Moon and Mussar Musings on the Megillah

The 5 Faces of Paul oil painting -1981 by Helen Redman
The 5 Faces of Paul oil painting -1981 by Helen Redman

Like a cat circling her spot before she can settle down, pawing and prodding the cushion or the carpet or the bed-spread, I also, have to create and circle my space before I can manage to write.

This has been difficult for me lately. I’ve just been posting recipes. Recipes are safe and easy and do not require too much from me that involves delving into emotional or personal territory. It is not lost on me that folks respond more to my recipes than to my musings. I have a loyal following of muse-niks (those who appreciate my musings), but there is a much larger following of recipe lovers. So, if you are a recipe lover, this post is not a recipe for some yummy dish. It is a sort of recipe/play on the themes of Purim. Full disclosure, I do not know how to make Hamentaschen and this post will not result in a good cookie!

Apricot Hamentaschen, NOT made by me. This is the only cookie you will be getting from me!
Apricot Hamentaschen, NOT made by me. This is the only cookie you will be getting from me!

Tonight is Purim, and the full Moon is hanging brightly in the sky, urging me to get a little moon-mad, and instead of reading or hearing the Megillah being read, I am sitting in my meditation room, listening to flute music amidst incense and candles. Instead of dressing up and being wild and with a bunch of people, I am sitting quiet and still and writing.

This is a VERY unusual state of affairs for me. I have an internal barometer connected to the Jewish cycles of holidays, fasts, new moons, and all the weekly Torah readings as well. It is physically difficult for me to be absent from any of the rituals connected to my path. When I actually got involved with Judaism actively, as a young woman in the 1980s, it was with a profound sense of coming home and finally understanding and being able to make sense of so many things about myself. My family has been Jewish forever, but the practice part of that skipped a generation or two. This is not unusual and it is often the case that one generation will be very religious, the next one won’t be and then the grandchildren or great-grandchildren will find their way back. Many of us seem to spin on a generational wheel of sorts.

Some folks wander around or linger in one spiritual tradition or another and pick and choose that which works for them and discard or lay down the rest. Others are devotees of only ONE way to walk and be on the planet and with Holiness. Most folks are somewhere on this continuum, and of course there are those who completely reject any kind of spiritual path or directionality. It is not one size fits all, it never has been and it never will be.

My size and shape and relationship to Holiness is WRIT LARGE, I am the Jumbo size, extra-large variety in all my expressions. This is a difficult path, because it is not, in any way, quiet, petite, small, cute, sexy or easily dismissed, overlooked or ignored. People know when I am coming and where I am. I am louder without a microphone than most folks are with one. Friends with sensitive ears sometimes cringe  when I speak. I am asked to speak more quietly in many circles. My animation and volume are VERY strong. This applies in all areas of my life. If I had to name one of my “super powers”, I’d say it is my voice. Sometimes it feels like it literally can travel around the globe.

As I move through the thin middle place in the hour-glass of my life, and also as a result of my continuous mussar work, I am shifting things about myself all the time. I am actively looking at my volume and working to moderate it. I am adjusting the sands of my personality, grain by grain. I examine and attend to what goes on around me and through me very carefully. In Alan Morinis‘ most recent Mussar book, With Heart in Mind, I read the following passage today:

“Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto (1707-46) in the Mussar classic Path of the Just gives us another take on the spiritual value of fear. One who fears heaven ought not to be concerned so much with punishment from God’s big stick but with offending against the supernal glory that infuses our world. This is not fear of breaking a rule and catching the consequences, but rather acting in an unseemly way that besmirches the most precious, pure, and holy divine majesty, which, if we are sensitive to it, permeates every fragment of the reality within which we live.” pg 40

So, for me, who is “sensitive to it,” there is an element of fear/concern in my every awake moment. It is an undercurrent, not a blaring horn. Am I reflecting the supernal glory and holiness I experience accurately? Am I modeling healthy and loving relationship to the planet and all her beings? Am I remembering to be grateful, to engage others gently and with chesed/kindness? Am I living in a way that honors the creation and the creator? Am I living for Olam Ha-Ba and behaving in accordance with the “precious, pure and holy divine majesty” or am I just sleep-walking through my life?

These questions are not really answerable. There will never be a complete or finished answer sheet with checked-off squares, √ kindness done, √ honoring done,√ gratitude done. These are forever and all the time questions for me and they are part of my life and very real for me. How does any of this relate to Purim, you might be wondering?

Well, Purim is about many, many things, most of which we will never be able to grasp in this world/Olam Ha-Zeh. One of the things that I love and relate to the most about Purim is the idea of dressing up, trying on, the costume of your enemy or your dark side. This holiday is ancient and it asks us to get so drunk that we can no longer tell the difference between good and evil, between the heroes and the villains, between right and wrong, up and down, male and female, Jew and Muslim, and all the other polarities on the spectrum. It’s the one time of year you will see Santa costumes in Orthodox neighborhoods. It’s really funny, very straight men dressing as women, super religiously devout folks dressing up as clowns and Christian icons. It’s a weird wonderland of a holiday.

Nicole, not really in costume, revealing her third eye.
Nicole, not really in costume, revealing her third eye.

While we are simultaneously supposed to be getting really drunk, we are also meticulously supposed to be listening to every syllable of the Megillah (scroll of Ester), and it has to be read over if we miss a line or say one word wrong, from the beginning. “A megillah is a finely detailed account or book but the term by itself commonly refers to the Book of Esther.” ~Wikipedia emphasis mine!

So, Purim is a study in contrasts, extreme detailed focus on the script, and wild abandon of self and self-constraints. For those who have alcoholic tendencies, or who come from families with alcoholism, this can be a treacherous holiday. Many people imbibe and it can be difficult to be around. Folks get loud and strange, it’s truly not your usual religious service. You don’t have to drink to get expansive or loosen your boundaries, but this is one of the times in the Jewish religion where some kind of personality, boundary-crossing, mind altering substance is called for.

We are so very attached to our ideas of right and wrong, of good and evil, male and female, Jew and everyone else, black and white, trim and fit or large (and by society’s definition unhealthy just because of our size). Purim is the one Holiday that will still be celebrated once the Messiah comes. I will address the various and multiple views on Messianic consciousness in Judaism in the future. I mention it here only to underline my point.

This strange holiday, based on an ancient scroll telling a terrible story, with ugly and horrible things going on it, as well as miraculous and wonderful things; this model of alternative narratives and confusing roles is something that is so fundamental to the nature of this universe, that it will actually still have a place in Olam Ha-Ba.

What does that mean? For me, it means that I am never going to “get it.” I will never be able to wrap my head around anything and say, “I’ve figured it all out, I know the answer.” It means, I should expect to be surprised and confused and not think that Ha-Shem has a plan, like we do.

While talking with my dear friend and Rabbi, Naomi Steinberg, we were discussing our extreme frustration with the concept of “God’s Plan.” This idea is so human-centric. Naomi was expounding on the ridiculousness of thinking about the Divine having some kind of day-planner with notes about what was supposed to happen to someone on Tuesday at noon.

We use and need plans as humans, because the world is a majorly intense and confusing place to navigate. If I don’t have a plan, I might miss my appointment with the dentist or the job interview or the meeting with the principal or whatever??? I am a big planner, I am not demeaning plans, planners or planning (see my Organizing Optimally post for a real list of how to plans).

There is a huge difference though between my attempts to navigate and organize my life or events and how the Creator engages with the Universe.

Planning cannot be applied to the Divine, or to the Divine in each of us. That Holy spark reveals itself to everyone differently and in its own way and across space and time. I may think you look like a woman, but you may feel like a man. I may think you are someone to feel sorry for, because you are in a wheel-chair or blind but you may be wiser and healthier, in a deep way, than I could ever know.

None of us knows what is inside of others. Regardless, we have to try to make contact and reach across whatever divides us. We need to reach across the bridges of our differences and listen, listen carefully to EVERY word of each others’ scrolls. “Wait, I missed that part where you said you felt different, can you go back and repeat that again, so I really understand?”

Coup d'Oeil Marocain, 1971, pen, ink, collage on paper with (handpainted mat), 22"x16"
Coup d’Oeil Marocain, 1971, pen, ink, collage on paper with (handpainted mat), 22″x16″ by Helen Redman

We also have to play with who we are and be willing to actually be THE OTHER, to wear the skins of those we cannot imagine being, or to take a risk and wear the shape that is true to who we are inside, even when it doesn’t match who we are on the outside. It’s a crazy, wild ride. I only drank some mellow herbal tea tonight, but somehow I was able to expand without any mind-altering substances. I hope your mind and heart are a little more expansive as a result of these Moon-rich Megillah musings of mine. On the 15th of Adar, 5775, Shushan Purim, it was written and, at least, for now this marks the end of the Nicole-Zone Purimschpiel/Megillah. Amen!


1 thought on “Moon and Mussar Musings on the Megillah

  1. beautiful words, thoughts and musings. You are a deep thinker. Thank you for sharing always. love elle


You've entered the Nicole Zone, what would you like to share?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.