Sunday, March 4, 2007

Hail to the Queen

Purim is over for most of us in Israel. Jerusalem and Safed and cities that were walled in Joshua's time (don't ask) are celebrating Shushan Purim now, because the Jewish residents of the Persian capital were allowed an extra day to be very politically incorrect and fight those who meant to kill them for a whole day more. Guess that's how they did it in those days with no CNN. Cool. We had a great day, though, giving alms to the poor, feasting, sending goodies to our neighbors, helping friends empty those pesky, half filled scotch bottles.

Megillat Esther, which we read last night and today, is an unbelievably fascinating book and look at palace intrigues of 2500 years ago, a real Arabian Nights. Unfortunately, certain things about that world remain the same, so like too many women today Esther did not have control over her life. The beautiful Jewish orphan was forced to become Queen to the Persian Medean King whom historians say was Xerxes, after their conquest of the Babylonian Empire. Among the 127 nations the P-Ms inherited were the Jews, exiled from Judea after the First Temple was destroyed.

Esther is the heroine of the story, risking her life to intercede with the king against Haman, his powerful 'chief of staff', who wants to kill all the Jews and appropriate their wealth because he hates one Jew, Mordechai, Esther's uncle. (The basis for much anti-Semitism over the centuries, , that extrapolation). There's a lot more that would take, well, a whole megilla to discuss, but one point has really resonated with me for a few years.

At a critical juncture in Jewish history Esther does what has to be done and along with the brilliant political savvy of her uncle they not only save the Jews physically but reawaken them religiously, preventing their assimilation into the first diaspora . (For a terrific read on the book in 'modern' terms check out The Dawn by Yoram Hazony. And when I figure out how to make that title light up in blue and send you to the site I will do so, meanwhile do a search, the book is available through Shalem Press. Women in the Arab world have sadly not made too much progress for equal rights; I'm lagging in the hi-tech arena. Patience, patience.)

Back to Esther. She pays an enormous price for her bravery and loyalty since her own lineage ends, her children do not identify as Jews. Evidence supports the theory that King Darius, who was sympathetic and let Jews return to Judea and begin rebuilding the Temple, was her son, but he is a Persian and she is off the Jewish stage from this point on. The disparity is further compounded by the very last word of the megilla which speak of Mordechai's offspring, (I just noticed that today) so he was able to stay in the fold while she could not.

This really resonates for me. Raising my kids as proud, devoted Jews in Israel is of paramount importance, as is knowing that the chain continues and that future Jews will come from me. Esther in effect sacrificed her life in order to save the Jewish people, (no less than our young soldiers who die in battle), because she left no one to carry on. So many of us are trying desperately to better the lot of the Jewish people in so many ways; she, by being in that time and place did a magnificent thing, but at a huge cost, a choice no one wants to make. Her personal baton was dropped, her family could not stay a part of Am Yisrael.

Legend has it that she insisted that this book be a part of the biblical canon, a story with a timeless message. How utterly tragic that so many Jews throw away their heritage while others make such sacrifies for it.

On a clear and beautiful Judean evening I gaze at the sky, overwhelmed by a fate that brought me home, to the very place where her family was exiled from so long ago.

In gratitude, a Purim toast to Queen Esther. Your sacrifice was not in vain, for Jews once again live proudly in Judea.

Thanks, m' lady.

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