Purim: Feedback and taking risks

By Laura Seymour

Dear Friends,

Every year our holiday cycle remains the same (although never at the same time). Just as we do each week with the Torah portion, we look for a new insight. It may not be a new insight but as we change and grow, we are looking for different answers. That is what is so amazing — the text remains but we change, so the text speaks to us differently (and we all don’t hear the same thing!).

The story of Purim comes alive in so many different ways. For me, I spend hours telling the story to children as young as 12 months (yes, they all listen!). This is actually one of the biggest struggles of all: How do we tell a story that has good and bad guys (plus sex and intrigue) to little ones without making it scary? First, you leave out the sex and intrigue but the struggle is with the focus on dealing with mean Haman. Children know there are bad guys and making sure it is about something that happened long, long, long ago makes it easier. The best message is about Esther’s bravery and standing up for what is right. We also have Mordechai, who is also a person of courage. And, there is my personal favorite, Vashti — that took a lot of courage.

So what do we tell adults? Our J staff and seniors can’t wait to hear my take on the story with all the sexual innuendos that the story is filled with, but that doesn’t mean I leave out the many important messages. I just read an article by Dr. Andrea Jacobs on “Ta’amod — Stand Up: Transforming Jewish Workplaces.” Yes, in every story and throughout the Torah we can find business guidance and Dr. Jacobs shares a wonderful perspective:

In the Purim story, Esther becomes queen, gaining all the power and privilege of that position. At a crucial moment of the story, Esther must find the courage to give critical feedback to the king because his lack of leadership has led to a crisis for her community.

Esther is reluctant to risk her privilege and relative safety to stand up to the king. She needs critical feedback from Mordechai about the consequences of choosing inaction and relying on her “temporary privilege” to remain safe even as others in her community are targeted. Esther’s capacity to hear this feedback and use her power to make change is one of the key lessons of Purim for me. The cycle of feedback from Mordechai to Esther and Esther to the king is what makes change possible.

What an important lesson that we all can learn from — giving and receiving critical feedback! It is hard because it challenges us to look deeper into our thoughts and behaviors. It is hard because it often depends on who is giving the feedback. It is hard because it is a risk — both to give and receive. Esther was scared but isn’t that what courage is all about — doing what is right even if you are scared? Let this Purim be a chance for each of us to look at what we can do to stand up and take a risk!

Laura Seymour is Jewish experiential learning director and camp director emeritus at the Aaron Family JCC.

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