Community Blog Shushan Purim

By Rabbi Elizabeth Bonney-Cohen

jersualemWe acknowledge today as Shushan Purim, as a commemoration of the day when the Jews of Shushan (the walled Persian capital) finally rested after defeating their enemies. They returned to their gated community, and rejoiced. Although it is most fully celebrated by those in Jerusalem (and some other walled cities), we also acknowledge the day as one of celebration. For example, just as on Shabbat, we do not recite Tachanun today, as to not take away from our joy. This holiday has had me thinking a lot about what it means to live within a walled space. We are surrounded by walls — gated communities, the eruvim that encircle our neighborhoods, the walls that separate pray space and the walls of our own apartments — not to mention the emotional walls we create within our relationships, as well as the spiritual walls that we may build between the Divine and ourselves. Walls do many things, but mostly they provide us with a sense of protection — emotional, spiritual, physical — and they give us a sense of order in an otherwise chaotic and vulnerable world. I can imagine the people of Shushan returning to their walled community after a fierce struggle, to find the sense of rest that comes with this notion of stability — that feeling of being at home, completely. And that is a powerful feeling. It’s like a deep exhale, after holding your breath for a really long time. Its restorative power is so necessary to maintaining personal and communal strength. But, I keep thinking about what is lost when those gates close. Who is left outside those walls? What wisdom might never be gained from the unrealized encounters with neighboring communities? What might the chaos of the outside world have to teach that could not be learned from within the ordered, stagnant, comfortable borders that these walls create? I like to think of Hebrew College as that chaos, at times. When we come to this space, we step outside of our walled communities and risk encountering the unknown. The Brookliners and the JP folks meet, the traditional and the contemporary pray side-by-side and those advanced in Gemara learn beside those of us who still struggle to read simple Hebrew. It’s scary, and even though we know that this pluralism can strengthen us, we still may hesitate to leave our own walls behind and offer ourselves completely to this space (a space walled in its own ways). On this day celebrating walled rest, how might we simultaneously hold the restorative power of enclosing ourselves within the walled spaces we occupy, while at the same time acknowledge that this rest is only valuable if we take our renewed energy to encounter those beyond? Behind what walls do we celebrate today? Behind what walls do we take refuge? And how might we take the calm we gain there-into the chaos that awaits beyond its borders?

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