Published February 2020
Faith and Survival
It is worth noting that Purim is celebrated with donning masks. We speak of masking our feelings, and while it is very important psychologically to express our deepest anxieties and fears, it is also important to maintain a reasonable control over them. Israel’s policy of haflagah (restraint) in the face of aggression and provocation is relevant. In essence, Purim is a celebration of the Jewish people’s overcoming persecution and oppression. A cursory glance at Jewish history indicates how many times we were faced with catastrophe and yet snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. And, even on occasions when we suffered emotional and physical damage, we were able to recover and continue not only to persevere but also to create.
A very basic purpose for Purim is based on the verse from the Book of Esther which tells us that “deliverance will come from another place.” The Hebrew word for place is makom. Makom is also a euphemism for God. What this means is that one must keep one’s faith.
Purim also teaches us perspective. The great talent of the Jew is survival. Wars and hostilities have their moments of advance and retreat. When we are faced with a difficult period we must maintain balance and perspective. The ultimate defeat of fear comes through faith: faith in ourselves that we can solve our problems and faith in God who has given us the resources and the hope to solve these problems. Faith is not a magical device, but rather, a sure scale against which to measure our fears. If fears are to be resolved, they must be seen in the perspective of a good God, a helpful society, and a friendly universe.
When the French tyrant Napoleon started to move his powerful armies, all of Europe was in a state of fear and trembling. In Spain an embattled army under the Duke of Wellington was trying to resist his advance. One day a young lieutenant came into the British general’s camp with a map clutched in his trembling hands and declaimed in near hysteria, “Look, General, the enemy is upon us.” “Young man,” the general replied, “get larger maps, and the enemy won’t seem so close.”
If we possess the larger map of faith, the great enemy of mankind, called fear, will not appear so close. The world has existed for millions of years and will continue to do so. People have resolved their problems and will continue to do so.
Rabbi Alvin Kass
Chief Chaplain of the NYPD