Purim and the Mirror on the Wall – 5773
This coming week Jews all over the world will celebrate the festival of Purim. Our Temple was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, and we were exiled to Babylon and Persia (modern day Iraq and Iran). Haman ascended to power under the Persian Empire and was at the peak of his political influence and wealth. As we know, Haman hatched a plot to destroy all the Jewish people, something with which we are unfortunately all too familiar. People like Haman have tried and continue to try to utterly destroy the Jewish people. The fanatical Islamic government in Iran, ironically, ancient Persia, has declared openly that it wants to destroy us; and Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah and others are actively trying to do so. In the course of his plotting our destruction, Haman said to King Achashverosh that the Jews are different from all other people
The previous Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory, raised an interesting question. He pointed out that the Scroll of Esther begins with a description of the empire of Achashverosh, who ruled over “127 countries from India to Ethiopia.” He asked, “How is it possible that the Jews were the only people who were different? In an empire of 127 provinces, there must have been many cultures, religions, races and ethnic groups! Only the Jews are different!?” The Rebbe explained that other cultures and peoples are different because they happen to be so, but the Jews actually make a conscious decision to be different. Jews will behave differently than others, as they say in Hebrew, davka! And indeed, we do stand out. Jews are an uncomfortable reminder to many of the ideals of monotheism, morality and conscience. When Haman witnessed Mordechai not bowing down to him, self-doubt entered his mind, his awesome ego had a moment of weakness and something deep inside him said, “Maybe I’m wrong?” That doubt turned to hatred. If the mirror on the wall says you are not the most beautiful person of all, and that mirror on the wall tells you are actually a little ugly, you will want to break the mirror. The State of Israel, a thriving democracy, economically, culturally, and scientifically advanced is a mirror that the Arab states want to break. They look at their own poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance and they look across the border at Israel and they see red.
I heard of a Yeshiva student who was living as a refugee in Shanghai during the Second World War as part of the Mirrer Yeshivah. He was walking back to his dormitory late at night and he heard a radio playing a speech of Hitler, may his name and memory be erased. He was screaming that the Jews needed to be eradicated because they don’t let anyone live in peace. The student was bewildered by this statement. He asked one of his teachers, also a refuge, Rabbi Chazkel Levenstein, “What does he mean? What are we doing to them? To anyone? How can Hitler get away with such an obvious lie?” He answered that the existence of the Jews reminds everyone that there is a G-d, Who has moral demands on humanity. The Jewish people are like mankind’s nagging, annoying conscience. That is how, “we don’t let them live in peace.”
Haman was a descendant of the Amalekite nation. They were the earliest of anti-Semites, who hated us, not because we threatened their land, economy or security, but because we threatened their peace of mind.
We celebrate on Purim, and we also rededicate ourselves to being the messengers of ethics and of morality, of monotheism and of revelation. We know that our message will eventually be victorious and we know that the world will eventually recognize G-d. When we celebrate this Purim, it is not only for our victory with G-d’s help over Haman, but also over all the Haman’s throughout history, whom we have outlived, outlasted and survived. We tell ourselves and the world that we and our message are eternal and everything else is temporary. Purim is therefore not only a celebration of the past, but also a “pre-emptive” celebration of our future victory of evil.