Commentary for Purim

17 Mar

We often think of Purim as holiday about individuals. All of the major turning points in the story essential boil down to whatever decision King Achashverosh’s whims guide him to make at the time. His decisions are certainly influenced at different times by the actions of Ester, Mordechai, Haman, (and a few others), but even those actions are all undertaken and performed by each of those people as individuals. Similarly, Haman’s decision to bribe Achashverosh to allow him to annihilate the Jews is motivated by the actions of one single Jew among the crowd, Mordechai, refusing to bow to him.


What Purim really is, however, is a story about the power of individuals within the group. Haman was one of Achashverosh’s top advisors, but he was certainly not his only advisor. Any of the others could have come forward and tried to convince Achashverosh that authorizing the genocide of the Jewish People was a bad idea, using whatever angle- moral, financial, political- they thought would most appeal to the king. But none of them did, and so the decree went unopposed until Ester stepped up to plead with the king. In his role as king over the subjects of the Persian Empire, Achashverosh shows his ability to unite his subjects- as seen in the lavish party that dominates the first chapter of the megilah, to which representatives of all peoples and lands were invited to make merriment together- or to enable their worst inner demons by inviting them to participate in a genocide which chapter nine shows that they were all too eager to participate in, even with the knowledge that the Jews were now authorized to fight back.


On the Jewish side we see Ester get a lot of credit (and deservedly so) for saving the Jews, but if each individual Jew does not personally echo Ester’s question in 8:6, “For how can I passively witness the evil is going to befall my people, and how can I passively witness the destruction of my kindred?” and make the decision to take up arms and defend themselves, then the king’s decree allowing the Jews to defend themselves will not matter because they will not have the forces necessary to prevent the slaughter. The story of Purim is not just one about how our choices affect ourselves, but about they affect those around us as well.

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