It's Purim - Extend the Circle of Concern!

Purim reminds us that the line between those who are in and who are out is very thin, and can change at any time, so we do well to bring those on the outside in. We hope you'll join in these efforts.

The story we read on Purim is full of dramatic reversals of fortune. Those who appear to be doing well at the beginning end up faring very badly by the end, while those who are first decreed for destruction wind up the victors.

In one sense, these reversals are about who is "in" and who is "out." Haman's plot to destroy the Jews hinges on convincing King Achashverosh of his view that the Jews are irredeemable outsiders -- too different and strange to ever fit in. While his plot is going well, Haman seems destined to rise further in the king's court -- to become a real "insider." But when the person closest to the king -- the ultimate insider, the queen -- turns out to have been one of the "outsiders" in disguise all along, the tables are turned: Haman and his family are cast out, while Queen Esther, Mordechai, and the Jews are triumphantly brought back in. It all turns on a few accidents of fate, which may be the origin of the name of the holiday, Purim, which means "lots," the proverbial dice of fate that are cast.

We usually think that the story ends there. But the scroll goes on to tell us what we should make of this crazy story: That we should remember it and observe it as a yearly festival; that we should send gifts to each other; and that we should give gifts to the poor. In other words, the whole saga ends with a commandment to extend the circle of concern to include those on the outside by giving to those outside each society's circle of prosperity: the poor.

We have two important opportunities to practice this with those who may be the ultimate outsiders in our city of beautiful neighborhoods and homes: the homeless of Seattle.

1. Tonight, we can practice the mitzvah of matanot la'evyonim, giving those gifts to the poor, at our Purim celebrations, by donating money or clothing to the city's homeless at a mitzvah table. If you won't be joining us tonight, you can also fulfill this beautiful mitzvah by donating online.

2. This coming Monday, we will take an in-depth look at the homelessness crisis in Seattle with a special Kavana screening of the new documentary film "Trickle Down Town," followed by Q&A with the director and a discussion of the actions we can take as a community. Details about this featured event are below.

Of course, the tragedy in New Zealand also reminds us how dangerous it is to place groups of people outside our sense of the collective, just as Haman attempted to do. Some Kavanafolks also joined the vigil at the mosque in Redmond to say that we all stand together inside the circle of our multi-faith, multi-ethnic society.

Purim reminds us that the line between those who are in and who are out is very thin, and can change at any time, so we do well to bring those on the outside in. We hope you'll join in these efforts.