Tonight begins the Jewish holiday of Purim. The story is a serious one. A decree went through the 127 provinces of the Persian empire of King Achashverosh sentencing the Jewish people to death. While we now celebrate our miraculous victory with great fanfare; dressing up and presenting trays of sweets to our neighbors and friends, the Jews of ancient Persia waited almost one year before they knew they would ultimately be saved. They lived in troubling times and their future was uncertain.
Haman, the villain of the story, lied to the king, erroneously informing him that the Jews were disloyal. They were a threat to the king, he warned, and needed to be eliminated. Social media would not hit the scene for another 2,400 years. It would take eleven months for the King’s decree to reach the ends of the empire. It was OK. Achashverosh was patient. He would wait until all of the provinces had been informed of their individual responsibility to rid themselves of the rebellious Jews. But, in the end, the Jews would be saved. While our people anxiously counted down the days to their demise, Queen Esther, encouraged by her Uncle Mordechai, revealed the true situation to Achashverosh. The Jews were, in fact, loyal. It was Haman, desperate for power, who was the real enemy. He lied; willing to sacrifice an entire people in order to win the favor of Achashverosh in hopes that he, himself would be the next king of the mighty Persian Empire.
In less than three hours, I’ll be sitting in synagogue listening to the story. I’ll enjoy the wonderful array of costumes worn by toddlers and grandparents. I’ll cover my ears as the noisemakers drown out the name of the evil Haman every time his name is mentioned. And my mind will begin to wander. Is the situation today similar to that of ancient Persia? On the surface, the answer is no. While there were Jews living in the land of Israel 2,400 years ago, there numbers were small. They weren’t strong financially or militarily. They didn’t offer the kind of lifestyle that could attract the well-off Jews to the East. They didn’t inspire. They didn’t travel 6,000 miles to treat earthquake victims and didn’t provide world-class hospitals. And the Jews of Persia didn’t have Facebook or Facetime to connect them to their Israeli brethren. But still, there are some eerie similarities to those ancient days.
Our enemies are comfortable lying about modern Israel. We murder innocents. We segregate. We don’t play well with others. It’s a daily tirade. And it’s so easy to lie. Just scream louder than anyone else in the room and people are bound to believe you. Don’t let the other side talk and yours is the only voice heard. It’s a great strategy playing itself out in college campuses across the United States and across the globe. Interrupt the Israeli side of the debate and they’ll never have a chance to tell their side of the story. Use buzzwords like “Apartheid State” and “baby killers” enough times and people begin to think it’s true. The situation is bleak, almost hopeless. Is it? The Jews of Shushan thought their fate was sealed. But now that we celebrate the holiday with parades and treats, we know that it wasn’t. Quietly and cautiously, unbeknownst to them, they had someone who was going to save them. They had Queen Esther to save the day.
But we don’t live in ancient Persia, and the world has become too complex to rely on one person. Today, there isn’t just one Haman. There are many and the voice of a chorus cannot be matched by a soloist. But I’d like to think that we still have hope.
Each of us has the potential to be a Queen Esther for the people of Israel. Each of has the responsibility to speak the truth. As I review these words I start to criticize myself. “Onnie, you’re corny. Onnie, you’re a dreamer. How can you think that anyone will take you seriously?” And, yes maybe I’m naïve and a fool, but at the end of the day, I can only write what I believe to be true. And for me, the truth is that this is a good country. A country with faults and a country that could and should improve. But a country that, at its core, is fundamentally good. And a country that deserves all of our efforts to broadcast to the world that she is good. And, with all of our efforts, the world will begin to see the truth. I hope that all of you will find the Queen Esther within you.