Free to Be Jew and Me
Esther is emblematic of the Diaspora Jew.
When our ancestors were exiled from our land they thought Hashem had abandoned them.
They, like Esther, felt like orphans misplaced from their homes.
Since then we’ve wandered from place to place for over 2,000 years. This type of existence has posed many challenges for the Jew who has always been the “outsider.” Our national allegiance has been constantly questioned and our dual loyalty a perceived threat.
As we have been confronted with challenges we have often tried to hide our true identity in ways such as removing our kipa or using secular names. These acts seem harmless enough and make us appear less foreign to our neighbors. Even those who don’t hide try not to act too Jewish fearing that they won’t be well received.
Many Jews live on the defensive always hiding, apologizing, overcompensating for our Jewishness. We worry so much about threats, real or imaginary, that ofttimes we sacrifice our true selves to get by. At a time when Jews are falsely accused of wrongdoing, as were the Jews in Shushan, we must put ourselves on the line like Esther, and declare who we are, maintain our innocence and not cower in the face of lies. If we remain true to ourselves and G-d we have nothing to fear. When we stand together in mind, body, and spirit we not only maintain our identity but flourish and thrive.
Perhaps Esther requested that her story should be written not only to remember that the Jews survived Haman’s evil decree but to remember how they did so. Esther helped ensure our survival through her strength, her courage, her heroism and she wanted us to know that as G-d’s children, we each have that in us as well. Even in the darkest of times, our Father has not forsaken us, just as he never abandoned Esther. G-d sets the stage and we must play our part in harmony with the rest of the cast. If we act nobly, we will live a life of protection and freedom full of meaning and honor.
Once we were saved and gained a newfound appreciation for our identity we were commanded to do matanot l’evyonim and mishloach manot to foster a communal connection. For it is not enough to have a knowledge of who we are but we must live accordingly. We are the people of the One true G-d who is merciful and giving. These acts engender goodwill that is the glue that keeps us together. I believe that this is why Purim is the one holiday that will continue to be celebrated after the arrival of Mashiach. For this is the only holiday that recognizes personal responsibility coupled with communal obligation, the two ingredients necessary for a life of peace and happiness.
This year instead of wearing a mask on Purim, I will shed my masks. I will tap into the depths of my soul and let it shine as I celebrate with friends and family the legacy that Esther has given us. I pray we all shed our masks and learn to care for each other so we can build the foundation for a successful future.