Far Enough? Isn’t It Time 7

This episode looks at the prophetic call, for Purim and other holidays, to act in “truth and peace.”

Isn’t It Time? Episode 7

Today is the holiday of Purim in the Jewish calendar. May the holiday’s theme of overturning evil come to fruition across the globe — and a joyous festival to those celebrating.

Today’s source sheet includes verses from the Book of Esther that establish both the fasts and the celebrations of Purim, as well as a few verses from the prophet Zechariah, exploring reasons for fasting or feasting.

Podcast Transcript

Truth and Peace

Toward the end of the Book of Esther, dispatches are sent to declare the holiday of Purim, with words of “peace and truth” –“divrei shalom v’emet,” or, as the Jewish Publication Society translation says: an “ordinance of equity and honesty.”

This expression “divrei shalom v’emet” echoes the Book of Zechariah’s declaration that festivals must be based on love of emet and shalom, honesty and integrity or truth and peace.

Here’s what Zechariah says, attributing this speech to God:

8:16) These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates. And do not contrive evil against one another, and do not love perjury, (17) because all those are things that I hate. (18)[Remember these are words from God that Zechariah is reporting here.] (19) […Fasts will be instead] occasions for joy and gladness, happy festivals for the House of Judah; but you must love honesty and integrity, v’ha-emet v’ha-shalom ahavu

Scholars date this prophetic discussion of fasts associated with Exile to 518 BCE — based on specific references to historic people and events in Zechariah’s prophesy. The Book of Esther is dated, also based on historic references, to between 50 and 100 years later. So, according to notes in the JPS translation, when The Book of Esther mentions “divrei shalom v’emet,” it is referencing Zechariah’s declarations about ethical conduct and festivals:

  • to speak truth to one another,
  • to render true and perfect justice,
  • to not contrive evil against one another, and
  • to not love perjury.

That, right there, is a tall order. And one that is all too currently applicable.

Far Enough?

Making sure that any religious observance is oriented toward justice is a regular call of Jewish prophets. And one that we and our ancestors have struggled to meet for thousands of years. Returning to this basic call is the main reason for rereading Exodus and for reconsidering how we approach Passover.

If the questions we ask at Passover are not helping us envision the work ahead, we need some new questions.

And if the result of our observance is not greater and more focused commitment to justice, we have some reworking of the holiday and our reading of Exodus to do.

This installment of Isn’t It Time? looks at our tendency to believe we’ve already gone “far enough.”

Decades ago, Michael Walzer concluded Exodus and Revolution with this adage about “what the Exodus first taught”:

…first, that wherever you are, it is probably [Mitzrayim]; second, that there is a better place, a world more attractive, a promised land; and third, that the way to the land is through the wilderness. There is no way to get from here to there except by joining together and marching.
Exodus and Revolution (Basic Books, 1985)

In the years since 1985, this passage has found its way into countless essays, sermons, and Passover readings.

Is this image still working for us, though, in approaching Passover and Exodus?

As noted previously: Envisioning en masse departure of the oppressed — a violent, permanent parting — may not be the most helpful metaphor for many circumstances we face today.

Destruction of the Temple, close to 2000 years ago, resulted in what Rabbi Benay Lappe, of SVARA: The Traditionally Radical Yeshiva, calls a “crash” of Judaism’s organizing story. R’ Lappe teaches that the rabbis of the Talmud responded to that crash in a way that resulted in the Judaism we know today. SVARA and SVARA-inspired learning seeks to employ Talmudic strategies toward creating new stories that will move Judaism forward in new ways.

Perhaps we are seeing something of a “crash” around Exodus as envisioned in that “joining together and marching” metaphor. What metaphors might work better for us instead?

Some questions to consider:

Are we prepared to head toward something truly different?

Will we let go of what we have in order to get there?

With whom have we joined hands already? Whom have we left behind?

Have we been marching toward a liberation — that never seems to materialize — for so long
that we now wonder if it’s worth the upheaval?

Subscribe here or through podcasting apps and consider signing up for the Isn’t It Time discussion platform at Thinkific.

It’s Purim! Time to increase our joy by joining in reflection and action that overturns evil.

This is Virginia Avniel Spatz saying: “Isn’t It Time to Reread Exodus?”

Peace…and Truth

Published by vspatz

Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages WeLuvBooks.org, blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at songeveryday.org and Rereading4Liberation.com

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