‘When life is getting scary, be your own illuminary.’ One of the many memorable lyrics in “Mary Poppins Returns“.
The sages tell us: ‘When Adar enters, we increase in joy.’ This implies that joy is the default mood of life. There are times we decrease, like around Tisha B’Av, and there are times we increase like in Adar, but Simcha, happiness, is or should be our daily disposition. The concomitants of joy are traits such as gratitude, optimism, hope, faith, not taking one’s self too seriously, and above all being open to magic, otherwise known as miracles. Of course easier said than done, but in Judaism we are taught that each Hebrew month has its own ‘vibe’, and that of Adar is joy. This year therefore, we have a chance at twice the Joy: Two Adars and Two Mary Poppins on the silver screen, means we can double the happiness bubble.
What’s so special about a year like this with two Adars? We can leap extra high. We have access to a mood of joy shining upon us for 60 days! 60 is a significant number in Jewish law: if a forbidden speck of food falls into 60 times its opposite, i.e. if a drop of milk fell into a pot of soup or vice versa, the non-kosher possibility of that combination would be neutralized. So the sages tell us that if we have 60 days of joy, all the difficulties of the year, personally and collectively, can be neutralized by the ‘medicine’ of Adar, like ‘a teaspoon of sugar.’
Now that I have cited that referenced quote from the original “Mary Poppins” One, let me turn to the recently released, “Mary Poppins Returns” , (from now on referred to as MPR) with more Adar and Purim connections.
As in the first film, Mary comes to the rescue of a family in trouble, the next generation of the Banks family. After having lost their mother, and being threatened with the loss of their home, both the parents and children despair. Mary returns to them with her spirited umbrella, and with her wonderful balance of love and discipline, frivolity and wariness, humor and gravitas, and magic and sensibility. And of course songs to match these qualities. ‘When your heads in a cloud, only laughter’s allowed, and there’s nowhere to go but up.’
Though as some have suggested, the lyrics may be less memorable in this sequel to Mary Poppins, I find the lines to be more spiritual than those in the first. Especially in these double months of Adar, so many upbeat and even transcendent lines pop out. I’d like to share some of these ADAR-MPR parallels with you, in the hope that you will better appreciate this special month and the uniqueness of Purim.
One obvious invisible link is that the astrological sign of Adar is Pisces, fish. In Jewish thought, a fish is a symbol of a creature who lives in and emerges from another, hidden world. This is a blessing given to the descendants of the tribe related to this month, Joseph. His forte is the ability to join both spiritual and material realities. In MPR, Mary is such a persona. She also takes the children into a concealed world by having them go through the drain in the bathtub. The reference here is so ‘cool’ because a bath also represents washing off the excess of pre-conceived opinions in order to be open to new realities. This likewise relates to immersing in a Mikvah preceding situations of fresh possibilities and new births.
Speaking of hidden worlds, did you know that the Book of Esther is the only one in the Hebrew Bible where the name of G-d is not explicitly mentioned even once? In fact Esther’s name itself means ‘Concealment.’ The connection is not just that she concealed her identity till the right time, but that G-d did the same in this phase of Jewish history. The related biblical verse is ‘And I will doubly conceal My Face on that day.’ Reminds me a lot like the lines in MPR which reflect the idea of looking beyond the external- ‘A cover is nice but the cover is not the book.’ Perhaps this is the reason for the custom of masks and costumes on Purim. As the kabbalists put it, ‘G-d is hiding within the garments of nature and history.’
Even with regard to Torah, the Zohar admonishes us to dig beneath the stories to unearth the hidden depths. A short paraphrase: The narratives of the Torah are its garments. Woe to one who mistakes this garment for the Torah itself…The garments are like the body, and the essence, the soul….The wise inhabit the heights of Sinai, and are concerned with its soul which is the foundation of the real Torah.
Nothing good, holy, or loving ever really disappears; it’s merely covered up. There is a Hassidic teaching about finding lost objects, to picture where the object last was, and let it guide you toward it. This is so much like my favorite song in MPR- THE PLACE WHERE LOST THINGS GO. ‘Memories you’ve shared, gone for good you feared, they’re all around you still. Though they’ve disappeared, nothing’s really left or lost without a trace, nothing’s gone forever, only out of place…maybe all you’re missing lives inside of you…waiting in the place where the lost things go.
Furthermore, the sages compare Esther to the light of dawn, from Psalm 22, which the sages say she recited upon her forbidding walk down the corridor to confront the king. She was considered the last of the seven great prophetesses in the Bible. She is like the dawn in many ways: Just as it’s always darkest before dawn, Esther brought light to her people in the darkest period of their history.
Now take in this line from the above song: ‘Do you ever lie awake at night, just between the dark and the morning light- searching for the things you used to know, looking for the place where the lost things go?’ That’s what the Jews were doing before Esther’s light rose up. They lost their connection to G-d and Torah in very profound ways. But then, like a seed might experience before a burst of growth, like a long distance jumper needs to crouch before the leap, and like the cooped up caterpillar before metamorphosis, the people’s dormant faith and courage awoke.
This dynamic of transformation, is also a key episode in MPR. In fact, parallel to the mirth of Purim itself, it is the silliest episode of the movie. After all, the rabbis explain the humor of Purim in the sense of ‘expect the unexpected’ an attitude which is the basis of jokes. In MPR the family and Mary go to a seamstress who is in top form every day except the second Wednesday of the month. She laments she can do no work because it’s a ‘topsy turvy turtle day’. But Mary lifts her spirits (literally) by raising her to the ceiling and proclaiming, ‘You see, when the world turns upside down, the best thing is to turn right along with it.’ We have identical concepts in the Megillah. The very gallows that Haman builds to hang Mordechai was used for him. Haman craved to be honored but instead, had to honor Mordechai. And of course, the threat of war against the Jews was reversed so they could battle their enemies.
This dynamic of transformation and recommitment to Torah explains the following: The sages tell us that the Israelites did not fully accept the Torah at Sinai, until many years later when they reach the low phase of the Purim story. It is one thing to ‘keep the faith’ in an atmosphere of revelation, but it is another to maintain one’s commitment with clouds of imminent annihilation hanging over your head. However, in Megilat Esther, which actually translates to mean, ‘Revealing of the Hidden,’ Mordechai and Esther come along and revive the devotion and optimism of the Jews. How like Mary and Jack in MPR when they sing: ‘When you change the view from where you stood, the things you view will change for good. So when they tell you that you’re finished and your chance to dance is done, that’s the time to stand, to strike up the band, and tell ‘em that you’ve just begun.’
Jewish life in the Purim story was at an ebb for many reasons. When despair reached its nadir with Haman’s ‘final solution,’ Esther and Mordechai revived the people’s confidence and hope. In a similar vein, so much of MPR shows how both Mary and Jack, who is a lamplighter, brings optimism into the Banks family. No accident that a key line from the Megillah follows the career of Jack as a lamplighter. ‘The Jews had light, happiness, joy, and honor.’ This is actually the verse that Jews recite at Havdalah to bring the light of Shabbat into the spiritually weaker weekdays.
Another period of history similar to Purim was the situation in Europe before the Baal Shem Tov was born. When the Baal Shem Tov came into the world, it was said that he came not so much to revive Judaism but to revive Jewish souls. Rabbi Shalom Dovber of Lubavitch compared a disseminator of Hassidic, mystical teachings, to a lamplighter of souls. In MPR also, we have the line: So when troubles are incessant simply be more incandescent for your life comes with a lifetime guarantee…Maybe all you’re missing lives inside of you.
In our personal lives, we also go through periods of dark and light. But the dark is there to create a contrast and a longing for the light inside. There is a story of the Baal Shem Tov who travelled with his disciples here and there visiting people and usually bestowing blessings and gifts upon them. But one time they stopped in a poor family’s inn and literally, directed by the Baal Shem Tov, ate their hosts out of everything they owned. The host went out to the field and cried out to G-d for help, and soon after was able to recoup and become successful. Later the Baal Shem Tov explained that this man never complained about any troubles in his life. He was destined from heaven to receive a large endowment, but he had to pray for it. So the Master said, ‘I had to get him to the point where matters were so desperate that he had no recourse but to shout out to G-d.’ The mystics relate that we are now in the darkest times preceding the Messianic age. But this darkness, according to the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, will create in us a great thirst for G-dliness, which will in turn lead G-d to usher in the dawn of redemption! Rebbe Nachman of Breslov writes that G-d sends us clues from the worldly context around us about how to connect on a deeper level to eternal values, and how to be our own ‘illuminary.’ Mary Poppins Returns may provide us with some of these clues.