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Recognizing the Face of Haman

There is a peculiar law in the Talmud regarding the reading of the Megillah (the Book of Esther): “Anyone who reads the Megillah backwards has not fulfilled his obligation.” Why such a strange law? Why would anyone want to read the story of Esther backwards? Some rabbis have suggested over the ages that anyone who thinks the story about Haman’s murderous plot to destroy the Jewish people is passé would be wise to pay better attention to the events that shape the world. Anti-Semitism is and has always been the Achilles’ heel of Western civilization. How right those rabbinical pundits were!

Over the last century, the enemies of the Jewish people have traditionally been the same kind of peoples who oppose freedom-based societies that respect the human rights of others. We saw this in the days of WWII, as we did in the days of the Cold War with Russia—which I might add, seems to be re-occurring today with the emergence of a Mafia State in the heart of Moscow.

Purim is not the happiest depiction of Jewish life in the Diaspora, but it is a realistic portrayal of how dangerous Jewish life has often been; even today, Al-Qaida No. 2 leader warns Hamas against making a Gaza truce with Israel. Ayman al-Zawahri threatens to strike at Jewish targets all around the world.

The arch-villain Haman is more than just a cardboard character who inhabits the pages of the Bible; evil is a reality we often choose to ignore, largely because we want to believe that all cultures are equally important and civilized—such has been the mantra of multiculturalism since the end of the sixties. Of course this is errant nonsense. How does one consider a culture that engages in female circumcision or the suppression of human rights equal with countries where these rights are enshrined and protected?

The holiday of Purim stresses that evil has a name; it has to be combated. Divine redemption never occurs in a vacuum—it requires human participants and actors. Ignoring evil does not make it go away—it only emboldens dictators and thugs in power to expand their dreams of conquest and oppression until we unite and defeat it. The book of Esther shows how decent people can and ought to act—but it begins with recognizing certain hard realities about human nature and life itself. For Jews living in the Diaspora (countries outside of Israel), our belief in liberalism fails to take into account the specter of radical evil.

Instead of fighting it, Western nations and their Third World allies continue to honor mass murderers (remember how Arafat received the Noble Prize for making peace with Israel) and the henchmen of radical Palestinian and Iranian nations as though one could honestly hold these thug leaders to an ethical standard of behavior.

Yes, the ghost of Neville Chamberlain, the failed prime minister of Britain who attempted to appease Adolph Hitler by giving him Czechoslovakia, is alive and well in our country and in other Western nations who wish to bury their heads in the ground rather than to confront the autocratic forces that threaten us all. As Iranian mullahs march forward toward creating the first rogue nuclear Muslim state, we would be wise to remember the timeless lessons of Purim.