By Rabbi Naphtali Hoff
Julius Streicher made his melodramatic appearance at 2:12 a.m…. As he reached the platform (of the gallows where he would soon be hanged) Streicher cried out, “Now it goes to God!” He was pushed the last two steps to the mortal spot beneath the hangman’s rope. The rope was being held back against a wooden rail by the hangman. Streicher was swung suddenly to face the witnesses and glared at them. Suddenly he screamed, “Purim Fest 1946.” (International News Service, Nuremberg Gaol, Germany, October 16, 1946)
Streicher’s use of the term “Purim Fest,” a seemingly random comment in his final moments, has long been viewed as a divinely inspired symbol, linking the heinous actions of modern day Haman (Hitler and his Nazi henchmen, may their names be erased) and their spiritual Persian forebear Haman. This, together with other eerie signs, such as the hanging of ten Nazis, which paralleled the hanging of Haman’s ten sons in Shushan, cemented the picture that the Nazis were Amalek reincarnate, who were bent on the destruction of the Jews as God’s special nation.
Sadly, another form of Haman has emerged in Iran in more recent times. Though it represents a different religious and ideological agenda, its hatred for the Jewish state and the Jewish people is as rabid as the Nazis’. The Khomeinis have been sponsoring terrorism and other Israel directed violence for decades. The largest funder of such terrorist groups as Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran’s imprint on the death of countless Jews and many others is clear. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, their past president, would routinely spew anti-Semitic virulence even in such places as the United Nations General Assembly. Today, Iran threatens Israel and the free world with its quest for nuclear power and nuclear weapon capabilities.
It was for that reason that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to address a joint session of Congress on the issue. Much has been made of this speech, including the sad political undercurrents that turned an otherwise semi-ordinary address (foreign heads of state and heads of government from 48 countries have addressed joint meetings of Congress more than a hundred times) into must-see television. More has emerged about the content of Netanyahu’s words and the raucous rounds of applause that he received on Capitol Hill from nearly all in attendance (Nancy Pelosi apparently notwithstanding). Practically everything about the Prime Minister’s message, from his framing of Iran as untrustworthy sponsor of terror to Obama’s meek deal that would sell out Israel and the world, was met with strong approval.
But, as conservative political commentator Glenn Beck has pointed out, one segment of the address went largely unreported in the media. Netanyahu referenced the impending holiday of Purim, which began the following night. “We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman,” Netanyahu said, “who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago.” He added: “Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us.”
Yes, the current struggle is squarely between a Persian potentate and the world Jewish community. But the role of Esther, the Jewish queen who exposed Haman’s plot as a threat to her nation, is of particular significance here. This is not so much because of what she did, but because of the conversation that spurred her into action.
As crisis loomed, the Jewish leader Mordechai sent her a message, “to order her to come before the king to beseech him and to beg him for her people.” (Esther 4:8). Esther hesitated, fearing repercussions from the king who had not called for her in more than a month’s time. Mordechai’s response not only changed her position, but offered a clear blueprint for Jewish survival in the diaspora.
“Do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the king’s house from among all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere and you and your father’s household will perish; and who knows whether you came to the royal estate for just such a time as this?” (Ibid 13-14)
Contained within these powerful words are two crucial ideas.
Number one: The Jews are an eternal people. Despite the existential threat that faces them, they will survive Haman and his villainous plot. It is your choice as queen, Esther, whether you wish to use your role to facilitate your nation’s survival, or to go down as a historical anomaly (as a Jewish queen in a Persian court) with no long-term significance.
We all have roles that we can play to make a difference. Some are large, such as Esther’s. Others are much smaller. But we each are given carpe diem opportunities. It is our choice as to what we make of them to better ourselves and the lives of those around us.
Number two: The survival of those who are positioned to help the Jewish nation is dependent on whether they choose to do just that. Mordechai implied that Esther’s survival would not be jeopardized by going in front of the king. The exact opposite was true. If she would not go, who is to say what would come of her. Who knows if you rose to (power) for just such a moment?
Until recent times, every powerful nation that has ever ruled the world has been fundamentally anti-Semitic. They demonstrated great cruelty in their treatment of their Jewish populations, subjecting them to slavery, torture, religious persecution, and death. They also shared a common fate. While each ruled the world for a significant period, they ultimately disappeared into historical insignificance.
The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded into dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all (and) beat them all. (Twain, Mark, “Concerning the Jews”, Harper’s Magazine, 1899)
The United States has been the greatest ally and supporter of Israel and the Jewish people in world history. During that time, it has also emerged as the leading world power, a position that it has enjoyed for well over a century. Of course, no one can know what the future holds in store for this great nation. But Netanyahu was reminding the American legislature in subtle terms of an important history lesson: its future remains inexorably tied to its treatment and support of the Jewish people.
Beck concludes: “(Netanyahu) was saying clearly to the American people that, ‘you were born for times such as this… If you side with the Jew, you will survive. If you don’t, you will not survive.’ So he was coming to us, without ever saying it, just in timing, saying: ‘You’ve got to stand up. We need America by our side. But more importantly, you need the Jewish people by your side.'”
“No one will talk about this. That is the key to this speech, because he was speaking to us in spiritual terms,” Beck concluded. “Wake up, America. You are going to lose your place in the world if you don’t stand with the Jewish people. You are Esther.'”
Purim Fest 5775.
Rabbi Naphtali Hoff is an executive coach and president of Impactful Coaching and Consulting (ImpactfulCoaching.com). He can be reached at 212.470.6139 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.