Purim - 5779
The Parashah commentary is by Rabbi Peter Tarlow
Forwarded by Ainsley Henriques - United Congregation of Israelites - Kingston, Jamaica - Support @CornerstoneJamaica
This coming week we will be celebrating the Festival of Purim (March 20 is Purim Eve). To get ready for Purim we now turn our attention to one of the Bible's most interesting books, Megillat-Esther, or as it is know in English translation: The Book of Esther. In the original Hebrew, Esther is not considered a "sefer" (book) but rather a "megillah" (scroll). It is one of five small (single readings) scrolls to be contained in Hebrew scripture's final sections, called collectively Ktuvot (Writings).
Megillat-Esther is unique in a number of ways. It is the only "book" in Hebrew scripture in which G-d is never mentioned. The book also has the longest sentence in the Hebrew Bible. Additionally, the book’s plot takes place outside of Israel. The setting is in the city of Shushan. Some scholars believe Shushan to be the Hebrew form of the name Susa, a city now located in present day Iran. Other scholars wonder if Shushan is more imaginary than real, a place that exists everywhere and at the same time: no where.
This brief narrative (in modern literature it would be called a novelette or even a short soap opera) tells the story of the evil Haman, the saintly Mordecai, the beautiful heroine Esther, and a king Ahasuerus, who does not seem very bright or knows his own mind.
Biblical scholars have long debated the text's accuracy. Its interpretations range from those who believe that Megillat-Esther recounts an historical event to those who believe that Mordecai may have dreamt the entire episode. Perhaps the book's accuracy of detail is far less important than its multiple messages. The Book of Esther provides us with a perfect example of what the rabbis called "Sinat Chinam" or "hatred for the sake of hatred."
In this short book each character is flawed. For example, Haman, symbolizes the person who transforms his/her personal grudges into national hatreds. Although Haman has come to be the symbol of hatred, we cannot blame him alone for the tragedies that follow. The king must also be blamed. It is king Ahasuerus who provides no oversight. The king could have refused Haman's requests but instead chose political laziness and double-talk leading to the deaths of thousands of innocent peoples.
In this comedy of errors we see how racial hatred leads to death and much how words matter. In that way it is a lesson for moderns who have replaced political dialogue with hate, and where those on both sides of the political spectrum have theologized politics and, each in their own way, approach fascism.
The book of Esther also teaches us that we can get beyond our petty hatreds and political stupidity. This novelette asks us to understand that G-d has given each of us the capacity to steer through troubled waters to safer shores, to go beyond sheer partisanship and engage with those with whom we disagree.
The Book of Esther reminds us that life is filled with challenges, trials, and tribulations. Our duty is to learn how to listen, to engage, to go beyond certainties, to gamble on life, and to find the ways needed to defeat the Hamans of hatred with the hope of love. A task that is as vitally important in these troubled days as it was when the Book of Esther was written. What do you think?