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March/April 2020 - Message from the Rabbi

A few weeks ago, I served as a scholar in residence at St. Minerad’s Archabbey and School of Theology teaching “Judaism” to the theology class. This has now become one of my most enjoyable and interesting “yearly” experiences. Of course, the “rabbi in the Abbey” had to inspire a story or joke – fortunately, there is a Hasidic tale that was perfect for the occasion.

In a small town in Europe there was a monastery, and, unfortunately, the monastery was failing. There were only six monks still living there, and the head monk knew that soon they would have to close. In the town there was a Hasidic rabbi. The head monk decided to meet with the rabbi for some advice. "Our monastery is failing. What can we do?" said the monk. The rabbi answered, "I don't know how to help you. You are Catholic and I am Jewish. But I know one thing. One of the monks in your monastery is the Messiah."

The chief monk was awe struck. He went back and told the monks, "One of you is the Messiah." Suddenly everything changed. Who was the Messiah? No one knew, so everyone began to treat their fellow with a great dignity. The word reached the community, and people began to visit the monastery. Before long everything turned around, and the monastery began to flourish.

The point of the story is clear. If we assume that everyone we meet is a secretly a great saint worthy of treatment with dignity, it changes the world. There is an old Jewish legend that there are thirty-six absolutely righteous people in the world - the lamed-vavniks. They live hidden among us, and no one knows who they are. But these thirty-six people sustain the entire world. Imagine approaching everyone we meet as one of the lamed-vavniks.

This is the perfect time to think about people who hide their true selves. On March 8th at TABI, we will read the book of Esther and celebrate Purim, which tells the story of the Jewish queen who saved her people from the wicked Haman. Through most of the story Esther kept identity hidden. "Esther had not made known her people nor her kindred, for Mordecai had charged her that she should not tell it." (Esther 2:10) If Esther had publicly displayed her Jewishness, she would not have been brought into the king's household. She was a secret Jew. Some say that she was an assimilated Jew. And yet, when she revealed her hidden self, she was able to save her people.

The name Esther actually comes from a Hebrew root meaning "to hide." The Torah speaks of God sometimes hiding and uses the phrase hester panim "hiding God's face." On Purim we celebrate Esther by hiding our true selves. We wear costumes. Many of us wear masks. We present a different face to the world than we usually show. On Purim we celebrate our hiddenness.

Purim may be the day set aside for hiding our true selves. But many people rarely show their true face to the world. We meet people all the time who seem so ordinary. But underneath the mask, they may be the next savior, the High Priest, a lamed-vavnek, or even the Messiah. How important is it for us to approach each person as if they are hiding a secret self, a self who will change the world!

Purim this year will be a blast – here's the flyer for “Shpielin Groovy” a Simon and Garfunkel themed Purim. I hope you will join us for the festivities beginning t 10:00 AM sharp on March 8th.

 

B'shalom,

Gary A. Mazo, Rabbi