The Coming of Spring
Most contemporary biblical scholars agree that the story of Esther was created to justify a preexistent holiday that we call Purim. It seems that many in the ancient world marked the end of winter and the anticipation of spring with carnival-like celebrations that were complemented by disguises and adornments accompanied by over-eating and excessive drinking before a period of abstinence. (Think Mardi Gras before Lent.) The authors of the Scroll of Esther chose to build their story around the threat of Jewish annihilation, which was overturned at the last minute by Esther and Mordecai without the help of God, who is not even mentioned in the narrative.
The Purim story has other biblical parallels. Consider the Joseph saga, the story of a young Hebrew who came to Egypt as a slave and rose to high position only to have his progeny become enslaved for several hundred years before they are redeemed miraculously by God through the agency of the prophet Moses. This narrative, too, was woven around a preexistent pagan festival that we Jews call Pesah, a feast that is followed by a fifty day long observance called the Counting of the Omer when merriment and public celebration is prohibited in traditional Jewish communities. It was the genius of our ancient ancestors to take an existent nature festival and transform it into a values-based holiday. Like all peoples in the world, we too mark the coming of spring by ingesting greens and eggs, both symbols of rebirth; but we do not rest content with that alone. Our Haggadah instructs that we recount our experience as slaves so that we might be a force to liberate those who are not yet free.
To add dimension to your seder this year, consider bringing a contemporary cause to include to include in your evening’s narrative. Good sources to guide you include The American Jewish World Service (ajws.org) and The Religious Action Center (rac.org). Pesah teaches us not to neurotically dwell on our difficult past, but to take that experience so that we can address the needs of others who are not yet free.
I hope you have a joyous Pesah, one that will celebrate the end of snow and the blooming of crocuses, and one in which we can be instruments of renewal and healing in the world.