Religious Zionists, this is our Esther moment
The salvation that we celebrate on Purim would not have been possible without a single fateful decision of one leader in one moment, inspired by what must be the most successful, important and unlikely motivational speech in Jewish history.
A decree of genocide against the Jews has been disseminated to the entire Persian empire. Facing a situation which seems absolutely hopeless, Mordechai tries to engage Esther, who has been in the king’s palace for a full 5 years. Everyone knows and quotes the beginning of Mordechai’s words to Queen Esther in this fateful juncture in the story- “Do not imagine that you alone of all Jews will escape in the king’s house. For if you are silent in this moment…” The logical continuation of that sentence should be “then we are all lost”. But Mordechai says the exact opposite. Rather than motivating Esther to action by telling her that everything depends on her, he says “salvation will come from another place”. What kind of motivational speech is that? If you don’t do it… someone else will? So why put myself on the line? What’s the point? Why not stay where it’s comfortable and safe, and let someone else do the work?
Mordechai is saying to Esther- that’s not what should motivate you to act. What needs to motivate you to act is not a calculation of how successful you will be, of how critical your actions are, whether someone else can do it. What should motivate you to act is- is this the right thing to do, that you are being called on to do in this moment? Have you been situated at this moment in history in this position in order to raise your voice and yes, to make a difference? To make all the difference.
This moment in Jewish history is an Esther moment for the Religious Zionist community. Religious Zionism has reached a point of unprecedented influence and power in society. After the first kippa-wearing prime minister, a kippa-wearing Knesset member is advancing a judicial reform, elements of which have been promoted by some for decades, but which, taken as a whole, will effectively remove the division of powers and grant the government unchecked power to legislate. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets to protest this reform, including increasing numbers in the Religious Zionist community. But many, even if they actually disagree with how far and how extreme this reform is, even if they think that it is not a good idea to remove all checks and balances from the government, won’t join the protests, because they are afraid that their support would be co-opted for the sake of a left-wing attempt to topple a right-wing government.
In fact the very opposite is true, in two important ways.
The thing most likely to ensure the toppling of this government, and its replacement with a left-wing government, is if it continues to advance this extreme reform. Just as the refusal of Binyamin Netanyahu to honor his promise and cede power to Benny Gantz in the rotation agreement ultimately led to a government composed of left-wing parties and an Arab party. The over-reach of this government is quickly proving to be its downfall. The thing most likely to save it is moderate right-wing voices from within telling it to slow it down and to tone it down.
In fact, if anything is being co-opted, it is the legitimate needs for reforms in the judicial system that are being co-opted by a coalition of interests who have no interest in the improvement of the judiciary, and who are not motivated by a dedication to democratic principles, or to Zionism, for that matter. The ultra-Orthodox parties are interested in passing a law to grant broad exemptions from army service for ultra-orthodox men, which the High Court has challenged as a violation of equality. The Shas party is interested in enabling Aryeh Deri a ministerial position, despite his twice having used his position for personal gain at the public’s expense. And, of course, above all, Binyamin Netanyahu is interested in gaining immunity from his potential indictment. Without these interests, there would have been no need to push so quickly for such drastic changes.
The Religious Zionist community is firmly in the palace. We might try to fool ourselves into thinking that we have the power now, that we are safe, that this reform will benefit us, and that the damage it will cause will not affect us. If we think we will escape to the palace, I have no doubt that salvation will come from elsewhere, and we may find that we ourselves will face defeat. The Israeli people show every sign that they are determined not to let this pass as is.
It is incumbent upon us, as a community, to raise our voice, without worrying about how we will be labeled, without leaving it to someone else. We are called upon to do the right thing for this time and place. To seize our Esther moment.
Who knows? Perhaps it was for this reason that we reached the halls of power…