Is the Holiday of Purim for You?

March 15, 2024, Israel

The Jewish holiday of Purim is soon upon us. Rabbis are giving lectures discussing the laws of the observance of Purim, children are planning what costumes to wear, families are arranging the festive Purim meal, where will it be held, who will cook what, and supermarkets are already selling the traditional hamantaschen, the pastry called in Hebrew, "the ears of Haman" symbolizing the victory over the evil Haman, or in German simply meanings "Haman bags" or pockets. 

On Purim we read the Scroll of Esther (Megilath Esther) written probably around the 5th century BCE, or 2,400 years ago, telling the miraculous incredible story of the Jews of ancient Persia overcoming the evil decree of the wicked Haman and his attempt to destroy the Jewish people in all the lands of the kingdom, i.e. genocide. 

There has been some debate among scholars as to the historicity of this story and its possible relation to actual events. I will not go into that now but rather than debating if the story is true or not, I prefer to discuss the indisputable truth of the message and its relevance to many of us today.

And you don't have to be Jewish to learn from the Purim holiday!

Purim is about fighting back, for your life, for your dignity, for your identity, for your right to choose how you wish to live your life, for the right to be different from the mainstream. In the story we find the old Jew Mordechai, who has the honor of being referred to as "Mordechai the Jew". While many Jews at the time are assimilating into the majority culture, blending in to gain the advantages of being part of Persian society and moving up the social and economic ladder, the Jew Mordechai is stubborn; he will not budge, he remains true to his people, his history, himself. For Mordechai will not bow nor bend, he will not budge from who he is. He remembers the glory of Jerusalem, he remembers the glory of the Holy Temple, and he will remind his less devoted brethren of who they are and from whence they came. 

"All the king's courtiers in the palace gate knelt and bowed low to Haman, for such was the king's order concerning him; but Mordechai would not kneel or bow low." (Esther, Chapter 3) Each day, as the important minister Haman walked by, and everyone else just "went along with it", Mordechai remained defiant. 

In Nazi Germany, many just "went along with it", because that was the easier way to live. Those who spoke up, were punished. Those who spoke up risked their lives. Throughout history, in many lands, there have been Mordechais, people who were not afraid to stand up for what is right, to oppose injustice, despite the consequences. But most prefer to keep silent, keep a low profile, and avoid trouble. 

Esther symbolizes this type. She was assimilated, she married into the establishment and seemed willing to forget her Jewish roots, but Mordechai the Jew would not allow her. He commanded her to use her lofty influential position for the benefit of her people and warned her of the consequences of not taking this action. 

"For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”  (Esther Chapter 4:14) 

We must realize that often we are placed in a certain position in life in order to use this for the benefit of others. 

Purim is a story of non-conformity. It speaks of a community that while living within a larger society, is determined to maintain its ethnic identity, not to lose itself. Integrate but not assimilate. This has been a model for the Jewish people throughout the ages; live as good citizens in various lands but maintain your identity. Don't forget who you are. People should not hide their non-conforming laws and practices. In modern terms you might call this being multi-cultural. You can have restaurants from many cultures; Italian, Indian, Asian, Mexican etc. You don't have to stick to burgers and fries. 

However, our differences have always been used against us - Those Jews are "different", and therefore bad, get rid of them!

"Haman then said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king's laws; and it is not in Your Majesty's interest to tolerate them. If it please Your Majesty, let an edict be drawn for their destruction…" (Esther 3:8 - 9) This was a call for genocide and a prophetic message to future generations. 

The Scroll of Esther contains many powerful messages, messages and lessons that ring true more than 2,400 years after it was written. My brother wrote me about the people in his community, hiding in their homes and fearful of the new antisemites (Jew haters), those calling for Jewish genocide under the guise of being "only" anti-Israel. He wondered how such Jews could celebrate the upcoming holiday of Purim. Did they not learn the lesson??  What is the point of Purim if we don't learn the essential lesson?

In Purim the Jews use every means to defend themselves. They use political influence. They affirm their religious and cultural identity. They fast and pray to God. And they fight back!

Do not hide who you are, do not remain silent in the face of evil, for if you do, redemption will come from somewhere else, someone more courageous than you but you will be lost! Stand up and be counted. 


Moshe Katz, 7th dan Black Belt, Israeli Krav Maga. Certified by Wingate Institute. Member Black Belt hall of fame, USA and Europe.

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