Thought for Shabbat – March 22, 2019
I love Purim. It is a fun holiday, as many witnessed this past Wednesday night at Adat Shalom. From childhood to now, I have heard and read the story of the Megillah of Esther countless times. But like anything else in Judaism, sometimes the historical context in which we live or the evolution of modern thought changes how we read words of scripture. When I read the Megillah this year, I was concerned that some people get the wrong message about this Megillah.
As a child, a summary of the Megillah might have been, Queen Vashti disobeys the drunken king and has to be killed/replaced. Haman tells the king that there is a strange group in their midst that must be wiped out, that group of course being the Jews. When learning of the error of his ways, the King is unable to change the decree to kill the Jews but gives them permission to defend themselves and they win. In this version of the story, the king is just a drunken buffoon who is easily duped into genocide. The king suffers no consequences for his actions. He is even viewed as a hero for having seen the error of his ways in trusting others to make decisions for him.
But the adult truth of the matter is that the king’s willingness to allow a subordinate to engage in genocide is criminal, reckless, and irresponsible. The king’s matter-of-fact attitude in not looking further into Haman’s charges against the Jews is unbelievable. When a Pharaoh orders the Israelites to be enslaved and Israelite babies to be exterminated, that is viewed as evil. When this king engages in sexist behavior and allows racist genocide to take place, he is somehow just a foolish man who trusts the wrong people.
In an era where hate speech and vandalism go unchecked and unchallenged, we have seen and experienced what happens when hate is allowed to be expressed, especially in the last year. Additionally, the intentional and calculated willingness to look the other way when hate rears its ugly head for political expedience is a strategy which in the end actually encourages and emboldens hate. It is a strategy that has found its way to the left and right sides of the political spectrum. The numb and lazy disregard of hate speech is similarly complicit in acts of hate.
In the story of Purim, translated as “a lottery”, the Jews get lucky. They get a miracle. The story could have easily gone another way. In the last few months we have seen what happens when the story goes the other way. The voices of hate must be challenged and the actions of those who embolden them exposed. Only this way can we prevent violence based on hatred of religions, nationalities or any other demographic group. Only this way can we prevent another Purim story from ever happening again.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer
With the spring break having begun, we need as many people as possible to help out with our services this weekend. 6:30 PM tonight, 9:45 tomorrow morning and 9:00 am on Sunday. Your help will be greatly appreciated.
Word/Phrase for the Week – Tzom – fast. Refraining from eating food and drink because it is ritually or customarily mandated or as a way of individual spiritual cleansing such as when Esther fasts before she goes to see the king.