Rabbi's Weekly Teaching
March 14, 2014
Saturday night we begin our celebration of Purim and read the holiday story in the Megillah. At the beginning of the story, King Ahasueraus wants to host a party. The king issues a command to his butlers that there should be "no limit to the celebration" and they should provide for the wishes of every guest. Rabbinic commentary looks at this verse in the Book of Esther and asks, "How can the King's command possibly be fulfilled? If two ships were in the same sea and one wants a west wind and one wants an east wind, how can they both be satisfied?"
In response to this rabbinic question, a midrash is offered: "King Ahasueraus will experience the inability to have his command fulfilled. This was consistent with his character. Ahasueraus never wants to make choices or set priorities. He doesn't wish to ever choose between one advisor and another. And, he is always unable to take any firm stand or reject any specific request. This failure in the King's leadership always resulted in his accepting the advice of the last person he spoke with. When Ahasueraus listened to Haman, and then to Esther, he gives them both equal credibility. Its only when the King directly witnesses that Haman has evil intentions that he orders the evil Haman to be killed."
On Purim the rabbis ask of us:
* Are we ever like King Ahasueraus?
* Do we have the courage of an Esther and Mordecai?
* Will we stand up consistently and firmly against the evil Hamans of the world?
These questions are intended to be addressed both on an individual level and a communal level. Will we allow ourselves to be swayed in multiple directions by the myriad of different views, or will we stand firm for what we know to be right?
Queen Esther is the heroine of Purim who is the exact opposite of Ahasueraus. Risking her life, she stands up to confront the King. She refused to hide from her responsibility hoping that someone else might solve the problem.
As human beings and as Jews we each have the responsibility to maximize our strengths and capabilities so as to confront the darkness that imperils God's light within our world. We depend on our own moral compass when we need to make difficult decisions. We consider carefully the views of others, but ultimately we determine within ourselves what actions need to be pursued.
There is an ongoing debate as to how we can effectively address the serious issues that confront Jews today. The most serious external threat comes from those who are dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel. Israel is not a perfect nation. America is not a perfect nation. Yet the enemies of Israel will hide behind double standards that disguise their own evil intentions. Some Jews are afraid to speak up. They are concerned that they will be indicted for their "special interests". However, the hallmark of America is that every citizen is entitled to advocate for their special interests and almost everyone does. Why should American Jews speak more softly on the existential threat to Israel than Americans would for any issue critically important to them?
One of the primary lessons of Purim is that when our enemy, Haman, said he wanted us dead, we believed him and acted accordingly. Today the enemies of the Jewish People and the Western World also say they wish us not to exist. We should believe what they declare is true and act accordingly. We might disagree on how to act in response to the threat, but we can't simply wish the problem away or pretend that it doesn't exist.
Let us be prompted by our Purim celebration to stand up and speak out just as Queen Esther so heroically did. We know the fate of the Jewish People when there is silence in response to the evil that threatens us. Are we willing to risk silence? Purim comes with its traditional noise makers to wake us up so as to blot out the sounds of silence in the face of evil. Purim reminds us what true leadership is and the reality that when we speak up and make our voices heard we can thwart the evil intentions that confront us. May God give us the strength to make sure we are heard.
Shabbat Shalom & Chag Purim Sameach,