Rabbi O’s Weekly: Purim 5780-2020 A Sister Who Wouldn’t

One of the puzzling incidents in the Purim story is Esther’s asking King Achashverosh to invite Haman, the arch enemy of the Jews, to a banquet. Ostensibly, she asked for a party so that she could plead with the king to have the decree against the Jews rescinded, but why would she invite the anti-Semite who authored the decree to join them? The Talmud (Megila 15b) asks this question.What did Esther see, that she invited Haman (to the party)? She said to herself: Lest they say “we have a sister in the palace,” and thus be distracted from asking the Almighty for mercy.Rav Henoch Leibowitz (1918-2008) asks (Chidushei HaLev, Esther 5:8), why would they have such an attitude? Surely, they knew that her position was fragile; she had fasted, requested a mysterious meeting with the king, and was afraid for her life. It was not as if she was a close confident with the ability to sway the king’s mind in whatever direction she chose. Granted she was the Queen, but clearly it was not a given that she would convince him to cancel the decree, and she feared he might even kill her for asking. We return to the question: Did she really think the Jews would have stopped praying for their lives just because she, who lacked any real power, was in the palace? Nonetheless, she invited Haman (the potential Hitler of that era) because when the people would hear about it, they would be frightened and realize that only a miracle would be able to save them. As such, they would continue to pray fervently.Esther understood a basic fact about the psyche of most of us. Even though people realized that she was basically powerless, nevertheless, she was in the palace. Esther’s insight was that even that small nugget of security can lead people to rest on their laurels and put less effort into praying and strengthening their Jewish commitment. She chose to risk her reputation by giving her Jewish brethren the impression that she was conspiring with the enemy; she concluded it was necessary for them to realize that neither she nor anyone else could save them-they would have to go directly to G-d. There was no natural way out of the ensuing genocide. It seems that the Jews of that era had to bottom out in a state of panic in order to pray in a meaningful way.How effective was her strategy? The miracle we celebrate each year began the night following Haman’s invitation to her party.That night,when the king couldn’t sleep, he asked that the court chronicles be read to him (that’s what you did back in the day when you couldn’t sleep). When he learned that Mordechai had saved his life, he gave a royal decree that Mordechai should be acknowledged; he would ride around town in the royal chariot led by Haman! That was the beginning of the end of the decree against the Jews and it gives us insight into what motivates people to pray. It is unfortunate that some people only pray when they bottom out. It might be a tragic medical diagnosis, persecution from a powerful army, or other extremely stressful situations but why wait until then? We all place our trust in something-either a human (perhaps ourselves), our credentials, a government, an ideology, or something else but all of these things are finite and history has shown that they will not always work. For the past century, American Jews placed their trust in the safety provided by living in America-but after Pittsburgh our community was shaken up. After the Six Day War, many placed their trust in the superior brains and grit of Israel, but they too were shaken up after the Yom Kippur war, the Intifada and fruitless prospects for peace. We obviously want people in positions of power to be sympathetic to our causes and defend our right to live free lives, but we must realize that ultimately, it’s not them, it’s G-d.If this sounds too religious, is there any other way to explain our history? We have survived the greatest empires in the world-Babylon, Greece, Rome, Communist Russia, Nazi Germany (to name, literally, a few). It’s not just that we survived, each of them without exception had a plan to annihilate us. How did a small population without a land or army manage to do this?  No rational person would attempt to explain it through natural means.Purim is a few days away. It’s fun to dress up, eat Hamantaschen, and participate in a festive meal but let us not forget why we are rejoicing. As we say on the night of the Passover Seder: In every generation, they rise against us to destroy us but the Almighty saves us from their hand.  Esther felt that the Jews of her generation would forget that message-even though they said it every year at their Passover Seders and even though she lacked the power to effect any change in a decree that would have been far more devastating than the Holocaust. Let’s rejoice this Purim with authentic joy, one which emanates from the knowledge that no matter what happens, Am Yisrael Chai-the Jewish people will live on because G-d has selected us for the task of being a light for the rest of the world.Purim Samayach ­– Have a Wonderful and Happy Purim 
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 Good Shabbos
Rabbi Oppenheim
Charlotte Torah Center