PURIM AND PUTIN – SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE
Rabbi Yakov Saacks The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY
www.TheChaiCenter.com – Author of The Kabbalah of Life
The Jewish holiday of Purim this year is on Thursday, March 17th.
For those who are not familiar, Purim is an extremely festive holiday that commemorates a dark time in Jewish history. Sometime around the year 357 BCE, the Prime Minister of Persia named Haman, and his wife Zeresh, plotted to kill all Jewish people in the Persian Empire. To make a long story short, Haman’s plans were foiled by Mordechai who was the leader of the Jewish people. Together with his orphaned cousin and adopted daughter Esther, who had by some quirk of fate become the Queen of Persia after her marriage to King Ahasuerus, they thwarted the evil plan. The day of deliverance became a day of feasting and rejoicing among the Jews.
As Jews we are taught that all Jewish holiday celebrations are not just simply commemorative and a look into ancient history, but rather they are most importantly a time to reflect on our personal and collective journeys that we currently find ourselves in. We are supposed to gain strength from these heroes of yore and transform ourselves to become the heroes of today.
I don’t know about you; I see quite a few similarities between the story of Purim and our current events.
The story of Purim relates that the wicked Haman’s absolute disgust and revulsion for the Jewish people was because there was one single solitary Jewish man named Mordechai who simply would not bow or bend the knee to the Prime Minister as was the custom. This act of defiance drove Haman insane and led to uncontrollable rage which led to the diabolical plot of annihilating a whole nation of people no matter the age. He took his anger out on men, women, children and even infants.
To me, this sounds like Putin, whose feathers got ruffled, and who has now decided that all Ukrainians have to be punished regardless of age. It has become apparent over the past couple of weeks that the Russian military has no qualms about bombing schools, hospitals, residential apartment buildings or houses of worship. Under the direction of Putin, innocent civilians, some of them kids, are being slaughtered literally on the streets in the various cities and towns in Ukraine.
The common denominator that led both these powerful people down the wrong path was that their ego could not tolerate insolence and therefore all reason, civility, humanitarianism and compassion were literally thrown out to be replaced with savagery, cruelty and barbarism. What we learn from both these stories is that egos are literally dangerous and need to be nipped in the bud before it drives a person to violence.
The Megillah/story tells us that the King of the huge Persian Empire was a weak leader and a vacillator. The sages depict him as a people pleaser who always agreed with the last person who spoke to him. The Megillah states that he threw huge drunken parties and orgies for his constituents so that he would be more popular with the masses. In reality, no normal people need a Mardi Gras to foster respect and loyalty. What human beings really need from their rulers is compassion, fairness and a listening ear. The King, who willingly signed the document that sealed the fate of the Jews, actually blamed Haman for this vicious plan. He completely shirked any responsibility, accountability and ownership.
Once again to me this sounds like the European Union, NATO and the United States. There is no real leadership to be spoken of. While thousands of innocent people are dying, these leaders of millions upon millions of people cannot seem to make up their mind as to what to do. I get that they are in an extremely perplexing and dangerous position, but for crying out loud, they need to do something before the thousands of deaths turn into hundreds of thousands of deaths, God forbid.
What we learn from both these stories is weakness is not a virtue. A leader (even a parent who leads their household) has to be decisive and have a backbone.
Queen Esther was ready and willing to give up her very life in order to stop the killing and bloodshed to come for the Jewish people. She placed herself in the lion’s den in order to manipulate her drunken husband and his wicked Prime Minister. The likelihood of her surviving this encounter was minimal, as she knew with almost certainty that she would be beheaded. She even told her uncle that she is ready to go in to meet with the King and she said, “If I perish, then I perish.” What guts coming from this 20 something year old innocent young woman, who was probably enrolled in a Jewish high school when she and her classmates were kidnapped by the King’s court so that the King could marry a virgin, and not someone else’s widow or ex.
Vladimir Zelensky was elected in 2019 as president of the independent country of Ukraine. He too was young and inexperienced. He was a comedian and a singer before he ended up leading a country. Yet, to me, he is one of the few heroes in this story. Like Esther, he is putting his life on the line. He clearly knows and he says it publicly that he may get killed in this conflict. He gets it just like Esther that someone has to do something. He is a true leader. He was offered safe passage where he could live in exile, but he refused because, as a leader, he needs to be on the ground with his people. He, like Esther, came to the same conclusion that hiding behind the palace gates is not the proper thing to do. An amazing parallel.
What we learn from both these stories is that one person can make such a difference in this world. A person should never say to themselves or to others, “I am just one person, what can I do?” Esther and both Vladimir’s teach us that just one person can do plenty of good or evil.
The last few lines of the Megillah discuss that when the anemic war against the Jews was over, the King decided to immediately raise the taxes on all his millions of loyal subjects. This was the last thing the weary nation expected from their King.
I wonder what they would have paid for a gallon of gas back then.
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