If Shakespeare thought England circa 1600 was absurd, imagine what he would have thought of Persia in 400 BCE, or, for that matter Global Civilization 2010, where all the world is a wacky, crooked stage and all the people its drunken players.
On the surface, the Megillah, the Scroll of Esther, reads like a suspenseful story of palace intrigue that would make Shakespeare drool. It is so easy to get drawn into the drama of the storyline and the melodrama of the characters, that you could miss the absurdity of the whole narrative. Every character in the story is insane. It’s like they’re all drunk, or maybe there was something in the drinking water. No one is doing what they’re supposed to be doing: Vashti, the first queen mentioned in the story, for no apparent reason, refuses to appear when the king calls her; Achashverosh is the king, but he can’t make a single decision without consulting his moronic advisors; the royal palace guards are trying to kill the king instead of protecting him; Haman, a power-hungry megalomaniac gets exactly what he wants when his is appointed to a high position, and then risks it all to take out his ire against some Jew because he can’t control his anti-Semitic twitch; the list goes on.
How do we make sense of all this? The question becomes much more pertinent when we consider that it’s not just about a two thousand year old narrative – the same could be said about the world we live in today. Over the last century or so, the course of human civilization has taken on a progressively absurd course, and the absurdity quotient seems to be speeding up exponentially. No one is doing what they’re supposed to be doing. The CIA, charged with protecting American security, and hence world order, partners with the Taliban to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan and essentially fund the birth of Al Qaida and modern terrorism; Israel, which is supposed to be a guiding light unto the nations, insists on chasing its own tail under the glare of the international media spotlight; universities, once considered bastions of independent free thought, are merely tools at the hands of ideologues and interest groups; North Americans, once the great frontier people, have settled into the comfortable non-existence of the corporate Disneyland otherwise known as suburbia.
The only conclusion is that something much deeper is going on. When things make sense, then it’s easy to point to causal factors and say that this is happening as a result of this. But when everything is out of whack, when people make the most absurd statements and act completely out of character, and everyone else seems to be nodding and going along with it
making, you feel like you’re the only sane protagonist in some kind of kafkaesque conspiracy. When the whole world seems to be in upheaval, then there’s really only one way to explain it: The Master Puppeteer is having some fun and our expense; it’s almost like he’s saying let’s see how much of this absurdity they’ll take before they look up and wonder who the heck is pulling the strings here.
The Sages say that when you find yourself in an era where everything seems absurd, you should anticipate the arrival of Moshiach. Because that’s what Moshiach is all about – lifting the veils and revealing the true intent behind the facade. As an era, the times of Moshiach will present this reality as a global experience. On an individual level, we can experience it now by tapping into the teachings of that era, which can be found in Kabbalah and Chassidus. But that requires humility, the ability to transcend the self, which is what the inebriation of Purim is really all about – getting outside of the self.
So while a lot of people seem to be merrily going about their business, even enjoying the incessant absurdity of the masquerade, there are those who will seek to penetrate its darkness through social activism, justice and mystical depth perception. Or you can ignore the absurdity, don your costume, and enjoy the masquerade.