Tales of the Hasidim, Martin Buber
We leaned on the Doric columns of the portico of his grand manse. I had known Evan since 2008 when our children met in pre-school and then went to summer camp together. We had become friends over the years and they knew me only as Renee. Evan, who could barely contain his rage, asked the Rabbi to speak with him outside. There we stood silently against the column which we had both chosen; and I waited for him to speak. “Rabbi, I am so angry at God, that I cannot function normally. Kara knows what is wrong but no one else, not my parents, certainly not my kids, nor any of my friends know what I am going through.” Over the years, I had observed that there were times when Evan ran across the camp fields with ease, and other moments, where he could barely make it across the field, having to sit, his face etched with pain. He would make jokes about getting old and we would all laugh, except we all knew that it was not funny. “Rabbi, aren’t you supposed to read people, tell me my story?” “You own the story, you tell it and I will listen.” “Rabbi, I want to know if you see the truth.” I stared straight into Evan’s eyes and stated automatically, “you have some sort of degenerative immune disorder- perhaps MS- and rather than face your fears of the future, you are angry at God.” He slid down the column, as if a balloon in the center of his being had deflated. I slid down beside him. “You know? ” he questioned. “ I know.” “ It’s been more than ten years since my diagnosis and I am still angry at God, in fact this journey has shown me that God does not exist. I went to Temple a long time ago, but found nothing. I have searched for God’s presence in my kids, in my family but now believe that God is bullshit. God is nothing.” We continued the conversation and he was willing to listen as his anger disappeared.
God is never mentioned in the story of Purim. We are supposed to assume that the entire Megillah is one of chance, and coincidence; the exact opposite of what occurs in Torah, where God seems to regulate the ancient Biblical world with outstretched hands, turning our ancestors and their life situations, into puppet master and puppet.
From the outside looking in, Purim is about self-disguise- physically with masks and costumes, psychologically with frat party drinking to the point where one does not know the difference between Haman and Mordechai. Concealed in the bones of Megillat Esther, is a story about suppression and obscurity. The name of our heroine reveals part of this secret: Esther, from the Hebrew root STR means hidden. Esther hides her identity and masks herself to become Queen. Megillat Esther 2:20 “Esther did not reveal her origins,” except to her uncle/cousin Mordechai. Hiding by the palace gates one day, Mordechai overhears two of King Ahashveros’ henchmen planning to kill their liege. Mordechai reveals the secret and is written in the King’s book to thank at a later date. Esther prepares a beautiful meal for her Kingly spouse and the man who desires to kill all the Jews, the hated Haman. She exposes Haman for who he is and in taking off his mask assures his death and the death of his seven sons.
Revealing- concealing. Masks and the truth of a soul. God plays these games with us at different times of our lives. It is interesting to note that on the Jewish calendar, the polar opposite of Purim in time, is Yom HaKiPurim- a day like Purim- the Holy of Holies. Rather than wearing our masks we reveal our truest selves, and strip down to our naked core, seeing ourselves and our flaws in a true to life mirror.
After reading Megillat Esther, we see God’s fingerprints everywhere- in Vashti walking out the door, replaced by Esther a Jew, which brings her cousin/uncle Mordechai to Shushan to rescue the King from a plot on his life, where the King marches Mordechai around, making Haman angry enough to draw lots, deciding the day of the mass murder of the Jews, Esther prepares a meal for her husband and Haman, revealing the fact that she is a Jew, one of the people who Haman wants to kill, which leads to his own death and the death of his family. The Jews are saved- not by chance or luck- rather by a hidden God.
So does this mean that I feel that God controls my life? No. Does this mean that I believe that God knows who I am and recognizes my soul? No. So why do I still believe in God. Here are the seven reasons that compel me:
1) Seeing God’s hand in my life.
a. God does not have complete control over my actions and choices but there are times when coincidence turns my life around. I am meant to be at a certain place at a certain time and there are no ifs or buts about it. I get to the hospital to visit those who are healing at the same time; a former congregant arrives in an ambulance. My husband and I meet at a wedding of the couple that tried to get us together for three years. If we had not laid eyes on each other, we never would have chosen to meet.
2) Talk to God.
a. Many of us have cut off communication with God because we do not receive a spoken answer. If we did, we would be deemed crazy. I once had a congregant who, after shaving one day, saw the image of the State of Israel in his whiskers at the bottom of the sink. He brought in a picture to show me and within a week after the incident he felt that God was speaking to him through his facial hair. Within two weeks, he moved to Israel, leaving his wife behind. Did I understand his motive? No. Do I believe that God speaks though facial hair- who knows, but this man did and changed his life for the photo taken at the bottom of the sink? I understand talking to God as talking to myself about the importance of life. I do not hear voices in return; but I feel a sense of comfort to self-analyze where I am going and where I have been.
3) Find beauty in our world.
a. Detach from the all the I’s- i-phone, i-pad, i-pod, or whatever method you use to fill time and take a walk. Notice the beauty of the trees covered with snow. Look at those around you. Realize that they are all miracles not of your making. God is reflected in nature and in moments that we deem gifts. Find the beauty in your world.
a. Studying whatever you like increases your capacity to expand your mind. In that expansion, realize that the mind has the ability to morph and grow, and heal. Never stop learning and acknowledging that this ability is a gift from God. We cannot live without the brain functioning correctly. The fact that the brain knows what to do and has the ability to retain knowledge, and build upon that is a miracle.
a. We have all been gifted with certain skills and abilities. Part of the recognition of our gifts is the simplest: friends, family, and our ability to breathe and live and change our lives. When we hit rock bottom, most of us with the help of therapists, medication and support can help lift us to our feet once again. The most grateful people that I have met are the dying. Although some are angry, most see true blessing over the course of their lives, in what they have accomplished and whom they have loved.
6) The most difficult one of all- Trust
a. “I do not believe because I cannot see and there is no proof.” Ah, but you can feel. I equate God’s existence with the power of love or the wind. We can see how both work in our world; but we cannot truly see them. Living in a society based on proof- most of us have lost the ability to trust; but sometimes you just need to believe and trust. Every morning when I awake, I trust that there will be a day ahead. You may call this Mother Nature or the design of the earth. I call it God.
7) The one you can see- Tikkun olam (repair of the world)
a. We are not put on this earth to hide in our homes, focusing only on self. We are put on this earth to help others. When we perform acts of Tikkun Olam, we feel God’s presence in the world. Were some of the biggest souls in life- Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Jack Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr and our present Pope- born to serve God and others or for self-service? They went far beyond personal needs to make a true and lasting difference in our world; and unfortunately some were killed trying to accomplish their purpose because of hatred and ignorance. Yet, I am sure that every one of these heroes, did not see themselves as heroes but responsible for making positive change in the world. They were all people of strong faith and God served as their own personal rock. We are not all meant to change the world; but we are asked to take responsibility for our community and our many passions whether in politics, saving shelter animals, giving money and time to help sick children and adults. We are compelled to help and that obligation comes from somewhere outside of ourselves. Perhaps God.
God is present in our world whether we decide to see God or not. Perhaps, as in Megillat Esther, God seems to be hidden but reveals Godself after the fact. I am not asking you to believe, I am just providing some options of ways to be self aware and open to the possibility that there may be a God, who is there waiting for you to connect. As much as we reach up and around to find examples of God in our lives, God is reaching down, longing to connect.