It’s Purim, when everything is not as it seems.
Upside down and inside out, masked and made up, the holiday spools out its story of a high and mighty king, his scheming courtier, a treacherous plot. There’s an opulent palace, a sumptuous banquet, drunken revelry, a comely queen Vashti, who all too soon, is banished for her refusal to accede to her husband’s demands. And a brave girl and her sage uncle, Esther and Mordechai, who act brazenly to foil the wicked vizier Haman and reverse the tragedy about to unfold. So it was in Shu-Shu-Shu Shushan long ago.
And so it is in Washington, this Purim, with its upendings and reversals, and its own Purimspiel, where Donald Trump is really Alec Baldwin, where the media are the enemy, and the news is false. There’s Mar a Lago, the president’s winter retreat masquerading as the South Florida White House, the clubby dinners, the closeted cabal of sycophants, Steve Bannon’s machinations cloaked as policy, and the glamorous Melania hidden away, like Vashti, in her gilded Fifth Avenue tower. And then, there’s Breitbart and Mark Levin spewing spurious allegations and dark accusations, and the seemingly endless torrent of unexpurgated presidential Tweets and unrepentant insinuations.
The current mayhem is unsettling, the future unclear. The people are fractious, some ripe for demagoguery and its fiery rhetoric fraught with fear that foments an insidious demonizing of Jews and Muslims and an odious white nationalism. It arouses an arrogant America First mentality, building walls and closing minds as well as borders. And it can lead to hateful acts, like the recent spate of bomb threats at Jewish community centers and desecration at Jewish cemeteries.
The Purim story echoes, Haman’s repugnant singling out of the Jews as “a certain people” and his cunning questioning of their loyalty to the king and his court as “their laws are different from every other people’s.” And his outrage that Mordechai, one of “those” people, could refuse to bow down to him and the ensuing plot to destroy the Jews to avenge his honor.
Haman’s scheme is ultimately undone, when the beauteous now queen Esther, goaded by Mordechai, unmasks herself as a Jewess, forewarns the king of the evil plan and pleads for her people’s salvation.The edict for their destruction is reversed, as are roles, as Haman is sentenced to death and Mordechai parades through the city dressed in royal finery and riding on the king’s horse.
So, too, in Washington and across the nation, the current political havoc has inspired a dogged resistance to the upending of precious values and principles, a fierce activism to uphold and sustain those rights and protections we hold most dear, surely in the tradition of Esther and Mordechai.
And so, as the Purim story ends, happiness ensues with the charge to ensure “these days should be remembered and celebrated in every generation.” And so we will again, as the megillah is read, as the story is retold, as noisy groggers drown out the mention of the vile Haman’s name, as children dress up as Queen Esthers and Mordechais, as their courage and the hopeful possibility for unmasking leaders and undoing unjust acts is recalled. So it is a time for merrymaking, as the old Purim ditty goes, “so we sing, so we sing, so we sing and raise a row, for Haman he was swinging while Mordecai was singing in Shu-Shu-Shu Shushan, long ago.”