OF NECKS, TONGUES, AND CHESTS
For those of us who are intrigued by words or phrases, there is a Purim law found in the Shulchan Oruch or Code of Jewish Law that language-wise is worthy of further ponderance:
“Whoever sticks his hand out to take (money), we give him.” One would do well to ask why the editor of the Shulchan Oruch didn’t specify: “If a poor man approaches you” or “Whoever is in financial need?” The term sticking out a hand, whether phrased in Hebrew or English, is worthy of discussion. Let’s do English.
Sticking out a part of one’s anatomy makes for perfect Purim parlance. The difference between the annihilation of the Jewish people and the preservation of the Jewish people depended upon Esther’s preparedness to stick her neck out for her people, both figuratively and literally. No different than Moses, Esther could have continued to live the lap of luxury. Taking his own initiative, Moses went out to his enslaved Israelites and took up their cause. Although the prince of Egypt never proclaimed such, he was in effect telling the downtrodden masses “You are my brethren… ”
Esther was no Moses. Neither was she a Jonah, who attempted to hightail it out of town to escape responsibility. Yet, only with the slightest prodding on the part of Mordechai, Esther decided to cast her fate to the wind (and if I perish, I perish). Like Moses, Esther realized that she had to decide whether she was part of the Jewish people or whether she should remain insulated from them, thanks to the walls of the royal palace. Given the King’s fickle nature, Esther was well aware of the distinct possibility that she would soon be resting her pretty little head on the chopping block, awaiting the effects of the executioner’s ax. Poetic justice was served, however. Esther stuck out her neck; the King extended his scepter.
Esther stuck her neck out and saved the day. Had the Jews merely stuck their tongues out at Haman and his countryman once they gained the upper hand, it would have saved us much consternation. But the Jews in the Purim story did much more than stick their tongues out. In fact, they did much more than exact revenge. Bear in mind, that not one drop of Jewish blood was spilled. Yet, the Jews were not content to hang Haman and his ten sons. In Shushan alone, they went and slew hundreds, while elsewhere in the kingdom they slew 75,000 of our enemies. As much as our people are to be applauded for not plundering, shouldn’t we be perturbed and even abhorred for actions and behavior that were way out of proportion and defy revenge, much less justice? Perhaps, we can make some sense of what our ancestors did by employing the following reasoning. The Jews of Persia stuck their tongues out at adversaries. We of later generations must learn to stick our tongues out at adversity.
Have you ever wondered why Mordechai is referred to as Mordechai the Jew? Not once is Esther referred to as Esther the Jewess! Could it be that unlike Esther as well as all other coreligionists, Mordechai earned that title of distinction? Is it possible that Mordechai earned the title Jew for what he did to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all other Jews? Put differently, Mordechai was the only Jew who earned the right to stick his chest out with pride, because of how he acted. It wasn’t that Mordechai was proud to be a Jew (an accident of birth), it was that Mordechai had every right to be proud for stepping up to the plate as a Jew. If Haman was deserving of the nefarious distinction to be referred to as an Agagite (Esther 3:1), then surely Mordechai was worthy of the praiseworthy distinction to be referred to as a Jew.
While the graggers twirl, perhaps a moment or two are in order to reflect on the messages and teachings of the Purim Megillah. Perhaps, Purim reminds us how necessary it is for us to stick our neck out for our people. Esther averted catastrophe by being prepared to do so. Perhaps Purim cajoles us to stick our tongues out at adversity as we take the necessary measures to confront adversity and destroy it. Perhaps Purim challenges us to stick our chests out, as a reward for stepping up to the plate. Only then, will the gladness and joy mentioned regarding the Jews in the Megillah take on real significance for Jews of this generation, as well.