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Saturday, August 23, 2014

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The responsibility rests upon us all

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In the cartoon inset into this editorial, Dry Bones bids us to put on a happy face now that Purim is upon us once again. Although it is a colourfully depicted message, it is also a bit confusing, because it is the mask itself that conveys the sense of happiness, suggesting that the happiness, in fact, is only a mask. Indeed, it leads us to wonder what emotional state may lie beneath the mask? 

But we don’t need a mask to tell us to be happy on Purim. 

Purim tells us to be happy. 

Each year for more than two millennia, we have commemorated the story of Purim – Mordechai and Esther’s triumph over Haman – in the same, uncomplicated, straightforward manner. We listen to the story of their triumph. We celebrate. We send portions of food to our friends. And we aid the poor. 

The mask and the inevitably accompanying costumes are instruments of our celebration, much to the delight of our children and grandchildren. Our happiness is not an artifice. It is a deeply felt sigh. 

The experiences of Mordechai and Esther depict a time-travelling truth that has tested the lives of Jews – indeed of all human beings – ever since history was first recorded.

There is evil in the world. There are people intent primarily on harming others, on tearing down what others have built up, on lionizing death rather than sanctifying life. The fact that they have their own boosters and supporters who offer explanations and suggest “root causes” for the evil, or who champion the relative moral merit of the evildoers does not – cannot – deny the existence of the evil. 

As those very same millennia have taught us, the only response to the rise of evil is to resist it. The responsibility for doing so falls upon all of us, though it may be difficult, even terribly so.

This is the unambiguous message of Purim, of Mordechai and Esther’s example and of the collective triumph of the Jews of Persia.

So we put on our masks and celebrate, confident and hopeful that there is no force that will defeat a people entirely and wholeheartedly committed to resisting evil. 

Thus, to echo Dry Bones: be Happy. It’s Purim.

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