The moment my campers arrived at davening on the 4th of July this past summer, I knew that this would be a topsy-turvy day. They were all dressed in funky red, white and blue outfits, many wore silly hats and necklaces, and there was significantly more energy in the room than most mornings. During sport, everyone had the opportunity to jump and play in a moon bounce and there was a special chatif (snack) served on the kikar. The entire camp joined together in the afternoon to sing and dance, filling the kikar with crazy outfits and joy. In so many ways, this celebration reminded me of my celebrations of Purim growing up. There was always so much energy that filled the sanctuary as the megillah was read, and the Purim carnival the next day, complete with a moon bounce, were similar to my memories of July 4, 2013 at camp.
The holiday of Purim is often centered on these festivities and reminds us to let loose. We spend time thinking of creative costumes and engage in giving misloach manot (gifts of food and drink) to our friends and family. We are commanded to participate in a purim seudah (festive meal). Despite the focus on fun and games, Megillat Esther has many important lessons for us.
When Mordechai learned of Haman’s plot to destroy the Jewish people, he wanted Esther to help save them. In persuading Esther to make her identity known to King Achesverosh, Mordechai says to her,
ומי יודע אם לעת כזאת, הגעת למלכות (Esther 4:14),
roughly translated as “and who knows if it is not for just such a time that you reached this royal position.” Mordechai believes that it is not merely a coincidence that Esther is now queen and she must take advantage of her position. Mordechai’s belief in Esther’s action highlights something so crucial throughout this narrative: Esther becoming queen positioned her to make a difference in the lasting narrative of the Jewish people. With Esther, as with all of us, taking advantage of this opportunity meant taking a calculated risk and stepping out of her comfort zone.
Like Esther, we are faced with daily decisions about how to make an impact with the choices in our lives. This is true both at home, and in our day-to-day camp life. Camp becomes a safe environment for us all, nurturing healthy risk taking that leads to our growth and development, and we must learn that each moment given to us is sacred. We cannot let these moments pass us by, and must make the decisions that might force us out of our comfort zone.
In addition to the parallel festivities between Purim and the 4th of July I observed this past summer, there were moments occurring that same morning at camp reminding us of the importance of exerting leadership and courage in facing new challenges. A counselor who had not read Torah since her Bat Mitzvah read Torah next to her camper to show support, forcing her outside of her comfort zone. Campers signed up for new tarbuyot (arts and outdoor education) activities, taking advantage of all camp had to offer. And there were over 70 kids that participated in the early morning polar bear swim. It is all of these moments that remind us how to take advantage of the opportunities and situations that we are put in. Although they may be out of our initial comfort zone, we all have the security of the camp community to encourage us to understand “who knows that if it is not for just such a time, that you have reached this position”.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach!