Purim is hard. The way we usually deal with that
is by making it into a children’s holiday and then a frat party for the adults.
That way we don’t have to deal with the Purim story and its implications.
If we don’t want to go the children’s party/frat
party route there are two adult choices.
On the one hand, the Purim story itself is a dark
tale of dubious redemption. As the story ends, Mordecai and Esther have gained
the upper hand and slaughtered all their enemies. However, they have only done
this at the pleasure of the manipulative and manipulated King Aheuserus. While
at the beginning of the story the king gave his ring to Haman with permission
to wipe out the Jews, the story ends with the king giving the ring to Mordecai
and Esther with permission to wipe out those who might harm the Jews. The rub
is that the ring still belongs to the king. It is obvious that sometime in the
not too distant future, a new Haman will arise who will seek to destroy the
Jews and the king will give him the ring.
The rabbis of the Talmud characterized the Purim
story as happening just after the
Jews were supposed to be redeemed. Purim is the reckoning with the lack of
redemption. For this reason the fourth century Babylonian Rabbi Rava says that
one of the obligations of Purim is to get drunk to the point of being unable to
distinguish between Mordechai and Haman. In the long arc of history there is no
difference as long as Ahaseurus is in charge. We all dance to the same fiddler.
We are all caught up in the same system of oppression.
The question, twenty years after Baruch Goldstein slaughtered 29 Palestinians at prayer, wounding tens more, is this: How can we celebrate Purim? Goldstein, heard the reading of the Megillah on Purim night, heard (for the fortieth time?) that the Jews took vengeance on their enemies, slaughtered thousands of men, women, and children. Twice. Goldstein, a medical doctor, then rose early in the morning, went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and shot his M16 until he was overpowered and killed, having killed or wounded tens of praying innocents. How do we read this tale of revenge when we know that that revenge, the Purim revenge, the revenge of “the Jews got their enemies in their power” (Esther 9:1) has been wreaked?
For centuries we were safe from the bloodletting that we fantasized about, because we were powerless on the whole, and our blood was being let. The fantasy of turning the tables—on the very day that the decree was to be carried out “the opposite happened”—was a fantasy of comfort. Someday our oppression will end.
Now, however, our oppression has—in most parts of the world—ended. The State of Israel is powerful, armed, mighty. Yet, we continue to read and celebrate the fantasies of revenge. On Yom Yerushalayim, yeshivah students dance through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem singing ki lashem hamluchah umoshel bagoyim/״for kingship is the Lord’s and He rules the nations״ (Psalms 22:29) while banging on the shutters of the closed Palestinian shops. (Meticulously not repeating the name of God, but rather singing hashem over and over again, according to the precepts of the pious, while striking fear and humiliation in the hearts of other human beings.) Continue reading