Today is the first of the Hebrew month of Adar, and the rabbis say it’s a time of abundant joy.
What the rabbis don’t say so explicitly though is that this also is a time of reflecting on what it is that lies beneath us. We know what we look like on the outside; we see our outsides all the time. But we can’t so easily see those thoughts that hide deep inside us.
I brought some hamentaschen to the Western Wall. I offered these Purim pastries to the police watching those of us praying in the men’s section alongside Women of the Wall. Ultimately, the police declined my offer of those oznei haman (literally “Haman’s ears”, the Hebrew name for hamentaschen).
Between the 7 men standing with me in the men’s section of the Kotel and the men standing behind the women’s section, Women of the Wall had over a minyan’s worth of male allies today.
But that is just judging from the outside—as if where you stand physically says everything about where you stand emotionally.
I wonder just how many other male allies we had at the Wall. I suspect that some of the strictly dark dress I saw today could never give away how much sympathy towards the Women of the Wall actually is felt by some of the quieter folks in the men’s section.
Adar is supposed to be a time of joy, and my morning at the Wall was truly a peaceful one – except for the loud screaming guy wearing all white, who shows up a lot.
But the yelling man was a little late today. He usually starts shouting when Women of the Wall start praying. Today he didn’t make a sound until well into the Shachrit service proper.
It was just a few moments before the Shema when I first heard his voice. Though I usually can hear him loud and clear, his words were muffled this morning. Women of the Wall were singing just loudly enough for me not to be able to hear anything specific besides the words of our prayers, yet we were singing quietly enough to be respectful of the other groups at the Wall.
As we finally sang the words of the Shema (listen), I pondered what it was that we were listening to. I heard the shouting man but couldn’t decipher his words, and the words I was contemplating were the words coming from my own mouth: the Shema—the mitzvah that urges us to listen to the Divine voice.
I imagine that those around me were listening to, or at least for, the Divine voice. It would be appropriate for God to make an appearance at the Wall, but can you really hear God when some stranger is releasing his anger at the top of his lungs?
As this man in white vocalized his frustration at the modern world, it must have been about a hundred men in black (suits, kippot, streimels, etc) who stopped their prayers and turned around, not to listen to the man in white, but to try and understand what he could be so upset about. But it’s hard to listen to reason when irrational passion speaks so much louder.
Seeing that the only people who could pray now on the men’s side were my friends praying with Women of the Wall, I walked over to a police officer named Yossi (not the same Yossi I met two months ago) and asked him if it was legal for this guy to be disrupting everybody’s prayer. The answer was: yes, as long as he’s not hurting anyone physically.
But thinking back on this, I was in a plaza packed with people who had all rejected oznei haman. It wasn’t just the hamentaschen that the police turned down this morning. They also turned down the possibility that they would let this screaming man’s malicious words become a validated truth. (I don’t know if the police were necessarily on anyone’s side, but it was a nice thing to hear voices from them saying “Amen” and occasionally singing along with the Women.) In rejecting the evil words of sin’at chinnam (baseless hatred), these officers rejected the possibility that their ears would become sin-ridden as the ears of Haman—that they would accept oznei haman.
And the police officers were not alone in this reaction. Surrounding one vociferous man in white stood dozens and dozens of silent men in black. None of them had a single word to say to the deviant man in the crowd—not an “Amen” and not even a word acknowledging this opportunity to engage with him in any rational conversation.
Without saying so in so many words, pretty much everyone said no to oznei haman.
We’ll read the Book of Esther pretty soon, and our heroine’s Hebrew name (Ester) contains within it the Hebrew root of samekh-tav-resh, often meaning “to hide” or “to cover.” As you might know, the Book of Esther is pretty tragic for the Jews until Esther stops covering up her Jewish identity. That’s when things turn around and the Jewish future begins looking a little brighter.
When Esther stops hiding her inner identity, a little more compassion enters her universe, and a little more wisdom begins to guide those forces that be.
I’ve written a few times about this yelling man, and it is painful to write about him month after month. I hope that one day he will stop hiding behind a façade of sin’at chinnam and that he will open up to whatever it is that is truly troubling him. If he thinks women singing or wearing a tallit is against Jewish law, I don’t see why the man in white should be bothered any more than the men in black who seem not to make a fuss about it.
There must be more to this guy’s story, and I hope that some compassionate, patient ears, accompanied by a thoughtful mouth and a loving heart, will soon be able to offer this man the emotional resources he needs to live more peacefully alongside Women of the Wall and those with whom he does not agree.
Adar is a time for joy. But we can’t get to that joy if we are in hiding. Whether we dress ourselves in all black, in all white, or in clothes that bespeak anything in between, the truth is that we are all very colourful people. When we see each other as made in God’s image and when we reveal the light and love hiding beneath us, we can discover some beautiful truths about each other and learn to live in greater peace with each other.
The word hamantaschen literally means something like “pouches of Haman,” and little pouches of evil are good things to devour in order to rid the world of them. That’s something worth eating away at. When we are offered the choice of oznei haman and hamataschen, we must remember how sweet it can be to rid the world of those hamantaschen so that we can say we would never want our own ears to be oznei haman.
I pray that this Adar will be a month full of abundant joy, compassion, and truth.
Whatever our costume is, let’s not hide ourselves. Then we can really meet each other.
by Jonah Rank, musician and writer, and co-founder of Oholiav: A Community for Viewing Arts & Entertainment through a Jewish Lens