Taking Control of Our Destiny - Purim 5784

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Let’s face it, on Purim we Jews look pathetic. Yeah, I know, it’s supposed to be a happy holiday in which we were miraculously saved, but for me, Purim inspires more shame than joy


So why are we pathetic? Are we proud to celebrate that a woman was conscripted into the king’s harem and forced into servitude? The other hero of the story doesn’t inspire either, Mordechai discovers a plot against the king not by any act of bravery, but by overhearing conversations while sneaking around the courts of the palace. Not a very dignified image.


It’s also a story in which everything seems to be random.


Vashti happens to fall out of favor; Esther happens to win a beauty contest; Mordechai overhears a conversation and uncovers a plot against the king; the king who happens to have insomnia.


Even the name of the holiday “Purim” (“drawing lots”) relates to the randomness of our salvation.


Think about it: on Passover, we confront the mighty Pharaoh and gain our freedom with bravery and portents; on Hanukkah, we defeat a Hellenist empire with a gutsy resistance, and on Purim… we win by trickery, seduction and dumb luck.


Jews seem to be at the mercy of the whims of a frivolous king and an evil viceroy…

OK, now that I’ve ruined Purim for you, let me share what I consider to be its most redeeming quality: Purim is, probably, our most Zionist holiday.


Why? Because no other holiday portrays the fragility and the lack of agency of Jews in the Diaspora like Purim does.


Purim is, in fact, the story of the Diaspora in a nutshell.


It is the story of living at the mercy of capricious kings, being called “disloyal,” always being considered “different,” always merely “tolerated,” never fully accepted.


Like German Jews in the 1930s, Esther and Mordechai were fully assimilated. In fact, some believe that their names derived from the Persian deities Ishtar and Marduk.


They even served in the palace, and yet, their luck turned and all of their efforts to fit in became useless.


Like American Jews are realizing now, it didn’t matter that Persian Jews had been loyal citizens and faithful servants of the king. They were always “the other,” the weak link, the ones that could be easily discarded when politically expedient.


Jews were (and are) always on probation; always needing to show their bona fides, always trying to reach the moving goalposts for their acceptance.


I know; the Diaspora wasn’t only that. It was also enormous creativity, cultural richness, and incredible works of genius. But it was a traumatizing life, always dependent on others, always under the sword of Damocles of people’s intolerance…


Zionism came to correct that. It made Jews masters of their own destiny again. It demanded to change history, from something that happens to us to something that we make happen.


Since 1948, our fate has not been dictated by luck or by the whims of a frivolous king, but by our own achievements and blunders.


Like the Israeli Declaration of Independence says, we exercise, “the natural right of the Jewish People, to be, like all other nations, master of their own fate, in their sovereign state.”


Maybe we drink in Purim not out of happiness, but to forget how helpless we were, how vulnerable and fragile.

Our rabbis were very smart people. They obviously saw the problematic nature of Purim.

Especially when the Megillah is the only Biblical book in which God is So why did they include it in the Biblical canon? utterly absent.


Maybe the absence of God from the story is an invitation to us to take the initiative. The story seems to say, “Listen, you are on your own, don’t wait for Me to save you, take your destiny in your own hands. I won’t help you if you don’t help yourselves.”


And redemption happens precisely when the people in the story accept the challenge and don’t surrender to fate.


Esther saves the Jews by not acting as a timid Diasporic Jew. She proudly proclaims her identity and decides to face the King, owning up to who she is and stating clearly her rights and aspirations.


That is the essence of Zionism, to be proud of who we are, to stop waiting for an outside redeemer, and act as though our destiny is in our hands. Because it is.


In that light, the self-deprecation of the Megillah acquires a new meaning; the fragility of the Jews in the story doesn’t shame us, but inspires us to never be like those Persian Jews again, to fight for independence and to be comfortable — and responsible — with finally having a modicum of power.


The miracle of Zionism was achieved, most likely, under the watchful eye of a benevolent God.


But it was brought about not by randomness, but by the sweat, blood, and tears of our People.


When we see this, we feel not just the relief of having been saved from tragedy, but the deep joy of accepting the ultimate challenge of existence: That of being masters of our destiny.


Especially now that it seems fashionable and culturally prevalent to be anti-Zionist, we need to remember that the alternative to Zionism is a permanent state of despondency and defenselessness, like the one we remember on Purim.


And that is exactly what our enemies want; they hate that we aren’t those helpless Jews of history, dependent on their mercy and “tolerance.”


Those that don’t want to exterminate us wholesale, want us in a permanent submissive and conditional state, always a step away from oblivion.


What they hate about Zionism is that within it, we make our own destiny instead of being the collateral damage of other people’s stories.


As we experience an uneasy Purim amid war, terror, and hatred, let us think how blessed we are to live in a time when Zionism has freed us from our permanent state of helplessness.


Let’s be clear-eyed about what anti-Zionism really means: an antisemitic desire for Jews to be powerless again; an attempt to bring Jews back to their “natural” situation, that of barely tolerated subjects of other people’s whims.


IDF soldiers are fighting for us to not live in “Purimland.”


Israelis are paying with their lives to give us that privilege.


Each of us, wherever we stand and, in our way, must join the fight, because, simply put, it’s the fight of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom