This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (“laws”) names many of the ethical principles that lie at the foundation of Jewish civilization throughout the ages. These laws include ethics such as not taking a poor person’s coat as surety for a debt (because “in what shall he lie down?”), not taunting or oppressing a stranger, widow or orphan, and distancing oneself from a false word. And, this week’s parsha includes the Sabbaths of the land and the weeks, and commandments for observing the three pilgrimage festivals: the Festival of Matzot (Passover), the Festival of the Harvest (Shavuot) and the Festival of the Ingathering at the close of the year (Sukkot). These festivals have a special status in the Torah because they involved offering first fruits of the harvest in the Temple in Jerusalem in ancient times. Yet Purim, the holiday coming up next, enjoys a special status as well not because it is mentioned in the Five Books (it is not), but because the rabbis realized that celebrating the experience of overcoming oppression as a minority would strengthen Jewish identity and peoplehood. Purim reminds us that miracles are not only overt; miracles manifest through people’s courage and bold action to stand up for ourselves as a community and what is right. On Purim, we look out for the poor by doing acts of tzedek (“justice”) and give gifts to one another to strengthen Jewish community. This year, there will be opportunities for both with Mitzvah Day on March 18, two weeks later!

This year, Temple Emanu-El is joining us for a Community Celebration of Purim on Wednesday, February 28 at 6:30 pm. The theme is Children’s Stories and Fairy Tales, so please come in costume from your favorite children’s story (or as a character from the Book of Esther)! The Purim Family Day with Carnival is on Sunday, Feb. 25 from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. An announcement and details will go out next week with both. Also, we have Mitzvah Day this year on Sunday, March 18 from 9:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. including a community luncheon. This is a chance to clean and improve our Temple and grounds, a park in the neighborhood we’ve adopted and to visit Project 150 and bring items that encourage and support homeless youth to stay in school. Please read the piece by Tova Ramos, chair of Social Action, below, about the tzedakah drive that will accompany Mitzvah Day. I look forward to celebrating Purim and Mitzvah Day, and then Passover, with all of you as we continue to incorporate the ethics of our tradition into our holiday observances.

Rabbi Bair