Spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress today, and I’m going to say complimentary things. If that’s going to make you irrationally or irascibly angry, please skip this post.
He began his speech by saying a ton of very nice things about President Obama. Most of them were quite perplexing in light of Obama’s open diss of Netanyahu yesterday, and Obama’s repeated snubs of both Netanyahu and Israel throughout his presidency. But that is not the subject of this post.
He segued into something I found so fascinating I want to discuss it in depth. He talked about modern-day Iran (Persia) and compared it to the historical story of Purim. Interestingly, Purim this year starts Wednesday night, and it is preceded immediately by the Fast of Esther, a day when Jews the world over fast in acknowledgement of the perilousness and precariousness of this time of year for us, beginning with Creation, but highlighted in the Purim story.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar, here is a brief summary of the story of Purim: In the town of Shushan (in Persia) there was a king called Achashverosh (sorry, but I only know the story with names in Hebrew). He was married to a Queen named Vashti, but he became displeased with her, and so he began searching for a new bride. Around this time, there were some people who were plotting harm against the king, and the plot was overheard by a Jewish man named Mordechai, who reported the plot and saved the king’s life. The king wrote down Mordechai’s name in his special book, vowing that one day he would repay Mordechai, who had saved him.
The king’s search for a bride was looking fruitless, although his men commanded every eligible maiden to appear before the king for possible selection. Finally, a beautiful girl named Esther came in front of the king and he was enchanted. Esther just so happened to be Mordechai’s niece (in other places it says cousin). Being a Jewish girl, she was afraid of marrying the king, and of going to live in the palace, but she consulted her wise uncle who advised her to marry the king but not to reveal her Jewish status. They did marry, and she was a good wife to Achashverosh, and he was happy with her.
One day, Esther becomes privy to the king’s right-hand man, Haman, hatching a plot against the Jews. Haman hates Mordechai and the way Mordechai behaves, showing more reverence to G-d than to Haman. He thinks Mordechai is arrogant and obnoxious. So Haman decides to kill all of the Jewish people in Shushan and he wants the king to sign off on the decree. He casts lots (in Hebrew “pur”, with the plural being “purim”, and thus the name of the day…)to decide on the best year, month, and day to annihilate the Jews and it was settled. All that remains is for his plan to be carried out, so he builds gallows upon which to hang Mordechai publicly, a way to show who the real important man is in Shushan, and who it isn’t…
But Haman isn’t content just to plot destruction, he also wants to make sure he is properly honored. So he asks the king what he would do to honor someone who really really REALLY deserves honor. He is delighted to hear that the honoree would be given a kingly robe and crown to wear and a royal horse to ride upon. He would be paraded through the streets so everyone could see him in his glory. Haman is jubilant!
Meanwhile in the palace, Esther is in a quandary over how to save her people from Haman’s plot. Again she seeks the advice of her uncle Mordechai who tells her she must go directly to the king. The only problem is that approaching the king without being summoned is an offense punishable by death. Esther knows that doing nothing is a death sentence for not only her, but for all of the Jews. On the other hand, if she goes to the king unbidden and he is displeased, she will be killed as a result and the Jews will die anyway. Mordechai tells her that she must take the risk, but that in preparation she should fast and pray, and that he will tell all the Jews of the nation to do the same.
Esther does go to King Achashverosh, who as I said before is pleased with her as a wife and regards her highly. She tells him she is quite distraught because she just found out someone is trying to kill her and her whole family. Achashverosh is beyond outraged that someone would dare threaten his queen. He pleads with her to reveal the name of the scoundrel who would do such a thing, and she tells him: It is Haman.
In the end, in what is a theme of Purim, Achashverosh is restless so he looks through his book and remembers that he promised to honor Mordechai, and it is Mordechai who is paraded through the city in splendor. It is Mordechai who wears the robes and crown, Mordechai who is seated on the king’s horse, and Mordechai who is given honors and accolades. It is Haman and his sons (co-conspirators) who are hanged on the gallows, and the Jews are saved at the last minute and against all odds.
Why did I tell you all of this, and why do I think you may be interested?
This morning I got an email from a Jewish woman’s group I am a part of saying how interesting it is that right now (Purim time) a Jewish leader is going in front of arguably the most powerful leadership in the world and pitching the case for the survival of the Jewish nation. The head of modern-day Persia, better known as Iran, wants to have nuclear weapons. Among those he wishes to destroy with said weapons is the modern State of Israel (the “little Satan”) and America (the “Great Satan”- sorry, did you think we were immune from animosity?). Sadly, as most sane people know, when nuclear weapons are deployed, they aren’t exactly containable, so it isn’t exactly a strike with limited ramifications. But I digress.
Things look dark for Israel, and not for the first time. Not only is the country surrounded by far larger countries sworn to wipe it off the map, filled with people sworn to drive the Jews into the sea, but now there is a modern-day Haman who stands on the precipice of being nuclear-capable. For no clear reason (even in the Purim story Haman had some reasons…), the leader of Iran is passionately dedicated to Israel’s destruction. So Netanyahu went in front of the American Congress to ask for our help.
Make no mistake. He was very explicit on at least one point: With America or without, Israel will do what it has to in order to stay alive. And I say, good show, old boy!
But America is in a unique position in history, too. We can either aid and abet a potential war criminal in going nuclear, or we can make his mission that much more difficult. For all the weight America throws around unnecessarily in the world, here is a chance to do some good. Whether you like Jews, hate them, or couldn’t give a rip either way. There are certain facts at play. Israel is the only democracy in an unstable Middle East. They are now and have always been an ally of the U.S.. A nuclear-armed country led by a violent psychopath is in nobody’s best interest.
I kind of feel like if the Purim story happened now, Haman would just have waltzed into King Achashverosh’s palace and said sweetly (fingers crossed behind his back), “Oh, I didn’t mean what I said about destroying anyone. That was all a joke. Hahahaha. Really. I was being so silly. I just want nukes cuz I like the stickers that y’all put on them!” And Achashverosh would turn around and give him like 10,000 tons of enriched uranium and plutonium. “Would you like any reactors to go with that, or do you have your own?”
Or maybe he would cut aid and services to his supposed friends, like Obama did today.
But, like in the original Purim story, I choose to believe that things turn around in unexpected ways this time of year. When it seems like insanity rules the day (not that I’m calling out anyone specific here…), things go topsy turvy. Right always comes out on top.
Benjamin Netanyahu is a masterful speaker, but more than that, he is a masterful thinker. He knows more about how things operate in the Middle East than most people could ever hope to learn. Hindsight is always 20/20, but I’m hoping that Netanyahu can be our people’s modern-day Mordechai, because it seems pretty clear that, in every generation, we face a present-day Haman.
G-d deliver us from evil…