Purim is here again and like it's motto "Venahafoch hu" when nothing is quite what it seems to be, Purim represents complexity, confusion and conflict; of contradictory options and opinions; of distress, danger, and hopelessness; and finally, of renewed faith, teshuva, salvation and unprecedented joy.
Purim may be a "fun" holiday today, but while it was happening, it was neither pleasant nor enjoyable. And it took a long while to transpire nine long years of tension and fear from the time of Achashveroshes first banquet until the Jewish celebrations of victory.
There are many lessons to be derived from Purim, but in addition to its more obvious themes, Purim, a Diaspora holiday par excellence, resonates with echoes of Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land.
The story takes place some seventy years after the destruction of the First Temple and the dramatic declaration by Cyrus allowing the Jews to return to the Land of Israel and commence rebuilding the Beis Hamikdash, Holy Temple. The Jews, however, are slow to accept this Divine opportunity and few return. The majority prefer to remain in Babylon/Persia. Due to their small numbers and the growing hostilities of the surrounding nations, the building of the wall around Jerusalem grinds to a halt. It is at this point that Achashverosh conquers the Persian throne and Haman, descendant of Amalek, comes on stage.
Confident that he now sits securely on his throne, Achashverosh plans a series of opulent banquets and dares to use the heretofore holy utensils from the destroyed Temple. The Jews, anxious to retain their status as citizens-in-good-standing, comply, co-operate, are even complimented by the attention they receive from the king. Even the sight of the utensils from the Temple cannot keep them from the king's banquet. Many participate.
Many, but not all. One refuses. Mordechai, an Ish Yehudi, a member of the Sanhedrin whose long and honorable lineage goes back to the tribes of Benjamin and Judah.
Binyamin was the sole son of Jacob, the only one of the twelve tribes, who was born in the Holy Land; the only one who did not bow down to Esau, the grandfather of Amalek/Haman. Like his ancestor, Mordechai too refuses to bow down to Amalek's descendant Haman.
Originally exiled from Jerusalem together with the Sanhedrin ten years before the actual destruction of the Temple, Mordechai returned to Israel after the Declaration of Cyrus. When work on the wall around Jerusalem was halted, he went back to Persia to lobby for its resumption, just as Haman begins to rise in the ranks of the king.
We all know the story. Thanks to Mordechai and Esther, a threatened annihilation turns into a thunderous victory. The Megillah concludes with the salvation of the Jews and Mordechai's meteoric rise to power. The logical conclusion of the story should have been the Jews' return to Eretz Yisrael and renewed construction of the Holy Temple. That should have, could have, been the last glorious chapter of the Megillah. But it is not. Instead, we are told that the great deeds of Mordechai are recorded in the "annals of the Kings of Media and Persia" a strange ending indeed. Since when does a Jewish story of salvation end in the annals of gentile kings?
The story of the miracle of Purim has ended and perhaps, since Mordechai and the Jews remained in Persia, whatever happened next was no longer Jewish history. The continuation of Mordechai's career belonged in the annals of Media and Persia.
Another more obvious connection between Purim and the Land of Israel is the designation of Shushan Purim. Unlike all other holidays, two days were designated for Purim the "regular" Purim on the 14th of Adar; and Shushan Purim on the 15th. Additional fighting and victories did indeed take place in Shushan on the 15th, yet this second, special day was not defined and decreed in honor of the city of Shushan, but rather in honor of Israel and the Holy City of Jerusalem. At that time Jerusalem was in ruins, yet Purim reminds us that even in a miraculous "diaspora" holiday, at a time when Eretz Yisrael was in a state of desolation, we remain firmly anchored in our eternal home Jerusalem and the Land of Israel.
Last, despite the miracle, victory and salvation, Hallel is not said on Purim because all these wonders took place not in Israel, but in the Diaspora.
This Purim, we in Israel cannot help but hear echoes of the original Purim story. Just as the story of Purim unfolded over nine long, difficult, frightening years, today, almost 2500 years later, we too are in the midst of another epic saga, this time in the Holy Land itself.
For the past thirteen years, since the Oslo accords in 1993, life in the Land of Israel has degenerated from a constant but low level mini-war, to a maxi-intifada, and onward to a dangerous, confusing era when the State of Israel no longer seems to know where it is heading. No one seems to be in control and the government seems to feel that it has no choice but to "bow down" and conform to the dictates of one or another contemporary Achashverosh.
How are we to respond to the political and military issues facing us today? Shall we be fearful of the nations of the world? Or shall we, like Mordechai, refuse to bow down and accept their dictates? Is it wise, or permissible, to surrender parts of Eretz Yisrael in exchange hopefully for a more peaceful existence? Can Jews be forced to leave their land, their homes, and their livelihoods; their schools, yeshivas and shuls? Should our enemies be allowed to "inherit" our Divine inheritance? One cannot help but view the entire scenario with broken hearts.
Personally, I keep thinking of the Jews in Shushan and the 127 provinces. They hoped and prayed for salvation, not knowing if, or when, or how it would come. Yet it did come from the most unlikely of places.
We too hope and pray that we will also warrant salvation, and that we will not, chas v'chalilah, Heaven forefend, be the instrument for a universal desecration of G-d's Name. For there is no doubt that many nations of the world descendants of Haman, Amalek, Mohammed would watch another churban (destruction), G-d forbid, with complacency, happy to see Jews wrenched again from their ancestral lands.
But Adar and Purim are a time of hope and renewed opportunity. A time of surprises, simchas (joy) and salvation. Just as Purim 5751/1991 brought us an amazing and thoroughly unexpected contemporary venahafoch hu with the end of the Gulf War, we pray that Purim 5766 will spell the end of the newest evil decrees. We pray that the zechus (merit) of Eretz Yisrael will stand us in good stead and help bring yet another wondrous turnabout for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. And that this time round, the Jews of the world will hear the Divine Call and accept the challenge.
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JWR contributor Yaffa Ganz is the award-winning author of more than forty titles, including "A Different Dimension".
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