Celebration Time

Almost 400 years ago, in 1629, one of my ancestors, Rabbi Yom Tov Lippman Heller (also known as the Tosefot Yom Tov, after his well known commentary on the Mishnah) was arrested in Vienna, where he had become the Jewish community’s Chief Rabbi in 1625.

Rabbi Yom Tov was one of the preeminent scholars of his generation, and he was also known far beyond the Jewish community for his breadth of knowledge, especially in the fields of mathematics and astronomy. He wrote about the new solar-based ideas of Copernicus and Tycho Brahe and was also well known in the Imperial Hapsburg court.

R’ Yom Tov was accused of insulting Christianity; he was at odds with many merchants in the community - as the Crown was in need of money to fund its wars, it imposed high taxes on the Jewish community that the merchants were loath to pay. He was threatened with execution.

After several months, R’ Yom Tov was released, forced to pay an exorbitant penalty, and exiled from Vienna. He wrote about his experiences and his deliverance in a treatise he called Megillat Eivah. He charged his descendants to read and celebrate this deliverance in Adar, around the time we celebrate Purim.

I share this bit of history with you to point out that even in the darkest times, even when under threat of death, even when some of those he considered close turned against him, he found a way to survive and thrive, and he found reason to celebrate.

This is where we are. This weekend we celebrate the deliverance of the Jewish people from the evil plans of Haman, and the triumph led by Queen Esther and Mordechai. In the darkest hour, Mordechai asked Esther “...and who knows? Maybe it was for exactly this purpose that you were drawn close to the Throne.” How do we celebrate? WIth parties and songs, of course. But we are also mandated to celebrate by giving gifts and helping the needy. Because that’s who we are.

We all have a responsibility to gather, pray, give, and act for our people. And we also have a responsibility to celebrate our identity; our triumphs; our heroes; our homeland; our culture; our holidays; Ours. Just like they belonged to our unbroken chain of heritage, they belong to us.

This is our time.

Chag Purim Sameach!!