The Actual and The Imaginary
In one of his last essays, “The Writer in Winter,” the late John Updike cites Nathaniel Hawthorne, “a writer who dwelt in shadowland” where – in Hawthorne’s words – “The Actual and the Imaginary may meet.” Updike is referring to “The Custom House,” that serves as an introduction to his novel The Scarlet Letter. The essay marvelously blends the actual and the imaginary: the author, appearing as himself, finds in a rubbish heap at the custom house where he works, “a much worn and faded” embroidery in the shape of “the capital letter A.”
Hawthorne used the Actual to introduce the Imaginary. Purim begins with the Imaginary and teaches us how to make it the Actual.
Who would have imagined that the quiet unassuming Esther would become queen? Who could picture Achashveirosh the powerful king so easily managed by the super modest and dignified Esther? Who would have believed that Rabbi Mordechai would ever be prime minister?
Esther and Mordechai did imagine the impossible and fought until it became reality.
From reality to imagination or from imagination to reality; Purim celebrates the latter. It nurtured the imaginations of hundreds of generations to dream of thriving despite two millennia of exile. Judaism has thrived on imaginations that became reality.
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