Sunday, February 24, 2013

They tried to kill us, we survived, let's drink

They tried to kill us, we survived, let's drink

Rabbi Menachem Brod

There were times when we knew how to be joyous on Purim, without effort and without apologizing. Our noisemakers rattled and our feet stomped every time Haman's name was called during the reading of the Megillah; we merrily sang the "Jacob's rose" prayer, which heartily wishes upon all those who hate the Jewish people: "Cursed be Haman ... Damn all evil."

Today, in the era of political correctness, some people feel embarrassed when they burst with joy. We hear some talking about the alleged cruelty of the Jews and genocide, no less — comparing them to acts committed during King Ahasuerus' time.

The day on which we commemorate the Fast of Esther is a good opportunity to open the subject and dive into the Purim story. It soon becomes clear that what you see from one side is not always what you see from the other.

In fact, the story of the Purim miracle is much more complex than it seems at first glance. Haman's decree of annihilation was set for the 13th of the month of Adar. He declared his degree, however, 10 months earlier, on the 13th of Nisan.

Mordechai and Esther called for three days of fasting; on the third day, Esther approached King Ahasuerus. He absorbed her beauty while she invited him to a banquet. During the banquet, the king asked Esther, "What is your request?" She felt, however, that the time was not quite right. She then invited the king and Haman to an additional banquet the following day. At the second banquet, Esther revealed Haman's plot to the king, who ordered him hanged on the tree that had earlier been prepared for Mordechai.

Not even four days had passed since Haman's decree, and he was already hanging on a tree. But the story had not yet ended, because the decree was still in effect. Esther then had to go back to the king, risking her life, and beg him to annul the decree. Ahasuerus replied that it was impossible; Persian law did not allow a king to cancel a signed royal decree.

In the end, a sophisticated solution was found. The first order, which set a certain day to destroy the Jews, was not canceled, but King Ahasuerus released a second royal decree, permitting the Jews to defend themselves and strike those who intended them harm. This did not ensure the salvation of Jews in Shushan, the capital, since their enemies outnumbered them significantly. The Jews were set for a difficult war, in which they could only hope to fight and defend themselves.

The great miracle was that the "Jews' fear" of their enemies shifted on the day of the decrees. The Jews were able to protect themselves; fear enveloped their enemies and the Jews destroyed them. To illustrate, just imagine that on the eve of the Holocaust, Jews had been given the authority and ability to damage Hitler and the Nazi army before they destroyed six million Jews. Does anyone have any qualms with that?

That is exactly what the Jews did in Ahasuerus' time. They used the authority granted them to cleanse the kingdom of the Nazis of their time. Seventy-five thousand enemies of Israel, who sought to destroy us, were killed. The great miracle was that the Jews managed to get to their enemies before the latter were able to carry out their plans.

Haman's sons were not innocent babies, as one might mistakenly understand. They were adults, assistants to their father and enemies of the Jews. Their death was necessary to crush the serpent's head. Esther requested to see them hanged from a tree, to demonstrate to all their fate and the fate of all enemies of the Jewish people.

There is no reason to be squeamish or apologize. It is completely clear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are in the Purim story. We are absolutely allowed to be glad and rejoice at the defeat of our enemies and those who seek our destruction.

We will be joyous on Purim and send presents one to another as well as donating to the poor. Let us pray and wish that the enemies of the Jews today will see their end as Haman did. In the language of the Megillah: "Whereas it was turned to the contrary, that the Jews had rule over those that hated them." (Book of Esther, 9:1)

Rabbi Menachem Brod is the Israeli spokesman for Chabad.