Can you imagine Purim without music? Can you imagine a world without music? Purim is our totally “beyond” holiday…in fact there is a directive to drink so much wine that you can’t tell the difference between blessed is Mordechai and cursed in Haman.
I think the idea is to give ourselves a break from the world of division and judgments; once a year to leave the “Tree of Knowledge” behind, and to imagine that it is even possible to eat directly from the Tree of Life. How do we know if we are eating from the Tree of Life? And what is the connection to music and Purim that is so strong that we can’t imagine separating them?
Haman was a narcissistic ego maniac who derived pleasure and pride in making others, especially the Jews, bow down to him. Mordechai was a righteous Tzadik for whom “There is No G-d but G-d” was true in an effortless way like gravity is true, but totally beyond nature. How can we possibly confuse these two characters, even if we drink the whole bottle?
Our sages tell us that stories speak to a very high level of the soul. So, I’ll tell you a story…
Once, a Rabbi cursed me. I was eight months pregnant with my third child, and could no longer take the atmosphere of fear and stress and criticism that had been in my home for 11 years of marriage.
I put my hands on my belly and vowed to my unborn son that he would be raised in a loving home. This new soul inside of me awakened protective feelings and a demand for what was right that somehow I hadn’t been able to access on my own. After years of trying to make the best of it, I broke.
Underneath the shards of brokenness, I uncovered a simple and true place inside of myself, where I was, despite my circumstances, free to be myself, free to feel whatever I felt, free to have my own will and to want whatever I wanted. To be a free will human being as I was created. When I finally found the courage to talk to my Rabbi about this situation and my need to live, and raise my children, in an environment that did not terrify us, his response was to curse me.
I remember that moment, because in my mind’s eye I saw myself as a marionette, whose strings had been cut with that curse. I landed hard. The fear followed me for years, after I had left our Yishuv and home with three small children. I had counted on the Rabbi to see me, to help us, to help save our marriage.
Perhaps I idolized him, imagining that he had super powers and, like G-d, knew our hearts and minds and was tirelessly working for the healing of all souls. The internal collapse of belief systems that had guided me for years was a shock, and for a while I was like an amputee, the ghostly pain of my loss blurring my vision.
And I hope you won’t pity me too much if I tell you that I was so accustomed to thinking of him as an all knowing Tzadik that I feared his curse would come true. In fact, it was years later, in therapy, that this belief system was questioned.
This is how it happened. Now everyone knows the connection between music and prophecy. The prophets would bring musicians in to help them “get in the mood for prophecy: joy.
Music and joy are closely connected in the Jewish worldview. Both the Arizal and Rebbe Nachman delved deeply into the idea that there are 10 types of joy and 10 types of song, and that each type of joy has its own type of song. For example, “Rinah” (רינה)is a song connected to the kind of joy you feel after a good cry. This we get from the line in Psalms, “Ba Erev Yalin Bechi V’l’Boker Rinah.”
(בערב יליו בכי ולבוקר רינה)
“He who goes to sleep weeping wakes with a song of joy.” So, each type of song and type of joy come to heal all the kinds of hurt. “Holy Spirit” or Ruach ha Kodesh, is a refined state of mind that can only happen to someone who is happy. I was sure that my Rabbi had Ruach ha Kodesh, so I was afraid that his curse was not only a curse but a kind of prophecy.
It’s amazing and sad how twisted our thoughts can become when they are born from fear and insecurity. Tree of Knowledge stuff. Not believing that I am holy, that I am worthy. Justifying terrible behavior and a soul crushing relationship takes a great deal of twisting. I became a kind of pretzel. The Shofar blast of the High Holy days, is, according to Rebbe Nachman, a way to “straighten out the heart”. (“and to the straight hearted comes joy”)
(ולישרי לב שמחה)
It took me many years to straighten out my heart, letting go the tangles of self-blame and shame. There have been a lot of wounds and a lot of healing songs in these years of recovery. The rebirth of my simple will and right to exist without fear was born from a connection with the Tree of Life like the one that we are invited to experience on Purim.
It took years until I could trust anyone enough to tell of my fears from that curse. When I did share it with my therapist, he asked me what I knew about Ruach Ha Kodesh. I told him that it only comes to a person who is happy.
He asked me if the Rabbi was happy when he cursed me. I said no. He was angry. Angry that I was speaking up. Angry that I wouldn’t go back to the silent death that I had been living. Angry that I was taking a stand. Angry that I wouldn’t listen to him any more when he told me to stay.
Angry because he believed all the lies that were being told about me. Angry because he couldn’t help me? Maybe he didn’t know the type of song that I needed in that moment to heal my soul from suffocating abuse. Or maybe he did, but the white noise of his anger drowned out the melody.
Despite the severed puppet chords, despite my of awe of him, I somehow stood up. I stood for my truth and my integrity, which had not been destroyed. I stood up for the lives of my children, who deserve a loving home.
I stood up for the part in every Jew that will never bow down to an idol. Even the idol that I clothed in the garb of the Tzadik. Cause a Jew is no one’s puppet. We will bow down to no man. Our connection is directly to G-d, Creator of Heaven and Earth.
A Jew takes a stand, even if it means leaving a community, a home, a marriage, a Rabbi, a job. A Jew takes a stand, even if it means something dies, and something is reborn.
We take a stand even when the voices within drown out the silence with damning blame. We take a stand when the ground drops out and we still don’t have land legs. We take a stand when we are 2 feet tall and Haman is a towering giant that seems all powerful. We take a stand when the entire world tells us we are wrong.
Music picks us up. Every song is flowing through one of those channels of joy, straightening our hearts, letting our joy free.
This morning I woke up so grouchy. Everything was ready for Purim, all the kids were cute in their costumes, and I couldn’t figure out how to get myself out of my funk.
Suddenly I heard my son singing one of my songs from the back of the car. “I have Everything I Need Right Now.” It takes work and effort, to turn a mood around. To silence negative thoughts and the snowballing feelings that grow from them.
But we are not alone. We have 10 types of song. We have holy children teaching us the way when we feel lost. We have our faith, and we won’t bow down to the idols, though sometimes we do create them. We will live. We will choose life. The Tree of Life. L’Chaim!
In my therapist’s office that day, I took a stand against my own tangled heart, and the thoughts that twisted things further. That curse became a blessing, freeing me from a mental prison. The Rabbi couldn’t have been saying prophecy, because he wasn’t happy. He was angry. And just like that, a door to that inner prison sprang open. Clarity was the lock.
That day I set myself free.