Today is Purim when we Jews recall the story of Esther saving our people from genocide at the hands of Haman and his puppet king. Historically there was no Persian Haman, though there is one today. Today’s Iran was Persia, and its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Haman. Who is our Esther today? Condoleezza Rice?
What I love about the story of Purim is the absence of God. If Esther didn’t have the courage to confront the King and see to the defense of her people, the Jews would have been massacred. God wouldn’t have lifted a finger.
Self-power, not God’s power is the affirmation at the heart of Purim. First there is Mordecai saving the life of the king by revealing a plot against him. God had nothing to do with this. It was just the right thing to do. Then there is Esther daring to affirm her Jewishness and demand that the King choose between his fear of her people and his love of her. Very cool. And then there is the Jews, newly armed at the command of the king, who, when confronted by the Persian hordes seeking their death, slaughter tens of thousands of their enemies instead. Heroism, daring, courage, and slaughter, and not a god in sight.
In Israel this week Senator John McCain, following the off-hand comment of his friend Senator Joe Leberman, spoke of Purim as the Jewish Halloween. True we dress up in costume on Purim just like people do on Halloween, but we don’t get candy, or celebrate the dead. We get prune filled dry-as-dust cookies and celebrate the living who made lots of other people dead.
Don’t get me wrong. I love hamantashen, and the only two Persians I care about are Zarathustra and Rumi. And I couldn’t give a gregor’s spin for Haman, his sons, and any of those murderous Persians who wanted to slaughter the Jews and were slaughtered by them instead. Slaughter away, Yids!
It’s just that it would nice to have a holy day that had no dead people in it. Next month we have Passover where thousands of Egyptians die for the sins of their Pharaoh. Then we have the Omer period when thousands of Jews died from a plague. Then there’s Shavuot when thousands of Jews die because of the Golden Calf. Then comes Tisha b’Av and the bloody fall of Jerusalem and the Temple (though cows may celebrate the destruction of the Temple, Jew mourn it). At Rosh HaShanah we have to read about Abraham sending Hagar and Ishmael to what looks like certain death, and almost murdering Isaac himself. Yom Kippur has no dead people in it, but we worry about being sealed in the Book of Death ourselves. Then comes Hanukkah and all the people who died in that war.
That leaves us Shabbat, Tu b’Av (Jewish Saint Valentine’s Day sans the saint, the massacre, and the valentines) Tu b’Shvat (New Years of the Trees) and Sukkot (Jewish Thanksgiving without the Indians, maize, and small pox). As far as I know no deaths are associated with these holy days. You start to wonder if there isn’t some fascination of religion with death. Hmmm.