Purim: A timeless holiday

February 16, 2018

Torah Thought

Purim’s extraordinary fun making often masks and matches the extraordinary seriousness of the life and death issues behind the holiday—while allowing for the healthy release of pent-up tension and emotion. After all, a threat of genocide hanging over a vulnerable people with a plot to terminate Jewish existence in the vast Persian empire of antiquity was not to be taken lightly.

The salvation found through an intermarried Jewish queen who happened to be, or was placed in a pivotal position to help her kin while in dire straits, adds an intriguing dimension to a drama whose historical veracity remains uncertain. Still, the challenges and lessons contained in the fascinating Scroll of Esther have remained applicable throughout the Jewish saga—which does not lack all that the human imagination can conjure up.

The Rabbis have taught that in the messianic era yet to come, of all the Jewish holidays, only Purim will continue to be celebrated. Is it perhaps because we should never take Jewish survival for granted and need to always be on guard? Is that why God’s name is not mentioned, even once in the scroll—a notable exception to all the other books in the Bible? David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, stated that when the lion and the lamb will dwell together, he still would like to be the lion…just in case. That is ample testimony to what our people have learned the tragic way. We are invited to ponder those unique features of a mesmerizing account in which Jews are called upon to act in God’s name. Of course, the absence of the divine name does not necessarily imply God’s silence or indifference to such matters of supreme importance.

Curiously, the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran (once Persia), seeking hegemony in the Middle East and the Muslim world, have not given up in spite of the “deal” of “wiping Israel off the map.” This time with the aid of nuclear power, well aware of Israel’s mortal vulnerability given its very limited and limiting geography, to conclude what Haman and Hitler began. Has not the Haman-like, and even the more dangerous leaders of Iran, read the Scroll of Esther and taken to heart the fate of those who seek to destroy the Jewish people? Denying the Holocaust they seek to deny Israel’s existence, and if necessary, to hasten its demise through a “real Holocaust.”

Queen Esther was forced to hide her Jewish identity in order to get into the palace. Beautiful and heroic Esther had to be prodded by wise and courageous Uncle Mordechai—after all, she was only human and young—to risk her life by appearing uninvited before King Ahsheverus. However, she did perform, and well at that, forever earning an honored place in the pantheon of Jewish heroines and heroes.

Esther’s people are not yet fully safe, but are finally capable of defending their lives in a way that was not previously possible. Remember, experienced Uncle Mordechai engaged in successful counter plots. Self-defense is a top Jewish and human mitzvah, particularly in the post-Holocaust era. The Jewish people have already paid a very high price, and thus “Never Again!” is more than a slogan. It is a sacred imperative beyond blotting out Haman’s name at the raucous Megillah reading. A sovereign Jewish state and an influential American Jewish community make a critical difference.

May we act and pray so that the contemporary Iranian plot will meet the fate of oblivion of the early prototype of biblical Amalek’s descendants, while we are ever vigilant. Our ultimate goal, so elusive for so long, remains a peaceful world of shalom through the sacred task of Tikkun Olam’s healing, hope, and harmony for all of God’s children.

Dr. Israel Zoberman is the founding rabbi of Congregation Beth Chaverim in Virginia Beach.

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