A Lesson from Purim

Tomorrow is Purim.  You might have heard of it, but unless you are Jewish or live in a Jewish neighborhood, perhaps not so much. Purim is the annual celebration of the Jews’ escape from the evil plans of Haman, the viceroy of the Persian King Ahasuerus, to murder all the Jews in Persia.

Back Story:  King Ahasuerus’ wife Queen Vashti is ‘demoted’ after refusing the King’s request that she parade naked (to display her beauty) in front of the very drunk King and his very drunk guests at a seven-day drinking feast in the city of Shushan.

In need of a new queen, King Ahasuerus subsequently has all the young women of the land paraded in front of him and he chooses Esther, niece and adopted daughter of Mordechai.  Esther does not reveal to the King that she is Jewish. 

Uncle Mordechai uncovers an assassination plot against the King, the perpetrators are caught and executed, and Mordechai finds favor with the King.  When Haman is appointed viceroy, Mordechai refuses to bow down to him.  Enraged, Haman finds out that Mordechai is Jewish and plots not only Mordechai’s demise, but the demise of all the Jews in the land.  Haman gets approval and funding for his venture from the King, and the game is afoot.

Mordechai implores Esther to go and tell the King.  However, no one is allowed to approach the King without invitation – the consequence is death.  After much contemplation and praying, and a reminder from Mordechai that Esther’s fate will be no different either way, Esther invites the King and Haman to a series of feasts.

At the second feast, Esther reveals that she is Jewish, and that Haman is plotting to wipe out all of her people, including Mordechai and herself.  The King is supremely displeased, and Haman is hanged.  Subsequently, the Jews of Persia are saved.

What did Mordechai say to Esther that changed her mind? Mordechai told Esther “if you keep silent in this crisis … you and your father’s house [family line] will perish”  (Esther 4:13)

Which brings us to today.  There are a lot of Hamans out there.  There is Haman Putin trying to exterminate the Ukrainians and anyone who is mean to Haman Bashar al-Assad.  There is Haman Xi Jinping of China leading the re-education, imprisonment, and/or the extermination of the Uighur minority.  There is Haman Kim Jong-un launching missiles, with increasing range, capable of carrying nuclear warheads.  There are Haman Ayatollahs increasing their progress towards nuclear capability.  There is Haman Military Junta in Myanmar attempting ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.  There is Haman Boko Haram in Nigeria kidnapping and raping young girls and killing everybody who objects.  There seems to be no end of Hamans.

And we here in the US are not immune.  We have our own Hamans.  We have Haman Trump doing his best to subvert the Constitution.  We have Haman Carlson who continues to shill for Haman Putin.  There are Haman DeSantis and Haman Abbot whose hate and fear of the LBGTQ+ community results in marginalizing minority communities.  There is Haman “The Squad” and the rest of the far left who voted against aid to Ukraine. 

Hamans spewing racist hate have become almost ubiquitous.  There are Haman police who arrest Black people because they are Black – just ask Oscar-nominated ‘Black Panther’ director Ryan Coogler who was detained for trying to make a withdrawal from his own bank account.  And the anti-Asian Hamans who randomly attack Asian women.  There’s Haman Mary Ann Lisanti, a white Democratic of the Maryland House of Delegates, describing an area where a white colleague campaigned as a “n-word district.” 

Thus, reaching out from the fifth century BCE is Mordechai’s admonition to Esther, “If you keep silent in this crisis … you and your father’s house [family line] will perish.”

If we are silent, hate and racism will triumph.  If we are silent, voting rights and civil rights will be diminished.  If we are silent, our democracy will perish.  We cannot be silent.  Certainly, our modern Hamans are anything but.

It is tradition on Purim to feast and drink.  In fact, in the Talmud, fourth century Rabbi Rava stated, “one must drink on Purim until [one] cannot distinguish between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai.” 

Why do I feel like that’s exactly what I want to do tonight on the eve of Purim?

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