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Vayikra   5784 | Rabbi David Wolkenfeld

03/25/2024 10:39:42 AM


Kol Nidrei of Purim

אור זרוע לצדיק ולישרי לב שמחה

“A light is sown for the righteous and joy for the noble hearted”

With the agreement of God and of the community, in the heavenly council, and in the council of people, we give leave to pray with the transgressors among us.

Six months ago we gathered in this room on the cusp of Yom HaKippurim. We were dressed in white. The Torah scrolls were brought out of the ark to the center of the room. The Shaliach Tzibbur, the emissary of the congregation was flanked by an ersatz beit din. And he began to softly intone the words:

אור זרוע לצדיק ולישרי לב שמחה

“A light is sown for the righteous and joy for the noble hearted”

And then we all softly recited the words of Kol Nidrei, freeing ourselves from the unrealistic expectations that we might impose upon ourselves “from this Yom HaKippurim until the next Yom HaKippurim” or that we might have imposed upon ourselves “from the past Yom HaKippurim until this Yom HaKippurim.”

This past week Rabbanit Esti Rosenberg, the founder and Rosh Yeshiva of the Women’s Beit Midrash in Migdal Oz gathered her students in the study hall and recited a Kol Nidrei for Purim this year. The Zohar links Purim and Yom HaKippurim by noting that Yom HaKippurim can be read as the day that is “like Purim” “k’purim.”

But that is not why she recited this declaration. Purim will be our first holiday since the start of the war and many are struggling with the question of how we will sing and dance and rejoice when every Jewish heart is filled with so much grief and worry and mourning. And so, she felt the need for a formal ceremony to explain the context for the Purim celebrations

על דעת המקום ועל דעת הקהל אנו מתירין לשמוח, מתירין לפורים להיות ולנכוח, להיכנס בשערים, ... וכל פצועי ושבויי, חטופי ונופלי, פגועי וחיילי מיום הפורים שעבר ועד יום הפורים הזה מתייצבים מולי ואני מבקשת מהם שיתירו לי התרה בחסד, התרה ברחמים, התרה ומחויבות

With the consent of G-d and with the consent of the congregation, we are permitted to rejoice,  Purim is permitted to enter and to be, to enter through the gates…And all the wounded and the captives, the kidnapped and the fallen, the injured and the soldiers, from last Purim until this Purim, they stand before me and I ask them, to grant me permission with loving-kindness, with mercy, permission and obligation.

I ask permission– permission to rejoice, even permission to laugh; permission to no longer distinguish between “cursed be Haman” and “blessed be Mordechai”; permission to give thanks with a broken heart; permission to come before the Royal Throne dressed in sackcloth and ashes, and to cry out a great and bitter cry, to hear the music and cleanse the heart as if there were no war in the world at all.

Permission from the fallen, from the widows and the orphans, permission from the bereaved parents, the brothers and sisters, the brothers and sisters-in-law. Permission from the wounded and the kidnapped, from the families in Hostages Square, and from the worried heart. 

Permission from the displaced of Kiryat Shmona and the survivors of Kibbutz Be’eri and Kibbutz Nir Oz, from the residents of the Gaza envelope and from those under bombs in the North. Permission from the tired soldiers,..., from the chayalot of the Intelligence unit. Permission to give strength and to be strengthened, to pray for miracles and wonders in these days at this time, permission to simply be together in joy, permission to gather and dance, even if you don't join me, and even if the song and the laughter doesn’t always fit.

Rabbanit Esti then pivots to the language of Hatarat Nedarim, the annulment of vows that many of us recite before a beit din on Erev Rosh Hashanah and concludes with a declaration about her own intentions:

הריני מוסרת מודעה לפניכן שכל ריקודינו יהיו לטובה, לתפילה, לזעקה, לגעגוע לגילוי שכינה, לישועה ולנחמה

I hereby declare before you that all our dancing will be for good, will serve as a prayer, for crying out, and an expression for the longing for the revelation of the Divine Presence, for salvation and for comfort.

This reworded Kol Nidrei and Hatarat Nedarim evokes the words and the mood of Kol Nidrei but the content and context is very different. The power of Kol Nidrei emerges from the setting sun on the eve of Yom Kippur with all of the awesome potential of that day. But the words themselves are anticlimactic. What exactly are vows and oaths that I made, inadvertently during the past year or that I might make in the year to come? I rarely have anything in mind. The grandeur of Kol Nidrei derives from the day itself and not the words. In contrast, the words of the Purim Kol Nidrei are immediately relevant. We know right away precisely what grief and what fear stands between me and a joyful Purim. 

These wartime months have been among the most trying and tragic of my lifetime and the tragic news continues unabated month after month after month.

Just last week IDF soldiers operating in Gaza found video evidence that Daniel Perez, a tank soldier, had died in combat on October 7th.  His body has still not been recovered and so, as soon as the video evidence was verified, a funeral was held and a small fragment of a blood stain from the tank in which Daniel served was buried. His parents and siblings, including a sister who attended Camp Stone with my children,  get up from shivah tomorrow. We need permission to rejoice while others mourn.

On Friday I saw a picture that took my breath away. It was taken this past week in Kiryat Shemoneh, the city near Israel’s northern border that has been evacuated since October out of fear of Hezbollah missiles and a possible invasion. The title of the photograph is “Purim in Kiryat Shemoneh.” The photograph shows a sukkah, left empty since October. We need permission to rejoice while others are frozen in time.

I was asked recently by a reporter from the Washington Post how I felt about celebrating Purim at a time of war and fear and instability. I don’t fully remember what I told him - perhaps I can read about it in the paper tomorrow - but what I tried to convey to him is that, in some ways, Purim this year is the most authentic Purim in years.

The religious message of Purim is that all people live, perpetually, under a sword of Damocles, there is no escaping our vulnerability. The happy ending of the story leaves us, in the words of the Talmud, as “servants, still, of Ahashverosh” and always susceptible to the next whim of our wicked or foolish monarch. 

On Purim we celebrate the fact that, this time, things turned out well for the Jews. Mordechai and Esther were in the right place at the right time. Mordechai had the wisdom to understand the need for action. Esther had the courage to risk her life on behalf of her people, and Harbonah saw the shift in the mood of the king and aligned himself with us. 

But we know that things don’t always work out that conveniently. The king can always have another capricious change of mood. There is always another Haman waiting in the wings for the chance to seize power. Sometimes Harbonah sees the shift in the wind and joins our adversaries. 

There are political developments that can offer some protection. Democratic self-government and human-rights limits the danger of Ahashverosh. International cooperation can limit the danger of a Haman. Strong institutions and alliances with others can keep Harbonah a little closer. 

But all of these tactics, valuable as each one might be, cannot remove vulnerability from what it means to be Jewish because vulnerability is an inescapable part of what it means to be human. On Purim, we pause to celebrate an occasion in which it all turned out OK, and we offer our gratitude because it all turned out OK. But then we have to continue our lives, continue our Avodat Hashem, our service of God, our life of Torah and mitzvot, without the certainty that it will all be OK, but with the certainty that it might not be OK. And, indeed, right now, things are not OK.

And so I want to encourage us all to learn how to celebrate despite anxiety, and how to rejoice despite grief. The megilah is a rich and complicated story and as you hear the words read tonight and tomorrow, I hope you will marvel at the unlikely turn of events that enabled us to survive Haman’s plot. All of us are alive today because of generations of our ancestors who navigated circumstances no less dangerous and survived.

As the Jews of Shushan headed Esther’s call to gather together, we too can gather together on Purim in solidarity with one another and in a spirit of love for one another. Our Mishloach Manot, our Matanot l’Evyonim, and our Festive Meals should be abundant and joyful. I’ve heard wonderful things about the shul’s Purim Shpiel and the entire congregation is encouraged to attend the performance, whether or not you have a family member who is performing. 

Laughter on Purim is not frivolous but is profound. It is the laughter of recognizing that all is in God’s hands and we express our gratitude as an act of faith. 

In 1940, Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira, the Piasechner Rebbe, spoke about the connection between Purim and Yom HaKipurim, the day that is “like Purim.” In 1940, the Piasechner Rebbe was already imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Torah that he taught in the ghetto was buried in a milk can, discovered after the war, and published with the title Esh Kodesh. 

“Just as we fast and turn towards introspection and teshuvah on Yom HaKippurim, he writes,  “whether or not we feel in the mood, but because the Torah commands us to do so, on Purim we rejoice and celebrate and give thanks, not because we necessarily feel like it, but because we are commanded to do so.” He continues, “just as the power of Yom HaKippurim can bring atonement and forgiveness, whether or not we deserve it and whether or not our teshuvah is complete and whole-hearted, so too can the power of Purim bring some measure of transcendence and redemption even if our rejoicing is not full hearted this year.”

This passage, shared more than eighty years ago, under impossibly hard circumstances, offers something distinct from the idea that Rabbanit Esti Rosenberg presented. Rabbanit Esti Rosenberg’s “Purim Kol Nidrei” frees us temporarily from the self-imposed obligations of grief and fear. She declared, invoking the presence of the orphans and bereaved parents, that her dancing and singing would not be in spite of their mourning, but would be a determined and resilient rejoicing in the face of those most severely impacted by the war. Her words are meant to grant us permission to rejoice and to sing and to dance this Purim, or at least to watch our children do so with full hearts. 

But what about those of us who just cannot bring ourselves to rejoice this year? The Piasachner adds, for those who cannot rejoice this year, and I think no Jew can rejoice with a full heart this Purim, that the redemptive power of Purim is inherent in the day itself and available for us even if we cannot escape our sadness or fear. 

I hope that we are all able to find moments of joy, or open ourselves up to the joy that others are experiencing. And I know that some of us will be unable to rejoice, and many will be unable to experience joy as we have in past years. Purim will nonetheless serve as a spiritual reboot for the months ahead and our “spring holiday season” no less than Yom Kippur shapes our year. And in that spirit I wish you, what I wish for all of Klal Yisrael,  a Shabbat Shalom and a Purim Same’ah.


Mon, July 22 2024 16 Tammuz 5784