On Jewish Leadership and Purim

Published in the Long Island Jewish World/ Manhattan Jewish Sentinel 3/14.08
By Howard Teich

What message do we take from Purim that is applicable to our contemporary times?  The answer is not one message, it is many messages.  And so this article opens up the discussion for each one of us.  What relevance does Purim have in our present world for us as Jews in Israel and in Diaspora?

On a simplistic level, the Purim story is that Esther is selected by King Ahaseurus as his queen, a scheme to poison the King is disclosed by Esther’s brother Mordechai saving the King, and when a decree is put in place by the evil Haman, second only to the King, to exterminate first Mordecai, then all the Jews in the kingdom, the King knowing and recognizing the full betrayal of Haman and the goodness of Mordecai, honors Mordecai, who gives strength to Queen Esther to approach the King on behalf of her people to set aside the slaying of the Jews, which the King agrees to although he had not known previously that Esther was Jewish, and with her determination, she has the children of Haman slain, and then sets forth her story for lasting memory, with an ending that the Jews had light and gladness (Esther 8:16), celebrated today as the holiday of Purim.

How do I interpret it for today’s world?  It’s a story of leadership, of commitment to Judaism and our fellow Jews, of difficulties when our people turn away from G-d, of the continuing significance of the righteous man in our society, and a willingness to be daring at the risk of death for our people, our belief in G-d keeping His commitment to our people, and light coming from darkness even at the most troubling hours in our history.  Perhaps that’s where we are today.

The first thought that comes to mind is honoring the thousands of Jews in Israel who have given their lives on the front line since the birth of Israel for the nation-building of our homeland, either as military or civilians.  We must remember.  They are the light who appeared when our enemies attempted to annihilate us in Israel, and end the modern-day life of the State of Israel.

That’s only a part of it, for it is our leaders who determine their fate on Earth, and we must ask what is the state of our leadership today in Israel and in the Diaspora.  Are they willing to stand up, as did Mordechai and Esther?  Do they have the same righteousness as Mordechai?  Do we have the same belief in G-d that would allow us to take on our adversaries, and defeat them?  Do we have the same commitment of disclosing who we are to the rest of the world, knowing that if we act, the world will react as they will, and perhaps be supportive and perhaps not, and yet have it not impact on our determination, and on our strategy and plans?  Will we keep our destiny in our own hands, or will we defer to others?

I would hope each leader would ask themselves the difference they have made, and are making.  And if they cannot find the answer, or if the answer is not positive for our community, I say please step aside now, on this holiday of Purim, and let the Mordechais and Esthers in our community step forward.  Let them move into leadership, and bring light to us in what may be considered a dark hour.  Let there be a place for those who believe in miracles, and the power of belief in the Holy Spirit.  For that’s who we are, and what we must renew at this time.

Yes, we all yearn for a true peace for Israel in our generation.  The reality is that Israel is nearly surrounded by enemies and its government negotiates on false hope with its sworn enemies who are committed to its destruction.  It gives no credence to our Biblical history, and the word and power of G-d in his commitment to Israel, and His expectations from our people.  This government removes its Jewish citizens from its land to appease its enemies, it is willing to return our Biblical land which endangers the very security it is supposed to gain by peace, all for the one-sided hope for an illusive peace. Such weakness does not work at any level.  And yet the policy continues, not moving the country closer to peace, but moving it closer to war.  The lessons of Gush Katif and Southern Lebanon and Oslo must be remembered, and the errors not repeated.

According to the Sefer Haggadah (152:12), Rabbi Assi said, “As the dawn and the night, so all miracles (recorded in Scripture) ended with Esther.”  That may be so, but I would argue that the miracle of our generation is the rebirth of Israel.  Now celebrating its 60th Anniversary, we must not take it foregranted.  It cannot continue to exist without strong leadership in Israel.

And here in America, most American Jewish leaders stay silent about, or worse endorse the pressure of our current American Administration to force Israel into its next mistake seeking what is considered a peace initiative, with a mandate to give up land to create a new state for the Palestinian people, guaranteeing the last stamp on the forceful debilitation of Israel by its neighbors.  The American Jewish leadership must risk, as Mordechai and Esther, and stand up for our people and say no, not now, and maybe not ever to our Administration.  We must see evil when it exists, as with Haman then, and in today’s world with Hamas and their brethren, and call it that, and bring it to an end.

Is there a scheme today to kill Jews?  Whether it be Ahmadinejad in Iran, Hamas in Gaza, or many of the radical Muslims, the answer in the early 21st Century, more than two millennium after Esther and Mordecai, and more than six decades after the Holocaust, is again, and still yes.  Our generation must stand up to this threat with the repetition of the words, “Never Again,” and the words of the Bible, “for G-d is with us.” (Isa 8:10).  We must be strong and determined, and perhaps as the model of Esther until she had Haman and his ten sons hanged, she did not budge.  We must recommit ourselves on this Purim not to be defeated.

In the tradition of Purim as set forth in the Sefer Haggadah, it is a man’s duty to mellow himself with wine on Purim until he cannot tell the difference between “Cursed be Haman” and “Blessed be Mordechai.”   Let us chant G-d’s praise on Purim as did Mordechai, for raising us up, and suffering our enemies from celebrating over us, and defeating them as we must now.  With that chant, we can have spiritual joy and honor once again, in America, in Israel, and throughout the Diaspora for our people, and real peace in our time for Israel.

Let us not forget that Purim is about our leadership on Earth, one person standing up and making a difference for our people.  When we shake the grogger to tirade Haman, and remember our victory over evil in that generation, who do we turn to today, and who will we celebrate for bringing honor and ensuring victory in our contemporary Jewish world!  I do not know the answer.  We must reclaim that leadership and daring.  We need it now, and we need it for our future.

Written by Howard Teich.