Today is the Jewish holiday of Purim – in the Jewish calendar it is the 14th day of the Month of Adar (Also, coincidentally, in 2006, the 14th of March). I thought it would be appropriate to provide some insight into the holiday by posting Yoram Ettinger’s “The Significance of Purim 2006”
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF PURIM, 2006
The FOURTEENTH/FIFTEENTH DAYS of the Jewish month of ADAR commemorate the NATIONAL LIBERATION of the Jewish People in Persia and the victory of Judah the Maccabee over Nikanor, the Assyrian commander. The sign of Adar is FISH, which is a symbol of demographic multiplication, in defiance of adversity. Moses – the role model of leadership – was born, and died, on the seventh day of Adar. Adar is the root of “to glorify” (“LeHaAdir”).
1. MORDECHAI, the hero of Purim, is a role model of walking against the grain and sustaining one’s (Jewish) heritage with pride, in defiance of a global power and in spite of the (Jewish) establishment, thus producing deliverance for the Jewish People. The first three Hebrew letters of “Mordechai” spell the Hebrew word “Rebellion” (“Mered”), which is consistent with the motto/legacy of the American Founding Fathers: “Rebellion Against Tyranny is Obedience to G-D”). Mordechai – who would not bow to Haman, the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire and who would not compromise his values/principles as did the Jewish establishment – was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who did not bow to Esau.
2. ESTHER, the heroine of Purim was Mordechai’s cousin. The name Esther is a derivative of the Hebrew word for “clandestine”, “hidden”, “covert” (Hester), which was reflective of her (initially) unknown Jewish identity at the royal court. In fact, the one day pre-Purim Fast of Esther (commemorating the three day fast declared by Esther in order to expedite deliverance), was cherished by the Maranos in Spain, who performed Judaism in a clandestine manner. The Scroll of Esther is the only book in the Old Testament, where the name of G-D is hidden/absent. Some of the Sages suggested that the explicit name of G-D is absent because the Scroll of Esther is the only Old Testament book, which deals exclusively with the Diaspora and not with the land of Israel.
3. KING AHASUERUS-XERXES, who heeded the advice of Mordechai, overruling Haman’s intent to exterminate the Jews, prospered as a result of his change of heart and escaped assassination. That was the case with Pharaoh, who escaped national collapse and starvation and rose in global prominence, once he appointed Joseph to be his deputy.
4. POLITICAL INCORRECTNESS underlies Mordechai’s legacy. When Esther expressed reluctance to unveil her Jewish identity, challenge the King’s and Haman’s policy, and intervene on behalf of the Jewish People – lest she be punished by the King – Mordechai reproached her: “If you shall remain silence, there will be [divine] deliverance, but you and your family shall perish.” According to the Sages, Esther avoided the fate of Job, who was a top advisor to Pharaoh, but did not contest the policy of Jewish extermination.
5. CONVICTION-DRIVEN TRANSPARENCY and BLUNTNESS are few of the lessons of Purim, as narrated by Esther Scroll, “Megilat Esther” in Hebrew. The root of “Megilah” is “Galeh” – exposed, overt, in-the-open – the opposite of “Esther”-“Haster”. The contradiction between these terms is a cardinal lesson of Judaism – life is not a picnic; it is complex, full of contradictions and difficult dilemmas. Therefore, one should be driven by principles, rather than by shifty convenience, in order to attain one’s goals. Just as the covert becomes overt, so is pessimism transformed into optimism, if one adheres to one’s conviction, rather than to one’s immediate convenience.
6. THE FOUR COMMANDMENTS OF PURIM:
*The reading/studying of Esther Scroll within the family – highlights the centrality of FAMILY, EDUCATION and MEMORY/COMMEMORATION as the foundation for a solid future.
*Celebration and Happiness – sustains the element of OPTIMISM and FAITH as the backbone of an individual and a nation.
*Gifts to relatives and friends – emphasizes the importance of FAMILY and social bonds.
*Charity to the poor (at least the value of a meal) – indicates the value of CONSIDERATION and CARING for the other person.
7. COMMEMORATION and DESTRUCTION OF A LETHAL ENEMY. The pre-Purim Sabbath is called “Memorial Sabbath” (“Shabbat Zakhor”), commemorating the war of extermination launched by the Amalekites against the Jewish Nation, since the Exodus from Egypt. One of Purim’s lessons is that there are enemies, whose strategic goal is extermination and not accommodation. They should be treated as mortal enemies and not as partners for peace. Mordechai was a descendant of King Saul, who defied a clear commandment and spared the life of Agag, the king of the Amalekites, thus causing further calamities upon the Jewish People. Therefore, Saul lost his life and his royal position. Mordechai rectified his ancestor’s record, by producing the demise of Haman (a descendant of Agag the Amalekite) and his family, which spared the Jew Nation a major calamity.