Purim and Finding the Silver Lining


         

Purim and Finding the Silver Lining

 
 
 
 

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Finding Faith and Trust in the Masks of Purim

By Nina Amir

My strongest memories of Purim come to me in the form of costumes – me wearing my mother's long, gauzy blue robe and a long beaded necklace to Sunday School as I pretended to be Queen Esther, rows of children in the sanctuary of the synagogue to which I now belong all outfitted in last year's Halloween ensembles, and my former rabbi on the bima portraying some character in the Purim schpeel while sporting cowboy boots and hat and red silky gym shorts that revealed his skinny, white legs.

In fact, I've always been struck by this holiday's emphasis on wearing any and all costumes. I have always understood the symbolism of costumes and masks as they relate to the theme of Esther's hidden religious identity, but these days I am more intrigued by two other aspects of this story's theme: the hidden reasons why things happen in our lives and the hidden hand of God in the events we experience.

The old adage says: Everything happens for a reason. I believe that whole heartedly. I also believe the popular saying, "Every cloud has a silver lining." Yet, I admit that often I find it difficult in the moment to see a solid reason for bad things that happen to me or others I know. When enmeshed in a particularly difficult situation, the silver lining may need to be highly polished before I notice its sheen.

When Esther was chosen as the Queen of Shushan, she and her uncle Mordechai had no way to know that her position would provide the only means by which the Jewish people would be saved from death. When the king's men came to her uncle's house in search of beautiful women for the king to consider for marriage, she made a conscious choice to hide her identity and to use her Persian name, Esther, rather than her Hebrew name, Hadassah. This act alone might have made the difference between Hadassah being sent home to Mordechai or Esther landing a prominent place in the king's palace from which she later could plead with her husband to save her people from the fate Haman had planned for them. Yet, she could have never known that this would be the case when those royal servants knocked on her uncle's door to take her away. Nor could Mordechai have known that reporting the plot to kill the king would subsequently save his neck from the noose that would hang Haman.

It isn't often that we see such a direct correlation between events in our own lives and some greater Divine plan. Despite the 20-20 vision provided by elapsed time, usually we find it difficult to look backward and see that we couldn't have gotten to the place where we now stand without the things that have happened to us – both good and bad – along the way.

Thus, we are left to trust that everything happens for a reason, that all will turn out all right. That's a tall order sometimes, such as when a husband dies unexpectedly and leaves three children to raise without a father or when we find ourselves unable to pay the bills or when our efforts to move ourselves closer to our goals are constantly met with obstacles. Trust doesn't come so easily when our situation looks dire. Yet, at times like these we can only trust. We can only have faith that the cloud above us will soon show its silver lining.

At times like these, the religiously faithful have an easier time coping, I think. They more easily – maybe habitually – trust that God has a "plan" for them. When we aren't in the habit of thinking this way, we have to force ourselves into a place of trust, make ourselves conscious of the faith we might have but not often feel. I, myself, struggle with this concept. I get so caught up in what is happening to me or around me that I forget my faith. I lose my trust. Plus, while my understanding of Judaism and my own belief system do not preclude some sort of predestination, I know we influence the course of our lives through our own choices. In other words, we have free will.

While I definitely see God's hand in the Purim story, I also see Esther and Mordechai making choices that affect outcomes. For example, Esther chooses to be courageous and to ask the king if she can see him rather than waiting to be called into his presence. And, she chooses not to tell him immediately why she wants to do so and instead hides her true intentions until the right moment. These were her choices to make given the circumstances in which she found herself. Yet, the fact that she was in a position to make those choices at all seems predestined.

We work in concert with God. God creates the musical score and we choose the instrument upon which to play it. Then we play the notes as best we can. We decide if we will follow the musical notations to the letter or be creative in our interpretation. We constantly co-create with God. God provides the general plan for our lives and we make choices that get us to the end goal or to certain junctures faster or slower, with more or less obstacles along the way.

Purim revolves around the idea that God's hand is at play on the physical plane and in our lives. In good times, we may not be so aware of this interplay with the Divine. It becomes an issue that we grapple with most often when faced with difficult life situations. At these times, I often feel I'm asked to be part of a trust exercise – like falling backwards and trusting that someone will catch me. I sometimes call this a faith exercise – one where I simply must have faith in God and in God's plan for me. I must have faith that faith alone will bring upon me some sort of grace, an act of God, that will provide a resolution or show me the reason behind the events or situations in which I find myself.

Recently I've felt caught in a faith exercise. Money has been tight, and my car needed a new transmission, the bills have been mounting, taxes are due, my credit card debt is larger than ever before, a tree fell in a storm adding in the expense of repairing my husband's and my house sitter's cars, the kids need new clothes, my father-in-law has lung cancer, my dog had to be euthanized when she suddenly contracted liver cancer. "Where is the silver lining to these things that cloud my days and my moods?" I've wondered.

My friend advised, "You need to just have faith that it will all turn out okay. Stop worrying about your mounting debt, and just keep moving forward trusting that the money will come." I knew she was right, but at the time it still felt difficult to get to this place of faith and trust.

While thinking about the hidden elements of the Purim story, I remembered that to me faith means not letting these "negative" situations cloud my days or my judgment or my ability to make choices. If I truly have faith that God's hand acts in my life on some level, then nothing that happens to me is "negative" per se. Instead, it is Divinely orchestrated. If I truly have faith that God's hand acts in my life, then I must trust that a reason exists for what is happening to me and that I will come out the other end of the situation better for it.

When I remember all of this, I can't put on a gloomy face every day. I can't spend my time bemoaning my situation. Instead, I put on a particular type of mask -- a "happy mask." Or, depending upon the situation, I may need to put on an "I feel loved and loving" or "I am abundant and prosperous" mask to help me create not only a different feeling but a different outcome to my situation. I like the "All is well" mask, which affirms that everything is happening for a reason; therefore, it will all turn out all right. Rebbe Nachman of Bratslov taught, "If you don't feel happy, pretend to be." In other words, put on a happy mask. Fake it 'till you make it.

Nachman also taught that thoughts, feelings and words possess a creative power. "You are where your thoughts are. Make sure your thoughts are where you want to be," he said. Whereas before we were asked to put on a mask, in this case we are asked to take off the mask that hides our true identity, our true nature. Hidden underneath our "human costume" we are, in fact, powerful creators in our own right, creators made in the image of the Creator. We have the ability to make choices that affect our lives and our outcomes. We can use thought, words, actions, and feeling, as Rebbe Nachman suggests, to propel us forward and to manifest what we want and need. To do so, however, we must take off the costume, unmask ourselves, show up as the creative spirits that we are.

So, the best thing I can do in difficult situations is to invoke my co-creative ability. I can move forward trusting that things will be okay. I can make choices and take action with the faith that the outcomes will be positive or that no matter what the outcome, it will take me down the path to the ultimate goal – whatever that may be. Maybe this is true faith -- allowing yourself to make choices but trusting that if they are the wrong ones, God will help put you back on course. Maybe faith is like free falling and trusting that God will catch you.

We always have a choice about how we deal with the situations we encounter. We can get pulled down into despair or rise up with the faith that everything, indeed, happens for a reason and that everything works out for the best. Purim provides a wonderful opportunity for us to see how this principle works in our lives and to develop or reaffirm our faith and trust in God. We also can assure ourselves that if Esther could be in the right place at the right time, if God influenced the events of her life so she could fulfill her destiny, the same can happen to us. And just as she made choices that helped her carry out God's plan, we too can make those types of choices.

As I watch the children and adults in costume at this year's Purim services and celebrations, I will look underneath those costumes, underneath those masks, underneath what is happening in the moment. I will see co-creation happening. I will look for the face of God in the children's faces, in the sunset, in the words of prayers, in my life. And I will trust and have faith that all is well, all is working out as it was meant to be. There is a plan – even if that plan remains masked for the time being.


Nina Amir, an acclaimed journalist, an often-requested motivational speaker and a Kabbalistic conscious creation coach, focuses her work on teaching people to live their lives fully, manifest their dreams, transform empty religious rituals into meaning-full and spirit-full practices, and create sacred space. She currently is writing Setting a Place for God, A Woman's Guide to Creating Sacred Space and Inviting the Divine to Dwell Within It and teaching teleclasses and workshops related to this book.

You can contact her by visiting www.purespiritcreations.com.

~~~~~~~

from the Febuary 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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