You don’t need to be a political scientist to recognize that what passes for social discourse nowadays is anything but social. The severity of the invective and the frequency with which it appears can be observed in the corridors of power, can be read in the newspapers — particularly among the letters to the editor — and can be heard on the radio and seen on the television news.
It may always have been this way, as King Solomon reminds, but you need only look outside to realize that we live in an “us versus them” world. It’s probably part of human nature, this condition of building walls between the first person and the second, fences between families and neighbors, dividing lines between neighborhoods and theological faults between communities.
But for a moment in time, at synagogues such as Suburban Orthodox Torat Chaim in Pikesville and countless others in the Baltimore Jewish community and beyond, such divisions fell by the wayside as Jews from across the spectrum of religious and “non-religious” life joined together for Shabbat Across America.
Phil Rosenfeld, Suburban Orthodox’s executive director, pointed out that the only price of admission to last Friday night’s communal dinner was to bring a person who didn’t have a Shabbat meal of their own to go to. And so, members of the local fire department joined longtime synagogue members, and visiting family joined neighbors from down the street. The scene offered a vision of what could be in a world in which what we can achieve is more important that what I can be.
The vision continued the next day at pre-Purim carnivals many miles apart but alike in their goal of celebrating the type of unity seen thousands of years ago when the Jewish people emerged from Haman’s decree victorious. At Ner Tamid in Baltimore and Reservoir High School in Fulton — site of what was described as the Jewish Federation of Howard County’s largest annual Jewish communal event — hundreds of costumed children and adults let loose in preparation for the fast-approaching Purim holiday. You’ll read about their plans in this week’s JT.
All of these events deserve mention because of what they represent. In the eyes of the infinite, each and every one of us, as finite and transient beings, is the same. Ironically, as the Purim story demonstrates, it was only through uniting together — a feat possible only when ignoring the many external differences between persons — that the Jewish people were able to draw down heavenly blessings and nullify Haman’s evil plan.
The message, however, shouldn’t be relegated to the special times of the calendar — Shabbat, Purim, Passover, etc. Just as Talmudic sages spoke of the peace of Shabbat being drawn down into every day of the week, the joy of Purim should be infused into every day of the year, transforming the divisiveness of the outside world into a reflection of an internal truth: Ultimately it doesn’t matter that one person exists if asserting himself means questioning the existence of another. Doing so is akin to occupying an island of one, and it’s pretty hard to find true joy when you’re alone.
A freilichen Purim!