Yes, I am a total Game of Thrones fanatic. My wife and I got hooked on the books early on, and have waited patiently for each new book or season to come out. As you may recall, Mussar teaches that Patience is enduring an unpleasant situation, and when it comes for waiting for new books in the series, Patience is our only recourse. While I promised three Mussar lessons from Game of Thrones, consider this lesson on Patience to be a bonus.
Have you ever wondered if you are doing too much for other people? Perhaps you’ve felt taken advantage of, or felt like it is selfish to take care of yourself. Sometimes ordinary daily activities, like holding a door for another person, can provide insights to help you deal with more complex situations. For example…
***********Here’s the Mussar Practice************
In the days before Passover, I was saddened by the Notre Dame fire. As I was busy feeling terrible, I found myself personally challenged by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s Facebook post.
He argued that we as Americans should be less worried about the loss of a building, and more concerned about “the oppression of invisible people around the world.” Rabbi Shmuly cited a story from Leviticus Rabbah about the Romans giving better treatment to stone columns than to the poor. I was stopped in my tracks, and immediately stopped thinking of the fire as a “tragedy.” Instead, it became something I am sad about.
Then, I read about some of the backlash against the billion dollars pledged by the ultra wealthy to rebuild the cathedral. While some of the criticism is overblown, I personally agree with those who point out that if we can find money for a building, we can find money to deal with societal inequality and poverty.
Which brings us back to Passover. The story we tell every year is a central narrative of Jewish peoplehood. Throughout the Torah, we are asked to remember that we were slaves in the land of Egypt, as it says “You too must befriend (love) the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:19).”
When we were slaves, we too were invisible.
This Passover, let us channel our emotions from Notre Dame fire to remember the forgotten and invisible people all over the world. When we see and remember, how can we not act?
You might also like these other posts about Passover
Photo by Olivier Mabelly via Flickr CC
As I was revising last Purim’s blog post Esther’s Mussar Humility Lesson, I had a shocking realization. Esther is a Jewish Woman of Color.
Could that be true? I asked myself. I’ve always thought of her as white.
She must have been. The story takes place in Persia, and Persian people have darker skin.
In the painting to the left, notice how Esther has white skin and the servants have dark skin. I absorbed a cultural transformation: We’ve turned a Person of Color into a white person.
I did some research online, and found this wonderful story that describes what happened when a young boy heard a description of Queen Esther as someone with beautiful brown skin and hair in braids. He started jumping up and down, saying “Like me! I have brown skin too.” This young Jewish boy with a white mother and a dark skinned father saw himself in the Jewish narrative for the first time.
And I got an inkling of how it must feel to be a Jewish Woman of Color. I’ve read articles about Jews of Color feeling like they don’t fit in because in the synagogue people automatically think they are a guest or worse. Or they are ignored and not seen.
I admit, I felt a little sick to my stomach. It was confusing as my body coped with the discord of wanting to be inclusive, and my unconscious “elevation” of one of our greatest heroes to whiteness. I did not see Queen Esther for who she was.
In the words of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe, The ultimate value you can give a person is to treat a person seriously, to take notice of that person. When you treat a person lightly and you don’t acknowledge them, you sit at a table and talk to all your friends, ignoring the one person who sits by themselves you are stripping this person of their value in effect giving them a curse. – Alei Shor Chapter 8
This offers us an opportunity for a Purim Mussar Practice.
***********Here’s The Mussar Practice***********************
Name Queen Esther as a Jewish Woman of Color, especially if no people of color are around.
Whether or not you are Jewish, you are invited to participate in this practice. Please join me in this practice of Honor, going out of our way to make our siblings of color feel seen today.
I hope you’ll give this practice a try. When you do, be on the lookout for how it feels inside. Will you havec a strong somatic reaction like me, or something else?
As it says in the Book of Esther, this is a time when we remember a day when great sorrow turned to joy.
This practice offers us opportunity to take people in our community seriously. It can turn their sorrow of being invisible to the joy of being seen.
When we do so, we add another inch on the road to the World to Come.
What do you think? Comment below and let me know.
Esther’s Mussar Humility Lesson:
Have you ever been thrust into a situation where you were called to step outside of your comfort zone? If so, did you have to choose between stepping up to bring some good into the world, or doing nothing and let something bad happen?
This is exactly the choice Queen Esther faced in the Purim story.
To recap, in the Book of Esther, a Jewish woman of color named Esther wins a beauty contest to become Queen. Then, an evil advisor to the King arranges to have the Jewish people annihilated. Esther’s uncle Mordechei asks her to go to the King to prevent this calamity.
At the time, however, to approach the king uninvited was an offense punishable by death. Esther could have been dissuaded by the risk; nevertheless she persisted. Now remember, Esther is Queen by virtue of a beauty contest. She could have fallen prey to the Imposter Syndrome, and decided that she was unworthy of the task at hand. The Megillah (5:1) describes what happens next.
Esther donned royalty.”
What does that mean to don royalty? This is Esther’s Mussar Humility lesson. She went before the King in a regal persona. She occupied her space, and did not get hung up by the selection process that made her Queen. She had a right to be there, and made the most of her opportunity.
Have you ever been faced with a situation where you were called upon to do something outside your comfort zone? Do you ever get worried that you aren’t sure what to do, or that you really don’t belong and let yourself get paralyzed? Take inspiration from Esther, and just do it.
Thankfully few of us will have to step up the way that Esther did, where failure means genocide. At the same time, we live in extraordinary times, with political turmoil at home, and war abroad. Do you feel called on to speak out?
We should not simply read this story an an invitation for civic action. Who among us has not been faced with a trying situation at work, in our marriage, with a friend, or with the challenge of growing into full adulthood? How best can we step up, to do right by the people in our lives?
Can we stand by and do nothing if our Alma Mater is turning a blind eye to rape on campus?
You are heartily invited to stop for a moment and consider how Esther’s Mussar Humility lesson applies to you. Read the following and then close your eyes.
Think of the people in your life. What challenges do they face?
What is one small step you can take to support your friends, family and community in a new way?
How can you occupy your space to take responsibility, and try to be part of the solution?
Or, perhaps you need to occupy less space. If you are a parent, do you let you kids fail and learn from their mistakes?
Please comment below to capture your intention.