A Piece of Purim

By Rabbi Tzvi Alyesh

Purim begins on the evening of March 6th this year, just around the corner. It is a story of miracles masked as coincidence, of God’s love for his people disguised as good fortune, and of individual Jews fulfilling their destiny veiled as mere happenstance.

The pivotal climactic scene of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” finds young Harry hiding behind a tree, absolutely certain that the apparition of his long dead father is seconds away from appearing and saving his life. Only at the last second does Harry realize that his father will make no appearance at all. The onus is on him, Harry, to step up, to summon power with him on a scale of which he was previously unaware, and to fight and win the battle at hand.

That is the story of Purim. That very knowledge that with God’s help, we, the Jewish people stand for ourselves, secure in the knowledge that not only will nobody else stand up for us, but also that we are supremely capable of holding our own against all enemies.

We pick up the story over 2400 years ago, in a Persian Empire that spanned 127 provinces, including the Jewish kingdoms of what is today known as modern Greater Israel. The Persian  King Ahasuerus is on the hunt for a suitable wife (after having executed his first wife for disobedience).  A Jewish girl named Esther is selected, though her Jewishness is hidden from the king.

Some time passes before Mordechai, cousin of Esther, also disobeys King Ahasuerus. He does this inadvertently in refusing to bow down to Haman, Grand Vizier to the King. Nevertheless, inadvertent or not, we know how Ahasuerus feels about disobedience. The Jew-hating Haman  sees his chance to live his fantasy of Jewish blood in the streets of the vast Persian empire. He suggests to Ahasuerus that it would not be sufficient for Mordechai to pay for his disrespect himself. The entire Jewish nation must pay, says he.

Mordechai begs Esther for help, and she acquiesces. She knows her husband well, by now, and she recognizes that to persuade him, she needs him in a good mood. She calls for days of feasting and revelry, before she reveals to Ahasuerus that she, Esther, comes from the very same Jewish people that Haman plans to annihilate in the name of Ahasuerus, the King. Haman is hanged and to add insult to Haman’s injury, the King selects none other than Esther’s cousin Mordechai to replace Haman as the King’s Grand Vizier.

Under Mordechai’s authority, the Jewish people take up arms to defend themselves against the bloodthirsty marauders that Haman encouraged and inspired. The 13th of Adar was the day that Haman had selected for genocide and it was on that very same day that the Jewish people rose up to defend their lives and property. By the 15th of Adar, the fighting was over.

The story is astounding. If not for the direct intervention of God in the course of history (in this case with the collaboration of a smart, self-assured, confident, and dynamic Jewish woman), there may be no Jewish people left alive today. The entire course of history would have been different. But Esther was placed where she had to be by the very same One who had chosen the Jewish people for a special covenant at Sinai.

Let us all work to see God’s helping hand in our daily lives.A

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