Needless to say, like all religious Jewish children, I learned the Purim story every year in school. Every few years, as we matured, we learned new interpretations of events that led up to the climax of Mordechai and Esther saving the Jews not only of Shushan, but the world over.
Once I made Aliya, nearly 17 years ago, I began studying with highly educated, insightful, religious teachers and Rabbis who brought a depth to Torah learning that I had not had before. This is especially true of the Purim story. It now made so much more sense and rang true even more than two millennia later. To begin with, and most importantly, it would seem that the lessons learned from the Purim story and the customs it has generated have become decidedly shallow and off the mark.
For example, what good lessons do our youth gain by seeing their fathers and teachers so intoxicated that they can barely walk? By thinking that getting soused is, in this instance, a real mitzvah? The injunction by rabbis (Megillah 7b) to be so happy during Purim that one does not know the difference between “blessed be Mordechai” and “cursed be Haman” can be achieved in other ways besides drinking. There is “drunk with happiness”; there is such a thing as a soulful frenzy. It is a very Hassidic mode of prayer. So why descend to such a low level of behavior instead? I leave the obvious answer unsaid…
In the final analysis, the Purim story is a Galut Story-a Diaspora cautionary tale. At the very beginning, the megillah (Esther: 2/1) tells us that Mordechai, our hero, was a Judean (i.e. from Judea) exile from Jerusalem. He did well for himself in Shushan as he is described as “sitting in the king’s gate”, (Esther: 2/19). This is the equivalent of saying that he was one of the king’s counselors. As such, he is careful not to rile up any anti-Jewish sentiment and tells his ward, Esther, who was taken as a potential new wife for the king, (not sure what halacha would say about this) not to tell anyone her pedigree. (Esther: 2/10) This is not an atypical Jewish refugee response. The rest of the story is a synopsis of all Jewish refugee history. Working your way up, an anti-Semitic powerful foe, spreading vile propaganda against the Jews, a loyal Jewish friend on the “inside”, tables turned and the Jewish populace is safe once more. In this case, there was a lot more collateral damage than usual. That was unnecessary and not something to celebrate or gloss over. On this, the second Purim of corona, may we have learned to truly value and care for one another.
The December 2018 edition of Segula, contains an article that hypothesizes the possibility that the Purim story is but a conglomeration of similar stories during the various Babylonian monarchies and their interaction with the Jewish population under their rule. It concludes, as I will, that the question of veracity is irrelevant. It’s what we take away.