PurimBurst, 2006 / 5766

PurimBurst, 2006 / 5566

Queen Vashti refused to come at the king’s command…and the king was very angry, and his anger burned in him…And Memucan answered,…”Vashti, the queen, has not only insulted the king, but …all the men of the kingdom… For their women will do likewise and it will create an upsurge of contempt and wrath.”… In those days, while Mordecai sat in the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthan and Teresh,  guards of the threshold, were angry and sought to lay hand on the king, Ahasuerus….And when Haman saw that Mordecai neither bowed nor showed obeisance, he was full of wrath [and sought to exterminate not only Mordecai but his entire people]…And the king arose from the banquet of wine in his wrath and…so had Haman hanged on the very same gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Only then was the king’s wrath pacified.

Every moment is a story, and every story has a motor that propels its forward motion.  In the Book of Esther, rage drives each stage of the plot.  Achashverosh boils at Vashti’s insubordination, orders her execution, and initiates a search for her replacement.  Haman rages at Mordecai’s defiance and secures a decree to massacre both him and his entire people.  Bigsan and Teresh seethe with malice toward the king and plot revenge, a plan which Mordecai intercepts, and which, unexpectedly, years later, becomes the seed that sprouts redemption. Achashverosh fumes at Haman’s inadvertent threat to his queen, and as a result, Haman gets hung, and the Jews slay all of their would-be attackers. In every instance, a person seeks to relieve his ego discomfort by murdering the immediate cause of his shame or frustration.  This is the inner (and universal) mechanism of anger.

The history of kings and nation-states is a chronicle of narcissistic tantrums. Anger’s explosive fallout has shaped geo-politics even more than greed. And a disproportionate amount of this wrath gets aimed at Jews.  It must be that part of our purpose is to find the most spiritually productive way to play this role, and teach it to the world.  The book of Esther provides some clues.

It is known that rage emits a burst of dark energy into the world, an evil wind which is actually a kind of natural resource that can be harnessed to do work and drive change.  The Zohar’s name for dark lights is botzina d’kardenuta, intensely compressed kernals of light as tough as the wheat berries of Kardinuta, a region known for its extreme anti-Semitism and associated with Amelek, the legendary arch-enemy of the Jewish people and forebear of Haman.[1],[2]

Each creature occupies an ecosystem and learns to exploit the resources of that niche to sustain life. Some organisms are remarkably tenacious and manage to endure the most adverse conditions. The ocean’s depths, polar caps, and barren deserts are the nooks that some creatures call home.  Among the human kingdom the Jewish people inhabit a corner of the universe that is also distinguished by severe conditions.  Survival has required them to perfect the capacity to transform the intensely concentrated lights that scatter like shrapnel from anger’s discharge.  They digest these pellets, extract their nutrients, and convert their death-wish into life juice.  This is an extraordinary gift, and it suits their cosmic mission, which is “to enable Divinity’s full (and manifest) integration into every layer of reality, down to its lowest edge.”[3]

But what is this “lowest edge” that appears in the fine print of their mission statement. While it is no coincidence that their homeland contains the lowest point on earth, that does not seem to be the crux.   What can higher and lower possibly mean in regards to G‑d when it is a basic principle of Oneness that HaShem is equally present in every point of time and space.  Kabbala answers that, even still, HaShem is not equally revealed throughout creation.  In the stepwise sequence of creating our universe, HaShem underwent a gradually intensifying series of concealments.  Step by step, the Infinite Light withdrew from creation and the extent of Its absence defines the hierarchy of worlds: the less concealed, the higher the world; the more, the lower.  The ultimate concealment (and lowest layer) is idolatry, where HaShem is not just invisible, but His accomplishments are actually ascribed to an other.  And the lowest idolatry is self-worship. It lacks even the humility of acknowledging a higher power.

And that, precisely, was the serpent’s ruse when he lured Adam and Chava with the bait, “Eat and you shall be as gods.”[4] In fact the serpent didn’t lie.  The lights of the 50th Gate were inside that fruit, lights that conveyed a direct transmission of the deepest secret of the universe.[5] The 50th Gate is the absolute, unqualified, experiential knowing that, “there is nothing but G‑d”… including ourselves. And yet, only a perfectly transparent (and infinitely elastic) ego can hold that exhilarating truth. You must be invisible to claim your divinity.[6]  Those almighty lights will not tolerate the slightest blemish of motive.  On the 50th rung, even a hairline crack of self-gain will bring shattering to one who partakes of its delights.  This we know from experience. Adam and Chava were not just humanity’s founding couple, they actually contained the souls of all the people that would ever live.   We all participated in their decision to eat, and we all suffered the devastating consequences of their misdeed.  We tasted those omnipotent lights and the savor of that intoxicating instant remains with us till this very day. Its trace is the (not so) secret belief that the universe ought revolve around, Me.

And yet, in the following instant, reality shattered.  The highest lights plunged to the lowest depths like a toppled wall whose capstones land farthest from the base. The exalted truths of the 50th Gate now, in their fallen state, define the “lowest edge” of the universe, the dregs of idolatrous self-worship. “God is one, there is no other… and I alone am He.” Yet, this dark sludge is a kind of fossil fuel whose combustion, expressed as burning rage, is a major driving force in the universe.[7]

It is shocking to calculate the quantity of resources (time, space, money, thought, emotions…entire lives) that have been spent reacting to, anticipating, deflecting, preventing, dodging, bearing, avenging, eliminating, reenacting, regretting and healing from rage.  Even now, in the present, the local enemy calls itself Hamas, a word that in Hebrew means cruel and violent wrath. (It is the only synonym for anger that does not appear in relation to HaShem which means that it has no rectified expression.[8]) The lion’s share of Israel’s resources—its brain-power, finances, scientific research, psychologists, news reports, prayers, political campaigns, and even dinner conversations—revolve around this threat. And so the chain of expulsions, crusades, pogroms, holocausts, and jihads remains unbroken until this very day: “In every generation an enemy appears that seeks to destroy [the Jewish nation].”[9] We seem to be a magnet for narcissistic rage.  What a strange role, and what a massive waste of time …or is it?

HaShem employs many tools to exert His providential will.  Creation is destined to reattain the 50th Gate, and there is no turning back.  Yet enlightenment is a labor-intensive process. No one spends that amount of effort without very compelling inducements, both positive and negative. HaShem hangs a carrot in front and a flame behind to assure that work gets done. And thank G‑d the Jewish niche is rich in both resources: it has an abundance of delectable carrots, and no shortage of motivating flames. But what has shaped us more?  Which has produced the greatest positive growth.  Is it the carrots or the flames, is it Haman or Mordecai?[10]

Each blast of narcissistic rage spews dark cinders that are, paradoxically, the highest lights of the 50th Gate fallen, compressed, twisted, and disguised as their polar opposite.  In Texas they call oil, black gold.  So here, Jews have learned to salvage priceless treasures from the sludge of their enemy’s self-worship which gets vaporized through the combustion of rage and aimed at their annihilation. Each heirloom is a 50-caret nugget of densely-compacted golden light that unsprings when it contacts the fertile soil of the Jewish soul.  There it provides the upward thrust that drives a person to rise to the occasion of their life, despite its ordeals…to turn from the past, inventory the present, and start building.  Sometimes the abuse causes such damage that it takes generations to turn and to heal. Perhaps the most precious gift we possess as a people is the spiritual enzyme that digests this dark crud and absorbs its holy flecks of light into our heart, bones, cells and spaces, “And the more they afflicted [the Hebrews] the more they increased…”[11] And because of this we continue to rise.

And so on Purim, our joy is not that we survived the wrath which boomeranged back and destroyed our enemies instead.  That was good news, filled with comic irony, but it is not enough to sustain the high of Purim for generations.  Rather, the ecstatic and uncontainable joy of Purim is from the paradigm shift that we made as a people, when we extracted the lights of the Oral Torah from that ordeal.  This living and evolving body of teachings is an amalgam of heavenly revelations and human realizations.  The Oral Torah is not just the authoritative chain of rabbinic commentary.  Rather, says R. Tsadok, every person makes a contribution to the Oral Torah. It is the sum total of creative insights pressed from the hearts of Jews striving to live their lives with integrity to the truths they absorbed at Sinai.  The authoritative and unchanging Written Torah clearly originated above and without.  The Oral Torah is the exact opposite.  Its truths emerge from below and within.  HaShem’s words form like dew on the heart, seeding revelations from the inside out.  Purim initiated a New Age, where the boundary between G‑d and man is now porous.  This is the ultimate reversal.  The hate filled rage of idolatrous self-worship transmutes into a fusion of G‑d and man where they really do start to share a common “I”, where the human and the Divine really do begin to merge. A person speaks and G‑d’s words leave their mouth, they act, and it is G‑d’s deed they perform. Now this is cause for feasting and jubilation.

The Oral Torah is a resurrection of sparks from the 50th Gate, that were released by Haman’s tantrum, and absorbed by the Jews affected by his decree. Yet these most coveted lights come with strings attached.  As explained, they will not tolerate even a trace of impure motive, so there’s always a purchase price.  A person must trade a fist-full of ego for a sliver of light from the 50th Gate.

Practically, how does this show in the Purim tale.  First, the word rage does not appear in relation to Jews.  They did not meet anger with anger, and they did not rampage in indiscriminate revenge. But they were also not passive.  They designed a strategy that was tough, effective, cost lives, but protected the intrinsic value of life and property wherever possible.  Mordecai and Esther could have designed any solution.  The king’s signet ring was in their hands.  They only permitted the Jews to kill those who actually attacked despite the king’s obvious change of heart.  Haman’s decree functioned as a “strange attractor.”  It drew the hate mongers out from the pack, those who could not control their bloodlust.  The gate now opened, the fantasy let loose, there were those who could not hold themselves back. They alone were slain by the Jews on that fateful pre-Purim day.  And there was no taking of booty even though it was permitted.  This was not a frenzied riot, but a calculated and targeted mission of self-defense with decisions made to minimize collateral damage to the greatest extent possible.  This they learned from Avraham whose prayer on behalf of Sodom was a heartfelt plea to eliminate collateral damage, for HaShem’s sake.

Second, we looked heavenward and sought the hidden purpose for this ordeal.  Even though we were absolutely innocent by this-worldly standards there is always a higher design which, if exposed, softens the pain.[12] Here, for example, we understood that when Yaakov stole “the blessing” of Jewish heritage, Essav cried a shofar blast of a cry (ויצעק צעקה גדולה ומרה עד מאד), for he knew the loss was immeasurably great.  And even though Yaakov did the right thing, and it was HaShem’s will (which makes it a mitzvah), and the survival of the people and the planet required exactly that, still, he (we) must pay full dues for the crookedness of the act (even though it was all for HaShem’s sake, and there was no other way).  Essav’s cry echos through history and is paid (at least in part) by Mordecai’s cry at the genocidal decree (ויזעק זעקה גדלה ומרה).

And third, the next day the Jews moved on…to inner healing, teshuva, and celebration. They got to work unpacking their spiritual booty, the lights from the 50th Gate that entered their possession because they did not take ego gratification from their victory. They accepted the gift and burden of their Oral Torah which reduces to one central point:

The world’s understanding of G‑d’s ways comes from their observation of our behavior.

Let it be this Purim, when the world turns upside down, and the lights of the 50th Gate stream through the world, that we fuse together as a people in our joy, the bumps and dips in line this to that, each cancelling the other until…we arrive at our true, invisible self, pass through the yesh-detectors, and claim our divinity as bride to the King.

[1] Zohar I:15a.  See Sulam’s translation and commentary there.

[2] Encyclopedia Judaica.  “…The anti-Jewish attitudes prevailing in eastern-Byzantine (Armenian) provinces made the Targum identify it with the “daughter of Edom that dwellest in the land of Uz” (Lam. 4:21) … Armenia is also sometimes called Amalek in some sources, and Jews often referred to Armenians as Amalekites.

[3] Tanchuma, Naso 16:  בשעה שברא הקב”ה את העולם נתאוה שיהא לו דירה בתחתונים כמו שיש בעליו

[4] Genesis 3:5.

[5] Genesis 3:6: The woman saw….that the tree was desired to make one wise (נחמד להשכיל).

[6] And so Esther passed undetected when she entered the king’s innermost chamber uninvited.

[7] Like a spring compressed and released, these fallen lights of the 50th Gate are driven to return to their root.  This is the torque that HaShem planted in the universe to propel its forward motion.  For since they now define the lowest edge, when they return from their exile, which they must do, they will bring everything else up and along with them.

[8] There is a place for anger but there is no place for חמס.  There are occasions when all the other types of anger, חמה, קצף, אף, חרה, כעס, רגז)) are appropriate.  There is never an appropriate expression of hamas (חמס).  And so Yaacov actually curses the action of Shimon and Levi because it was motivated by the anger of hamas (Gen. 49:5).

[9] Hagada

[10] Rav Tsadok comments on Kohellet 1:18 (רב כעס רב חכמה), that the primary motivation for generating wisdom is to deflect an assault of anger.

[11] Exodus 1:12.

[12] Malachi 4:20: “But to you who fear my name the sun of righteousness shall arise with healing in its wings…”

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