Why is Purim Close to Passover?

When they shaped the Jewish calendar, the Rabbis decided that seven  times in a cycle of 19 years, we must insert an extra month of Adar to keep the Jewish calendar in tune with the solar year as well as the lunar moonth.  Why was that important? They said it was to keep Passover in the spring. Otherwise,  it would circle through the solar year the way Ramadan does in the purely lunar Muslim calendar.

They also decided that whenever there was an extra Adar, the festival of Purim should always be in the  second Adar, to keep it  close to Pesach.  

This raises two questions: Why did they think Passover must always come in Spring; and why did they think Purim should stay close to Pesach?

 I think they had politico-spiritual reasons for both decisions. Let's take up th second question first:

Both festivals are about the overthrow of a tyrant: Purim in early spring when the trees are putting on their fresh costumes, at a time when the Earth and human earthlings are redolent wth bawdy laighter — and Megillat Esther is a doubling of a classic bawdy satirical joke  — the first Purimshpiel.

In that sense, Purim is an experiment in overcoming tyrants through laughter — as Saturday Night Live is aimed at our own pompous, cruel, and vicious rulers.

That is the nusach, the melody, of early spring. Then comes the nusach of “serious” spring. With Passover, YyyyHhhhWwwwHhhh, the Breath of Life, the Wind of Change,  becomes a Hurricane of Transformation. Is the sequence a reminder that we should began overthrowing our tyrants with laughter and if that is insufficient, we need to turn to more “serious" measures of resistance?

Just to clarify why I said the Megillah is a double joke:  

Haman starts the anti-Jewish action that ends up destroying him (even the same gallows he had intended for Mordechai ends up hanging him). A bloody joke, of the classic "hoist on his own petard” form.

AND — there is in the Megillah another joke of the same form, less bloody: Ahasuerus starts the action going with his put-down of Queen Vashti — women must not disobey men. And the result of his own anti-feminist tyranny is that he abjectly obeys what a woman -- Queen Esther -- tells him to do.

 

 

(Look carefully at the King. Here we see what Ahasuerus looks lke in our generation, with Haman lurking just behind.)

Anti-Semitism & anti-feminism go hand in hand (as they do in our present White House). Indeed, there is ancient midrash that says the courtier Memucan, who advised the King to get rid of Vashti, was Haman in disguise! Ahasuerus may seem to be a pompous, empty-headed, self-obsessed fool -- but remember, he affirms Haman's tyrannical plot.

It seems to me that every generation of Jewish renewal, including the one that created the Pesach Seder and the one that wrote the Purimshpiel Megillah and the one that wrote Isaiah’s original challenge to the fasters of Yom Kippur and the one that set Isaiah as the Haftarah for Yom Kippur   and the one in which the same Heschel who said that his legs were praying
when he was at Selma marching against racism also said that prayer was meaningless unless it was subversive  — all these knew that “liturgy” and “activism” were indivisible.  

Now the other question: Why must Pesach come in Spring? First of all, carefully reading the Torah's description of the first celebratory commemoration pf the Exodus reveals that the Passover of the Temple period of Jewish history -- with the offering of the "paschal" lamb and the eating of matzah -- was crafted from two spring festivals: the shepherd's spring festival of lambing, and the farmers' spring festival of new unleavened bread. The intense hot moment of a social upheaval melted them into one.

But this connection of Exodus with Spring is more than an echo from he ancient past: As the flowers rise up against winter, so the People rise up against Pharaoh. The Rabbis decreed that the Song  of Songs must be sung during Pesach. In the same way, the workers day of rebellion, May Day, tracks the "pagan" celebration of Spring -- the May Day of the May Pole and sexual renewal.

Not only are "liturgy" and "activism" indivisible, so are the rhythms of the Earth and the rhythms of social transformation. 

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