As the Jewish holiday of Purim approaches, we may find ourselves musing about who we will be this year on our annual day of costumes, carnivals, spoofs and silliness. In our synagogues, we will read from Megillat Esther or tell its story through some modern lens. We’ll eat hamentaschen and deliver shalach manot. Whatever our practice, Purim tends to bring some light-hearted balance to what can sometimes seem like an overabundance of seriousness in our everyday world. Such levity brings laughter; the lightness is fun.
And yet, there is a depth to Purim that we may not typically tap into. There is a meaning to this upcoming holiday that invites us to pay attention to our internal worlds. Purim encourages us to make friends with our own “inner Esther.” Whether we are female or male, there is an Esther in each one of us. What I mean by this is, like Esther in the Bible, each of us carries inside us an unopened kernel of courage, currently inchoate but determined to emerge.
I am not suggesting that we don’t live courageously already. Many of us live with great courage, embracing each day with our hearts wide open, sharing generously, risking failure, speaking out for what we believe in, our lives in rhythm and respectful connection with our loved ones, our community, the Divine Presence, the created world as well as our deepest selves. Many of us exhibit extraordinary courage despite, or perhaps because of, the significant challenges we may find ourselves faced with — living with illness, financial uncertainty, losses that touch us in a variety of forms.
Nonetheless, consider the possibility that no matter how much courage we currently call upon daily, there is always more to call forward. Consider the possibility that courage is available to us without shortage, but rather, in ever-growing abundance, whenever we pledge to its emergence, when we commit to give courage content and form. Courage does not mean that we are fearless. Courage means that we open our hearts and act in ways that affirm life, healing and wholeness even when we are afraid. Life asks that we grow in courage. Courage is the means by which we grow.
On Purim, we celebrate the courage of Queen Esther. Living a life of wealth and privilege with King Ahasueros in the royal Shushan palace, Esther could have remained silent when Jewish lives were in jeopardy due to Haman’s evil scheming and Ahasueros’ ignorant complicity. Esther was a Jew but arrived in the palace accustomed to “passing” — no one but Mordechai knew of her Jewish identity. Esther risked everything to reveal herself to the king. In so doing, she rescued the Jewish people through an act of great courage.
On Purim, we don masks and costumes and allow ourselves to be silly. We make all sorts of noise to drown out the name of wicked Haman. Some drink liquor to drown out the awareness of the evil and devastation that generations of Hamans have plotted and, too often, perpetrated on the Jewish people. Purim provides us with a momentary pause from our various springtime preparations and plantings.
Tu B’Shevat is now behind us. The sky stays lighter each evening and hints emerge everywhere of new life yet to arrive. As we begin our annual spring cleanings, Pesach comes into view on the calendar’s horizon. The season of spring, in all of its fresh color and brilliance is about to arrive.
Each spring, we celebrate new life and sacred beginnings. Spring is the season of Jewish identity. Like our Israelite ancestors who long ago went forth from Egypt to freedom in order to enter into Covenant with God at Mount Sinai, we are invited once again to nourish and renew our connections with God and the Jewish people.
The Jewish calendar invites us on a gradual climb to the spring season’s high points of Pesach and Shavuot. To make this journey, we are invited to get to know our own inner Esther. She represents our deep wellsprings of courage. She stands for our untapped abilities to act with great compassion, boldness and love.
Our world is hurting badly. The world needs each of us to call forward our own inner Esther. We can act with increased courage. We can grow the courage that flows through our daily lives.
Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Spring is the season of Jewish identity and acts of courage. There is an Esther in each one of us. This is her season. Spring is Esther’s time.