A Particularly Relevant and Timely Purim

Purim is our tradition’s version of comfort food. We engage in merrymaking and rejoicing, we drink and make noise, and we pointedly ignore the fact that if Esther’s story bears even a kernel of truth — we just missed becoming extinct.

Haman was of the people of Amalek, who according to tradition, are the vile archenemies of the Jewish people. Amalek won’t compromise in its attempt to destroy us. He cannot be bribed or given concessions, for he will never be satisfied until we no longer exist. Although Amalek has ceased to be a biological construct — we award the title to those who seek our existential demise.

The Nazis fit this description. One only has to remember that they planned to create a museum to (what was) the Jewish people after they exterminated us. That is why they kept all the Sefer Torahs and ritual objects even as they sent us to the gas chambers.

In a similar fashion, the State of Israel had to reassess their views of Egypt and the Palestinians. We had to change their status from Amalek to just an “enemy.” As Rabin noted, “you don’t make peace with your friends, you make it with very unsavory enemies.” But, not with Amalek.

And so we come to Vladimir Putin. It is indeed ironic that a country (and former Soviet Republic) that catastrophically lost an estimated 1.5 million Jews (at least) during the Holocaust now has a Jewish president — and has become the victim of a most vicious attack by someone we may label a modern day Haman.

Perhaps there are those who wonder why the world has not had a response of this proportion when similar catastrophe struck Yemen or Syria. Some have suggested that the color of the victim’s skin has something to do with this — but I cannot agree.

For what is happening in Ukraine is very different from what has happened in other parts of the world. These events threaten to bring us to the brink of another world war, one that may involve nuclear arms.

And for this, Putin is Amalek, and not just to us, but to the world as a whole. Whatever the outcome in Ukraine, Putin must be disabled and vanquished. The world has looked the other way when he only acted as a paranoid despot. But now that his actions threaten to loosen the threads of our world — he is our existential enemy. If we do not stop him now, we will pay the price in time to come.

So Purim comes this year to remind us we can win. Hopefully, in the future there will be piñatas and comic representations of Putin the boogeyman, but not until we do the work to destroy him … before he destroys us.

About the Author
Rabbi Steven Bayar is Founder and Executive Director of JSurge, an organization providing Jewish education and services to unaffiliated Jews. Ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, he is Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn, NJ, where he served the pulpit for 30 years, and teaches at the Golda Och Academy in West Orange, NJ. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly and Rabbis Without Borders, and has trained as a hospice chaplain, a Wise Aging facilitator, and a trainer for safe and respectful Jewish work spaces. He’s the co-author of “Teens & Trust: Building Bridges in Jewish Education,” “Rachel & Misha,” and “You Shall Teach Them Diligently to Your Children: Transmitting Jewish Values from Generation to Generation.”
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