Purim is not about anti-Semitism

Thursday, 7 March, 2019 - 10:56 pm

Purim is not a holiday about anti-Semitism. Of course Haman was most definitely an anti-Semite. (In fact, he got his career in Jew hatred started as an entry-level government official who was advocating against Persian support for the Jewish people’s right to a homeland in Israel.) Furthermore, he most certainly tried to persecute and destroy the Jewish nation. Finally, his plans were thwarted by the powerful Jewish lobby in the palace (the queen), resulting in his downfall and execution. Following the Jewish victory against Haman’s minions, Mordechai and the sages of Israel established the festival of Purim. So how can we say that Purim is not about anti-Semitism?

Because the story told above is only the mask - the outer layer. Upon closer examination, we discover an entirely different subplot that is far more instructive of how we are to live as Jews.

When Haman issues his decree, Mordechai reacts by wearing sack-cloth and ashes and declaring that Jews must gather in prayer, fasting and Teshuvah. What happened to working the phones and leaning on his connections in the king’s court? What happened to raising money for an effort to get the decree annulled by the king?

When Esther is prevailed upon to go to the king, she prepares by fasting for three days. For a king who spent 4 ½ years looking for the most beautiful woman in the Persian empire to marry, it would not seem to be wisest idea to approach him after a three day fast. Even a very attractive woman doesn’t look great without eating or drinking for 72 hours. It would seem more logical for Esther to spend three days at the spa and shopping for new clothes with which to impress the king.

So what’s the deal? Mordechai and Esther understood that Haman’s decree is merely a symptom of a deeper issue. Namely, the Jewish people falling out of favor with Hashem. This was because of the self-degradation stemming from the Jews wanting so desperately to be accepted by Persian society, that they went to the king’s feast celebrating their own subjugation. They were so thrilled just to be invited to the ball, that they tossed their Yiddishkeit; eating the non-Kosher food, engaging in promiscuity, and fully embracing the pagan Persian culture.

Accordingly, Mordechai’s primary focus was getting the Jews good with Hashem again through prayer and repentance. Once that got squared away, they then employed natural channels to get the decree annulled and the enemy eliminated. Consequently, Purim is a celebration of our reunification with Hashem as His treasured and devoted nation. Haman’s anti-Semitism was just a side-bar.

The takeaway is that every threat to our people must be dealt with using all means available to us. But we must first remember that our primary task is to strengthen our connection to Hashem. Only then can our efforts to neutralize the threats be effective.

Shabbat Shalom and happy Purim prep!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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