Earlier this week I spoke with a boy who is preparing for his Bar Mitzva. One of the things we discussed was just what is the point of preparing for a Bar Mitzva at all - what do we really gain? So many children devote hours upon hours of time that could've have been used for other studies, hanging out with friends or a good TV show, into preparation for a service which lasts around an hour. And then? Adios, on with real life! I'd say so much preparation for one service is really not worth it, is it not? 

A Bar or Bat Mitzva is the Jewish traditional introduction to the real world, to real life. The real world is an overwhelming, even perilous place, and emphasis is often placed on the need for young people to be able to be tough. You need to work hard to get what you want. It's a world where you have to make something of yourself - and if you don't - nobody will do it for you. What use do Hebrew lessons, Torah readings and prayers have at a time supposed to be dedicated to learning how to be tough and compete in the real world? 

This coming Wednesday evening and Thursday is the holiday of Purim on the Jewish calendar (we'll be having a Wild Western style Purim celebration at the Chabad preschool in New Rochelle - all are welcome!). 

What is Purim? Haman, an evil adviser in the ancient Persian royal court, convinced his boss King Achashverosh to wipe out the entire Jewish population in his kingdom. Achashverosh ruled over much of the civilized world at the time, so this was a very serious threat. By a long, seemingly unconnected train of events - including the spoiling of an assassination plot against the king due to the vigilance of a Jewish officer, and a Jewish woman named Esther being made Queen - the decree was stopped. 

The full Purim story is very lengthy and fascinating. Compared to other Jewish holidays however, which may celebrate the victory of a tiny Jewish army over the mighty Greek oppressors, or the splitting of the Red Sea, Purim celebrates a long chain of events which ended in the Jews being saved. There wasn't much of the fanfare and instant miraculous salvation that we find associated with other Jewish holidays. And yet, the holiday of Purim is the most joyous day on the Jewish calendar, even more so than the holidays commemorating open, clear miracles that the entire Jewish people witnessed in front of their eyes.

Why? In life there are two tracks: what we do, and who we are. What we do is our careers, college degrees, vacations, investments and the like. Yet what would happen if God forbid all that would disappear? What would be left? A lot would be left. A human being is a creature far beyond careers and college degrees. Yes those are extremely important, but we also need to make sure that we have an identity as individuals, beyond all the externals. Who we really are is our faith, our family, our deepest feelings and thoughts, our acts of kindness. 

The Purim story was a shining example of people who stuck to their beliefs and values even though all else was lost. Their identities were not beholden to circumstance, however difficult it became. At the time, there was a death sentence hanging over every individual labeled 'Jew'. One would think that at such a time everyone must have been doing everything they could to hide their Jewishness. Yet we find that it was quite the contrary. There was a tremendous outpouring of Jewish pride and faith. The Jews of ancient Persia knew that ultimately, life is about preserving a strong inner identity, no matter what life throws at us. That, was the true miracle of Purim. The Jews of the time had nearly everything robbed from them, they almost lost their very lives. Yet they responded with immense pride and joy for who they were. In a world revolving around image and temporary power, a strong inner identity and conviction is the greatest miracle. 

Preparing children for their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs is way beyond preparation for a service. It is meant to instill a constant reminder to stay focused throughout life. Things get complicated, and the need to just make every day things run smoothly takes tremendous effort. Throughout it all, it is always important to make sure that success is not only achieved by 'what we do', but by 'who we are'. To preserve and nurture a strong inner identity, to be a kind caring person and a proud Jew. 

Rabbi Avrohom