Today, I fast because of Esther’s fateful choice. Mordechai presents it to her in stark terms: “Do not imagine that you, among all Jews, will escape to the king’s house. For if you are silent at this time…” If Mordechai is bidding Esther not to imagine it, we can assume that for her, it was a live option. What do I do? Do I allow myself to focus solely on my own needs and interests? Do I concentrate on my own safety, and allow my comfort to blind me to the dangers faced by others? Or do I risk myself by assuming the mantle of leadership and raising my voice in concern for others?
But I don’t fast to commemorate a historical choice made long ago. I fast because we face the same choices today, and I want to draw inspiration from Esther’s brave decision. Especially during this period in Israel, when it is so difficult to see anything beyond the ongoing political deadlock, and the ups and downs of the pandemic, it is critical that we take the challenge of Esther’s choice seriously, on a personal level, and on a national scale.
Is Israel ready to assume the mantle of leadership, and to raise its voice against moral atrocities taking place in our world, often by regimes that we support and even arm? Or are we only concerned with ourselves, with our own internal divisions and external threats?
Today, in Burma (Myanmar), millions of citizens are protesting against the military coup that reseized power in the country at the beginning of the month. Police have used rubber bullets, water cannons and live fire to disperse protestors, thus far killing 3 and injuring many. The military government is working hard to limit the world’s ability to know what is happening by shutting down the internet so that they can act with impunity, as they did during the 2017 genocide of the Rohingya people. The United States, Canada, Britain and other countries have already imposed sanctions against the military leaders and government. What about Israel? Will we remain silent? The Burmese military was long a faithful customer of the Israeli weapons industry. Will Israel publicly impose a complete weapons embargo against a leader who, in the past, was received with honor by President Reuven Rivlin, and is now on trial for genocide?
Today, in Ethiopia, a bloody conflict is ongoing since November in the Tigray region, but the Ethiopian government also employs internet shut-downs so that the world cannot understand what is truly happening. Reports of massacres are just starting to trickle out, with reports that Eritrean troops were also involved in the fighting, and the crisis has created tens of thousands of new refugees who have fled their homes seeking safety. The EU has suspended aid to Ethiopia until full access to the region is granted to humanitarian aid. What about Israel? Will we remain silent? Both Ethiopia and Eritrea purchase weapons from Israel, and Ethiopia has been accused in the past of using Israeli spyware technology to monitor dissidents. Will Israel raise a moral voice of protest, or will it focus only on its own interests?
Today, in China, the Uighur minority is subject to mass detention and forced labor with policies that the United States and Canada have recognized as constituting genocide. Horrifying accounts of rape, abuse, torture, and forced sterilizations have emerged from the camps. What about Israel? Will we remain silent? Chinese influence steadily grows in Israel. Will our own concerns for economic relations make us blind to the suffering that the Chinese government causes?
It would have been easy for Esther to find excuses. How can I possibly influence the king? Why risk myself when my chances for success are so slim? Israel has all of the same excuses readily available. And so does each and every one of us.
But we also have a choice that we can make. Today, we remember Esther’s choice to raise her voice, and we are challenged to do the same.