March 18, 2022
We Are One
fragrant holy smoke
our beauty, our strength
This week we welcomed in the last full moon of winter, on the cusp of the spring equinox, and the lively festival of Purim. While much has been written about taking up the Talmud’s dictum that we should drink enough wine so that we become intoxicated and cannot distinguish between “Cursed is Haman” and “Blessed is Mordechai,” I was reflecting this week on blurring the distinctions between Queen Vashti, often seen in a negative light, and Queen Esther, hailed as the hero of the Purim story.
In light of my Shmitah practice of lifting up the needs and care of my physical body this year, I considered what it would be like to perceive the qualities of Vashti and the qualities of Esther as one. To see on a continuum, our capacity to be indignant, defiant, and unwilling to compromise our principles as Vashti is portrayed, and also reticent, timid and fearful as Esther appears at the beginning of the story. To experience our strength and our beauty as one.
To experience our strength, and also our beauty, as arising from places of clarity, as well as from facing challenges. To feel ourselves calling out injustice with unwavering courage, and to feel our bravery also arising from a realization that we can no longer be silent in the face of bigotry. To understand what a situation calls for, and to step in and be the one—or one of the ones—that helps bring about a much-needed change. To have compassion for ourselves when we fall short, and to draw on the strength of those who came before us as we continue onward. To remember those who will come after us as we take our place in the ongoing struggle to assure justice for all. To attune to our gifts and to realize, as it is written in Megillat Esther: Perhaps this is the moment for which you [we] were created.
Along with continuing descriptions of how sacrifices were offered, this week’s parashat, Tzav, contains the line:
אֵ֗שׁ תָּמִ֛יד תּוּקַ֥ד עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ לֹ֥א תִכְבֶּֽה
A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out.
What if we understand that fire to be one that perpetually burns within each of us, to illuminate sacredness and holiness within ourselves and in the world. A fire that urges us to call out injustice and bigotry wherever we find it, and to continually shed light on ignorance and hatred so that transformation and healing can be possible.
After being away from Gandoca for this last month, spending time across the southern coast of Costa Rica, I returned to the Caribbean (eastern) coast this week. As I retraced the journey I had taken traveling south, following in my own footsteps and passing through all of the places where I had stayed and spent time, I recalled all of the experiences I had had. All of the tastes and smells and feelings and adventures. And I wanted to scoop them all up and hold on to everything together in one big embrace. To not only remember all that had gone before, but to actually re-experience it all at the same time and hold onto all of it in the present moment. Of course, like the image that can be perceived alternately as either a vase or two faces, it was impossible to truly hold everything in the exact same moment. I had to constantly shift my gaze between where I was and where I had been. Between letting go and bringing it all with me. Between how I wished things could be and how they are.
While the practice of blurring boundaries can be problematic at times, it can also be illuminating. This week, I focused on how I could take up the practice of feeling myself as Vashti and as Esther in the same moment. How I could feel my strength and my beauty as one. How I could feel a holy fire perpetually burning within me for all of time. How I could let go and go forward.
The journey continues.