Purim: a Diaspora Holiday

meguillah.jpg

In just over a week we’ll be listening to the story of Queen Esther read from Megillat Esther (the scroll of Esther). A lot has been written about this story and the holiday that celebrates the miracle behind the story; one thing that strikes me is the relevance of this narrative.

When Haman is appointed Prime Minister by King Ahasuerus, he expects everybody to show him respect and deference and feels slighted when Mordechai refuses to bow to him. In a pure reflex of anti-semitism, he decides that not only Mordechai but all the Jews of Persia must perish as a result. In addition, king Ahasuerus, who apparently had nothing against the Jews, does not challenge his minister and is ready to stand indifferent while the Jews of his kingdom are being slain. Unfortunately history has repeated itself countess times since then. Jews have been threatened and killed while their neighbours have stood silent.

The brighter aspect of this story is that redemption comes from the apparently assimilated Queen Esther herself. After all she had married king Ahasuerus – a Gentile – to whom she had not disclosed her true identity. What’s more the circumstances which had led to the match – she had found favor in the king’s eyes in a sort of beauty contest – were not exactly those we associate with religious young girls.

Although marrried to an allpowerful king and hesitant when Mordechai tells her that she is the one who must take action to save her people, she identifies with the Jews of Persia and finds in herself the resources to counter Haman’s decree.

What the story of Esther teaches us here is that sometimes God needs us to perform miracles and that he expects us to exert our sense of responsibility to change things. It also reminds us that we should be careful when judging other people and that redemption may come through those assimilated Jews we tend to write off as “not Jewish enough”.

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6 thoughts on “Purim: a Diaspora Holiday

  1. Your characterization of Esther as “assimilated” strays very far from the traditional interpretation of her actions. The Rabbinic explanation for why Esther did not disclose that she was a Jew is that Mordechai told her not to. (In fact, it is said that she adhered to Halacha even while living in the king’s palace- for example, eating only fruits and vegetables to avoid the non-kosher food.) And she married the King because she had no choice: ALL the virgin girls of the kingdom were subject to the search for a new queen. Once selected, she could not refuse.

  2. Raizy: I am aware of the Rabbinic explanation (particularly concerning Esther’s secret arrangements to respect halakhah) hence the term “apparently assimilated” that I used. I still tend to think that some of the Jews of Persia were more separate from the business of the kingdom than Mordechai and Esther.

  3. Nice post. Two comments:
    1) The text itself tells us that Esther hid her identity based on Mordechai’s command. (Esther 2:20)

    2) Also, Achashverosh is far from “indifferent” to Haman’s nefarious plans. After all, Haman makes it financially worthwhile for Achashverosh to allow Haman a free hand to do as he wishes. (Esther 3:8-9)

  4. I heard (via son and husband) an interesting interpretation of Achashverosh not being so evil. He read “עבד” meaning slave and Haman meant “אבד” which means destroyed.

    It is easy to have more than one interpretation of the same text.

  5. Pingback: Almost Purim Weekly Review « Ilana-Davita

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