Monday, March 2, 2015

Queen Bibi

Dear Friends,

Purim is probably the most fun holiday on the Jewish calendar. We dress in costumes, sound the groggers as we listen to the Megillah reading, eat Hamantashen, exchange Shalach Manot...It's really a big party. I hope you will join us for our joyous Purim celebration this Wednesday evening.

At the same time, there is a dark, serious side to Purim. The Book of Esther refers to Haman as an "Agagite," which is to say that he was a descendant of King Agag of the Amalekites. Who were the Amalekites? Amalek (pronounced "Ah-mah-lek") was a tribe that, according to the Torah, attacked the Jewish People and tried to wipe us out in a surprise attack when we were wandering in the desert right after the exodus from Egypt. Jewish tradition has it that all those who sought to wipe out our people throughout the ages are thought of as descendants of the tribe, Amalek. Hitler, for example, is understood to be an Amalekite - not literally, of course, but spiritually, symbolically. The Torah pulls no punches when it comes to Amalek: We must do everything we can to wipe them out before they wipe us out. It is a dark but powerful call for us not to be naïve about the intentions of our enemies and to do everything we can to upend their plans, to stop them by any means necessary.

This is the essence of the story in Megilat Esther - the Scroll of Esther, which we will read on Wednesday night. Esther and Mordechai foil Haman's evil plot to kill the Jews of Persia, stopping him before he is able to commit genocide against us. In the pivotal scene in the Megilah,Esther screws up the courage to go before King Ahasuerus without his permission, to plead for the lives of her people. She does so despite the fact that she knew that, "if any person...enters the king's presence in the inner court without having summoned, there is but one law for him - that he be put to death. Only if the king extends the golden scepter to him may he live." Fortunately, as soon as the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, the Megilah says, "she won his favor" and he extended the golden scepter. As the story goes, she invites the King Ahasuerus and Haman to a banquet where she denounces Haman in front of the clueless king. Enraged, the king orders Haman's execution. Esther thus saves the Jewish People; we all live happily ever after and have the "jolly feast of Purim." (Or as Jewish holidays have often been explained, "they tried to kill us, we stopped them, let's eat!")

But, what if Esther had not had the courage to go before the king without his permission? What would have happened then...?

I have no doubt that this question has not been lost on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Indeed, one has to imagine that it will be going through his mind as he steps to the podium to address the joint session of Congress tomorrow. After all, Bibi knows that he is giving his speech right before Purim. And he knows the Purim story. Every Israeli does. And he knows, as well, that Iran is modern day Persia - and that the Ayatollahs of the Iranian regime are the modern day Hamans, who have threatened to destroy Israel. Bibi remembers Amalek.

" prime minister of Israel, I have a moral obligation to speak up in the face of these dangers while there's still time to avert them," he told the 16,000 people gathered at the AIPAC conference today. "For 2000 years, my people, the Jewish people, were stateless, defenseless, voiceless. We were utterly powerless against our enemies who swore to destroy us. We suffered relentless persecution and horrific attacks. We could never speak on our own behalf, and we could not defend ourselves.

"Well, no more, no more.

", we are no longer silent; today, we have a voice. And tomorrow, as prime minister of the one and only Jewish state, I plan to use that voice."

Tomorrow Prime Minister Netanyahu will dress as Queen Esther.  

Some will say that the Queen's dress fits very poorly, that he has offended the King (read: President Obama) instead of finding favor in his eyes, as a good Jewish queen or Prime Minister should do. Some will say that he is really here to heard back home, so he can win an election, while recklessly endangering bipartisan support for Israel. Still others will say that the message itself is wrong, that negotiations are the best way for us to stop the Iranian drive for a nuclear weapon. They may be right. Honestly, I am not writing this piece to make a political statement. I really don't know who is right.

What I do know is that life imitates Torah. Or as the rabbi's taught, "Maaseh Avot Siman L'Banim" - "The deeds of the ancestors are a sign for their descendants." Let us watch those signs or we may miss what is really going on.

Chag Purim Sameiach - Happy Purim!


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