Posted on March 9, 2020 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
Our tradition teaches: “When Adar arrives, joy increases.” But this year, it is all too obvious that joy has become increasingly elusive with each passing day of Adar leading up to tonight’s celebration of Purim. Instead of joy, anxiety has increased as we have watched the spread of the coronavirus (thankfully, not significantly in New Jersey, as of now) and seen the toll it is taking, particularly among the sick and elderly.
I want to assure you that at TBE we are taking precautions and will continue to do so as this situation develops, as dictated by the public health authorities. As of now, there is no indication that there is reason to cancel events at the temple, though we understand that some of you may choose to avoid public gatherings based upon your personal circumstances. This includes anyone who feels sick or is exhibiting symptoms of cold or flu.
If you will not be physically present for our Purim celebration tonight at 7:00, please join us via the live stream.
And what are we to do about our emotional and spiritual response to this and other things that may endanger us? How can we fulfill the mitzvah to be joyful when our hearts are troubled and we are reasonably concerned about potential danger?
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks offers us sage advice. He writes:
There are two kinds of joy. There’s expressive joy, the joy you experience and communicate because that’s how you feel. But there’s also therapeutic joy, the joy you will yourself to feel in order to protect yourself against negative emotions. And when we rejoice on Purim, on this festival which is actually the festival about antisemitism, we are saying something very important. “We will not be intimidated. We will not be traumatized. We will not be defined by our enemies. We will live with the threats and even laugh at them because what we can laugh at, we cannot be held captive by.”
What is true of the fear caused by the rise of antisemitism is also true of the threat to public health caused by COVID-19. We need to respond by taking precautions and exercising common sense to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our community safe from harm. But we don’t need to succumb to fear and anxiety.
The renowned psychologist Victor Frankl developed a school of therapy based upon his personal experience in a Nazi concentration camp. While imprisoned, he practiced a mental discipline by which he refused to grant his persecutors control of his mind and spirit. Later, he would call this “the final freedom” – the ability to decide how you allow what is happening to you to affect you emotionally. This is the kind of choice I believe Rabbi Sacks is speaking of when he speaks of therapeutic joy.
The story of Purim is not simple. An unspeakable tragedy, the annihilation of our entire people, was so narrowly averted that, as Rabbi Sacks points out, joy seems less likely in its aftermath than relief and post-traumatic stress disorder. The joy of Purim, then, is not a spontaneous frivolity or mirth that arises from experiencing the blessings of life; it is the response of people determined not to allow even the direst of circumstances to vanquish our spirits and crush our faith.
So let us choose joy this day as we celebrate Purim. I hope you will join us in our sanctuary or online as we celebrate the miracle of our faith, our people, and our indomitable spirit that chooses life and love and hope.
Chag Purim sameach!
Rabbi Arnie Gluck