Purim And The Joy Of WTF

The thing is, we have no idea. At least I don’t.

No one told me post-grad life would be this weird. Maybe someone did but I certainly wasn’t listening because I was too busy worrying about it. Maybe someone tried, but I was too busy trying to figure out why college life was so freaking weird too. So maybe life is just really freaking weird. That must be it.

Yesterday I texted “Yes! I’m in!” to a friend-of-a-friend who will soon be my roommate. I have a place to live. I mean, I wasn’t that worried in the first place. Somehow Israel has taken my Generalized Anxiety under its wing and danced with it, twirling it so fast that it has limited capacity to panic. Ha’kol yistader – it will all get sorted out. But it’s still a relief to know that ha’kol kvar histader – it’s all already been sorted out.

I sent my passport in the mail to the Jewish Agency in Chicago, and I approved the awkward Hebrew transliterations of Elizabeth Michelle, Debra Robin, and Gabriel Murray for my Israeli ID card, and I got my free flight ticket in my email. I am All Set. I am Living the Dream.

I have a job, and it is exactly everything I could have wanted. I am using my writing and communication skills, advocating for gender equality and religious pluralism, and learning from badass Jewish women who intimidate and inspire me beyond words. In my interview, the founder and executive director bantered back-and-forth about the times they were arrested for civil disobedience and I felt like this is where I am Supposed to Be and also why the hell am I here?! But somehow, I am here.

I have friends and love and I am Doing the Thing I have been talking about since at least middle school. I am ascending – Aliyah.

So of course I am happy. Because I know what’s next. But I want to be happy in spite of that.

Because it’s expectedly easy to rejoice in certainty. But I would like to believe that, instead of being happy because of all these gifts and opportunities, that they have come my way through attraction to my joy. This is not to say that all one needs to do is be happy and believe “Hashem will provide,” or that those still waiting on their fortune are merely lacking in faith. But I would like to think that my joy is a Purim kind of joy.

Purim joy seems to me to be not about the triumph of victory, but in spite of its absence. Miracles happened, in their way. We fought, and we won, and Haman dangled from the gallows. But I’m skeptical of this happy ending. First of all, while we won our battles and killed hundreds of thousands of our enemies in Shushan, things pretty much went back to normal. The Megillah ends with quotidian details – Achashverosh decrees taxes, and Mordechai has a decent approval rating from “most of his brethren.” Esther is still stuck married to a corrupt king, sacrificing her personal fulfillment for her position. And for the Zionists, it must be noted, we are still stuck in diasporic Persia. So it’s not exactly “happily ever after.”

And even if you say we “won,” it was on someone else’s terms. A military victory is already a concession to diaspora, defined as a state of incompletion, of stagnancy. We have to play the game to survive, and it’s good that we did.  It’s good to stay alive. But let’s not call it a complete victory. Let’s call it relief, but not redemption in and of itself. And that’s the point.

Purim is about the joy of partial victories. “In Adar, we increase in joy” is an instruction rather than a description, a charge rather than a statement of fact. Because we must not wait on joy.

This is why I’m a chasid: because there is so much more to the world, and to our stories, than what we see. Because, in the words of Thich Nhat Han, “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

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And so on Purim, we dance because we are directed to live as if, and only then will true redemption come, once we believe it already has, even when we have no proof to show for it. Because only in the chaos of normalcy can we meet G0d in truthful joy and joyful truth, when we are neither here nor there.

My favorite verse in TaNaKh used to be the part in Megillat Esther (4:14) where Mordechai challenges Esther to live up to her destiny and advocate on behalf of her people to the powerful Achashverosh, because “who knows if for a moment like this you came to royalty?” This moment is still one of my favorite turning points in our tradition, a bold charge to fulfill one’s purpose; except now I see it slightly differently. Instead of reading it as a statement of the gravity of a given moment, I now read it as a testament to the very unpredictable nature of each hour. Perhaps it was “for a moment like this,” and then again, maybe not. And that’s exactly the point.

“‘Who knows?’ Mordechai tells Esther, throwing into question the whole enterprise of looking backward and forward in time. Mordechai implies that none of us can know whether any particular moment of our lives is the reason we were created. Was my first marriage part of a larger providential plan to bring me to Israel, where I might meet the man with whom I’d share my life? Or was the purpose of remarrying so that I might someday have children who would have unique destinies of their own? Who knows? The point of Mordechai’s question is not that every moment has larger – perhaps even cosmic – significance, but that we can never know for sure which moment does.”
-Ilana Kurshan, If All the Seas Were Ink (76-77)

Where I used to read the thrust of the verse as the “if for this moment you came to royalty” part, I now feel more drawn to the initial clause: “who knows?”

We dance in the non-rhythm of “WTF?!”, to the cadence of not-knowing. We sing our doubts and keep moving anyways. What else are we to do?

We give knowledge a lot of credit, at least I do. I stare gleefully at my Bachelor’s degree and update my CV and take unflattering pride in being right about the smallest things. But Purim hits me in the face and reminds me that the foundation of wisdom is remembering we don’t have a freaking clue.

We gotta try. And we gotta dance. And we sometimes need to draw symbols on our foreheads to remember we are crazy. To make sure we shake off the illusion of certainty, we get drunk to the point of not knowing, beyond distinction between good and evil. Because we never knew in the first place, but we thought we did. In a reversal of Notorious B.I.G’s “if ya don’t know, now ya know,” Purim turns us upside down to show us the true order, or our inability to grasp it.

And so this is exactly the joy I need to increase, the kind that transcends my resume or the stats I can now list with confidence when asked “what I’m up to these days.” I could tell you, but it’s all just a long-winded way of saying “I have no idea.” It’s the kind of simple joy that underpins it all; because a drunk person doesn’t dance for any reason. And now is the time for inebriation, the subversive kind that refuses to wait for a reason.

We know that ha’kol yistader, because it already has. Because we are dancing.