The Megila’s message

The Jewish people, when given the chance, have managed to foil the plans of their many enemies.

Part of a Scroll of Esther from Alsace 390 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
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 enemies.
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.
As 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 success.
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 Jewish people.
The message of the Megila is not one of militarism.
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.