I have to admit that I had an entirely different topic in mind for this month’s article. However, in his pre-Purim Shabbos dvar Torah, Rabbi Jeremy Donath reminded me of how lucky I am to be part of the previous generation. In his poignant words on the relevant lessons offered in the Purim story, he noted that the Megilla is referred to as an “igeret,” translated as a “letter.” In pointing this out, he also spoke to the sad truth that letter writing has become a lost art. In fact, this is a topic that often comes up in discussions with my children, grandchildren and friends as we talk about the ills of texting; even though texting has its place, it is unfortunate that it has become the preferred mode of communication, utilized to the point of obsession. The disadvantages of texting extend far beyond the obvious. In addition to the shortcut and impersonal manner of relating to one another texting promotes, as well as its addictive draw, texting as a primary manner of relating to one another is counterintuitive to the spirituality inherent in our Jewish ideology. In a past article we considered the idea that anything that occupies one’s mind to the point of compulsivity takes us away from God and His Torah, and therefore can, in fact, be viewed as a form of idolatry.
In listening to Rabbi Donath, I flashed back to the anticipation and joy the youth of my generation experienced in waiting for letters from friends and family. The popularity of letter writing went far beyond the cost advantage over phone calls; its real attraction was the possibility it offered to “open up and bare one’s heart” to another. To this day, I find that putting pen to paper, when expressing my thoughts and ideas and making sure that the finished product is just right, is my favorite mode of communication. The hundred plus letters and cards that flew across the country between Jack, my husband, and I the summer we met bear testimony to the precious medium of letter writing. This was because, after only three dates, I left with my family to spend two months in Wisconsin. In those years, Brooklyn emptied out for the summer, and my father, a”h, would close his bakery every summer and take on jobs as a camp baker; in this way, the family could enjoy a beautiful summer in the country. That summer, my twin and I were waitresses and our younger sisters were campers. When we arrived, there were already three letters waiting for me; and that was a summer of baring our souls to one another and finding out that we were truly kindred spirits. When I came home, it was as if we had known each other for years. I truly believe that this gift of getting to know each other via letters is at least one of the variables that account for Jack and I being together today.
And so, when Rabbi Donath called attention to the fact that the Megilla, the medium through which Esther decided to transmit her story for perpetuity, was a “letter,” I understood just why she made that choice. It is clear she did not take any shortcuts when she poured out her heart, relating every important detail in transmitting her message to all future generations. In doing so, she clearly demonstrates that the medium of letter writing was the best way to encourage us to take advantage of this precious gift of interacting with one another in a personal and mindful manner. Perhaps because Rabbi Donath and other rabbanim and teachers awaken our children and grandchildren to the value of this wonderful medium at their disposal, they too will discover and enjoy deeper and more personal relationships fostered by letter writing, face-to-face conversations and at minimum phone calls.
Rabbi Donath also made note of the idea that when Esther made the decision to record and send out this letter, she did so in order to communicate that the events and miracles that occurred were not only her story and the role she played in our redemption; rather, it is also the story of each and every Jew. Thus, she also encourages us to discover our own parts in the common mission of klal Yisrael. This is also evidenced in the “Al Hanisim” prayer we recite on both Chanukah and Purim, which describes the miracles wrought on these holidays. Rabbi Donath explained that the wording in the concluding phrase: “….bayamim haheim, bazman hazeh… in those days and in our times,” refers both to past and future events. Viewed from this perspective, the events and miracles that occurred in the Diasporas of yore recur in each generation and are certainly relevant to the facts on the ground today. I now recognize that the heartrending lessons Esther taught through the story of Purim, in her “igeret,” is truly a love letter to her brothers and sisters of klal Yisrael throughout the generations; and since it comes deep from the heart, we must take to heart.
There are many lessons I learned over the past few weeks, explaining the meaning behind the mindful letter Esther took the time to write; but three ring out loud and clear as vehicles through which I can accomplish the goal of “freeing” myself to serve Hashem. In the segment of the Megilla where Esther tells the king that Bigtan and Teresh planned to kill him, we find that she credited Mordechai. Our rabbis teach us that this act of hakarat hatov resulted in her worthiness of being selected by God as the vehicle for the redemption of the Jews in Persia. This teaches us that it is only one who gives credit where credit is due who is worthy of this role. This is meant to teach us the import of acknowledging and appreciating all that God and others do for us, and that if we truly integrate this trait into our very characters we too have the opportunity to earn the merit of being vehicles for redemption in our own way.
A second lesson is found in the name “Esther.” In a past article we discussed the idea that a name reflects the essence of an individual. A close look at the Megilla reveals that the name Esther, translated as “to reveal that which is hidden,” appears many times in the Megilla, as it should. Indeed, she earned her role as best supporting actress. Yet, the name of Hashem, the star of this drama, is absent. This is intended to teach us how important it is to seek out Hashem, even in the darkest of places and moments of our lives. He is always there, waiting for our call.
The third lesson that resonates for me is that we are all important “cogs” in the “wheel” of our nation; and just as Mordechai encouraged Esther to do her part, so too does she encourage us to dig as deeply as is necessary to identify and actuate the unique mission Hashem has set before each one of us, and to help others do the same.
Let us take note that it took Esther 10 chapters to tell her story. She didn’t skimp in the telling, nor should we. This beautiful, lengthy and timely “love letter” to the nation, written by Esther, is particularly relevant given the seemingly “upside-down” world we find ourselves in today. We are cautioned against falling prey to the false news, false values and most of all false mediums of communication. As we approach the season commemorating our first redemption, let us take up the charge of relating to God and one another in a deeper and more personal way. Even though this will take up extra time in our already busy lives, it will allow us to shed our “ties” to the distractors of this generation, “free” us to discover who we really are and empower us to work together in actuating the mission of our nation, bringing on our final geula, bimeheira biyameinu.
By Renee Nussbaum, PhD, PsyA
Renee Nussbaum is a practicing psychoanalys, with special training in Imago Relational Therapy. She can be reached at [email protected].