Some of the Lessons of Purim

As we enter the Hebrew month of Adar, our Rabbis tell us  to rejoice. Adar is the month in which we celebrate the miracle of Purim

For those of you who are not familiar with the story of Purim, here is a brief summary.

The celebrations we engage in are to commemorate yet another victory of good over evil. This one, according to tradition, happened over two thousand years ago in Shushan (modern day Teheran), the ancient capital of Persia (modern day Iran). Then, a wicked man by the name of Haman, upon learning that Mordechai who refused to bow down to him was a Jew, managed to convinced the King to discard of all Jews under his rule. After casting lots, the 13th day of Adar was selected as the day in which everyone in the Empire was free to massacre Jews and take possession of their property.

As on other occasions in Jewish history, the Jews of ancient Persia did little to avert evil. They remained in Persia despite the fact that they knew of Haman’s decree. They  did not pack up their belongings and moved to Eretz Yisrael where Cyrus the Great had allowed them to return to following his victory over the Babylonians in 539 B.C.E. Instead, the Jews sat and awaited a miracle, they believed as Mordechai said to his niece, Esther, that “relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source.”(Esther,4:14).

Luckily for them and us, a miracle did happen. Rather, it was created.

What brought about that miracle was the demonstration of unanimity, the strong desire and determination to remain united, to stand as one forged, cohesive unit against a common enemy and against evil.

When Haman approached the king with his wish to discard of the Jews, he portrayed  them as “ a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom.” (Esther 3 :8). He described the Jews as a divided nation, one that refuses to blend in.

He was soon proven wrong and discredited. When Esther heard of Haman’s decree, she asked Mordechai to “ Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16).

Mordechai followed her directive and the first lesson of Purim was outlined. The Jews supported and stood united behind Esther who took upon herself a difficult and dangerous task, to be a messenger for her people. It is this displayed unity, this unrelenting support that the  Jews of Shushan showed during those days that created the miracle.

Here is another lesson. For those who are familiar with the story of Purim, you may recall that Haman is described as “the Agagite.” Agag was the king the ancient Amalekites who were one of the most ferocious enemies the Israelites had faced when they came out of Egypt. The Amalekites committed atrocities against the children of  Israel. They attacked the weakest and most vulnerable of the nation as they were making their way in the wilderness following the Exodus from Egypt. They did this with no provocation, and solely for violence and greed.

“Remember what Amalek did to you when you came out of Egypt,” Moses commanded his people (Deuteronomy 25:17).

This commandment resonated later when Samuel ordered young, inexperienced King Saul to go and fight the Amalekites “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them.” ( 1 Samuel,15 : 1-2). Against that commandment, Saul took Agag king of the Amalekites alive.

A close examination of the Book of Esther also reveals that not only was Haman a descendent of Agag but that Mordechai, the Jew, was himself a descendent of King Saul. The lineages of these two adversaries, provide the paradigm for another lesson of Purim  It served to prove what Moses had proclaimed in Exodus 17:14-16, the war with Amalek would continue to go on “from generation to generation.”

Fast forward two thousand five hundred years into the twenty first century. Again, we see History repeating itself.

This Adar, a new generation in Eretz Yisrael, the descendents of Mordechai and King Saul are again facing the descendents of Haman and Agag  in their struggle for survival.

This Adar, Just as in ancient Persia, Israel and the world need an Esther, a leader who will risk his position and maybe even his life, step forward and defend us. Furthermore, as in those days, we here in Israel and in the world need to realize the importance of standing united behind that person. We need to put aside all petty differences, all trivial issues and focus on the main one, the existential threat facing us. Are we going to sit, as before, and await “relief and salvation from another source?” Are we going to listen to Agag’s repeated incitements and calls for our destruction and do nothing, or are going to stand upright, expose his real intent, discredit him, take our destiny in our own hands, create a miracle and do what we must do to shape our future of growth and prosperity?

Many of us know the answer and are working hard to bring about that miracle. We do it because we have learned the necessary lessons of Jewish and world history.

Will others? Let us hope so.

About the Author
Bat-Zion Susskind-Sacks is an English teacher and a pro Israel advocate. She lives in Israel and has recently published her first novel, "On A Wing From The Holy Land."
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