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Thou Shalt Be Joyful!

In the leadup to Purim, the Mishna (Taanit 4:6) says “When Adar begins, we increase in joy.” The difficulty though is obvious. However, the question arises as to why an entire month is dedicated to joy when the Purim events occurred over a few days, and if joy is the appropriate emotion to feel when remembering a threat of genocide.

The answer? What we celebrate throughout the month of Adar is not a normal mundane joy. Rather, it is therapeutic joy. Purim is a holiday that exists in our historical memory as a result of a traumatic event. We, who live after the Holocaust, know the reality of this trauma. But on Purim, the Final Solution was averted, and we celebrate, counterintuitively, by defeating fear with joy, and terror with collective celebration.

Through festive meals, invitations to guests, charity, and gifts, we surround ourselves with the single most effective antidote to fear: joy in life itself. We make a rumbustious noise not only to blot out the memory of Amalek but to make a joke out of the whole episode. We wear masks and drink a little too much. Precisely because the threat was so serious, we refuse to be serious, and in that refusal, we deny our enemies a victory and declare that we will not be intimidated. Humor is the Jewish way of defeating hate. What you can laugh at, you cannot be held captive by.

The joy, merrymaking, food, drink, and whole carnival atmosphere of Purim allows us to live with the risks of being a Jew in the past and tragically in the present without being terrified, traumatized, or afraid. This is the most counter-intuitive response to terror, and the most effective.

As Jews, we must fight against anti-Semitism, the demonization of Israel, and the intimidation of Jewish students on campus. But we must never let ourselves be daunted. The people that can know the full darkness of history and yet rejoice are a people whose spirit no power on earth can ever break.

Purim Sameach!


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