Scary purim costume 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On the surface, Purim is the feel-good capital of the holidays, what with the
wild revelry of the masquerade parties, the drink-till-you-drop feasting, the
over-the-top parades that raucously fill the country’s streets. Why, it’s even
the one time when kids and adults are actually encouraged to make noise in the
synagogue! And the story line of Purim – it’s straight out of a Disney movie.
Idyllic Jewish community enjoys a cushy Diaspora life until evil villain
appears, determined to kill them all.
From nowhere comes a beautiful
young girl – her real identity masked, just like any good superhero – who
miraculously becomes the queen. At just the right moment, she unmasks, convinces
the king to undo the nefarious plot and execute the plotters and saves her
And they all live happily ever after.
But it ain’t
necessarily so. A deeper look at Purim – stop here if you hate reading the fine
print – reveals a whole lot of intriguing, even embarrassing, questions. We can
start with Esther, the maidel who would be queen. At the very least, she is
forced against her will into the harem of Ahasuerus, a voracious womanizer with
no great love of the Jews. The Talmud records that Ahasuerus gleefully went
along with Haman’s planned genocide, even refusing to take the generous bribe
which Haman offered him to secure royal approval for the plan.
Esther’s plight is even more tragic if we accept the rabbis’ opinion that she
was married to Mordecai. Now, she is guilty of adultery – a cardinal sin by
Jewish law, requiring martyrdom – when she voluntarily goes to “meet” the king,
whose tête-à-têtes are notoriously of a sexual nature. Esther understands the
impossibility of her situation, expressed in her poignant cry to Mordecai, “I
shall surely be lost forever!” I often ask myself, “How would this whole
splendid scenario play in Mea She’arim or Bnei Brak?” Jewish girl is taken by a
non-Jewish ruler, lives with him and has a child by him. Would that union be
celebrated? Does the end justify the means? THE JEWS, for their part, also don’t
come off too well.
They are tossed about throughout the story, like
powerless pawns, by Haman and Ahasuerus, forced to submit to the menace of one
while begging for the mercy of the other. Indeed, one of the reasons why we omit
the saying of the Hallel prayers of praise on Purim – customarily recited on
every holiday – is that we remained, even at story’s end, under the subjugation
of the Persian Empire.
Yet the rabbis, after long debate, finally decided
to canonize the story of Esther and add it to our national calendar. I suggest
they reached that decision for two crucial reasons.
radical and revolutionary occurs near the end of the Megila. Perhaps for the
first time in the life of the Jews in the Diaspora, we are given the right to
form our own army and defend ourselves. Ahasuerus does not deign to dispose of
the murderers bent on our destruction, claiming that an official edict, once
sealed, can never be rescinded. But he does grant our petition to be allowed to
take up arms and fight our own battle, and this we do with IDF-like courage and
conviction, killing 75,500 of our enemies and erasing the existential
This flash of independence is a beacon for our future, when we
would have the means and the moxie to lay low any and all who would endanger our
Indeed, the Megila winks at the time to come: When the Jews of
Persia first learn of Haman’s plot, they are in a state of deep despair and
anxiety. “And the city of Shushan was nabocha,” bewildered, a nebuch. But later,
when we fought back and wiped out our foes, the opposite sentiment prevails:
“And the city of Shushan tzahala v’samecha
,” rejoiced and celebrated. ”Tzahala
– from the word tzahal
– an army of our own.
And then the final, hidden
chapter of the Megila gives it its true and lasting significance. Esther and
Ahasuerus have a child – Darius – and he rises to the throne upon Ahasuerus’s
death. Darius decrees that the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem – destroyed
70 years ago – may now begin. He thus reaffirms the order originally given by
Cyrus 18 years previously, and suspended by Ahasuerus’s first wife Vashti. The
center of Jewish life, soon enough, will return to our eternal
IT IS in this merit that the story of Purim achieves permanent
value, and why it is the only event that occurs in Diaspora Jewish history –
from the Exodus to the present – which is commemorated by the Jews of every
As with all of our heroes and holidays, Purim is a complex
combination of grief and glory, tragedy and triumph.
But in the end, the
twin pillars of Jewish independence and the expression of the Jewish national
destiny in Israel firmly support the sages’ decision to uphold Purim as a
national day of celebration.
Particularly in our day, when we can witness
the pride of a magnificent Israeli army and a rebuilt Jerusalem of Gold, each of
us has “lots” (Purim) to celebrate.The writer is director of the Jewish
Outreach Center of Ra’anana. email@example.com