A hand-written scroll of the Book of Esther.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
One of the striking aspects of the Book of Esther, which we read on Purim, was the way the Jewish people were saved.
Haman, a powerful Persian viceroy, plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. A courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, who was married to the Persian emperor, Ahasuerus, exposed the plot and gained the confidence of the emperor.
But Ahasuerus did not put his military at the disposal of the Jews. He did not order his soldiers to intervene on their behalf. What he did do was give the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.
Until that point the Jewish people had, apparently, been living in the sort of passivity that often characterized Diaspora communities throughout the ages.
They could not imagine taking up arms to defend themselves against their enemies. Once the Jews were given the legitimization to stand up for themselves, however, they rose to the occasion.
One cannot help but note many of the similarities that exist between the ancient story told in the Book of Esther and contemporary affairs. It was only natural that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would mention some of the similarities in his historic speech before the US Congress on Tuesday, just one day before Purim began.
As was the case 2,500 years ago, noted Netanyahu, “the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us.” He was referring to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei who spews rabid hatred of Jews and calls for the destruction of Israel.
Of course there are also many differences.
President Barack Obama is no Ahasuerus. The US president is a strong and loyal ally of the Jewish people.
Obama’s foreign policy approach regarding Iran’s nuclear program differs strikingly from the sort of policy most Israelis would like to see the US pursue.
But this is a function of Obama’s understanding of America’s principal interests, which include more nation-building at home and less involvement in military conflicts around the world.
As part of its “light footprint” policy, the Obama administration is working toward pulling out US troops from Afghanistan and has no intention of committing US troops on the ground to the fight against Islamic State; it adopted a “lead from behind” strategy in Libya; it has been wary of arming Ukrainians to defend themselves against the Putin regime’s revanchist aggression; it has refrained from signing trade deals and weapons sales with Taiwan, apparently out of fear of clashing with China. And with Iran, the Obama administration has chosen engagement over confrontation.
Another thing has changed since the days of Mordechai and Esther. The Jewish people is no longer dependent on the goodwill of others when it comes to its defense. The Book of Esther takes place at a time when the Jews were just beginning to restore their sovereignty in their homeland after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE. Mordechai and Esther lived in exile in Persia as the return to Zion began.
Today the Jews have restored their sovereignty.
They have created one of the most dynamic and innovative societies in the world. Out of necessity, they have built one of the most powerful militaries in the world. They have the ability to defend themselves against their enemies.
No country has a bigger stake in seeing a peaceful resolution to the conflict with Iran over its nuclear arms program. Through Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and Gaza, Israel can be targeted. Destabilization in the region would have direct implications for Israel.
But Iran’s expansionist aggression makes a peaceful resolution difficult, if not impossible, to attain.
Perhaps after another round of sanctions with the added impact of falling oil prices, the Iranians can be convinced to abandon their designs for nuclear weapons. Perhaps not.
Either way, the days are over when the Jewish people remained passive in the face of genocidal enemies.