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Esther and Israel: Following directions in the shadow of Corona

The Purim story is a good example of both the trust required to heed another's word and the level of responsibility we feel for our brethren -- even in quarantine
'Ester y Mardoqueo escribiendo la primera carta del Purim,' Aert de Gelder, 1645. (Wikipedia)
'Ester y Mardoqueo escribiendo la primera carta del Purim,' Aert de Gelder, 1645. (Wikipedia)

Many of us have had the following experience.

Upon landing at Ben Gurion airport, the flight attendant gently reminds all passengers to remain in their seats until the aircraft has stopped completely and the pilot has turned off the fasten seat belt sign. At this point, all of the Israelis stand up and begin collecting their belongings. Only when the plane has actually stopped and the seat belt light has been turned off, does everyone else then get up from their seats.

Israelis are known around the world for a lot of things. Boisterousness, impulsiveness – ready to try new things? Sure.

Meekness? Following instructions? Doing what they’re told? Not so much.

After all, if we had done what we were told we wouldn’t be here. If we did only as instructed, Israel would never be the “Start-up Nation” – a world leader in innovation, technology and agriculture.

That’s why when Israel’s Health Ministry issued the drastic edict of 14 days of isolation for anyone returning from a number of European countries and international conferences, many were skeptical whether Israelis could, or would, follow instructions and indeed remain home.

We now know that Israelis have indeed followed directions, undoubtedly saving many from the clutches of the coronavirus. Yet, the Purim story indicates that following instructions is not a new phenomenon, but instead one of the traits demonstrated by Queen Esther.

The book of Esther relates that following her coronation as the new Queen of Persia and Media, Esther’s uncle Mordechai gave her a very unusual instruction. He asked her not to reveal her lineage or her connection to the Jewish people. The text indicates that the King exerted great pressure on his new queen, hoping to learn more about her. In fact, it seems that he even threatened to replace her should she not reveal her secret.

 “When the virgins were assembled a second time, Mordecai sat in the palace gate. But Esther still did not reveal her kindred or her people, as Mordecai had instructed her; for Esther obeyed Mordecai’s bidding, as she had done when she was under his tutelage.” (Esther 2:19-20)

Esther stood fast, refusing to break her confidence with Mordechai’s. Despite incredible pressure, Esther followed Mordechai’s instructions.

Did she understand at the time why Mordechai has asked her to remain silent? It is difficult to know. But we do know that ultimately, her secret Jewish past allowed her to ambush Haman and convince the King to save the Jewish people.

Why did she listen? Ultimately, she followed Mordechai because she trusted him. She had faith that he would act in her interest and was acting to protect her.

This too, is why so many Israelis have followed the very difficult instruction to self-quarantine for such a long period of time, missing family events, Purim parties, Megillah reading, outings – the list goes on and on. Isolation — even in the internet era — is no picnic.

But our strong-minded, rambunctious Israelis also have a strong sense of connection to one-another and responsibility to each-other. They realize that the people working with Israel’s Ministry of Health are not nameless, faceless bureaucrats, but instead are our parents, mothers and uncles, worried about our collective health and well-being.

Perhaps this Purim, in the shadow of a frightening virus that’s affecting the entire world, as we offer mishloach manot to our neighbors, the most important gift that we can give to one-another is that Jewish sense of connectedness and mutual responsibility.

About the Author
Rabbi Reuven Spolter is the Director of Amiel Bakehila, a division of the Ohr Torah Stone network, which sends delegations of educators, lecturers and artists from Israel to Jewish communities around the world. Rabbi Spolter also serves as the Shorashim Coordinator for English-speaking countries for Irgun Rabbanei Tzohar. In addition, he teaches Mishnah Yomit, teaching hundreds of students around the world Mishnah via the Internet at www.mishnah.co. Raised in Silver Spring, MD, Reuven Spolter served as the rabbi of the Young Israel of Oak Park in Michigan until his aliyah in 2008. He then served as a Judaic studies instructor and Academic Coordinator of the Elkana Campus of the Orot College of Education from 2008 until 2018. A graduate of Yeshiva University with an MA in Secondary Jewish Education and Rabbinic Ordination from the Rabbi Isaac Elchonon Theological Seminary, he has taught and lectured to groups of all ages in communities around the world. Rabbi Spolter lives with his family in Yad Binyamin, Israel.
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