Purim’s Wakeup Call
Purim is unfolding again right before our very eyes. How can we go about business as usual?
We are living in remarkable times. The approximately 60-year reprieve from anti-Semitism that the nations of the world have given our people out of pity and sympathy in the aftermath of the Holocaust seems to be coming to an end. Our default status in the world – scapegoat, blame, hatred, anti-Semitism, de-legitimization – is being restored as Israel is no longer the underdog and victim in the world's eyes, but rather somehow we have become the aggressor and the perpetrator.
We sing with great enthusiasm, “When the month of Adar begins, we intensify our sense of joy.” But how can one be happy right now when we reflect on the Jewish condition in the world? What does Adar contain that would allow us to overlook and disregard the threats that Israel confronts, the isolation it experiences and the challenges our people face?
One year ago, the beautiful Fogel family was brutally murdered. Udi and Rut Fogel, together with their children Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and 3-month-old Hadas had their throats slit while they slept in their beds. Their three surviving children, Tamar, Roi and 3-year-old Yishai, live today with their grandparents who have at an advanced age heroically taken on the role of parents to these young children.
As we mark the first yahrzeit of this atrocity we can't help but ask, where is the simcha [joy] of Adar? How can one feel a sense of joy when incidents like this still happen to our people?
Today we are not safe even among the intellectual elite, even at the highest academic institution in America. Harvard's Kennedy School of Government is hosting a conference entitled: "Israel/Palestine and the One-State Solution," and you can be sure, that one state is not Israel. One featured speaker is Ali Abunimah, creator of the website Electronic Intifada, who opposes the existence of a "Jewish State." Also presenting is Harvard's own Stephen M. Walt, co-author of the anti-Israel book, The Israel Lobby.
Where is the joy of Adar when an anti-Israel group can freely present hate-rhetoric at Harvard?
Yes, some Harvard graduates have written to the university's president to protest their hosting this conference. But perhaps as appalling as the actual conference, is the relative silence of the Jewish community. Where is the outrage? Where are the rallies, letter writing campaigns, protests, sit-ins?
Where is the joy of Adar when a virulently anti-Israel group can freely present their hate-filled rhetoric and advance their one-state-free-of-Jews solution, on the most prestigious campus in America?
Today, even a candidate for public office is not afraid to reveal his blatant anti-Semitism.
Just this past week, Arthur Jones, a republican candidate for Congress in Chicago, said: "As far as I'm concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews." Jones, who organizes neo-Nazi events in commemoration of Hitler's birthday, continued by calling the Holocaust "the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV."
Thankfully, Republicans have not put him on the ballot because of his views. But here is the scary thing. He has collected over 1,000 signatures on a petition to allow him to run. That means that there are more than 1,000 other people in Chicago that share his anti-Semitic views. His candidacy comes now, in the month of Adar, supposedly the most joyous of all months. Where is the simcha?
A Sleeping Nation
When Haman targeted the Jews for annihilation, he said to Achashveirosh, "Let's destroy the Jews." Achashveirosh replied, "Not so fast. I am afraid of their God, lest He do to me what He did to my predecessors."
Haman relieved the King of that fear when he said "Yeshno am echad," which translates literally as “there is a certain nation.” The Talmud (Megillah 13b), using a play on words, explains that Haman was telling the King something much more strategic and insightful. Yoshnu am echad - there is a sleeping nation. They have been negligent of mitzvot, they are divided, fighting with one another and divisive. They are asleep as to what is important and what threatens them, Haman pointed out to the King.
The Jews were on the brink of extinction, because they were asleep.
The Jewish people were vulnerable and on the brink of extinction because they were asleep. Their eyes were closed to what was happening around them. They didn't take the threats seriously. Haman, like so many of our shrewd enemies throughout Jewish history, understood that going about business as usual, living with our eyes closed and sleep walking through life makes us particularly vulnerable and susceptible to attack.
Haman recognized that “there is a nation that is sleeping.” All he had to do was continue to lull the Jewish people into a false sense of security, to breed complacency and apathy, and he could accomplish his goal of ridding the world of our people.
So what spoiled his plan? The answer is simple: Mordechai and Esther stood up and, like an alarm, rang and rang until they woke up our people from their practically comatose sleep.
Mordechai understood that the antidote to “the nation that is sleeping” is as the Book of Esther states, “lech knos kol ha'yehudim - go and gather all the Jews together” and wake them up. He understood that the response to “they are scattered and dispersed” is to bring them together in fasting and praying. That wakeup call saved our people and ignited a response that provided not only the spark that led to military victory but attracted people of Shushan to want to join the Jewish people.
Purim Then and Now
I look around today and can't help but think our people have been lulled asleep into a false sense of security once again, making ourselves vulnerable. Our enemies are no less evil than Haman, their plans no less nefarious, and their goal no less threatening to our very existence. And yet, for so many, it is business as usual, eyes shut to what is happening and threatening us. Now is the time to wake up, now is the time for to come together in prayer, and in fasting, in letter writing, phone calls, advocacy, lobbying and any way that we can raise our voice on behalf of our people.
Do you think Israel is going to attack Iran? Or do you think no attack will take place and Iran will be allowed to go nuclear? Do you realize that either option is an absolute disaster, potentially devastating and earth-shattering? Do you truly understand the scenario and the casualties if Israel attacks Iran? Can you even imagine the rockets raining down throughout the country, terrorist attacks, condemnations from around the world seeking to isolate Israel, a possible embargo?
And if no attack happens, do you understand the threat and reality of a nuclear weapon held at Israel's head?
And if we do understand, how can we possibly remain asleep and go about business as usual?
Purim is unfolding again right before our very eyes. Iran is modern-day Persia and Ahmadinejad is modern-day Haman sharing the same, explicit goal – to wipe out, in minutes, 6 million Jews.
We must not allow that to happen.
We have an obligation to remember Amalek and what they sought to do to us. The Torah says it is not enough to “not forget.” You can be asleep and yet not forget somewhere buried in your memory that these were once enemies. No, we must also “remember” – zachor. We must remember at all times what our enemies are capable of and never feel a false sense of security.
Real joy is being alive, responsive and alert, ready to face whatever challenges may come.
The time has come to wake up, to remember the Fogel family, and to hold accountable people who celebrate such a murder. The time has come to wake up and to raise our voices in protest of anti-Israel conferences at Harvard and at other universities in this country. The time has come to wake up and to vocally reject the candidacy of a man who can deny the Holocaust. And the time has come to wake up and do everything that we can to make sure Iran does not go nuclear.
Perhaps the joy of Adar is the happiness of waking up, of rising from our sleep of recognizing what we confront and stepping up to make a difference. Real joy is being alive, responsive and alert, ready to face whatever challenges may come and to be confident that we will be triumphant, as we ultimately have been throughout our illustrious history.
When Adar begins, we remember enemies past like Amalek and Haman and we focus acutely on our present enemies and stopping them. When we wake up and confront them, that in itself is a source of joy.