a year since we hugged anyone outside of our immediate family, a year of distancing from people we want to feel close to.
Who knew a year ago that when we put on a mask for Purim, we would still be wearing a mask a full year later?How can we not be anxious for this to finally end, frustrated by how long it has gone on, and concerned with how uncertain the future is?
Towards the ends of the Scroll of Esther, we are told that the days chosen to celebrate the holiday of Purim were selected because these were the days the Jewish people “rested from their enemies.”
Isn’t that a peculiar way of choosing a holiday? Shouldn’t it be designated based on when theydefeatedtheir enemy, were victorious over their enemy? Why because they found peace and rest from their enemy?
An answer lies in a closer look at how the Torah describes Amalek, the arch-enemy of the Jewish people, Haman’s forefathers. Amalek wanted to eliminate the Jews entirely.The nation’s methodology is not limited to physically attacking, overpowering, and destroying. Amalek is also satisfied with crushing our spirit, with breaking our faith.
The Torah tells us that the attack from Amalek was unexpected.The people weren’t prepared.Amalek came suddenly, from behind, and startled them. Amalek thrives by confusing their enemy, by evoking a sense of panic and hysteria in their opponent.When they create a paranoia, instill a fear and worry, when they deprive the Jewish people of a sense of tranquility and serenity, they have essentially accomplished their goal; they have won.
The exile of Persia in which the Purim story takes place is characterized by chaos, craziness, frenzy, and hysteria.
The exile of Persia in which the Purim story takes place is characterized by chaos, craziness, frenzy, and hysteria.When they come to get Haman to bring him to Esther’s party, the Megillah says“they scramble to bring him,” – they rush and come suddenly and hurriedly.The exile of Persia ischaracterized as confusion, panic. The power of Amalek is to take away one’s peace of mind, to be a disrupter.This was Haman’s goal. As the Book of Esther says, “Haman had plotted to destroy the Jews, and had castpur—that is, the lot—with intent to confuse, complicate, disrupt, destroy and exterminate them.”
There is an Amalek energy in each of us, a negative voice that says, “Panic! Be hysterical, have no peace of mind, be anxious, worried and deprived of happiness and calmness.”
We defeat the Amalek around us and the Amalek within us when we find the capacity to show faith, to stay calm, and to carry on with confidence. Says Rabbi Avraham Schorr, that is why the sages made the holiday of Purim not directly correspond with the physical defeat of Haman, but specifically when we rested, when we our serenity was restored and we found a way to be calm, to live with confidence, to have a peace of mind, to find faith, no matter what.
Panicking, becoming frantic, worrying about what is, what will be, stressing over things that we cannot control, is the influence of Amalek. It’s the voice of our enemy who seeks to deprive us of happiness, to rob us of serenity.It is not who we are and who we can be. We are Jews of deep faith. We believe in taking our initiative, making our effort, and then relying on our Creator.
As challenging as these times have been and remain, we should not forfeit our lives and our happiness in the very month in which we are told to be happier than ever, to have greater confidence and trust, to believe there is something so much bigger than ourselves and therefore to find the capacity to stay calm.
In 1939, in preparation for World War II and in an effort to raise the morale of the British public, the British government printed 2.5 million copies of a poster to be hung in all the major cities in England. It displayed a simple message that still resonates 70+ years later:Keep Calmand Carry On.
There is still so much we cannot control, so many variables we cannot predict.One of the few things we can regulate is our peace of mind.
As we come up on a year of wearing a mask, let us make an extra effort to be mindful of the impact of Amalek-type thinking on our lives, and pledge no matter what, to Keep Calm and Carry On.