The Lessons of Purim

As the Jewish community gathers to celebrate Purim – another holiday of, “They tried to kill us, we prevailed, now let’s eat!” – it’s important that we do not ignore the importance of the day, especially with the recent rise of anti-Semitism worldwide.

For some, Purim is the ultimate example of strong women and the important role of women in history. Purim is a story in which Vashti stood up to the King and stood up for herself and of Esther, who used her role as Queen, to save the Jewish people from a pogrom in Persia (Iran).

For others, Purim is the perfect example for pacifists of how dialogue can solve conflicts. Mordechai and Esther were able to save the Jewish people by communication – word over weapon – by telling King Achashvarus of Haman’s plan. As such, Mordechai and Esther were able to stop Haman’s plan from being approved and implemented, thus saving the Jewish people of Persia.

But, one of the most important lessons of Purim is not often discussed: the importance of being successful and in a position of power.

Jewish history is riddled with anti-Semitism. When the Jewish community finally feels save and secure in an area, anti-Semitism begins to rise. Exiles, pogroms, and concentration camps are a sad reality of Jewish history. For years, Jews in America have felt safe. After October 7th, everything changed. The bubble that American Jews once lived in unexpectedly popped, bringing a whole new importance on the Jewish nation, Jewish identity, and Jewish history. We see the holidays and past events in a new lens because it is essential to learn from the past to prevent a repetition of our past fates.

In the past, Purim was a celebration of turning the tables on our enemy.

But, when you reread the Purim story after October 7th, and when you see the growing anti-Semitism all over the world, you see new meaning in the story: To create the change you want to see, you need to be in a place of impact.

Esther’s power wasn’t only in her courage in speaking up for the truth. It was due to her place of power within the palace as a Queen. In that role, she was able to have the confidence of the King. If she wasn’t in that position of power, nothing she could have said or done could have prevented Haman’s plan from being implemented. If Esther wasn’t Queen, we wouldn’t be celebrating Purim today. Instead, it would be yet another line in the long list of pogroms against the Jewish people.

Currently, universities are a cesspool of anti-Semitism. Human resource directors have no problem admitting hesitancy in hiring Jewish employees, and there are members of Congress who refuse to support Israel even after they were brutally attacked by terrorists.

If we take one thing from today’s reading of the Megillah, let it be to rise up and achieve greatness – as individuals and as a community. The survival of the Jewish community relies on it.

And, the irony (because all great stories need a great irony) is that the more we are in power, the more we are accused of controlling the world.

If the Jewish community needs to decide between survival and libel, we should always choose survival.

Queen Esther and King Achashveroush
About the Author
Keren Gelfand served as Director for Media Affairs at the Israeli Consulate in both Chicago and New York. Following her service there, she created her own consulting company to help brand Israeli and Jewish non profits in the States.