28 February 2010

Happy Purim, Jai Baba

Beloved Baba's birthday celebrations in Israel coincided with Purim this year Michal sent me this photo of her at a costume party for Baba's birthday.

Happy Purim. Today is the Jewish holiday that celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from the threat of genocide, as told in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew Bible. It is a story of redemption, like the story of Exodus, the deliverance from slavery in Egypt. Symbolically or in terms of mystical spiritual practice, the Purim story is an occasion for overcoming the sin of "causeless hatred" (sinat chinam).

On Purim, the Book of Esther (she was a Jewish queen, married to the Persian king) is read in the synagogue (sung, actually, by the cantor) and whenever the villain, Haman, is mentioned, the kids (and maybe the adults too) rattle noisemakers. It’s a holiday when children dress up in costumes — sort of the Jewish Halloween — and plays (shpiels in Yiddish) are staged. On Purim the grownups by custom are supposed to get so drunk that they can’t tell the difference between the hero and the villain of the Purim story: Haman (the Persian official who plotted to kill the Jews) and Mordechai (Queen Esther’s cousin, who helped foil the plot). A goofy thing I have seen people do on Purim is, during the religious service, instead of singing the Hebrew liturgy to a traditional melody, humorously substituting a secular tune — for example, singing the Kaddish (a prayer that praises God’s name) to the tune of “Old Man River.” More seriously, giving gifts of food to friends and donations of food or money to the poor are also observances of the holiday.

Purim is thus the most secular of all the Jewish holidays. It’s a minor holiday, in that its observation is not religiously commanded by the Torah but is simply the celebration of a historical event. Interestingly, the name of God never appears in the Book of Esther, nor does it make mention of prophets, priests, or patriarchs. However, by implication it focuses on God’s presence, on the realization that His hand is evident in the playing out of events. There is a divine plan!

The Talmud says that when the Messiah comes, all the religious holy days will be abandoned, no longer observed. There is but one exception; only Purim will still be celebrated when the Messiah comes.

Rabbi Y. Hutner explains: “When the night of exile will be banished by the rising sun of the Messiah, when the presence of God the Redeemer will shine in all its strength and glory, this presence will be so glaring and obvious that we will no longer require the lights provided by our holidays to perceive the guiding hand of God in historical events. At that time the light of Godliness will be seven times more powerful than the light of the sun. And then the festivals with which the Jewish people felt the presence of God's guiding hand through great historical events will no longer be required….

“However, there is one exception. The special talent acquired by the Jewish people, enabling them to recognize the hand of God's guiding providence when God's hand was concealed, will remain their eternal possession even after the sun of the redemption will rise. At that time all of the holidays will pale, except for Purim, ‘whose remembrance will never be forgotten.’"

Meher Baba, the Avatar or Messiah of our age, would probably like the idea of abolishing the ritualistic religious holidays, except for one that is basically a party, a time for fun, jokes, and skits.

Meher Baba says:

“I have come to destroy in the world all rites and ceremonies that are superficial.”

“God and Truth are far above religions.”

“I am not come to establish any cult, society or organization; nor even to establish a new religion. The religion that I shall give teaches the Knowledge of the One behind the many. The book that I shall make people read is the book of the heart that holds the key to the mystery of life. I shall bring about a happy blending of the head and the heart. I shall revitalize all religions and cults, and bring them together like beads on one string.”

“Rituals and ceremonies cannot carry one very far towards the path, and if they are unintelligently followed they bind as much as any other unintelligent action. In fact, when they are deprived of all inner life they are in a sense more dangerous than other unintelligent action, because they are pursued in the belief that they help towards God-realization.”

“The urgent need of today to resuscitate religion is to dig it out of its narrow, dark vault and let the spirit of man shine out once again in its pristine glory.”

“Religion is a cage and the people who follow it are all birds locked up inside. It is meaningless to leave one's religion to adopt another. It is like going from one cage to another. The wire binding the wings of the bird must be cut.”

“The root of all sufferings, individual or social, is self-interest. Eliminate self-interest and you will solve all problems and difficulties. Cults, creeds, dogmas, religious rites and ceremonies or lectures and sermons can never bring radical relief from suffering. If suffering and chaos are to disappear and real happiness and peace are to come in their place, there has to be selfless love and universal brotherhood.”

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All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.