Reuben Livingstone
Reuben Livingstone

On Purim, how can we claim a spiritual victory amid the pandemic?

Rabbi Reuben Livingstone, who has been the Jewish Chaplain to HM Armed Forces since 2012. Photo credit: Sgt Rupert Frere/MOD Crown Copyright via Jewish News.
Rabbi Reuben Livingstone, who has been the Jewish Chaplain to HM Armed Forces since 2012. Photo credit: Sgt Rupert Frere/MOD Crown Copyright via Jewish News.

As we celebrate Purim after a challenging year, let us reflect on how we can claim spiritual victory and learn vital lessons from the difficulties we have journeyed through.

Within the ranks of those British Jews who have served in conflict – whether in the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women (AJEX) or, latterly, the Armed Forces Jewish Community (AFJC) – it is well understood that wars happen through human failings even as victories – physical and spiritual – are often about the rectification of those failings. When the British Army witnessed the Taliban in Afghanistan suspending their own children by the arms around compounds as human shields and thereby showing contempt for human life, it was recognised that the spiritual antidote to this form of evil could only lie in greater care and solidarity for those around us.

Our Sages tell us that everything that happens in this world has a spiritual root cause. This is why we attribute spiritual reasons to ‘physical’ conflicts with our enemies – such as in the Purim story. This approach sees external threats as an outer manifestation of an internal spiritual issue within the ourselves. Thus, by studying an enemy’s ‘essence’ we gain insight into our own deficiencies that may have invited the assault in order to ‘correct’ these. This knowledge will be reflected measure-for-measure if properly analysed. This principle in Jewish tradition allows us to understand the spiritual cause of Amalek’s attack on the Jewish nation and is the reason we read Parshat Zachor on the Shabbat before Purim, which describes Amalek’s attack on the Israelites and subsequent defeat and focusses us on the meaning of those events.

The first time Amalek is mentioned in the Torah is after the crossing of the Red Sea which followed the miracles in Egypt. Amalek, say the Rabbi’s, attributed ‘open miracles’ to mere chance and coincidence and refused to acknowledge the divine. For this reason, despite supernatural events, Amalek was determined to attack the Jewish People – thereby effectively testing the very existence of G-d.

So, what was the spiritual lapse that ‘allowed’ Amalek’s attack? The Torah records that it immediately followed the bitter complaint to Moses for water: “Is G-d in our midst or not?” which demonstrated doubt in the divine. Thus, ‘the nation of doubt’ (Amalek), attacks and ravages them.

A similar chain of events took place in the Purim story. The commentaries explain that Haman, from the seed of Amalek, ignored the many signs of providence in the Megillah story. The Vilna Gaon explains that even after numerous miraculous events Haman reports to his wife, Zeresh, everything that ‘chanced upon him’ (Esther 7:13). Cynically, Haman still saw everything as mere ‘chance’ without a shred of Divinity.

What then was the spiritual measure-for-measure theory of Haman’s decree upon the Jews? The Talmud says this was because ‘the Jews took pleasure in the feast of Achashverosh”. Even though Mordechai warned them from attending and indulging, they overruled him; effectively removing Jewish practice from the picture for political considerations. This is why G-d allowed the rise of Haman, heir of Amalek, to gain power and change their perspective through the experience.

For us to ‘defeat’ Amalek we must, spiritually, represent the opposing force. Just as Amalek will always attribute even the clearest signs providence to coincidence, the Jewish People must go to the other extreme, and show their conviction that behind the natural order lies the miraculous.  Through reading the Megillah, which doesn’t mention G-d’s name openly, we are meant to put the ‘coincidences’ together and thereby reveal His presence in seemingly ‘natural’ events. This is the true way to ‘eradicate’ the memory of Amalek today.

About the Author
Rabbi Reuben Livingstone LLM CF, is senior Jewish chaplain to HM Armed Forces and AJEX.