Purim: When Laughter is More Healing than Chicken Soup

Last night as I sat in temple and watched a parade of different costume-clad people read and chant in a variety of unique, creative and humorous way from the Megillat Esther, I realized an important reason why on Purim we are supposed to in some way blur the difference between evil Haman and the good Mordechai in the story. My husband had just asked me on the way to the holiday service, why people drink alcohol on Purim, and I had explained that it was for just that reason, but he wanted a deeper explanation. I’d given him one that was too philosophical for both our tastes, but by the end of the service, I had one that related directly to life and to my own belief system.

(If you don’t know the history behind the holiday of Purim, Google it and you’ll find a good synopsis. Basically, Haman wanted to kill the Jews. Mordechai, a Jew, tells Queen Esther, also a Jew, to tell the King, who doesn’t know he married a Jew. She does. The Jews are saved. On Purim, Jews dress up in costumes to remember the “hidden” aspects of this story and they read aloud the historical account.)

Every day we struggle with the evil in our lives. We may see evil as yucky neighbors, debt, a terrible boss, an abusive spouse, ill health, loneliness, war, politicians, bills we can’t pay… Each of us has our own Haman — or Hamans. What happens, however, as the line blurs between evil and good, between Haman and Mordechai? We can no longer tell what is good and what is evil. If we can’t tell, then it could be either good or evil, right? However, what we realize is that it all comes from one Source. As we read in Devarim (4:35), “Ein ode milvado.” Which means, “There is nothing but God.” It’s all God. Haman and Mordechai, good and evil. All God.

We are taught in Kabbalah that nothing is a coincidence. So, it was no coincidence that Esther ended up in that palace as queen at that particular time. It was no coincidence that previously her uncle Mordechai had overheard a plot to kill the king and had told Esther, so the kings life had been saved. It was no coincidence that all these things led up to the events that we now celebrate on Purim — Esther’s saving of the Jewish people.

Kabbalah also teaches us that at this time, goodness is concealed. It’s masked just like the masks we wear on Purim. Everything we go through in our lives, including our experience of what we call evil, leads us to spiritual transformation. Thus, evil shows up in our lives for a reason. Haman knocks at the door not by coincidence but on purpose.

What should we do when we open the door and find him there instead of Mordechai? Laugh. That’s when the transformation occurs. That’s when the line between good and evil begins to blur, and we realize there is no good and no evil. There is only God. And then we can laugh with joy.

I sat in the sanctuary laughing for two hours last night as the megillah was read. I saw friends in hilarious costumes cracking jokes and offering sacrilegious commentaries on the text. I sang funny songs. I heard Hebrew chanting done to melodies from to old peace songs. And we yelled and booed at Haman and cheered for Mordechai and even acknowledged the Esther and Vashti when there names were read. We had fun. We laughed and laughed and laughed. And as we laughed, it became hard for me to see the difference between my personal Hamans and my Mordechais. My worries about money disappeared, and I felt abundant. The tension between my husband and I dissipated for that amount of time, and I enjoyed his presence next to me and his shoulder pressing against mine. The stress I have felt about work left my body and my mind, and I felt peace and joy come over me in its place. The laughter was more healing than any bowl of chicken soup could ever be.

And maybe that’s the important reason why we dress up in costumes and do silly things on Purim. The story of Esther commemorates a time when things looked dire for the Jews, but it turned out just fine. Often our lives look dire in one way or another. When we celebrate Purim with vast amounts of joy and laughter, we realize that things can be fine. In fact, they are more than fine in that moment. In that moment, they are joyous. We are joyous. All the evil is transformed into good, and we get to feel the wondrous healing that brings into our lives.

No wonder so many rabbis and sages have spoken about the importance of Purim. God’s hand in the story may be hidden. It may seem like a story about man’s hand in events, but it’s really both. And by taking hold of our ability to act — to choose to be happy and joyous — we allow ourselves to experience transformation and to connect with the concealed part of what goes on in our own lives — God.

So, give me a bowl of laughter over chicken soup any day of the week.

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