I am back after a few days of catching my breath after the 2 1/2 month marathon (relatively speaking). Apologies to anyone who thought I was leaving for good--never! Just returning to my old not-daily blogging schedule. Meanwhile, I've been practicing Esther ch. 4, 5 and 6 and attempting to fashion a somewhat dark and conceptual costume. We shall see if anyone actually understands it. Even if not, I will have the satisfaction of sartorially expressing some specific frustrations.
Last night at the wonderful class I've been taking about Purim, we studied an interpretation by 16th century Rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague (author of the golem tales, also stories about hiding and revealing). Esther, he wrote, cried out twice to God, but God did not respond. Then she exclaimed: "Eli, Eli, why have You abandoned me?" No answer after the first two occasions she could understand; maybe God was really busy. But by the third--surely "the order of the world had been altered." Something was not right. So Esther decided to take matters into her own hands, and put into motion the events that saved her fellow Jews.
Was God really gone? Maybe God knew that by standing back, an even better kind of redemption would happen than if had He done all the work. And could Esther have made her bold move if she wasn't masked? She was known by two names, Esther and Hadassah. Which persona was closer to her true heart? Did being hidden allow a part of her to shine that the "real," quotidian Esther could not reveal? We also discussed a passage from Talmud about evil:
Descendants of Haman learned Torah in Bene Berak...
--Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 57b
and a response by Rabbi Loew:
Know this: the evil ones, when they are exceedingly evil, they obtain superior strength, except they desire defilement, and the superior strength desires holiness. All superior strength is from God, and has a side of holiness, and in Haman's seed this force was found...
In other words, the seeds of goodness that came to life in generations of Torah scholars may well have had their origins in the strongest forces of evil. God fuels both kinds of energy. Within ourselves, which side do we allow to be passive, and which active? When we do not hear a response to our prayers and get frustrated with God--is that the good the or evil inclination? Or a bit of both?
I read these passages and remembered my confusion after 9/11. As soon as I discovered, a few years earlier, that I believed in God, I became so intoxicated by the idea that I refused to imagine a God who was not completely good. I rationalized that bad things happened elsewhere, in other lives, because of a vague "absence of God"--even though I also believed in no such thing. I waited for a sensible explanation to appear, and in the meantime enjoyed my naiveté. But when evil visited my own back yard, I could no longer reconcile this position. Like Esther, at first I felt lonely, abandoned--God was gone. Then, after awhile, I remembered that God was the creator of both good and bad. It seemed God was trying to push us in the direction of the good, but ultimately the road we followed was our own choice.
On this Purim I hope we can all struggle in good humor with the conundrum, and (with the help of laughter, fattening desserts, and maybe a little alcohol) shake out of our systems a need to follow the bad--for now, at least.