Dov Linzer

Purim and power

Rembrandt and workshop, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

A lot of people love Purim, but there also a lot of people who have a hard time with it. For some, they struggle to find meaning in a chag that is all about chaos. Others struggle because the meaning that they do find is one that is deeply disturbing to their moral sensibilities. They ask what are we supposed to make of the fact that the verse (Esther 9:16) tells us that the Jews “slayed of their foes 75,000”? How does this fit with the values of the Torah and the dictates of halakha?

There is no easy answer to this question. But what it does do is make us look hard at the responsibilities and dangers that come with power.  We ask: Then and now, when the Jews have power, how do they use it?

And where does the Torah fit into all of this? Do the Torah and the teachings of tradition serve to moderate the abuses of power or, to the contrary, are they used to justify and amplify them?

Every tradition has texts that speak in different voices, the question is – which texts are being listened too? Is it the text that every human being was created in the image of God, the text to love the stranger, the text to only kill if it is to protect a life that is under immediate threat? Or is it the text that once the Jews had power, they slew 75,000 of their enemies? Will we listen to those texts that abhor violence or that embrace it?

The Rabbis tell us that on Purim we freely accepted the Torah again without any outside compulsion from God. It was our choice then to make the Torah ours. And that choice continues until today. When texts present values that clash with one another, we choose which voices will be the strong ones and which the quiet ones; we choose which will guide our actions and which we will always struggle with. The choice, and the responsibility that goes with it, is ours.

So, perhaps that is a message of Purim that we can relate to. That with power comes responsibility and enormous consequence. It is on us to wield it morally and wisely.

About the Author
Rabbi Dov Linzer is the President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. He serves as a religious guide to the yeshiva’s current rabbinical students and over 150 rabbis serving in the field. For more than 25 years, has been a leading rabbinic voice in the Modern Orthodox community. Answers to many of the halachic questions he has received can be found at
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