A son once complained to his mother that his life was a constant struggle. No sooner was one problem solved then another followed. In response, the mother took him into the kitchen and filled three pots with water. She placed potatoes in one, eggs in the second and ground coffee in the third. She then set them to boil. Impatiently, the son wondered, "What on earth is she doing?"
After 20 minutes, the mother placed the potatoes and eggs in separate bowls, and ladled the coffee into a cup.
"Son, look closely," she said and mashed the soft potatoes beneath her fork. Pulling off its shell, she revealed the egg to be hard-boiled. Finally, she sipped the aromatic coffee and smiled.
"All of these were immersed in boiling water. The potato entered strongly, but came out soft. The egg, initially fragile, emerged hard. But the coffee was unique. Engulfed, it transformed its reality into something nourishing and new. When adversity surrounds you, which will you be: potato, eggs or coffee?"
This weekend, we mark Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. From a second Torah, we read the command to remember the Amalekites cowardly ambush of our Hebrew ancestors following the Exodus from Egypt.
The Haftorah describes how Saul, Israel's first king, was later charged with vanquishing the Amalekites, a task he only partially completed because he left their king, Agag, alive. These scriptural selections act as preludes to Purim, when we read in the Megillah how Mordechai and Esther, scions of King Saul's family, defeated Agag's later-day Persian descendant, the wicked Haman.
We might wonder if threads beyond the chronology of narrative bind these tales into a whole whose meaning both encompasses and transcends the themes of hatred and its defeat? And might there also be a connection to the reading from this Shabbat's first Torah, Parshah Tzav, whose conclusion describes Aaron and his sons's preparation for their consecration as the priests of Israel?
Several commentators have noted a similarity between the aftermath of the Amalekite attack and the end result of Haman's defeat in Shushan centuries later. In the first instance, the Israelites went on to Mount Sinai, where they purified themselves to receive Torah and enter into a covenant with God.
According to the Megilah, the Jews of that era reaffirmed the covenant, accepted Torah anew and instituted Purim, the first Jewish holiday to be consecrated after the giving of Torah.
Rather than succumbing to adversity or being hardened by their experiences, the Israelites during the time of Moses and the Jews of Shushan became partners to new revelations that transformed their own lives and have had a lasting impact on us as well. Similarly, when Aaron's two eldest sons forfeited their lives following the preparations described in Parshah Tzav, Aaron emerged from that adversity soon after to secure God's forgiveness for the people on the first Yom Kippur.
The traditional feast (seudah) and festive foods like hamantashen play important roles during our Purim celebration. And they connect to the mother in that kitchen. As life's problems grow, we might ask: Shall we soften like potatoes, harden like eggs or become agents of transformation, like the coffee? u
Rabbi Howard A. Addison is the religious leader of Congregation Melrose B'nai Israel Emanu-El in Cheltenham. E-mail him at: rabbia email@example.com.