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A Topsy-Turvy World

03/02/2023 04:04:45 PM


Purim begins this Monday night. We think of it as a fun holiday, with gragger noisemakers, costumes, and hamantaschen cookies with fillings delectable and deleterious. Megillah readings, shpiels and sing-alongs bring raucous merriment, and there is often just a bit of drinking as well. To see all we have planned, see These festivities mask (pun intended) an existential philosophical message, “Vehanafoch hu”- literally that things are turned upside down, that life changes in a moment.

The story of the Megillah is well known.  The evil Haman plots against the Jews, not knowing that Queen Esther is of our people. She appeals to the King  Ahashverosh, who commands the great reversal, the destruction that our enemies had planned for us be inflicted upon our foes instead. The text (Esther 9:1) uses the term “Venahafoch hu” to capture the suddenness and the magnitude of the change. In fact, there are many things in the Megillah that are topsy-turvy. For example Haman issues his decree on the 13th of Nissan, in the final 36 hours of preparation for Passover. When Mordechai and the Jews hear, they declare a fast for three days, which , following logic, would have included the nights of seder. What should have been the feast of liberation was transformed in an instant to become a night of terror. Shortly thereafter, Haman counsels the king how to treat his most favored advisor- to dress him in royal robes and parade him through the city. He imagines that he will receive this honor, and in an instant, his delight turns to dejection as he learns that Mordechai is to be honored.

The spirit of venahafoch hu is still very much alive in our world today, but often towards the negative. On a grand scale, life can change for a community or a nation. A natural disaster can change lives irrevocably in an instant. Despite all the polls in the world, election night (or the day after or the day after) can still bring surprises, usually pleasing and disappointing people in almost even measure. In the 1980’s, the Berlin wall fell so unexpectedly that no one was prepared, even those who had hoped for it for years. I have been involved in efforts to fight antisemitism here in Georgia, and more than once, the situation has changed in an instant.

There are also so many situations when our personal lives can be turned  upside down in an instant. Unfortunately, those moments are often changes for the worst- an accident, a medical emergency, or a layoff catch us by surprise and turn everything upside down. Most of our joyous times do not happen suddenly, unless we happen to be lucky in the lottery. Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, graduations and career advancements are usually the culmination of months, even years of preparation. We may not be able to anticipate the exact moment of a birth, but we still usually have a number of months to prepare.

If we don’t remember that life can change in an instant, we will surely be reminded. Purim tells us that sudden changes are not always for the worst.  Sometimes the storm changes course. Sometimes a star is born. Sometimes the world turns to find us unexpectedly on top.


Sun, July 14 2024 8 Tammuz 5784