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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dé·jà Vu, All Over Again.

By George:

History repeats itself, and nowhere is this truer than with Jewish history. We cannot help but draw parallels between the historical story of Purim, and the events unfolding in the current day Middle East. The similarities are eerie.

The tiny country of Israel is once again facing an existential threat necessitating decisions that her very survival hinges on. One of her neighbors is on the verge of of procuring nuclear weapons, with the leaders of this country publicly salivating over the prospects of eliminating Israel and the Jews as soon as they have the means. The terrorists in Gaza are bombarding Israeli cities daily with rockets, that make life precarious for those within reach. And now, a "million" anti-Israel activist (promoted as The Global March on Jerusalem) are threatening to surround Israel from the immediate neighboring countries of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, to march across the Israeli borders towards Jerusalem on March 30th, with the purpose of overwhelming the Israeli defense forces and "take over" Jerusalem.

In the past during crises of similar magnitude, the severity of the decision making was somewhat mitigated by the realization that the United States was steadfastly in the background as a staunch ally, and Israel's enemies, thought they outnumber the Jews in the order of 500 to 1, were recalcitrant to test the resolve of the hulking giant.

Alas, with the advent of the current administration in Washington, this perceived protective shadow in the background faded to ephemeral haze and wisps of fairy dust. Moreover, the Presidential rhetoric and demeanor tends to weigh in on the side of the Muslim cause. From president Obama's Cairo speech that openly courted the adoration of the Muslim Brotherhood, to his implicit favoring of the (so called) Palestinian side in negotiations with his declaration that Israel should start negotiations from a pre 1967 border position. From the belligerence he has shown to the Israeli Prime Minister, to his bowing, kowtowing and apologizing to Muslim leaders.

When I try to analyze world events, I tend to step back and logically look at the total picture from a distance. What the heck is really going on? Are we seeing the whole picture? How does it all fit together, and how can we make sense of it? What would account for the actions, or for obvious inactions? And since I am an Orthodox Jew, I will always try to see what it is that God is orchestrating with the unfolding events. It is on this point that something my Rabbi pointed out in his weekly sermon, coalesced some thoughts in my mind.

The Jewish people throughout the world have just celebrated the Holiday of Purim. For those of my readers who may not be familiar with this joyful Jewish Holiday, may I suggest reading about the Purim Story. But for now, I will give you the wry humorous quip of a friend, who described the story of Purim as: "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's feast". While this is essentially correct, what exactly was the circumstance of our peril, and how were we saved?

I would do no justice to the Purim story by condensing it to a paragraph, so I hope you will take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the narrative of the Book of Esther. What I do want to discuss, is something that has bothered me yearly as we read the Megillah in the Synagogue. It is a question that I am sure has bothered others, but I have never heard discussed.

The narrative in The Book of Esther takes place at about the year of 250 BCE, when a significant portion of the Jewish population lived in Persia, known today as Iran. A scheming, power-hungry Viceroy by the name of Haman is "upset" that a certain Jew, named Mordechai, does not bow down to him, so he convinces the King to let him issue an order of genocide against ALL the Jews in the kingdom, in the King's name. This proclamation is then promulgated throughout the kingdom, and a specific date, still 11 months in the future, is declared "Kill The Jews" day.

The Jews of Persia have been trying to be loyal Persians, but now they realize that they are slated for extermination. So with 11 months to go, what do they do? Do they dispatch emissaries to the King to have the decree annulled? Do they start packing up and start moving out of the danger zone? Do they start forming defensive militias? No. They do what Jews have always done when their lives are on the brink. They repented their sins, fasted and prayed to God for salvation.

And salvation does come through a series of twists and coincidences, that result in the hanging death of the protagonist Haman, and the elevation of his chief antagonist, Mordechai to his former position as the Viceroy to the King. But at this point in time, the edict to "kill the Jews" is still in force throughout the Persian kingdom, so the newly appointed Viceroy requests the King to annul the decree. To his surprise and horror, the King replies that once a decree is issued in the king's name, it cannot be annulled. However, the King hands Mordechai his royal signet ring, and tells him to issue any other proclamation that he feels might help. And here is the interesting part.

Mordechai comes up with a brilliant solution. He sends the following proclamation to all the Jews in Persia, in the King's name. "The day before your enemies are to murder you, the King gives you permission to be pre-emptive and kill all those who have threatened you and are ready to kill you". Wow! Picture this. The Jews are facing annihilation, but they can't do anything physical about it until they get PERMISSION from the Ruler. Does this ring a bell to you? History is repeating itself right in front of our eyes.

We are now watching as the sovereign Jewish State of Israel is threatened by a Persian (Iranian) madman, who has openly threatened Israel and is said to be willing to sacrifice half of Iran, to be able to destroy Israel. But while Israel is ready to mitigate the danger pre-emptively, the leaders of the "free world" tell her "You can't defend yourself until WE give you PERMISSION". If we were not witness to these developments, we wouldn't believe it.

It is interesting to note, that a few days before Purim this year, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu gave President Obama a copy of The Book of Esther. I wonder if he underlined the parts I was just referring to.

So what is the bottom line? Are the Jews once again facing a Holocaust? Will history repeat what happened a short 65 years ago, when nobody would believe that Hitler was serious about his intentions? Will the world once again sit idly by and then commiserate after the fact? Is this the lesson of History?

Or should we take a page out of the Book of Esther, and paraphrase the advice of Mordechai to Queen Esther? When Esther hesitated to approach the King regarding the fateful edict, Mordechai admonished her by saying, "If you won't help by interceding with the King, the Jews will be saved some other way, but then you and your household will be destroyed." In other words, If the Jewish people pray to God, He will save them, it's just a matter of how.

Perhaps this was the message that Netanyahu was alluding to when he presented President Obama with The Book of Esther. God WILL save His people from the evil intent of their enemies. However, if you are not the instrument of their deliverance, then that deliverance will come from another source, and you and your household "will have missed the boat."


  1. I do understand the message in the book of Esther, and the reason for celebration. What I do not understand is the apparent drunken revelry along with costumes and wild abandonment. That part all seems too much like Mardi Gras, or Carnival to me, too hedonistic to be considered a religious or Godly festival. I would think it would be a more solemn, prayerful, giving of thanks for deliverance. Maybe it's just me.....

    1. Jan, you are making a valid point. but Jewish customs have developed for valid reasons.

      The miracle of Purim was one that came about without "obvious" miracles from God. The whole story is a series of very timely coincidences, which we KNOW was orchestrated by God once the Jewish people repented and prayed to Him. It is this "masking" of God's face that we comemmorate with the masks and costumes. The celebration with eating and drinking, is a natural reaction to the feeling of reprieve when you were facing a certain anhilation.

      So the tradition passed down through generation is to eat, drink, wear costumes, send presents of food to neighbors and friend, give food and money to poor people. The tradtion does not include debauchery. But as it always happens, some people forget about the reasons and overdo what they enjoy. Unfortunately those are the people that get noticed.

      As for the comparison with Mardi Gras, the Jewish customs for Purim date back WAY BEFORE Mardi Gras or Carnival. Perhaps it was the other way around and they copied the part of a Jewish celebration that struck their fancy. :-)

  2. George, Thank you for your response. Even though I am not Jewish, I do truly understand the miracles of Purim. I am Christian, but not in the mainstream concept of what the world considers a Christian. We keep the 7th day Sabbath, and the High Sabbaths commanded in the Old Testament, and we keep the Laws that God instructed to be kept. Mainstream Christianity teaches the law was "done away", and they lump everything from the Old Testament into that belief. We do not agree with that teaching, and keep the same Holy Days and Laws that Christ kept. We do not eat "unclean" meats, we keep all the Sabbaths, both weekly and annually, we keep the laws of tithing, quarantine, etc, etc. and DO NOT believe the law nor the Old Testament was "done away" with, so we study the whole Bible, not just the New Testament, so that's why I am familiar with the book of Esther.

    As you know, Passover, and the Days of Unleavened Bread are quickly approaching and we are in the process of deleavening our homes, cars, office, etc. That being said, once again I want to stress that I do understand the miracles, because it was DEFINITELY only through the miracles of God that the Jews were not only spared, but given the victory over those who were intent on killing them. I understand the celebration of that deliverance. It's just that, as you stated, there are some who apparently forget the reasons, and "overdo", which is what caught my attention. I keep seeing tweets about "drinking till you can drink no more", "drink till you fall over", "there's no such thing as enough to drink", etc., which is what concerned me and drew my thinking to the so-called "Christian" Mardi Gras and Carnival, but which, in fact are rooted in paganism. I have no problem with enjoying alcohol, but not to such excess that you are no longer in control of your faculties and start acting a fool.

    As I said, we do keep the High Days instituted by God in the Bible, but I have never observed Purim, and only knew that it had to do with the story of Esther and I didn't understand why I keep seeing these types of tweets, and I didn't understand the wearing of the costumes and masks. Thank you for patiently explaining that to me, and thank you for not taking offense to my questions and concerns, as they were not intended to be accusatory, or insulting in any way, they were simply "questions".

    Thank you again, and have a nice day. :-)


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