In French, this month is spelled like the war divinity: “Mars.” In ancient, classical Greece, Athena is the goddess of wisdom ... and war!
Now, Mordecai, the hero of Purim, is an uncle figure, or a guardian, or a trusted political adviser, who sets up the sequence of the story line. In our present-day, popular-culture lingo, he fixes up lovely Esther with the king, and thus evokes the hatred and envy of the villain Haman, arch-enemy of the Jews.
The tale ends with a nice, violent Hollywood scene of revenge, with the bad guys suffering the very fate they had planned for the Hebrews. But the plot is titled with a suggestive plural word that we can translate as “Dice.” And we celebrate with secret candy gifts, kids’ costumes and party noise-makers for the small fry to rattle when they hear the name “Haman” in the comic-book text. Boys rather like to dress up as the bad guy to give vent to their preteen taste for naughtiness.
And what about Vashti? No proper Jewish girl would be named for this victim of royal rage, which followed her refusal to dance for his guests. She is either beheaded or dismissed, depending on the translation of text. (She might serve as a heroine these days, and Vashti has always been a girl’s name for other ethnic groups that admire her personal courage in refuting and repudiating royalty.)
Anyway, this is a holiday for the month that has evermore been about turmoil, in the firmament above, on the ground below and among the wildlife in the wilderness.
“March winds doth blow.”
“What will poor Robin do then?”
And even, “Beware the ides of March,” wrote the Bard in his play about the fate of Caesar on the infamous 15th when friend became a fatal foe … and when taxes used to be levied.
We play Purim for laughs, not vengeance, and frankly keep it light-hearted. A bit like Hollywood in its heyday, when Hedy Lamarr, like Garbo and Dietrich, used their brains to fight against Hitler, and their beauty just to entertain customers in the cinema.
MIKE FINK (email@example.com) is a professor emeritus at the Rhode Island School of Design.