Liminality and Purim
By Jenna Rose Alpern
The holiday of Purim is almost here and so I feel that it is fitting for me to take some time to really connect to what that means. While taking a photography course a few months ago, designed for new olim (people who had made aliyah to Israel), we often discussed the concept of "liminality" and how it relates to our lives in transition. I very much identified with the concept then but wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. When this month rolled around, however, it seemed like the perfect time to embrace it.
“In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning 'threshold') is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants "stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes…
More recently, usage of the term has broadened to describe political and cultural change as well as rituals. During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.”
– Definition from Wikipedia.
The cycle of the Jewish calendar is meant to guide us through the year and connect us to various tikkunim (fixings) that we need to make in ourselves and our intentions as well as allow us to draw down the energies that are available to us in a given month. As one of my rabbis said, the energies of the month are always surrounding us just like radio waves – the choice is ours whether we want to tune in to them or not.
In this month of Adar, the tikkun and overall theme is happiness. It is said, “When Adar arrives, we increase our joy (Talmud – Taanit 29a).” Why is happiness so important in this month? Because it is when we are truly joyful, especially when doing the most mundane tasks, that we can connect most to G-d. For some people, the moment they enter the month of Adar, the delight is completely felt and embraced.
I, on the other hand, do a much better job of connecting to months like Av, a month of decreased joy and lots of mourning. For some reason, this is much more natural to me. I tend to write off the times of year when I am “supposed” to be happy and just say they aren’t for me. But is this really true? Maybe this month is especially important for me because I need to transform my natural disposition, turn it upside down, cultivate folly and embrace the liminality in order to achieve the highest state of Purim. To be able to see the potential for good in everyone.
Copyright © Yaron Brener
The story of Purim is one of a battle between good and evil, of overcoming enemies (both internal and external) through hidden miracles (hidden meaning that there is no mention of G-d in the entire Megilat Esther, the story of Purim.) To commemorate this victory, we dress up in costumes, retell this story, and drink wine until we don’t know the difference between good and evil.
Interesting note - the word for "to dress up (in costumes)" in Hebrew is להתחפש (l'hitchapes) which comes from the same root as "freedom" (חופש (chofesh)) and "to search" (לחפש (l'chapes)). Clearly there is a connection!
I tend to run in the opposite direction of hoards of drunk people (in fact, last year I pretty much hid inside the whole day) but I think in doing this, I miss the point of this deeply holy holiday. Sure, there are people who exploit the chance to party all day but what would it mean if we could truly connect to what is in the air on Purim? The chance to shed our masks (by wearing fake masks) and let our inner light out? The possibilities are endless when we stand at the threshold and let hierarchies dissolve!
The real goal of Purim is to flip our routine, our inhibitions, our egos, our judgments on their heads. And maybe, just maybe, when we are all upside down, the illusions of barriers that separate us will fall away and what is usually hidden – our truest, deepest selves – will come forth and we will be able to see the hidden sparks of light in every one.
May we all be able to connect to the deepest truths of Purim and see the oneness that exists around us every day. Purim Sameach!