Part of what makes Jewish holidays special is that besides the historical significance and cultural impact, when studied and analyzed in-depth, lessons can often be applied to modern-day events and circumstances. With the world being impacted by so many important events, none less impactful than the COVID-19 pandemic, it has never been more important to learn the lessons from the knowledge of history and the opportunities to which we are afforded.
Soon we celebrate the holiday of Purim, followed a month later by the holiday of Passover. While the differences between the holidays are clear, ranging from the length of days, when the events took place, and the rules applied to the observance, this is a year in which the lessons we can, and frankly must learn are very interconnected.
There’s an old quip that goes, every Jewish holiday is, they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat. The holiday of Purim commemorates the events in the ancient land of Persia where the Jewish people had an important presence in society. However, as has been in the case throughout history, there were those that wished to see the Jews eliminated or removed from their environment. The well-known villain of the Purim story, Haman, was an advisor of King Achashverush and was determined to kill every Jew in Persia. The covert infiltration of Esther, the niece of the Jewish leader Mordechai, into the palace after marrying the King, allowed her to expose the evil plot of Haman. The rest as they say is history.
The story of Passover covers a much longer time period in which the Jewish people, previously accepted as equals in society, were turned into slaves under the Pharoah of Egypt. The rise to leadership by Moses who throughout history has been seen as the most important and righteous of Jewish leaders was the precursor to the miraculous events recorded in the Torah of how the Jewish people made it to freedom.
In both cases, we thank God for seeing us through the worst of times and giving us the opportunity to grow and rebuild. On the surface, making that connection can easily be tied into today’s events, however, I feel the lessons to be learned are far deeper and more consequential than merely believing and or accepting God’s role in what happened during and after each crisis.
The key issue revolving around the story of Passover and what separates it from all other major events in Jewish history is the issue of slavery. While the Jews as a people have often had to endure persecution and even attempts at annihilation in instances like the Purim story, the Spanish Inquisition and of course, the Holocaust, Passover stands alone as the holiday in which the people had to endure a different type of hardship. The battle against slavery.
The very first commandment states, “I am the L‑rd your G‑d, Who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage”. Bondage or slavery is a different kind of suffering. It is prolonged, mentally debilitating, and can destroy someone’s spirit without taking their physical life.
So how does this tie into the events of today and what is the lesson we learn from the upcoming holidays? As we know, COVID-19 has been dangerous and deadly. The death toll is a tragedy. Every human being with a heart knows and recognizes this fact. Not only have lives been cut short, but families have lost loved ones and those who have contracted the virus have often dealt with serious illness. All of this is real, and not to be taken lightly. But beyond all of this is an issue that might be seen as even far greater in its long-term consequence and impact. That issue is the fear it has created and the way it has changed our society. There are those among us who are medically at high risk or who regularly come in contact with those who are, but as for the rest of society, being shut down from the world around us is, for lack of a better word, a form of slavery. Slavery to fear. Slavery to conformity. Slavery to politics or agenda. Like all other instances of slavery, this has the potential of prolonging the suffering and devastating our life not only today but in the foreseeable future. We celebrate Passover because we saw how the miracles bestowed upon the Jewish people brought them to freedom. It is a lesson that translates into hope and a deeper faith. But it also teaches us how devastating slavery can be to a people. Purim on the other hand is a story of attempted mass murder, and how staying strong, fighting back and belief in God can lead a nation from the brink of death into better times. Confronting the evil presented by Haman during the time of Purim not only prevented the enormous loss of life, but it also prevented the potential for prolonged suffering. Purim teaches us that while it is important to save our lives, it makes no sense to do so by destroying our lives. Had the Jewish people stayed quiet and not pushed forward in the face of Haman’s evil, we would have endured persecution, death and potentially many years of slavery.
Doing what is right is never something to be argued against. The argument is more about what is right and what is wrong. In fairness, no one is correct every time, but combining wisdom and strength goes a long way in making the correct decisions. From Passover we learn wisdom, from Purim we learn strength. Let us apply both to our lives today and do all that we can to remove ourselves from the bondage in which today’s circumstances have placed us, and may you all be blessed for happy and healthy holidays this year and for many years to come.