Purim and Anti-Semitism
When separating the historical facts of the story of Purim from the Megilah text, written (and read) in its capturing joyous style, we encounter a deeply frightening setting. For the first time since slavery in Egypt, the Jewish nation finds itself exiled in a foreign land under an alien sovereign, immediately after a nationally devastating period of destruction, casualty, war, and defeat. Now displaced, the Jewish nation rapidly loses faith and hope as they face violent anti-Semitism, growing assimilation, and the horrific efficient plan for their complete annihilation. Only by a narrow opening of opportunity, does the hopeless nation manage to survive. This is the narrative which emerges from an objective and factually oriented reading of the story of Purim.
In the aftermath of such a traumatic experience, collective introspective was necessary. A day needed to be dedicated to reflection and education about themes such as danger, hate, what it means to be Jewish in a hostile environment, Jewish continuity, and commitment to Jewish values. This is why our sages instituted the “fast of Esther”, an annual re-enactment of the fear, vulnerability, pain and sorrow of those times.
What is so remarkable is that our sages were not content with the “fast of Esther” as our exclusive connection to those times. Purim evolved into a unique day of celebration, excitement, joy, and fun. This emerged not from historical facts, but from theological discoveries. Purim, our sages argued, showed that G-d had not and would not forsake his people. The covenant between G-d and the nation could not be suspended. This inspiring idea shadowed the historical narrative and led to the type of Purim we celebrate today.
Indeed, rather than Purim becoming a day in which we consider how other people don’t like us, it became a day in which we celebrate how G-d loves us!
In contemporary times, our nation is awakening to an alarming awareness of the danger, threat, and hate that is beginning to not only surface but dominate our lives. Like our sages who introduced the “fast of Esther”, we too must have the courage to confront these enormous challenges. But more importantly, like our sages, we must also highlight that these challenges are only side effects emerging from a remarkable relationship, inspired by love and defined by covenant, between our nation and G-d. In our times as in the times of Purim, we need to define ourselves more as a nation loved by G-d than as a nation hated by other people.
I trust and pray that in these unpredictable days, we will love G-d more then we fear people.