Mirror Moments: Purim, Then and Now

He is deeply insecure about his status and position. He flaunts his wealth (“Look at my gold! Look at my silver!”) to impress and humble his citizens. He is a petty and ruthless dictator whose sole agenda is legitimizing himself, his wealth and his power.

He is a womanizer. He is also known as Mr. Beauty Pageant. He believes his own wife is the world’s most beautiful woman, but he abuses her. When she puts down her foot, he throws her out. He proclaims horribly sexist proclamations, demeaning and degrading women. But his appetite for women and carnal love remains boundless. “I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women — I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” He sleeps with countless women, regardless of whether they consent, because, after all, “when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” When he remarries, he honors and praises his new wife. But she remains terrified, for she knows that even just showing up uninvited or speaking out of turn can cost her everything. His previous wives’ ghosts haunt her, reminding her of the consequence of even the slightest misstep.

He has a reputation for being a buffoon. Indeed, he isn’t particularly bright. Nor is he emotionally or psychologically stable. He changes his mind about everything. He throws out his wife, but then he misses her. He viciously attacks one minority only to side with it later. He demeans and degrades an entire sex, only to later proclaim, “Nobody respects women more than me!” His best man today will hang from the tallest tree tomorrow. There is no certainty in his domain. There is no consistency, no predictability, no stability. All depends on The Great Ruler’s mood and whim — and on which advisor has his ear today. True, he has good advisors, who, when they manage to get a word in, can convince him to do the right thing. But his main advisors are wicked — they disrespect women, foreigners and practitioners of other religions, and are themselves power-hungry villains. More often than not, the bad advisors have his ear.

He has a troubled relationship with the Jews. On the one hand, the Jews have equal rights and full citizenship (his own children are Jewish, for crying out loud!); on the other hand, his closest advisor hates the Jews, and if he has his way, the Jews will suffer.

President Donald Trump is King Achashveirosh. Trump is Achashveirosh’s Doppelgänger, clone and reincarnation.They have the same personalities. They have the same biographies. Almost to the letter, the Megillah’s description of the Persian king describes our president. The similarities of their personalities aren’t the only similarities between that story and our story. Indeed, when reading the Megillah with an eye towards current events, the entire saga resonates and feels worryingly familiar.

This déjà vu we will experience when listening to the Megillah next week will serve us well. The Mishnah states that whoever reads the Megillah backwards has not fulfilled his obligation. The Baal Shem Tov interpreted this to mean that one may not read the Megillah “backwards” — as an antiquated and irrelevant tale of old. Rather, one must read the Megillah “forward” — in the present, applying its lessons to contemporary life. This year, when we are living through a reality that is so similar to the Megillah’s reality, the Baal Shem Tov’s instruction will be easy to fulfill.

More, the timeliness of the Megillah’s tale makes its lessons that much more compelling and that much more urgent. If we never before experienced the Megillah “forwardly,” as per the Baal Shem Tov’s explanation of the Mishna, we must do so now. The Megillah calls to us from ancient history with urgent instruction.

The Megillah’s most resonant message is that we must recognize the Divine Providence that guides all things, all stories and all men.

Viewed on their own, the events retold in the Megillah are for the most part unremarkable. However, when they are strung together as a narrative and retold as a story, a plot emerges wherein it is impossible not to recognize Divine Providence. Through each episode (including the darkest ones, where it seemed that the Jews would not be saved), God sets the stage for dramatic salvation — for a miracle that would be celebrated forever!

What we naturally perceive as randomness and chaos is not, in fact, random and chaotic, and we should never view our realities as such. The Megillah demonstrates that all that transpires is perfectly orchestrated as part of a plan and as a chapter in a story — a chapter in a story with a happy ending. The Purim story has villains, suspense, terror and fear and maddening twists and turns (and of course a strongman at the center of the plot who is quite similar to the wannabe-strongman at the center of our plot), just like our political horror show today. But in the end, God is in charge and good prevails. In the end, the story of Purim was joyful for the Jews, and it also changed them for the better. It caused the Jews to reopen their hearts and recommit themselves to their Father in Heaven. Indeed, soon after the story of the Megillah ends, the foundation is laid for the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem! The Jews so recently marked for annihilation were great again, alive and able to thrive in their own land.

Let us make ourselves great again. Let us open our hearts and commit ourselves to Hashem. May our story, like the Purim story, end in salvation and in the construction of the third Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Amen.

Note: You understand how the first section of this article describes Trump. To understand how it also perfectly describes Achashveirosh, be sure to attend you synagogue’s Megillah reading, and follow along with the reader.

About the Author
David Poltorak is a New York attorney. He studied law at Georgetown University Law Center, following which he worked at the United States Senate for U.S. Senator Mike Lee. David is also an ordained Rabbi (Chabad).
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