Friday, 3 March 2017

Have Jews learned anything from the story of Purim?





Years ago, when I lived in the US, I purchased an ancient Megillat Esther, the scroll of the Book of Esther. It was a fragile piece written by an expert scribe on leather that bore the marks of time. I had no doubt that this piece of Judaica crossed my life’s path for a reason. I decided to have it framed and displayed on my wall for all who come to my home to see.
When I went to the frame shop, the framer asked me, which part of the Megillah I would like to have shown since parts of the scroll had to remain rolled. It was then that I realized why I was destined to own this treasured piece of rare Judaica. The teacher in me realized that it cradled a very important message for all Jews. That made the choice easy.

The part of the scroll that I selected to remain revealed was where Haman drew a lot (Purim) to determine the day in which the Jews of ancient Persia would be killed. I knew my choice was right when the framer asked me, “Out of curiosity, why did you choose that section of the scroll?”
“You see,” I explained to her, “there is a lesson, one of the few lessons of Purim that we Jews should have learned. That lesson is hidden in plain view in the part of the Megillah that I depicted.”

I briefly shared with her the background to the story of Purim and asked her, “If anyone told you that they were going to kill you and specifically listed the date for it, what would you do?”
“I would run for my life,” she answered immediately, wondering where my question was leading to.
“Indeed,” I rushed to answer, “especially when the Jews of ancient Persia had  a haven to escape to.” She seemed perplexed. “Escape to where?” she asked. A brief lesson in history was in place. In as succinct a manner as possible, I recapped the chain of events that preceded the story of Purim. I mentioned Cyrus the Great who granted the Jews the right to return to Eretz Yisrael from their exile in Babylon along with a commission to rebuild the Temple.

“Unfortunately,” I concluded, “that is precisely what the Jews of Persia did not do. They preferred to remain there and wait for a miracle.” Luckily for them, the turn of events was miraculous at that point in Jewish history. “But, as our Jewish history has proved,” I sighed, “miracles have not always been in abundance.”
There were other occasions in Jewish history where the writing was on the wall and in big letters yet Jews refused to apply past lessons. “Remember the Spanish Inquisition?” I continued my swift walk through Jewish history.

By a decree of the Papal court which was implemented by Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile beginning in 1478,” I continued, “any Jew who refused to convert and did not leave Spain was executed by the Crown with Papal approval. Only fourteen years later, when expelled, all practicing Jews left Spain. As promised, those who did not were executed.

A similar decree was issued by the Czar of Russia who in the 1800’s dealt with the “Jewish problem” in “three ways, conversion, emigration and destruction. Through a series of harsh decrees, Jews would convert to Russian Orthodoxy, emigrate out of Russia or face destruction.”
Its message remains the same. Fortunately, Russia of that time was very corrupt and in many ways, Jews could finesse their ways out of these edicts either by paying bribes or changing their last name. “Had the Czar’s decrees been enforced with a consistent hand for a long period, they would have almost undoubtedly accomplished their purpose.”

Apparently, these decrees were not enough to warn Jews about the upcoming storms that would devastate their communities in Russia. The period between 1903 and 1907, proved to be of great internal unrest in Russia. It also proved disastrous for the Jewish community. It suffered through 284 pogroms with over 50,000 deaths. It was only then that Jewish mass immigration started.  Between 1881 and 1914 “some 50,000 or more Jews left every year to an estimated total of 2.5 million Jews.” A lesson finally learned albeit a little too late. (http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/48956806.html).
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My own recent family history is yet another proof that the lesson of Purim had not been mastered by the Jews. My maternal grandfather, Ben-Zion, a wealthy and highly educated practicing Jew failed it. Being the only family in their town to have owned a radio, my maternal family should have been the first one to have learned the lesson of Purim. Hitler’s voice carrying his passionate speeches was heard loud and clear by its members every night. His constant threats to clean Europe of its Jews, unfortunately, went unheeded. “Poland is the Land of Milk and Honey,” my grandfather used to say as he brushed off those vile speeches. “It will never happen here.”

Obviously, he was wrong.

I think of him each time I pass by my framed Megillah. I think of all the Jews throughout our sanguine history who failed to learn its lesson. I hope I have.

Wishing you all a joyous and meaningful Purim.

10 comments:

  1. Wonderful article Batzi. Sound like something my wise rebbe would have written. It's historical, and personal. Thanks for sharing. Love Bebe.

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  2. My grandparents got the hell out of Poland in 1912 and 1917 for a reason.

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    1. Thank you, Alex. My family had to learn that lesson the hard way :-(

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  3. Thank you, Bat-Zi for your insight. If man paid more attention to History, maybe we would have avoided many of life's pitfalls.

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    1. Thank you Lyn. Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim <3

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  4. This is an oft-repeated lesson, isn't it?

    The ghettos of Europe were for a time an option...but past a certain point, they became death-traps for the Jews, as WWII history showed.

    Staying meant usually conversion to the dominant religion, and usually those Jews that did so became first victims of things like the inquisition.

    Yes, as you point out, Cyrus had given the decree...and some early movement was done to return to Eretz Yisroel...but as we know...things really hit full-swing more after Nehemiah and Ezra returned.

    Would it have been the events of that first Purim that decided things for Ezra and Nehemiah?

    Megillot Esther is full of interesting insights...like how a woman could get right what her male ancestor didn't (Esther's descent from King Saul), the issue of what happens when a total evil is NOT taken out when it should be, allowing it to return with a vengeance at the time the People are at their most vulnerable...even being CLEAR that there IS a difference between righteous non-Jews and UNrighteous non-Jews (wish that point was said a bit louder, as Megillot Esther definitely shows that the Jews did NOT think ALL non-Jews were bad...in Christian churches, Esther is VERY seldom even mentioned).

    My first Purim and even my second, in Israel in 1991 and 1992 were an eye-opener to me. Being there at the time Saddam Hussein joined the exclusive club of Purim LOSERS was itself quite a lesson.

    Small book of the Tanach...but very deep currents there.

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    1. Thank you for your very elaborate and enlightening comment George. I am who I am today because of thst lesson (y)

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  5. Beautiful, thank you for sharing with me. My sister learned that valuable lesson after 9/11. She was afraid that when things got worse for America, it would be the Jews that suffered first. She made Aliyah with her husband and three sons. I am so proud of her and one day, I hope to do the same.
    Keep up the great work and stay safe.
    Love, Channie

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    1. Thank you Channie. I myself came back here almost 7 years ago. It hasn't been easy. But I have never been happier <3

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