Progressively Speaking: This Purim giving charity has become more poignant

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Progressively Speaking: This Purim giving charity has become more poignant

 Rabbi Rebecca Birk takes a topical issue and offers a Progressive response

The festival of Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar
The festival of Purim is celebrated on the 15th of Adar

Isn’t it interesting and rather poignant that last Purim we gathered without fully understanding the virus in our midst? 

Purim, a relatively minor festival, impacted us profoundly.

This past year has been full of loss and suffering for so many.  Some more than others, as we know from our communities.

Covid has been brutal to health capacity, but also to livelihoods and so many had careers, work and income damaged. That has meant real suffering in many homes.

But Purim 2020 also reminded us of the custom of mishloach manot (sending gifts) and matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor) and these permeated the Jewish year way beyond the festival. 

We have spent the past 12 months ensuring we send gifts to those who need both food and cheering. We have had to be far more responsive to those who have struggled. 

Possibly for the first time, some have had to rely on food banks and gifts, when they have hitherto never needed charity. 

So many of our synagogues have become hubs for food banks; our community letters have reminded since last Purim that if we are able to give we should. 

Looking ahead to Passover when we say at the seder, “Let all who are hungry come and eat” will take on a new meaning, as it has already through these months. Gifts and food for those who need have become a necessity rather than an option.

Famously, the Book of Esther excludes the name of God. But even more so, the word Esther contains the root of the word meaning “to hide oneself”.

Talmudic rabbis play with this, and suggest Esther is from Hester Panim – the hidden face of God – as alluded to in Deuteronomy 31.18, when God insists: “I’ll hide my face”. 

It has been a dark year, but there is light ahead, starting with Purim and then Passover. The Megillah ends with Mordechai “seeking goodness and speaking of peace to his descendants”. We hope for a new ease and peacefulness. 

As we navigate these two holidays so anticipated, may this be a blessing for us all, our communities and our country.

 Rabbi Rebecca Birk is co-chair of the Conference of Liberal Rabbis and Cantors

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