Part of a Scroll of Esther from Alsace 390 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made a point of telling reporters after his
White House meeting this week with US President Barack Obama that he gave a
Megila to Obama as a present.
“Then, too, they wanted to wipe us out,”
Netanyahu told Obama, according to an Israeli official.
Also known as the
Book of Esther, the Megila tells the tale of how impending tragedy and defeat
for the Jewish people were transformed into redemption and victory in a
miraculous chain of events.
The turnaround in the story is so dramatic in
fact that Jewish tradition sees God, who is not mentioned even once in the
Megila, as the force behind the scenes pulling all the strings to save the
thousands of Jews living in the 127 provinces under King Ahasuerus’s Persian
empire from certain destruction.
Many historians doubt the Purim event
ever took place. Without any historic evidence to back it up, the entire story
could be a type of “what if” scenario concocted by a group of powerless Jews
living in exile that belongs to the same genre explored by Quentin Tarantino in
the film Inglourious Basterds
But the lesson Netanyahu seems to be
deriving from the Megila story is quite different. Mordechai and Esther’s
successful campaign against all odds to save the Jews from the anti-Semitic
conspiracies of Haman is a testament to Jewish activism. It was Esther’s
decision, prompted by Mordechai, to intercede with Ahasuerus that led to his
decision to allow the Jews to defend themselves against their enemies. And it
was the Jews’ bravery and fighting abilities that enabled them to overcome their
That message from the Megila that encourages Jews to proactively
take their fate into their own hands is also the story of the Zionist movement
and the State of Israel. Refusing any longer to reconcile themselves to
traditional passivity vis-à-vis the creation of a sovereign state, Jews who
adhered to Zionism called to take hold of their own destiny.
There was no
lack of disagreement among the streams of Zionism. Territorialists of different
strips pushed to create a state outside the Land of Israel, in part out of fear
that time was running out for European Jewry. Cultural Zionists emphasized
education and the rebirth of the Hebrew language.
Revisionists were split
from socialists. But all forms of Zionism shared the desire after nearly two
millennia of wandering, powerlessness and exile to have more control over the
fate of the Jewish people.
Unfortunately, they failed to achieve their
goal before the Holocaust, which proved beyond a doubt Zionism’s premise that
the Jewish people could not rely on the compassion of others.
Netanyahu noted in meetings with congressional leaders before flying back to
Israel Tuesday, since the creation of the State of Israel, its leaders have
exercised their newfound sovereignty with daring – and with enormous
On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion declared independence, against
the advice of the US; on June 5, 1967, Levi Eshkol launched a preemptive strike,
against Washington’s counsel; and on June 7, 1981, Menachem Begin decided to
bomb Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, despite US opposition. History has proven
that all three decisions were instrumental in serving the interests of the
The message of the Megila is not one of
The lesson that Netanyahu wanted to impart to Obama was not
that Israel must launch an attack against Iran to stop its mullahs from
developing nuclear weapons.
However, the Megila does value Jewish action
over Jewish passivity and recognizes that whether through ingenuity, good luck,
divine intervention or a combination of them all the Jewish people, when given
the chance, have managed to foil the plans of their many enemies. Let’s hope we
have the same success in facing the Iranian challenge.