Sunday, March 23, 2008

THE MEANING OF PURIM IN OUR LIVES

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

"Hineni, I am here." This is the message of Purim. As much as she was a loyal and true Jewess, proud of her roots and loyal to her people, being human, at first Esther was a tad reluctant to risk her life to save her people. It was a little outside her comfort zone (to say the least!). After all, she had it pretty comfy. She was married to the King of Persia. That made her the Queen! Persia was the lone superpower of its day. She had a coterie of servants at her beck and call. The King didn't even know she was Jewish. No one would ever know. She had it pretty, pretty good. Why should she risk it all? Why should she risk any of it? Why indeed.

But Mordechai her uncle/cousin (interesting family tree that one was) wouldn't have it. He tells her that salvation from G*d would come to their people whether she stepped up or not. Whether she risked her life- or not. If not through her, then G*d would find another vehicle. The job will get done, one way or another. He finally says that perhaps the only reason she was elevated to her royal position at all was for this very opportunity to save her people! Indeed the name Esther comes from the Hebrew word, nistar, which means "hidden." G*d is working behind the scenes, so to speak, through the agency of human responsibility and free choice. People, being human beings and not puppets, freely choose to act morally or to be oblivious to conscience.

And we all have the power of persuasion, like Mordechai, to change hearts and minds. If we use it. How many people can be moved to do the right thing if we only step up and approach them. How easy it is to just turn away and give up on others. But Mordechai didn't walk away. He didn't give up on his belief that with a little convincing, others can open their eyes to see what has to be done.

The point is that Esther answered the call of conscience. Not knowing her personal outcome, yet knowing and having faith in the ultimate rightness of the cause and justice of her mission, Esther showed the way of personal heroism, a beacon of light through the ages. Whether a paratrooper jumping out of a moving plane to fight fascism (a la Hannah Senesh in WW2), or any number of citizen farmer soldiers of the Yishuv who faced down five regular Arab armies intent on annihilating the newborn/reborn State of Israel, Esther said she was going to go and risk her life, "ve'ka'asher avad'ti, avad'ti- "and if I perish, I perish."

80,000 airmen alone perished in the USA's fight against Nazi fascism in WW2. Each airman who climbed aboard his plane said to himself his own version of Esther's words. Each soldier who stormed the beaches of Normandy and risked his life wading ashore on D-Day in the face of withering machine gun fire said to himself his own version of Esther's words. Our side will prevail. We are fighting for justice and righteousness.

The young student Freedom Riders of Freedom Summer in the struggle for civil rights in America, likewise assumed great personal risk in the fight for liberty and justice for all. Each example above, each a soldier for humanity in his own way echoed Esther's words. "Whether I make it or not is not the point. Rather, I must step forward and do my personal part for the salvation of my people, for my country, for justice everywhere."

Yoni Netanyahu, who died leading the Entebbe rescue mission to save the Jewish hostages, he followed in Esther's footsteps.

The soldier who rushed in alone to end the slaughter of the yeshiva students, bypassing the police who told him it wasn't safe to go in, he stepped up, at great personal risk, to save the others. He followed in Esther's footsteps.

In a similar vein, our little fragile Jewish communities throughout the world face grave dangers. And the greatest threat is apathy. In the absence of antisemitism and the fervent embrace and allure of the assimilating culture in whose midst we dwell, without an inner conviction of the ideals and teachings of Judaism, without incorporating the vision of our prophets and of our patriarchs and matriarchs to live a covenantal life of meaning, we will assuredly disappear and become extinct, much as the dodo bird did before us.

We each in our own way need to affirm Esther's key to salvation: Hineni. Here I am. I am willing to step up and be counted. We must each answer the call. We must each answer "Hineni. Here I am." Without me there is no community. Without me we may not survive. Ein Breirah, there is no choice. Perish or flourish. It's up to me.

Good Purim!

© 2000 - 2008 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is the inner conviction of ideals and the very essence of the teachings of Judaism that slowly but surely is drawing the world in. It is sparking a wave of people across the secular world who are saying we will stand with the Jewish people and say "Hineni, we are here".B'H' EK

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!