FRAMEWORKS AND THEIR LIMITATIONS
We might have separate frameworks for each mitzvah, or category of mitzvot that we do. One way to understand prayer, another way to understand kashrut, another for niddah, yet another for Shabbat and holidays.
And, we might have a framework for the set of all the mitzvot and religious acts that we do. We might, for example, believe that every mitzvah that we do adds a brick to the building of the Third Temple, or retrieves sparks that were scattered with the shattering of the vessels, or refines us as humans, or keeps the civilization of the Jewish people alive.
The framework we work with, when it works, provides stability, well-being, satisfaction, direction, and useful challenges. Without a framework, we might be lacking those things. Each religious act might feel separate from all others, with no real sense of purpose, no way to talk about impact, no capacity for the act to hold or meet expectations, no sense of particular challenge, or contribution, or satisfaction.
Of course a framework will need to be adjustable as we grow. That is also a framework - one that allows for local, temporary frameworks to rise up and and then fall away as needed.
And sometimes - often - a framework gets old. We might learn it early in life and try to keep investing in it forever, and then deny that it has in fact lost all of its luster.
At other times, a framework is torn from us. It becomes clear, somehow, that an old framework that might have seemed useful or relevant to us is simply no longer useful or relevant - to Hashem, to the world, to our community, to the future, to accomplish our own goals. We might think it’s still good, but our children indicate it is not, by being completely uninterested, by making choices that are (or seem) antithetical to our framework.
At such moments, we are thrust into chaos. At which point we could either continue to live in that framework without expecting it to make sense, we could give up on having any useful framework at all, or we could strive to make order out of that chaos, to establish a new and better-working framework. (Some people will certainly attempt to clamor back to the old framework, will insist that nothing has changed, that we only need to double down and be more committed. Good luck with that.)
Often, this is when we turn to an individual who seems to have a full grasp of the changing moment and can provide a new orientation within that moment. It is difficult to overstate the challenge and importance of properly perceiving, naming, describing, recognizing the magnitude of, and remaining positive and optimistic about the moment.
In ancient Babylonian lure, chaos is represented by Tiamat. It is not purposeless chaos, but, rather, the chaos of not-yet. Chaos and potential. Primordial chaos that will hopefully, eventually, become something. But it will not automatically become something ordered. There is a battle that must be waged in order for this chaos to become something accessible, for the power inherent in this chaos to be directed toward positive impact. And the one who fights Tiamat-Chaos is Marduk.
Without any kind of background in comparative mythology, or knowledge of the rules that govern such moves, I would like to suggest/imagine/pretend that Mordecai of the Scroll of Esther is challenged with the same task as Marduk - to fight Tiamat-Chaos and provide us with a new sense of order.
The chaos that Mordecai faces is that the old framework of relationship to God has disintegrated. God doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the Jewish people anymore. He does not seem to be protecting them from the wicked Haman, who has insinuated himself into the king’s good graces and taken significant steps to eradicate the Jewish people.
Granted, the Jewish people have not been acting in accordance with the rules of that framework, either. This may be because the framework they have been operating under - the promise given to Jeremiah - “For thus said G‑d: ‘When 70 years are completed for Babylon, I shall remember you...to return you to this place’” (Jeremiah 29:10) - seems to have disintegrated. They might say that Hashem was the first to step out of the framework by not redeeming them when He told them He would.
That prophecy of Jeremiah’s is a framework. A timeframe is given, expectations are articulated. We know that there is some fancy footwork in figuring out exactly when those 70 years start and end, but whenever the average person thinks those 70 years start, when they are lapsed, they certainly believe that the framework has collapsed. So why not eat at the feast of Achashveirosh? Why not give up? Why not bow down to the new god - clearly the old one is out of the picture or no longer powerful, right?
This is a huge amount of chaos that Mordechai has to deal with. He has to guide them toward the new framework. He has to show that the old framework is not operative anymore because it is outdated. It is no longer sufficient to describe the actions and reactions of the Jewish people and Hashem. It no longer sufficiently describes what they should expect from one another.
Is it enough for them to do mitzvot in order to maintain that relationship? Is it enough for them to believe that Hashem is capable of doing miracles? Maybe they were expecting miracles at the end of those 70 years like the miracles that took place after the 400 years that Hashem described to Avraham.
How will the expected redemption happen? Maybe Hashem has decided that redemption will look differently. Maybe they were expecting the redemption to happen to them from outside, and they can stand and watch, like Moshe told the Jewish people to do when they stood at the sea.
Could Mordecai show the people that there is another model - a new framework - that is somehow even more valid, tuned into their current concerns and capacities, a new kind of faith that they could be excited by and invested in, that could make it matter whether they went to the feast of Achashveirosh or not (and therefore determine whether or not they should repent), whether they would proudly live as Jews, and defend their right to live as Jews? Could Mordecai convince them that Hashem is still committed to them and their needs, but will be showing it in different ways? That overt miracles should not ever be expected, but covert miracles are everywhere? That what seems to them as a natural flow of events and a series of twists of fate is how Hashem will be working with them now? That, now, belief that Hashem continues to operate fully, albeit through the natural phenomena of the world, is not only optional, but essential in establishing the terms of the new human/Divine partnership?
This is the chaos that Mordecai must fight. And we know that he succeeds. A framework is established. The Jewish people are suddenly ready to willingly participate in that framework.
אף על פי כן הדור קבלוה בימי אחשורוש דכתיב קימו וקבלו היהודים קיימו מה שקיבלו
Even so, they once again accepted the Torah in the days of Achashveirosh, as is written, “The Jews fulfilled and they accepted” - they fulfilled what they accepted.
That passage in the Talmud is referring to the claim that Hashem held a mountain over the Jews’ heads like a barrel at Sinai and demanded that they receive the Torah, or else. Such a demand made the Jews’ relationship to the Torah a function of coercion. Only now, at Purim did they fully and willingly accept the Torah. A new framework is born.