“If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; then I will give your rains in their season, and the land shall yield her produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” – Leviticus 26:3-4, JPS 1917 Tanach
“Do His will as if it were thy will. Nullify thy will before His will, that He may nullify the will of others before thy will.” – Pirkei Avos 2:4, traditional text
The parashas begins with a conditional set of blessings, dependent upon the observance of the commandments. By studying, contemplating, and resolving to bring these commandments into our daily lives, we will also be bestowed with the blessings of H’Shem. The “L-RD will give that which is good;” and our lives will be fruitful (Psalm 85:13, JPS 1917 Tanach).
The observance of the commandments is meant to lead us into a state of kedusha (holiness), so that our very lives may be sanctified through their performance. To serve Him (avodah) is the task of the “inner person,” wherein the battle is fought between the yetzer tov (good inclination) and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). We need to align ourselves with G-d’s will.
“The reward for a mitzvah (good deed) is another mitzvah” (Pirkei Avos 4:2). I.e., more opportunities to do good, will be given to us as we continue to observe the mitzvot (good deeds). These opportunities may require the use of our discernment, in tandem with the prevailing directives of our conscience. Through the negation of our will, which is often contrary to G-d’s will, we may mature according to His guidance in our lives.
To get from one place to another, walking a fine line along the way, is not only a task enacted by a tightrope walker. In fact, I imagine that I will not be the only one attempting a “balancing act” this Purim: balancing joy & sorrow, past & present, and religion & life. Perhaps, there is no need for me to explain, and you, dear reader, are already beginning to get an inkling of what I am about to say. Purim is quickly approaching; yet, my thoughts are preoccupied with a modern-day Purim story, wherein the archvillain is intent on destruction, despite the opposition.
Abraham Heschel advocated for a Judaism that is not wrapped up in its past glory, in spite of the prevailing circumstances of life. How can I celebrate Purim in a joyous manner, knowing that a real-life situation demands my attention, prayer, and support? To go along with Purim-as-usual would create a great disconnect between what is meant to be a living faith in touch with the challenges of life and the actual challenges that present themselves, despite the timing.
The war in Ukraine will not be put on hold for the celebration of Purim. This is the stark reality that many of the Jewish refugees who have managed to cross the border know. And the unfortunate ones, who for whatever reasons are still in Ukraine, sheltering in basements, or fighting to defend their country also know this all too well. The rejoicing in Shushan and the lands of Ahasuerus did not occur until after victory was procured for the Jewish people, who were previously threatened by the evil designs of Haman.
Today, rejoicing over this past victory will in all likelihood be diminished in light of the present reality. Whatever lessons we are able to glean from Purim, I would encourage that these be applied to our response to the events of today. Otherwise, as Heschel wrote, we risk ignoring “the crisis of today,” “because of the splendor of the past” (Heschel, G-d in Search of Man, ch.1).
“This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: he shall be brought unto the priest [kohein].” – Leviticus 14:2, JPS
In each case, whether a person’s home, clothing, or body is stricken with a nega (plague), he is brought to the kohein (priest). The kohein determines not only the status of the suspected negah; he also is qualified on a spiritual level to gain insight on the state of the person’s soul. This concept is in line with the understanding of tzarras as a spiritual malaise that manifests as a skin disease. Tzarras is one type of negah (plague), the other two in question, here, are those that show up on a person’s clothes or the walls of his home. In all cases, as already mentioned above, the kohein is the sole individual (no pun intended), who uses his discernment to ascertain the specific sin(s) that were the root cause of the blemish on a person’s soul, that manifested as a negah (literally, plague).
What can we learn from this connection? H’Shem is merciful; He is not interested in simply punishing us for our sins. Rather, He will send an early warning signal to serve as a “wake up call,” specifically designated for us, so that we may scrutinize our own selves, in search for our misdeeds, character defects, and deficiencies. At the current time, for the duration of the Corona Virus, we are very much like the metzorah, the Biblical leper who is sent outside of the camp, where he is in isolation, for the purpose of reviewing his thoughts, speech, and action, so that he may rectify his ways. Many of us have plenty of time to do the same, by searching our hearts, and carrying out what is referred to in Hebrew as heshbon hanefesh, literally, an accounting of the soul. H’Shem may very well be effecting a judgment upon the world for this very purpose. We should compel ourselves, in all sincerity, to use this time wisely.