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. 

  

THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Pesach and Easter are not the only festivals that either overlap or fall in close proximity to one another. During a Jewish leap year, the same can often be said about Purim and St. Patrick’s Day.

With the Irish swinging their shillelaghs this past Sunday, and the Jews swirling their graggers this  Wednesday night and Thursday morning, perhaps it’s time to see that when all is said and done, St. Patrick’s day sheds light on Purim.

“The luck of the Irish” is a phrase not uncommon to many, if not most Americans. Other than being spurious, in that it is anything but complimentary – it implies that the success of the Irish came about through good fortune, rather than aptitude or know how – “the luck of the Irish” should give pause to us Jews.

Despite the multitudes of “Mazel Tovs” (good lucks) that Jews have joyfully wished one another over the ages, there is no place for mazel in Judaism. The Talmud so much as says so, when it states:  “Ein mazal l’Yisrael” or “mazel does not apply to Jews.”

Arguably, the Talmud is referring to what we now know as the horoscope. Jews, says Judaism,  ought not to pay heed to the horoscope. In true Greek or Roman fashion, the horoscope implies that the constellations play a significant role in our lives. Instead of Pisces, Virgo rising, a Jew, a believing Jew, knows implicitly that it is  HaShem who plays a significant role in his life. Small wonder then, that our rabbinic sages disqualified professional crap shooters and the like to serve as witnesses. The more one believes in the roll of the dice or the luck of the draw, explain our rabbinic sages, the less one is likely to believe in the dependability of our Heavenly Father.

Although the great sage Maimonides recognizes the presence of certain omens – for example, if a man marries a woman and begins to advance in his career, he has every reason to see his wife as a contributing factor to his success – he cautions that these omens are in no way to be seen in the context of mazel. Rather it should be understood, explains the Rambam (an acronym for Maimonides) that it was the wife believing in her husband, that served as the impetus for the  husband reason to believe in himself. It wasn’t Zodiac symbol or the spin of a wheel that brought about the change; it was the husband himself who brought about the change, all because of the invaluable support provided by his wife.

Herein lies the powerful message found in St. Patricks Day shedding light on Purim. The very name “Purim” reminds us, that aside from irrational hatred,  the arch villain Haman was guided by the luck of the draw. The very day that Haman would settle on to change the history of the Jews in Persia was chosen by a lottery! By contradistinction, Esther, after finally having been convinced by Mordechai to appear before the King, leaves the following instructions: “Go, assemble all the Jews to be found in Shushan  and fast (and presumably pray) for me”. Esther’s response to the diabolical machinations of Haman was a thoroughly Jewish one. Ultimately, Haman left it all to chance; ultimately, Esther left nothing to chance.

Last week, I watched a renowned Reform Rabbi interview Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Lipstadt revealed that as a child, Emanuel Rackman was her family rabbi.

“You were very  lucky,” offered the interviewing rabbi. “I was very blessed,” countered Professor Lipstadt

GRAGGERS FOR THE GROGGY

As a teenager, I recall reading in Mad Magazine, that Hitler was alive and well, running a used Volkswagen dealership in Bayonne, New Jersey. While I’d like to consider myself of a different caliber than the writers at Mad Magazine, I cannot help but speculate what would happen, if Haman, and not Hitler were alive today. No used Volkswagen dealership for Haman, of that I am sure. Haman in my musings, would be  serving in the U.S. Congress, having been elected by the large Iranian constituency in Nassau County, Long Island. And since a leopard does not change his spots, (Jeremiah 13:23), Haman would be voicing his utter contempt for Jews. As an added feature, Haman would also be making known his diatribe against Israel. Oddly enough, I would not be troubled by any of Haman’s comments, however factually incorrect and ludicrous they would be. What  would give me agita though, would be those who would rise up to protect Haman from well-founded criticism and well deserved reprimand.

Given those Jewish voices that were recently heard in the media, however few they have been, protecting a freshman Congresswoman’s ill-advised comments about Jews and Israel, I cannot help but feel, that  those very same Jewish voices that spoke up in defense of the freshman Congresswoman, would have weighed in similarly on Haman’s defense as well. Their comments would in all probability be not all that different than the three paragraphs that follow:

In no way was Congressman Haman anti-Semitic. He was merely pointing out how terribly unhealthy the relationship is between the United States and Israel. If Congressman Haman is guilty of anything, it is that he did not speak out four years ago, when an Israeli Prime Minister had the chutzpah to lecture Congress and tell Congress how it must deal with yet another foreign country. This was Congressman Haman’s beloved Iran that the Israeli Prime Minister was vilifying. Are we Americans so heartless, that we cannot feel Congressman Haman’s pain?

Surely, Congressman Haman possesses neither hatred nor prejudice against Jews or any other people. Surely, Congressman Haman possesses neither hatred or prejudice against Israel or any other country. Otherwise, how could he have been elected to Congress in the first place? I’m not asking that you necessarily agree with Congressman Haman’s well thought comments about American Jews and Israel. I’m asking that as Americans, you accord him honor and respect. After all, isn’t that what freedom of speech is all about in this country?

As, a Jew, I strongly condemn, anti-Semitism, whether it comes from Congressman Haman or from the person behind the counter at the bakery, where I shop. Let us not however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of  the “Shanda Government” in Israel. When Congressman Haman said, “it’s all about the Benjamins baby,” his remarks were taken out of context. What Congressman Haman meant to say, is that American Jews have no right to support an apartheid, fascist, government that treats its Arab citizens worse than the way the Nazis treated our people in World War II. As an American, as a Jew, I implore you!  Let us never deny Congressman Haman, the right of legitimate debate and certainly, the right of free speech.

Congressman Haman apologized to me the other day – not only for the words he used – he apologized to me as a Jew. He did not have to. I admire him for that. I want to tell you, that being a Jew, is to be welcoming to the stranger. And I want to tell you, that Haman is from Iran. Who are we to call him out for anti-Semitism?  Yes, anti-Semitism is a huge problem, but so too is the way we view the Ayatollah, Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei and his government. Shouldn’t we Jews serve as an example to learn from other cultures, rather than criticize them? As Jews who know only too well what it’s like to be a refugee, how dare we treat Congressman Haman, a refugee himself, in such a condescending fashion! It is we who owe Congressman Haman an apology. Let us seek to establish dialogue with Congressman Haman. Let’s work toward peoplehood, peace and good. Let us seek love, understanding and coexistence. Why can’t we all just get along?

As one who takes the message of the Megillah very seriously, I pray that next week’s grating sounds of the graggers, penetrate the auditory nerves of groggy Jews who make it a point to defend those who vilify Jews and the Jewish State, for it is they who ultimately they pose the greatest danger in what they say.