Purim 5784: Ad La Yada? This Year, Maybe Not

Posted on March 22, 2024 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck and Sarah Gluck

Purim is almost here, and we are supposed to be experiencing a rising tide of joy. We have broken out the groggers to read the megillah and blot out the name of Haman, whose evil plot to destroy our people was thwarted.

But this year, as 134 men, women and children are still held hostage in Gaza; as Israelis and Jews around the world are still grieving the slaughter of 1,200 innocent people on October 7; as Israel continues to wage an agonizing and traumatic war to prevent Hamas from surviving to carry out its genocidal intentions against our people; and as Israel’s war of self-defense — a just war — is exacting an excruciating toll on the civilian population of Gaza — with all this, it’s hard to get in the mood for Purim and find the joy and merriment.

And yet, here we are. It’s Purim, and frivolity and fun are what’s called for.

One of the questions that arises in the lead-up to Purim, as it does each year, is, how do we teach our children about the holiday? Of course, we need to teach them the story and its positive lessons of moral courage and Jewish survival, and we need to give them an experience of genuine unbridled festivity and joy.

But aren’t we also responsible for making them aware of the big picture, for good and for bad? And how do we do that without getting too heavy on them or frightening them?

One way is to leave out the hard parts. We generally don’t do a full reading of the Megillah, at least not in English. But this year that feels like a cop-out. A full reading reveals a brutal coda to the story when the Jews of Shushan take vengeance on their enemies and slaughter 75,000 souls. We also know that the vile hatred of Jews that was thwarted in Shushan continues to rear its ugly head and plague our people today. There was no miracle on October 7 and there is no guarantee that such horrific events won’t happen again. Even with a sovereign Jewish state, Jews remain a vulnerable people.

The early Zionists called the Purim parade in Tel Aviv Ad La Yada, “until you don’t know,” referring to the so-called “mitzvah” to drink until you can’t distinguish between “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman.” This year, no amount of royal wine can blot out the memory of Haman or Amalek and drown the pain and angst of this moment.

This year the dark side of Purim — the precariousness of our security and the price of securing justice — is so palpable and so stark that “observing” ad la yada feels morally reprehensible. Purim this year feels like a very sober experience.

When the world is constantly and horrifically hafuch, upside-down, when moral standards are topsy-turvy in the extreme, ad la yada feels like a betrayal of those who are suffering, of those who are victims of very real manifestations of Haman and Amalek.

So why not edit out the ugliness at the end of the Megillah? The late Bishop John Spong, in a book titled Sins of Scripture, insists that it’s our responsibility to confront — again and again, over and over — the dark chapters of the Bible, lest we become complacent about the same painful realities that exist in the world in our day.

The poet Yehuda Amichai warns about this very thing in a powerful poem called “From the Book of Esther I Filtered the Sediment”:

From the Book of Esther I filtered the sediment
of vulgar joy, and from the Book of Jeremiah
the howl of pain in the guts. And from
the Song of Songs, the endless
search for love. And from the Book of Genesis,
the dreams and Cain. And from Ecclesiastes,
the despair, and from the Book of Job: Job.
And with what was left, I pasted myself a new Bible.
Now I live censored and pasted and limited and in peace.

We don’t live in a neat, tidy, and sanitized world. Life isn’t like that. Whether reading the end of the Megillah or confronting the painful realities of terror, war, antisemitism, racism, and all forms of injustice, let us confront these ills with sober judgment and unwavering commitment to tikkun olam. As Mordechai says to Esther, “perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” (Esther 4:14)

Children deserve their innocence and should dress up and have fun — we owe them that — and we adults should also enjoy some frivolity — to a point. As we enter Purim 5784, let us hold both the pain and joy of life simultaneously. This is the lesson we must teach our children, truthfully but with a light touch. For when we acknowledge the bad and celebrate the good without numbing ourselves ad la yada, we can, in good conscience, make a toast — l’chaim, to life!

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck and Sarah Gluck