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Purim Then and Purim Now

 

One of the interesting facets of the Purim story is the tradition of giving a Purim Torah talk during the holiday. “Purim Torah” is a humorous and often satirical way of using biblical and Talmudic narratives in a manner that is creative and imaginative—but always funny, if not carnivalesque. Purim Torah expositions may be simple or elaborate.

On one occasion I received from a friend a Purim Torah written as if it came from a page of the Talmud dealing with the debate Israelis had whether they should leave Gaza or not—replete with all the names of the political leaders written in classic Aramaic script! Like a good old April Fool’s joke, only afterwards do you  do you realize that you have been taken by surprise.

My Purim story began a couple of days ago when I had a conversation with a good friend who runs an electronic Jewish publishing company named Alex. As we were conversing, we started talking about the Purim story and attempted to find parallels to today’s drama concerning Israel and Iran, President Obama and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. The entire conversation involved considerable tongue-in-cheek humor.

Despite the comical way the Purim story is narrated, its message is deadly serious. The Jewish people have always been a vulnerable minority to immoral leaders—past and present.

My friend Alex began his exposition of Purim with the incident of Mordechai and Haman. When Haman became the viceroy, he insisted that everyone bow down to him, yet as we read in the Book of Esther, that Mordechai refused to pay any kind of homage to Haman (Esther 3:1-9). One reason given by the Midrash suggests that Haman was wearing an idol around his neck and Mordechai refused to bow lest he guilty of idolatry.[1] This might suggest that Mordechai and Haman were enemies long before Haman became the Prime Minister of Persia.

Ibn Ezra raises the obvious question: How could Mordechai endanger himself and the Jewish people for this breach of etiquette? Surely, he could have requested that the Queen transfer him to another part of the King’s Gate so that he would not run into Haman again! Alex deduced that Netanyahu behaved a lot like Mordechai, while Haman behaved much like Obama, whose Administration indicated there could be a serious chilling effect if Netanyahu wins the election that could affect Israel’s security, or the Palestinian quest for Statehood that the State Department might endorse.[2]  According to some Arab and European  newspapers, it was rumored that Obama threatened to shoot down any Israeli planes attempting to bomb Iran[3], a point that the State Department officially denied.[4]

Of course  the analogy breaks down. Obama is not threatening to kill eight million people in Israel. True, his error in judgment could indirectly lead to that result, but the real threat comes from the heirs of ancient Persia—Iran!

Perhaps Netanyahu ought to be compared to Queen Esther, who at one point breaks with the royal protocol to meet with the King in order to save her people’s lives. (I could just imagine Netanyahu dressing up in a Queen Esther Purim costume.) This exposition has some potential validity. Netanyahu also felt that the situation demanded that he go and speak on behalf of his people before the President’s agreement with Iran became a fait accompli.

Some people I have spoken with suggest President Obama might resemble the Persian King Achashverosh. In his naiveté, the king believed everything that Haman had spoken to him about the problematic Jews. This comparison is striking because President Obama appears willing to accept the Iranian claim that “using nukes goes against the teachings of Islam” [5]  despite the fact the Ayatollah Khamenei has threatened “to wipe Israel off the map.”  Former Clinton envoy Dennis Ross candidly said  that the Obama administration needs “to explain why the deal it is trying to conclude actually will prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons for the lifetime of the agreement and afterwards.” [6] Yes, Congress has a right to know, as do our Arab allies.[7]

Should we take these threats seriously? If you’re a small country like Israel, whose memory of the Holocaust is still fresh—you must take these threats seriously. One does not need nuclear centrifuges to make peaceful electricity, but one certainly needs it to make a nuclear bomb. This is alone serious enough of a problem for us to have grave doubts—the same kind of doubts that the Arab countries have expressed.

One of the 20th century’s premiere Modern Orthodox thinkers, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, was quoted as once saying  “A madman rose and articulated his intentions to destroy the Jewish people. The miracle was that we didn’t ignore him, we didn’t excuse him, and we didn’t seek to reinterpret him. The miracle was that we actually believed him and sought to do something about it, The Purim story teaches us to recognize that we have been in this situation before. So it was in days of old, so it will be today.”[8]

This exposition resonates with what we need to remember as Jews, we are sometimes oblivious to the world around us. We cannot imagine why the anti-Semites wish to destroy us for being different—whether in the past, or in the present day.

As of today’s writing, Haman’s successor, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was reportedly hospitalized and is listed in critical condition. How intriguing! Stalin also died on Purim in 1953.[9]

A Purim synchronicity? Possibly.

The last custom of the Purim holiday is to imbibe enough wine so we do not know the distinction between “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed is Haman.” It would seem that for many American Jews, they cannot distinguish between a hero like Netanyahu who is trying to warn the Western world—along with most of the Sunni countries of the Middle East, against signing an inferior agreement with Iran. The political landscape has left many of us confused. We have become so intoxicated with the good life in the United States, we can no longer think what is in our people’s own best interest. The Holocaust seems for most Jews like a distant memory, as are its lessons. We tend to put too much trust in politicians from both parties rather than take responsibility for the situation of our brethren in Israel.

 

[1] Esther Rabba 7:6.

[2] http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.639832

[3] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2015/03/02/how-a-rumor-about-shooting-down-israeli-jets-caught-fire-in-conservative-media/ cf. http://english.pravda.ru/news/world/04-03-2015/129960-obama_israel_fighters-0/ See also

[4] http://www.timesofisrael.com/white-house-denies-obama-threatened-to-down-israeli-jets/

[5] See the Obama video at http://www.westernjournalism.com/obama-dont-worry-iran-nuke-religion/#vvzO7R2gePAkrv04.97

[6] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2015/03/05/dennis-ross-worried-arab-leaders-panicky/

[7] http://www.israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/26170/Default.aspx

[8] http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2015/02/25/why-religious-jews-see-a-parallel-between-the-netanyahu-obama-rift-on-iran-and-the-bibles-book-of-esther/

[9] http://unitedwithisrael.org/soviet-jews-saved-from-stalins-genocidal-plans-on-purim/