This is the week that Jews around the world celebrate, ‘Purim’. In this holiday, we recall how the Jewish people of Persia were saved from annihilation more than 2300 years ago. We remember how a villain conspired to kill and how a hero and heroine acted to save their people. We rejoice at the miracles that occurred on our behalf.
In this ancient story, the villain who hates the Jews has a clear plan. He knows what he wants. He does not hesitate to act. We watch this villain plot and then marvel at how his hatred and vanity create the circumstances for his own fall; ultimately, it is he who suffers, not the Jewish people.
The villain’s plan to kill the Jewish people fails for two reasons. First, G-d is not an indifferent Master. Actions and decisions that appear at first to be random or accidental are revealed to be, by the end of the story, part of a Divine pattern that is discerned only in retrospect. The villain Haman may plan to destroy, but G-d can affect events, circumstances and even the words people use so as to create a conclusion very different from the one intended. The second reason the villain’s plan fails is that no one in the king’s court knew the beautiful queen’s secret.
If you want to see this story in action (and discover the story-within-the -story of the Queen’s secret), purchase a Purim Megillah. Translations are available. Purchase a text (or two) with commentary; it is the commentary that will help you appreciate the story.
At its core, this Purim tale of terror and redemption unfolds because of the actions and motivations of individuals. Individuals are the key to the Purim story: villain and servant, king, first queen and advisors, guards and plotters— all appear to act for individual reasons to achieve individual goals; and the story’s denouement could only happen because of the individual decisions--and courage--of the story’s hero and heroine. We learn from this story that individuals count. History is driven by individual actions and decisions—with a proviso: all must pass before G-d. The individual indeed schemes to control destiny. But it is G-d, we learn, who determines the outcome.
We are reminded of the importance of individuals within the Purim story not only because this is the week for Purim, but also because this is the week for three modern individuals to take stage-center in the unfolding of what might be called another Purim story. This modern Purim drama also focuses on Persia—Iran-- just like the original; and its theme is the same: the destruction of the Jewish people. This modern drama has a villain—Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It also has a powerful leader whose eye is focused on the Jewish people—US President Barack Obama. Like the original Purim story, today’s drama may even have a Jewish hero—Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
This week, US President Obama and Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu are scheduled to meet in Washington, DC. President Ahmadinejad will not be there. But he will be on the agenda. Actually, he may be the agenda.
Ahmadinejad has a clear goal. He wants to remove Israel from the world map. His actions suggest that he wants a nuclear weapon and is working hard to get it. Since he repeatedly says that Israel is a cancer that must be removed, one does not need to be clairvoyant to understand how he might use a nuclear weapon. Interestingly, most (if not all) the civilized world believes that Iran is seeking a nuclear devise; they just don’t think Israel should do anything about it. Their best advice to Israel is to wait.
Netanyahu also has a clear goal. He wants to protect the Jewish nation. He believes that the world is not acting strongly enough to deter Iran’s nuclear program. He believes that waiting to see if Iran gets a nuclear weapon is the worst of all options, not the best.
US President Obama, like the king in the original Purim story, is the world’s most powerful ruler. What are his goals? His actions are not clear. He tells Israel that he is Israel’s greatest friend. Then he tells Israel not to protect itself. Is this how friends talk when one of them faces such grave danger?
The modern Purim drama unfolds before us. The main players are either on stage or on everyone’s mind. Two of the players have very clear goals. One remains opaque. Between them hangs the survival of the world’s only Jewish state.
The Purim story is driven by the decision-making and motivation of individuals. What will the villain do next? Will there be a Jewish hero? What will the powerful ruler decide?
Our modern Purim story has just begun.