I have been inhaling articles about the Israeli Prime Minister’s upcoming speech to Congress that bypassed normal diplomacy by circumventing the White House.
But more, I have been profoundly disturbed by the Prime Minister’s playing fast and loose with facts in serious dispute among the intelligence leaders from Shin Beit, Mossad and the Israeli Defense Forces. The likelihood of Iran being an existential threat is small, for example, according to many who both are in a position to know way more than I and who have been in the profession of protecting Israel their whole adult lives.
I totally get the Israeli fear of existential threats, and Iran makes that fear so easy to fall into.
But while it appears to me that the Prime Minister is playing politician fighting for his job rather than doing his job (one of my favorite lines from The American President), it also seems like he is forgetting that he, by many of his policies and actions, causes existential fear into the heart of Palestinians.
And this brings me to Purim and the whole Megillah of Esther. In this most jolly and silly of holidays, we remember how Esther and Mordecai saved us from a genocide, how they risked their lives to save us from yet another potential disaster. We admire their courage, and the use of every resource they could bring to bear to avert the decree. We stamp our feet at Haman’s name, as we remember to blot out his memory.
But we DO blot out the memory of the end of the megillah—as in, we do not read the whole thing, as we gloss over the challenging end. As it says in the 9th chapter:
 And the other Jews that were in the king’s provinces gathered themselves together, and stood for their lives, and had rest from their enemies, and slew of them that hated them seventy and five thousand—but on the spoil they laid not their hand— on the thirteenth day of the month Adar, and on the fourteenth day of the same they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness.
We slew 75,000 people who hated us, and then celebrated—because we survived the existential threat. And yet, is it really something to celebrate? It reminds me of us dancing on the other side of the Red Sea, after we watched our oppressors die as the waters came back together. And on Purim specifically we don’t talk about this.
It’s really challenging to fit that massacre followed by celebration into the day of Purim spiels, and costumes and raucous noise and merriment. It’s not kid-friendly, or friendly for the people who only come to temple of a few days a year. Or even for those of us who show up regularly. It’s one of those challenging moments in our sacred texts that makes us want to avoid or pretend that it is otherwise.
But it’s right there, staring at us, daring us to look, begging us to look, reminding us that our shadow is right there. Even on the sunniest of holidays, we have to acknowledge that it’s there. We have to confront the fact that each of us has our shadow side, the part that we want to keep hidden. We don’t want to explore it because it’s just too ugly. Too hard to admit that we – or I – have done shameful things, I have done things I’m really embarrassed about, made mistakes I wish I could take back.
Today in our local paper, we read about a 17 year old girl, driving drunk, leading the police on a high speed chase as they tried to pull her over for speeding—she crashed the car trying to make an exit from the freeway on a curve at 100 miles per hour, and her two friends are in the hospital and she, only 17, is in the morgue. At 17, she will never have a chance to fix that mistake. One of her friends went through the windshield, the other broke his neck. I pray that they will have the opportunity to heal and change their ways. And I pray for her parents and their loss.
Because if we never shine a light on the shadow, never admit that we too can be oppressors, or be violent, or act in less than model ways, then we can never grow to become the people – or the nation – we want to be. We Jews want to be—aspire to be—a light to the nations. If we can’t acknowledge some of the revenge we have wrought, then we will continue to wreak it in real time.
This week we read Ki Tissa, the parasha in which the Israelites succumb to fear because Moses is late coming down the mountain, and they turn to Aaron to build them a molten calf. They turn away from the agreement they made with God—they’d agreed to “You shall have no gods before me” just six weeks before, because their fear overtook them. Ten plagues and the sea parting and their fear won. They were a slave people, not used to processing their emotions under the burden of slavery—they didn’t know how to handle the uncertainty, the pain of fear. They led unexamined lives. And the less examined the life, the harder to handle its vicissitudes.
On both a personal and a peoplehood level, we have to be open to exploration, to taking responsibility, to acknowledging that we too can do terrible things. If we can’t do that, then we are doomed to repeat and repeat and repeat. And it’s time to stop.
Let’s be glad for the crack in our image—it’s what lets the light in.
 At the same time, it is important to remember that the Book of Esther is fantasy fiction…revenge fiction to be sure.
adele pickar says
Meredith, beautifully said. I can feel your passion – wonderfully expressive. Adele