The Festival of Purim may be the most misunderstood celebration in all Jewish tradition. Even the historical background seems to contradict the template of Jewish history and survival.
Confounded in the cultural and spiritual darkness of Persian exile 2372 years ago, the Jewish people faced a calculated plan for genocide beyond anything devised by Adolph Hitler. A conniving King Ahasuerus, inspired by his devious viceroy, Haman, laid out a scheme to exterminate the entire Jewish nation in a single day.
With the full force of the king and his empire turned against them, how could the Jews hold out any hope of salvation?
But in the wink of an eye, literally overnight, Haman fell out of favor and, through an improbable confluence of apparent coincidences, the Jews became the king’s most favored nation while the enemies who conspired to destroy them were themselves destroyed.
And how do Jews commemorate the divine intervention that saved them from annihilation? On this day that the sages equate with Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, we replace fasting with feasting, exchange prayerful reflection for revelry, and eschew the simple white garments of purity for masks and costumes.
Purim becomes a day of backwards and inside-out, of contradictions and reversals, of parties and paradoxes.
In keeping with the counterintuitive practices of Purim, allow me to conscript a pair of latter-day Jewish cognoscenti to dispel confusion with the light of clarity:
Dustin Hoffman and Sydney Pollack.