Saturday, February 27, 2010

Purim 2010: Ashtor and Mardoch

Another year and another moment when I sit in disbelief; when I can’t believe that once again my people, the intelligent ones, are going to make another b’racha l’vatalah. A b’racha before reading the Megilla as though it were the stamp of the “notorion” a notary public, authenticating the love story of Ashtor and Mardoch and their people. Actually the whole thing is charming, a plot to perpetuate a fictitious story as though it really happened. The big lie. Said often enough, by enough people, it becomes part of the national history and psyche of its people. And of course we authenticate it not by a notary’s stamp but by fasting, a seudat mitzvah and of course mishloach manot. There is so much ritual draped over the event itself that attention is focused on everything but the story. The rabbis were so neurotic about the details of when to fast, ther proper means of reading the megilla and how mishloach manot are to be delivered that attention was diverted from the story. If anyone were to really pay any critical attention to the story one would realize that it is but the imagination of a very repressed people still recovering from a terrible national blow impacting on its collective psyche to the point where it had to create fiction – an escape.

Deep down our sages realized this. They were definitely troubled by the plot, because it didn’t do justice to the Jews. We, after all needed to take the high ground, yet we stooped to the level of our tormentors. Contrast Vashti to Ashtor. Vashti told the king where to go when he wanted her to become the sexual object of his whims. Ashtor on the other hand became the sexual object of his whims and because of it she saved the Jews from a horrible fate. Our rabbis not happy with this depiction of Ashtor turned her into “karka olam” – a passive object of the king’s sexual whims. Ashtor, according to the rabbis never enjoyed the sex. She was a passive partner, allowing the king in just long enough to get the Jews out - of trouble. Great theater!!

And that is what it was supposed to be – great theater; revealing the inner most emotional turmoil of our people as a reaction to a national catastrophe. The whole thing was probably contrived as wishful thinking, understandably. However, we Jews, still recovering from one national disaster and then moving into another, lost our sense of humor and began believing the story as though it were apocryphal. And it picked up steam. Once the (Pharisees) rabbis got a shot at it they went to town. They buried it in volumes of halachot and managed to beat as much joy out of the carnival spirit that they could.

So one couldn’t celebrate Purim as a national carnival without of course fasting, fulfilling the mitzvah of a ridiculous “seudat mitzvah” and hearing the megillah, with a b’racha – and not once, but twice. On the other hand, thank god for the rabbis, because without them institutionalizing this holiday by encrusting it in halachot it might have disappeared from our calendar. Does anyone have any lingering doubts as to why we are so neurotic?