Purim is just a couple of days away. The story of good Queen Esther, who doesn’t really know she is Jewish marries King Ashuereus who is a bit of an oaf. The Evil Haman, descendent of the arch enemies of the Israelites, manipulates the King into decreeing the death of all the Jews of the Kingdoms of Persia and Medea and the more than 120 countries he rules over. But in the end Queen Esther at the urging of her very proudly Jewish uncle Mordechai speaks truth to power and reveals that she too is Jewish and reveals that Haman is behind this ethnic cleansing plan. Haman is hung on the gallows with his ten sons. The Jews of the realm are saved by the heroic actions of this young woman.
If this story weren’t in the Bible itself we would laugh! It has all the makings of a genre of plays known as a farce. Here is the definition of a farce from Wikipediea:
In theatre, a farce is a comedy which aims at entertaining the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant, and improbable situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include word play, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases, culminating in an ending which often involves an elaborate chase scene.
This is our story. But it is meant to teach us many lessons because we can learn from fiction, literature and plays about our lives and the meaning of life and justice and hope and despair.
The way we learn in the Esther story is through laughter and tears.
We learn to never abandon your roots. You can live an assimilated life in the palace of the King as it were but you will always be Jewish. You can pretend your are not but your proud lineage and heritage will indeed be noted at some point. And you will also need to decide if you will stand with your family or abandon them.
We learn that justice only happens when we speak the truth to power as Esther did in this story.
We learn about fighting back as the Jewish community did at the end of the story.
We learn that God may be hidden (Hester panim) in this story but the reason it was included in the Bible was to teach us that while God’s hand may seem hidden, the strength that God provides Esther to speak is there if we ask and invite it in. Esther prayed before her meeting with the king. She fasted and prayed and looked within herself to build courage for this important encounter. And yet the story of Esther in the Bible never mentions the word God. God doesn’t speak to Mordechai or Esther as God speaks to Moses and Abraham in the Bible.
This teaches us in our time even as we are assimilated into the society at large be proud of being Jewish .
This teaches us in our time and maybe especially in our time we must speak up when family and friends are under attack. When governments try to annhilate its citizens we have an obligation to speak up. The torah teaches us also: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” To do less is inhuman.
This story teaches us that God is present even if God seems hidden from us. All we have to do is tap into that Force of the Universe. Jews do this through prayer, reflection and community and yes, occasionally fasting (although most often we are feasting! But that’s another blog altogether.)
So Purim is here it begins on Wednesday night. Laugh at the story of Esther after all it is written like a farce. But pay close attention to the lessons that it teaches. Chag Purim!