26/27 February 2021, 14/15 Adar 5781

It’s poignant that last Purim we gathered together without knowing or understanding the virus in our midst. Purim, a relatively minor festival, impacted us profoundly.

This past year has been full of loss and suffering for so many. Some more than others as we know from our communities. Covid has been brutal to health capacity but also to livelihoods. So many had careers, work and income damaged; that has meant real suffering in many homes.

But Purim 2020 also left with us the custom of mishloach manot (sending gifts) and matanonot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor) and these permeated the Jewish year way beyond the festival. We have spent the last twelve months ensuring we send gifts to those that need, both food and cheering. We have had to be more responsive to those who have struggled. Possibly for the first time, some have had to rely on food banks and gifts, when they have hitherto never needed charity. So many of our synagogues have become hubs for local food banks. Our community letters have reminded us since last Purim: that if we are able to give we should. Looking ahead to Pesach we’ll say at Seder “Let All who are hungry come and eat”. It has taken on a piquancy through these months. Gifts and food for those who need has become a necessity rather than an option.

Famously the Book of Esther excludes the name of God. But even more so the word Ester contains the letters s-t-r, which is the root of the word ‘to hide oneself’. Talmudic rabbis play with this, and suggest Esther is from Hester Panim – ‘the hidden face’ of God – Deuteronomy (31.18), when God insists: ‘I’ll hide my face’. It has been a dark year but there is light ahead, as the Megillah ends with Mordechai “seeking goodness and speaking of peace to his descendants.” It’s tough not being together for another Seder; the second in a row. Perhaps we have people in our lives we fear it might be the last? So we hope and pray for a new ease and peacefulness.

Min Ha Meitzar karati yah v’anani v’merchav yah.

So says Psalm 118 which we will recite at Pesach in just a few weeks now;

“From a narrow place I cried to you and you answered me with wide expansiveness.” As we navigate these two holidays so anticipated, may we find that openness in a safe way for our communities and our country.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Rebecca
This piece is published in London Jewish News this week.