Every year I hear the public reading of the megila on Purim, the exciting narrative of King Ahasuerus, Mordecai the Jew, Queen Esther and of course, evil Haman. But this year, since I began working at a public relations company in Tel Aviv, I am seeing the Purim story in a whole new light.
It struck me now that if one examines the Purim story closely, it may contain a real public relations lesson – also because you can’t spell the word “Purim” without “PR.”
But rather than start at the beginning, I’d like to start at the end. I am aware of the talmudic warning: “One who reads the megila backwards has not fulfilled his obligation” (Megila 17a). The simple meaning of this law is that the Book of Esther must be read in order – not, say, beginning with Chapter 10 and ending with Chapter 1 – in order to put everything into its proper context. I would never disagree with the Talmud, but I think the final verse of the Book of Esther is the key to understanding a major point about the story as a whole.
As the story ends, Mordecai replaces Haman as the king’s main PR representative.
“Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by most of his fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews” (Esther 10:3).
So how did we get to this point? Well, way back in Chapter 3, the king promoted Haman as his “front man,” likely because the king never seemed to leave the palace, perhaps for fear of assassination attempts like the one Mordecai foiled back in Chapter 2.
Haman’s major flaw is that although he represents the monarch, he often forgets this and repeatedly lets his own ego get in the way. When he sees Mordecai the Jew refusing to bow to him, he takes it as more than just a personal affront and decides to take out his vengeance on all the Jews in the kingdom.
Haman then casts lots, or “purim,” to decide when to best execute his master plan, finally settling on the 13th of the month of Adar. In the PR world we don’t cast lots, but we do look ahead at the calendar to see when is the best date to launch a story. As a rule, we never pitch a story near a weekend or during international holiday periods, when writers are away from their desks and won’t cover it.
Haman then goes to “pitch” his story as an “exclusive” to the king. Cleverly, he does not mention which people he is referring to. “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are diverse from all people; neither keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. If it pleases the king, let it be written that they may be destroyed…” (Esther 3:8-9).
Ahasuerus immediately bites at Haman’s pitch, and gives him carte blanche to carry out his dastardly plan.
Haman quickly “issues a press release,” containing in it what we in the PR world know as an “embargo date,” 13 Adar, for when his terrible plan will take effect.
Fortunately, Mordecai gets hold of a copy of the press release and pleads with Queen Esther to intercede with the potentate on behalf of the Jews. Esther is reluctant at first, but ultimately agrees to go straight to the king himself and make her best exclusive pitch to him.
Next, we read that Ahasuerus can’t sleep and is read the royal chronicles – where he discovers that Mordecai was not rewarded for saving him from the prior assassination plot. The king understands that a big PR event is needed.
Haman happens to be outside, awaiting his chance to pitch the king on hanging Mordecai. The king summons him in and asks him how someone the king wants to honor should be celebrated.
Haman, thinking he is the one to be honored, gives a lavish parade description.
When he finishes, the king orders Haman to lead Mordecai through the streets by royal horse, exactly as he described, in grand Shushan PR style.
The last bit of PR in the story occurs after Haman is finally exposed by Esther and executed by royal order. Mordecai and Esther put out a press release telling the Jews to defend themselves on 13 Adar, which they do very successfully.
Then they issue a follow-up press release, formally declaring the holiday of Purim and its rituals.
Mordecai didn’t make the same mistakes Haman made. As the aforementioned final verse in the Book of Esther states, he was held in high esteem by “most,” but not all of his fellow Jews – but Mordecai was okay with that. In the PR world, you will never be loved by everyone.
But Mordecai knew his purpose. He sought the welfare of all Jews and all inhabitants of the kingdom. He never forgot who his client was, the king, but he also stayed focused on the general public that he was serving. While Haman put all his emphasis on his “public” persona, Mordecai was much more focused on the “relation”’ aspect of the job. In PR, one should never get so caught up in public perception that you forget about the relationships.
One final thought about the word “Purim.” It doesn’t just start with a P and end with an R, but in between there is “U-R-I.” I cannot help think about the late MK Uri Orbach, who died only a few weeks ago. What was unique about Orbach was not just that he served with dedication and conviction, but that he was well-liked by all MKs, from Left to Right. Even those who disagreed with his views spoke of Uri as a friend.
Mordecai entered politics, did his best, was respected and was well-liked by most. Modest and dedicated MK Uri Orbach went above and beyond, and was liked by all. It takes a very special person to do that. It has to be someone who balances between the P and the R, aware of the “public” but never forgetting about the “relations.”
In both the worlds of PR and Purim, it’s rare to find people like Uri Orbach – who make it their life’s mission to bridge the gaps, and succeed at it. The writer has an MA in creative writing and works in PR at Blonde 2.0.