I’ve shared and confessed a lot about me, my family, my thoughts, etc. – so here’s another confession. I love country music and I’m a Harry Chapin fan…and it’s sad to think of how many of you are going to have to Google “Harry Chapin” to learn about him. He was a mixed bag of things in so many ways. But a line from one of his songs just came to mind, “forced into reflection by this half-hour wait.”
It’s from one of his songs that I’ve always had trouble listening to – it’s about infidelity and not in a negative way. So, I’ll ignore the sentiment and keep the line. I’m sitting here forced into reflection waiting for the yeast to rise a bit before I add the flour, the honey, the oil, salt and more to make tomorrow’s challah for Shabbat. And, I’m reluctant to let go of Purim – a holiday we celebrated here in Israel today. I haven’t checked the news, except for brief glimpses on my Blackberry phone.
A round up of the news then, is in order. A Palestinian was killed by soldiers today – that’s what most of the world media will tell you and Gaza tweeters will announce. Will they tell you that Zakaria Abu Aram and his accomplice stabbed a soldier today, and that Abu Aram was then subdued by other soldiers before he could attack others? Will they tell you the two attackers were actually boys aged 14 and 17?
Three firebombs were thrown at IDF patrols.
A mortar was fired at Israel, and over 200 Arabs rioted and attacked soldiers near Qalandia. All in all, considering it was Purim in Israel, I have to feel we got off easy. Purim is a happy time in Israel, a fun, easy holiday. We had a barbecue on our balcony and listened to all the neighbors making noise as they too celebrated. The phone barely rang and I avoided the news. In short, it was a great day to ponder an important lesson.
The lesson of Purim is timeless. It’s a simple story that even Hollywood couldn’t beat. That’s the way it is with true stories – like the Entebbe rescue in 1976. Can you imagine someone pitching that story before it happened? Telling some Hollywood agent – there’ll be a plane hijacked; they’ll separate the passengers – like the Nazis did, keeping the Jews behind and releasing the non-Jews. To mix in the heroic factor, we’ll have the crew volunteer to stay with the Jews. Deadline approaching, ransom demands – and then Israel sends in jet fighters…with a black Mercedes…and swoops down, commandos jump out and rescue the passengers and bring them home triumphant – except for the commander who will fall.
Hollywood tried to make the movie after the hijacking. There were, if I remember correctly, four movies. The best, by far, was the simplest one that stuck to the truth. That was true in 1976, is true today, and was true thousands of years ago in Iran – only it was Persia then, and the capital was Shushan.
The king was a jerk, weak and ineffective. His right hand man was evil incarnate – much like today’s Ahmadinejad. The king killed off his first wife because she refused to appear/dance in front of his advisers…naked as he’d demanded. After he killed her, he felt bad. No, not about killing her, but about being alone. He demanded they bring him all the virgins so he could pick one – reminds me of today’s promise to terrorists – kill, get killed, and you get 72 virgins in heaven (and here I won’t mention the joke about them being 72 male virgins…or Virginians – right, I won’t mention them).
So the king picks – of all people – a young Jewish woman named Esther, whose uncle happens to be Mordechai, a well known and respected Jewish leader. Mordechai overhears a plot to kill the king, saves his life, and will be rewarded. The evil right hand man hates Mordechai and Jews in general, so he gets the silly king to sign an edict ordering the murder of all Jews in the land. I wonder if this is the first documented case of planned genocide?
So, Esther fasts and prays and then goes before the king, who is still enamored by his lovely new wife. She identifies Hamas as the one who is out to kill her and her people and then, as Haman falls at her feet (and on her bed), perhaps to beg for his worthless life, the king is enraged and orders him hanged. All that was Haman’s he gives to Esther and Mordechai and rescinds his edict and the Jews are saved.
It’s a simple story with so many levels. The name of God does not appear once in the telling – and yet His Hand is seen everywhere. Fact? Fiction?
If you don’t believe the story happened, let me tell you another story. When Israel was re-established in 1948, it became a natural place for Jews to gather – from all the oppressed places of the world – including Ethiopia. There, a long-lost Jewish tribe was found and though most are already back in Israel, there remains a small trickle still coming home each year.
When Israelis flew to Ethiopia to help bring the community back to Israel and stop the persecution there, the rabbis of Israel sat with the rabbis of Ethiopia and compared notes. No one is quite sure when the Jewish community started in Ethiopia; some say it was after the destruction of the First Temple, in 586 BCE. As the holy days were compared, there were some discrepancies. Those holidays that came about after the separation were unknown to the Ethiopians. And then came Purim.
It is a great day of sadness, said the Ethiopians. Sadness? The rabbis of Israel were confused. It’s a day of great joy. They asked for an explanation – and were told of the great edict sent by the king of Shushan to kill all the Jews on the 14th day of Adar. And so, each year, the Jews of Ethiopia fasted and mourned – until the rabbis explained – you didn’t get the SECOND edict…the Jews were saved!
So, the challah is rising on my counter and its well after midnight here in Israel. As Purim has left us for this year, I’ll leave you with the final lesson of Purim – evil will not triumph. It is that simple. By force, by necessity, by God, good will win the battle.
As I left the synagogue this morning, I was not the only one that thought again of the threat that came and comes from Iran. “God should do the same to this Ahmadinejad,” the elderly woman next to me said as we picked up our books and prepared to leave.
Amen – may God in His infinite wisdom and mercy, repeat the miracle of Purim speedily and in our days and return us to the glory of what was.