Year: 2023 / 7. Nisan 5783

The Month of Salvation: Nisan

Nisan is month of salvation, abundance, shouting, and welcome. This is the month of Pesach, coming just after the spring equinox (for those living in the northern hemisphere). It's a time when Jews and our neighbors clean, celebrate, and consecrate with special meaning. Pesach begins on the eve of April 5th. We mark the Warsaw Ghetto uprising on the 13th day of Omer, which is April 19th this year. This year, Ramadan and Pesach overlap, which makes this year's Mimuna quite special as Muslims and Jews can come together to eat sweets to mark the end of a day's fasting and the end of eight days of Pesach. That occurs on April 13th.

Photo illustration by Stuart Acker Holt

Nisan is also known as the month of salvation. We came out of Egypt this month, but we are always in Egypt and are always coming out. It is a time of movement, from the waters of Pisces into the fire of Aries – preparing the lamb of Pesach and protecting our very lives with its blood. The blood is the life, we have been told – what do we di with this blood as we float into our new cycle, as we flow into spring?

Keys to Abundance

The Rosh Hodesh of Nisan is celebrated with a Bsisa ritual among Tunisian Jews, who currently live wherever they live in the world – be it in Paris, Berlin, Marseille, or still in the island of Djerba. It is a practice in which the participants in the ceremony eat some sort of spice mix, based on the abundance that will flow into this world as this spring and new year come upon us. The mix is traditionally eaten with keys, which are used as spoons. Whatever key you use, that which it opens will be full of blessing and abundance.

Ramadan, Norooz, Mimuna

This year Nisan is aligned with Ramadan, and the celebration of Norouz was a few days ago, as other communities were preparing for the spring. The cleansing and cleaning of ourselves, are practiced in many pagan cultures and traditions – and found their way also with the meticulous Hametz hunt. In Morocco, the Mimuna is celebrated at the end of Pesach – a way to go back to the open-hearted hospitality and closeness between Jews and their neighbors, to eat together, dance and celebrate.

Nisan is a month rich with holidays and traditions. Pesach, for our Christian neighbors and loved ones, is the time of Easter – the crucifixion and death of their Lord and Messiah. At the same, he resurrects and comes back to life. This month is colored with symbolism and meaning – birth and rebirth, spring and death, end and beginning. All of these are mixed together as our keys open our hearts and mouths, towards all that these days have to offer us.

A Month of Shouting

Reb Nachman, who was also born in this month, teaches that it is a month of shouting – like Pesach is. These energies can also be experienced in the dates we choose to remember in this month: the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the Zwetschgen Taanit (which refers to a 1699 uprising against Jews in which at least one Jewish resident was forced to defend himself by hurtling plums at the mob)  – read more about them in the Ma’agal calendar. This month’s artwork, by Stuart Acker Holt, resembles the feeling of wonder and curiosity which is the heart of the magic of this time. Nature is slowly reborn, flourishes and gives new life to those who died and are reborn. May we stand with open arms towards the skies, curious eyes in all directions, mouthing awe with the beauty of all that is happening around us.

About the Illustration

Stuart Acker Holt writes:

This is the month of miracles. It is the month in which life returns to the natural world. The beginning of a cycle and marker of the passing of time. An unmovable pattern that provides strength as we age within a volatile wordl. My starting point with this image was the idea that all living things are imbued with untold possibility in the month of Nisan. A freshly harvested field of corn with a centuries old wall, connecting the human and geological history within its bricks. This is the backdrop representing the duality of time passing and time repeating. I juxtaposed this backdrop with the children in the field in the foreground, a suggestion of the unknowable stories within and between them. The composition is intended to inspire curiosity, the essential ingredient which gives magic its wonder in our world.


Adar: My Own Private Purim

When is Purim in 2023? March 6. That's when.

Celebrate!

They tried to kill us. We survived! Let’s drink! In a nutshell, that’s the Purim story. In celebration we are supposed to get somewhat intoxicated, if that’s something we can do and keep our health. Some say, we should get so drunk that we can’t tell the difference between good and evil. Others say, maybe that’s a little too drunk.

In Megillah 7b of the Talmud, we read a story of Rabbah and Rabbi Zeirah who took their celebrations of Purim a little too far. Rabbah got so drunk that he lost all sense of good or evil and cut Rabbi Zeirah’s throat. What a hangover he had the next day when Rabbah woke up next to his bloodless friend. He prayed with such fervor that the good Rabbi Zeirah came back to life. The following year, when Purim rolled around again and Rabbah invited his old friend to celebrate with him, Rabbi Zeirah declined. “One miracle, okay. But a miracle every year? I don’t think I can count on that,” he told Rabbah.

My Own Private Purim

My relationship to Purim is, well, complicated.

When I was a child in an industrial metropolis on Lake Michigan -- Gary, Indiana -- I attended a gloriously messy conservative synagogue called Temple Beth-El. The congregation celebrated Purim with full-throated vigor, with costume contests, a fair, and a raucous megillah reading. I was one of many children and adults booing Haman, making noise, and just loving it. We children were the first post-Holocaust generation, born in the two decades after the end of the war. Our parents were booing a very real Haman, one whose voice they knew, whose terror they knew. Some had survived the camps. Others, like my parents, were the children of those who survived pogroms. We were all loud-mouthed immigrants in Gary. And the adults were busy having as many Jewish children as they could bear physically, financially, and emotionally. For my parents that number was 5. Purim was our holiday. It belonged to us.

We were coming back from the dead.

But who can depend on a miracle every year?

Why Do You Feel Responsible?

Much later, I had the honor to study with the amazing Matti Megged, a Jewish philosopher, writer, and educator. A friend and I would join him in his library and study texts from the Torah together. We studied slowly, spending a year on Genesis. On Purim in 1994, we were studying together when we heard the news of the massacre of Palestinian Muslims at the Cave of the Patriarch. Matti and I were heartbroken, furious, emotional.

We hoped our grief could bring those lives back. But again, our miracles were used up.

My fellow student, a good friend and non-Jew, could not understand our reaction.

Why do you feel so responsible? she asked.

How could we not? we answered. This is what it means to be Jewish, what it means to be part of a minoritized group. It's hard, almost impossible, to separate one's own identity from that of others. Some of us feel responsible even for the very worst of us -- especially for the very worst.

After that day, I could not celebrate Purim. I couldn't help but wonder about the 70,000 collaborators with Haman who were killed. Was that really necessary?

And now... now with fascism on the rise and being accepted as normal and inevitable, I wonder again. Will I learn the lesson that Jews and other minoritized and marginalized groups have learned over millennia: to know when to flee and when to hide and when to fight?

And Yet...

I am left with a new Purim question. What does it mean that Haman's grandchildren studied Talmud? (Thanks Sefaria, for these strange tidbits of info!) I am the generation of Haman's grandchildren. And I too have studied with them: with the son and grandchild of Nazis. They are among my favorite people in the entire wide world: warrior scholars who have dedicated their lives to the struggle against anti-semitism, anti-Black racism, and injustice. Did those who studied with Haman's grandchildren feel even half of the love and respect I feel for my dear friends?

 

 

On Purim from the Artist

Image by Ali Shrago-Spechler, who writes:

"It is said that during Adar, we are to view and experience the world with a deep consideration of all of its quirkiness and contradictions. On Purim, we dress as our enemies and get so drunk that we cannot distinguish between evil Haman and the brave Mordecai. For this reason, I have decided to take a closer look at the topsy-turvy nature of the Purim story and have created an image that shows Vashti and Esther, the two feminist heroes of the narrative, mourning over the death of Haman's 10 sons mentioned at the end of the story. Offering a twist from the Bible Esther who insisted on hanging Haman's sons, I wanted to use my work to not only consider these acts of violent retribution, but to offer a notion of soft mourning and regret."