Have you ever noticed the phenomenon in which, as soon as you turn your attention to a given subject, it starts popping up in all kinds of places? Our Text Tuesday group began its exploration of the Book of Esther a number of weeks ago and, since then, I have encountered a number of news articles and essays which, in one way or another, relate to the Book of Esther, to Purim or to both. Just within the past few weeks I came across an essay in the online digest, Jewish Ideas Daily, on “Cyrus, Ahmadinejad, and the Politics of Purim”. Before that, it was a press release from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency documenting Iran?s downgrading of the Tomb of Esther and Mordechai as an official pilgrimage site (calling it a shrine to the “genocide perpetrated by Jews against Iranians” in the fictitious story of Esther).
As we approach the celebration of the multivalent holiday we call Purim, we will profit from making the time to explore its themes that bring us the ever-new message of the capriciousness of Jewish existence, the vagaries of power, and the need for vigilance in a constantly-shifting political landscape.
Now, if all of the aforementioned is making you think of events that have been unfolding in Egypt over the past month, it is no coincidence. Among other things, the story of Purim reminds us that political certainties can be transformed overnight; that today?s partner in peace may be tomorrow?s deadly antagonist; that the despot calling the shots today may be swinging from a gallows, or booking a flight for Saudi Arabia, tomorrow. The complex drama unfolding in the Middle East that has sent shock-waves through Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, has even the sharpest pundits guessing about the outcome and, especially, its long-term implications for Israel.
And, if we are tempted to view this situation through the lens of the lessons that Purim brings us, what shall we conclude? Is Egypt?s Moslem Brotherhood the “Haman” who must, at all costs, be kept from gaining control? Does the plot of the story of Esther and Mordechai blind us to the fact that it is, more than anything else, a carefully constructed farce, blurring any possible parallels with what is unfolding in the Arab world? Does the implicit message of Purim that, when push comes to shove, only Jews will defend Jewish interests, resonate with us and, perhaps, suggest the relationship we choose with the State of Israel?
Scholars note that the Book of Esther is one which very much reflects the reality of a Diaspora Jewish community, one that, like its Jewish counterparts through the centuries, knew what it meant to be, alternately or simultaneously, marginalized, valued and, at times, persecuted. This is how many of us understand the position of Israel on the global stage. How ironic that Israel, the culmination of the Zionist dream of escaping the problems inherent in living in Diaspora, should find itself experiencing so many of them: vilification, opprobrium, anxiety, isolation.
Like you, I will continue anxiously to follow the dramatic changes that threaten to reshape the Middle East political landscape. In the interim, I will throw myself into our celebration of Purim, on Saturday night, March 19with a heightened respect for the holiday?s themes and with a deepened commitment to the joy of Jewish living that it also bring us. I hope you?ll be there to celebrate with me!