Tag Archives: Haman

The Meaning of Purim for the Christian Church

I posted this one last year and I think the message needs to be repeated. Purim definitely has applications to the Christian Church. If only they would listen.

Morning Meditations

Super girlI haven’t thought much about Purim in awhile. It’s not something we observe in our home and I tend to think of Purim as being primarily for children, dressing in costume, playing games, telling jokes, that sort of thing. Back in the day, the congregation I used to attend observed Purim with a children’s play, which often took on some sort of Star Wars or other fantasy theme. But those days are gone, my children are grown, and my grandson isn’t even aware of Purim.

I received an audio CD from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) a number of days ago, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until I was weeding the backyard over the weekend. It’s interesting trying to pull weeds out of muddy plant beds, listening to D. Thomas Lancaster lecture about Purim to the congregation at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, and periodically grab my pen and notebook to…

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The Meaning of Purim for the Christian Church

Super girlI haven’t thought much about Purim in awhile. It’s not something we observe in our home and I tend to think of Purim as being primarily for children, dressing in costume, playing games, telling jokes, that sort of thing. Back in the day, the congregation I used to attend observed Purim with a children’s play, which often took on some sort of Star Wars or other fantasy theme. But those days are gone, my children are grown, and my grandson isn’t even aware of Purim.

I received an audio CD from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) a number of days ago, but I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until I was weeding the backyard over the weekend. It’s interesting trying to pull weeds out of muddy plant beds, listening to D. Thomas Lancaster lecture about Purim to the congregation at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, and periodically grab my pen and notebook to quickly jot down an important note or two. Fortunately, the sermon was just under thirty minutes, but it was frustrating not being able to actually start writing my commentary until after I finished getting rid of those pesky weeds (which took significantly longer than thirty minutes).

The sermon was originally delivered in 2008 but I can say that everything I heard was news to me.

As you most likely know, Purim is a holiday taken from the Megillah (Scroll) of Esther. To quote from MyJewishLearning.com:

Though Purim is a joy-filled holiday, its story might appear somber at first glance: It tells of the near-destruction of the Jewish people as decreed by Haman, an advisor to the Persian King Ahashuerus.

However, Ahashuerus’ newly crowned queen, Esther–who replaced Vashti when she was thrown out of the kingdom–is secretly a Jew. Due to her courage and her eventual role in saving the Jews, the story of Purim is known as “Megillat Esther,” or the Scroll of Esther.

Lancaster, in his sermon called “Purim 1946,” stated what most of us know, that it is the one book in Biblical canon that doesn’t mention God at all, and yet the mercy of God is quite evident. He also said what most traditional Jews and Christians agree upon, that this is a uniquely Jewish celebration. What the heck are Gentiles at Beth Immanuel or anywhere else, particularly Christians, doing celebrating Purim?

I’ll get to that.

The terrible events we read in the Book of Esther have been applied across all of Jewish history, for the evil that Haman did was perhaps the first recorded act of anti-Semitism, particularly with the goal of Jewish genocide. Across all the inquisitions, pogroms, persecutions, Talmud burnings, and even mass murder, we find the “Spirit of Haman” repeatedly returning to finish the job he started those many thousands of years ago. This “Spirit” is likened by Lancaster to a demonic force, and even the great dragon we find in Revelation 12.

The most obvious expression of this Spirit in recent history is in the person of Adolf Hitler and his bloody Holocaust, and I don’t think we’ve seen the last of such evil, especially with the rise in anti-Semitism we see in the world today, particularly in Muslim nations.

But the Scroll of Esther contains a secret, something hidden, as the presence of God was hidden in the text of the story.

But I will surely have concealed My face on that day because of all the evil that it did, for it had turned to gods of others.

Deuteronomy 31:18 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Lancaster points out that the Hebrew word for “concealed” or “hidden” uses the same letters as the name “Esther,” so he believes there is a connection.

This won’t be obvious in Christian Bibles but you would see it in an actual Scroll of Esther and it’s even evident in my Tanakh.

In Esther 9:6-10 a list of the names of the ten sons of Haman appears, but in the actual scrolls which are read on Purim in synagogues, the names are listed in columns with the name of a son on one side, and the word “and” on the opposite side of the page or portion of the scroll. The significance of this isn’t in the arrangement of the names in the list, but that in the actual scroll and in my Tanakh, there are three Hebrew letters that are printed smaller than the rest: TAV, SHIN, ZAYAN. However, they don’t seem to spell any word in ancient Hebrew.

Hold onto that thought. I’ll return to it.

Lancaster points out a rather odd detail I’ve never noticed before. The names of Haman’s sons are listed as I explained above, indicating that they were among those who were killed by the Jewish people, and yet, just a few verses later, Esther makes the following request of King Ahasuerus, a second request after she asked that the Jewish people be allowed to defend themselves:

Esther replied, “If it pleases the king, let tomorrow also be given to the Jews who are in Shushan to act as they did today, and let Haman’s ten sons be hanged on the gallows.”

Esther 9:13 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Purim MegillahWait a minute. The ten sons of Haman are already dead. What’s the point of hanging their dead bodies on the gallows? The answer is simple and rather gruesome. The ancient “gallows” isn’t the same thing we think about when we see a hanging in some film about the old American West. She wanted the dead bodies of Haman’s sons to be impaled on stakes and displayed, probably as a warning against anyone who would dare to rise up against the Jewish people.

This request is why Purim is celebrated by Jewish people for two days if they live in a walled city. But there’s a midrash about Esther’s use of the word “tomorrow.” The midrash says that there are two kinds of “tomorrow,” the tomorrow that is now, that is, the literal day that comes after today, and a tomorrow that is in the future, which is at some far but perhaps unknown point in the future.

Now we return to the three Hebrew letters that appear smaller than the rest in Jewish texts of Esther. You can’t read them as a word, but you can read them as a date, since each Hebrew letter has a numeric value. In this case the date is the year 5707. Remember that Hebrew years aren’t counted the way we do in the modern era. The New Year on the Hebrew Calendar is on the Festival of Rosh Hashanah, literally “head of the year,” which most recently was observed from September 4th to September 6th in 2013. The current year on the Jewish calendar is 5774. Do the math. The Jewish year 5707 is 1946 on modern calendars.

What’s so significant about 1946? The Nuremberg Trials:

The Nuremberg Trials were a series of military tribunals, held by the Allied forces after World War II, most notable for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany. The trials were held in the city of Nuremberg. The first, and best known of these trials, described as “the greatest trial in history” by Norman Birkett, one of the British judges who presided over it, was the trial of the major war criminals before the International Military Tribunal (IMT). Held between 20 November 1945 and 1 October 1946, the Tribunal was given the task of trying 23 of the most important political and military leaders of the Third Reich.

On October 1st, the first verdicts were handed down, the death sentences of twelve Nazi war criminals, including a man named Julius Streicher:

[He] was a prominent Nazi prior to World War II. He was the founder and publisher of Der Stürmer newspaper, which became a central element of the Nazi propaganda machine. His publishing firm also released three anti-Semitic books for children, including the 1938 Der Giftpilz (“The Toadstool” or “The Poison-Mushroom”), one of the most widespread pieces of propaganda, which purported to warn about insidious dangers Jews posed by using the metaphor of an attractive yet deadly mushroom.

Of the twelve men sentenced to death, one of them was not present during the verdict and through a legal circumstance, was not executed. Another man committed suicide the night before the hangings (the Tribunal deemed these men unworthy of being extinguished by firing squad as would have been the case in a traditional military execution).

Julius Streicher
Julius Streicher

The hangings took place on October 16th, 1946. Streicher was defiant to the end and seconds before he was hung, Streicher venomously cried out, “Purimfest 1946!”

It was nowhere near the festival of Purim, which is usually in late winter or early spring, but it was Hoshanna Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot, which is also called “The Great Salvation.”

But of the twelve men sentenced to die on the gallows, only ten of the most vile and hateful Nazis, including the great anti-Semite Julius Streicher, died as did the ten sons of Haman so many thousands of years before. There are indeed two tomorrows, if you’ll accept it. There is a tomorrow that is now and a tomorrow that is in the future. The tomorrow Esther spoke of was the next day, but based on the Hebrew letters written smaller than the others in the list of Haman’s sons (and I have no idea how the tradition began), the tomorrow of the future was October 16th 1946.

I wonder if this is the last time though that we’ll face such heinous persecution of the Jews with the result of more “sons of Haman” dying on the gallows as payment for their crimes?

A date hidden in the Scroll of Esther with a prophetic message, much as the face of God is hidden in the Megillah. But according to Lancaster, that’s not the only hidden prophesy:

Mordechai left the king’s presence clad in royal apparel of turquoise and white with a large gold crown and a robe of fine linen and purple; then the city of Shushan was cheerful and glad. The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. And in every province, and in every city, every place where the king’s word and his decree reached, the Jews had gladness and joy, a feast and a holiday. Moreover, many from among the people of the land professed themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.

Esther 9:15-17 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Read literally, we see the victory of the Jews in that ancient land we know today as Iran, where Mordechai, the uncle of Esther (her Hebrew name was Hadassah) was elevated very high and made very great in the Kingdom, and the Jewish people, at that point in history, knew peace, gladness, and joy, and they had light and honor in every province under the rule of the King.

But…

But if you expand the scope of these verses to contain the Messianic Age, if the King is King Messiah, and the Jews are not just the Jews in King Ahasuerus’ kingdom, but the Jews from all over the world, who have been returned, all of them, from exile to their land, the Land of Israel, then you see a perfect picture of the Messianic Kingdom and described in numerous other prophesies in the Tanakh.

Except for one thing. What about the latter part of verse 17?

Moreover, many from among the people of the land professed themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.

I’ve heard this verse interpreted to mean that many Gentiles in the land converted to Judaism. Others have said they only pretended to be Jews for fear of retribution. Still, another way of looking at this sentence is that many people threw in their lot with the Jewish people, not taking on Jewish identity as such, but being overtly supportive of the Jewish people and Jewish practices.

But if this too is a prophesy as Lancaster suggests, what does it mean for believing Gentiles today? For Lancaster personally, it means pursuing the worship of Hashem, God of the Hebrews, through the study and practice of Messianic Judaism. Remember, the Bible says that in the last days, many nations will rise up against Israel, and the Holy Nation will almost be defeated, that is, until God comes to defend Israel and the Jewish people.

Once again, and for the final time, Israel will almost be wiped out and in the last moments, when all hope seems lost, God will once again save His people and destroy their enemies. And just as in ancient Persia, those people who are not Jewish will likely fear being taken also as the enemies of the Jews. What better way to be known to be a friend of the Jewish nation and an ally of Israel than to come alongside them right now, before the trouble starts or at least before the last war starts? That is what Lancaster seems to be doing right now.

PogromI’m not saying that we all have to join Messianic Judaism, but consider this. Lancaster didn’t touch on this topic, but how many “sons of Haman” in the last nearly two-thousand years have been part of the Church of Jesus Christ? How many pogroms, persecutions, maimings, and murders have been engineered by people calling themselves “Christians”. You can justify it by saying they weren’t really “Christians” but the fact remains that normative Christianity in a variety of forms has been deeply involved in harassing the Jewish people and attempting to eradicate Judaism by destroying volumes Talmud, scores of Torah scrolls, and innumerable synagogues.

The darkest moments of the history of the Church are just as stained with the blood of Jews as was the soul of Julius Streicher, or the Spirit of Haman.

Just a few short years ago, Evangelical Christianity was a great supporter of Jewish Zionism, the belief that the nation of Israel is a Jewish nation. But recent stories in The Blaze, Charisma News and other Christian media outlets seems to show that Evangelicals are distancing themselves from supporting Israel. This is also true of Palestinian Evangelicals, and some of these groups seem to be instead backing those who could be the modern-day equivalents of the sons of Haman.

I can see I’ve made a mistake in thinking of Purim as primarily a children’s holiday. This year, Purim is observed from sundown on Saturday, March 15th until sundown on the following day. Listening to Lancaster’s sermon and realizing the implications as I was on my hands and knees pulling weeds out of the mud, I saw Purim as warning and cautionary tale. We in the Christian church, in its many denominations and expressions, cannot afford to take the prophesies Lancaster says are in the Scroll of Esther for granted.

I don’t believe October 16th, 1946 is the last time we’ll see “sons of Haman” publicly executed for crimes against humanity and especially the Jewish people. I believe there will come a day when God will fight for His people, the Jewish people, and Israel will be victorious, and the survivors of the nations who were enemies of the Jews will be very, very afraid, and they will be ordered by God to send representatives to Jerusalem to observe Sukkot each year, and to give glory and honor to Israel’s ruler, King Messiah (Zechariah 14:16).

We in the Church need to decide which side of Biblical prophesy we want to be on. Do we want to be for the Jews or against them? Will we come alongside the Jewish people in the final war, or will we learn to fear them because we pulled away from Israel?

I’ve already declared myself as a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism, but Lancaster’s sermon gave me more reasons to believe that this decision is the correct one. No, I’m not telling everyone in all your local churches that you have to be like me. But then again, I’m a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism and who attends a Baptist church. Maybe the proper response to Purim this year for Christians is to study the Scroll of Esther, consider the prophesies it contains, and make a choice about which side you’re on, Mordechai’s or Haman’s. I believe my church supports Israel and the Jewish people to the best of their ability and understanding, but we can be better. It wouldn’t hurt as you practice Christianity in the church and in your lives to maybe study from a Messianic Jewish perspective…just a little bit.

You can go to the Beth Immanuel audio page to listen to Purim 1946. I strongly recommend it. Purim is coming soon. So is the Messiah.

He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Revelation 22:20 (NASB)

Whitewash

whitewashMordechai said to respond to Esther, “Do not think that you can save yourself [from Haman’s decree of annihilation] because you are in the royal palace.”

Esther 4:13

Esther, the heroine of the Purim episode, received this sharp rebuke from Mordechai. No Jew should ever assume that anti-Semitism will affect only others but not oneself. No one has immunity. Every Jew must know that he or she is part of a unit, and a threat against any Jew anywhere in the world is a threat to all Jews.

History has unfortunately repeated itself many times. Spanish Jews who held powerful governmental positions were sent into exile along with their brethren. Jewish millionaires and members of European parliaments were cremated in Auschwitz ovens. Throughout the ages, those who had thought to escape anti-Semitic persecution by concealing their Jewish identities sadly learned that this effort was futile.

Esther accepted Mordechai’s reprimand and risked her life to save her people. In fact, the Megillah (Book of Esther) tells us that Esther had not revealed her Jewish identity because Mordechai had instructed her to keep it a secret. She never would have stayed hidden in the palace and watched her people perish. Mordechai spoke his sharp words not to her, but to posterity.

Some people simply refuse to accept history’s painful lessons. In defiance, they continue to say that they will be different. Neither any individual who feels secure for any reason nor any community that lives in what it considers to be a safe environment should have this delusion of immunity.

Mordechai’s message reverberates throughout the centuries: “Do not think that you can save yourself by hiding when other Jews are being persecuted.”

Today I shall…

…be forthcoming and proud of my Jewish identity and at all times retain a firm solidarity with my people.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Adar 14”
Aish.com

Purim is typically celebrated as a time of joy, happiness, and even silliness, but there is always an undercurrent of sheer terror and a hint of cringing under the spectre of death. The Jewish people had “dodged the bullet,” so to speak, and it’s not so difficult to understand that when you thought you would certainly die and then are miraculously saved at the last-minute, you’d want to “whoop it up” a little because you’re so relieved. Hence the costumes, wigs, and hamantash.

But let’s get back to that “spectre of death” thing for a minute. The story of Esther is only one story in the long history of persecution and multiple times of “certain death” for the Jews, not just individual Jewish people, but the entire Jewish people. Nevertheless, God in his infinite mercy and love for His Children, though He may rebuke them, even harshly, never allows their light to be completely extinguished from the earth.

Purim teaches us the age-old lesson, which has been verified even most recently, to our sorrow, that no manner of assimilation, not even such which is extended over several generations, provides an escape from the Hamans and Hitlers; nor can any Jew sever his ties with his people by attempting such an escape.

On the contrary: Our salvation and our existence depend precisely upon the fact that “their laws are different from those of any other people.”

Purim reminds us that the strength of our people as a whole, and of each individual Jew and Jewess, lies in a closer adherence to our ancient spiritual heritage, which contains the secret of harmonious life, hence of a healthy and happy life. All other things in our spiritual and temporal life must be free from any contradiction to the basis and essence of our existence, and must be attuned accordingly in order to make for the utmost harmony, and add to our physical and spiritual strength, both of which go hand in hand in Jewish life.

-Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory
from Personal and Public Correspondence of the Rebbe
7th of Adar, 5713 [February 22, 1953] Brooklyn, N.Y.
Chabad.org

In this letter, written by the Rebbe just over sixty years ago, he tells us of two types of dangers to the Jewish people: “Hamans and Hitlers” and “assimilation.” However of the two, it would seem that assimilation is the greater villain in our “Purim play” for while violence and oppression can be resisted, passivity and apathy is like a cancer in the bones. And yet even as Esther’s supposed “assimilation” did not exempt her from her duty to her people, and even as assimilation did not save the European Jews from the horrors of Hitler’s Holocaust, the Rebbe says that assimilation will not hide the Jewish people forever, even “extended over several generations.”

jewish-assimilationBut what about whitewashing?

In a sense, Jews assimilating into the surrounding culture is a form of whitewashing; a form of disappearing into the background, blending in, disappearing, vanishing completely. But what of the reverse? What if the “background” blends into the Jews?

I suppose one way of doing that would be if the rest of the world converted to Judaism, but that hardly seems likely. In fact, the rest of the world is going to do everything in its power to avoid looking or acting like Jews for fear of being mistaken for them and being swept up in the next persecution, pogrom, or holocaust.

But time and again on blogs like mine, the theme of a kind of “reverse whitewashing” comes up where it is not the Jews who are disappearing into the Christian background, but certain elements of the Christian background are springing up and looking like Jews. But how could this be much of a problem? I mean, after all, history shows us that the Jewish people need all of the allies they can get, even allies in Christianity (which historically has been one of the greatest forces in attempting to exterminate Judaism).

But a Christian cannot convert to Judaism (except arguably Messianic Judaism, but that’s a discussion for another time) without renouncing Christ, and such a thing would be unthinkable (see Matthew 10:33). However, what if you could assume a Jewish “identity” without ever converting to Judaism?

Some say that’s exactly the situation James and the Jerusalem Council set up in Acts 15, but as you may know if you’ve read my Return to Jerusalem series, that is not quite the case. But then again, we know that Paul applied a sort of halachah to the non-Jewish disciples of Jesus, and we also know that even in the absence of Jewish teachers, devout non-Jews worshipped the God of Israel in a manner very similar to the Jews in the days of Paul and Silas.

So where is the dividing line that separates Jewish and Gentile identity in the body of the Jewish Messiah? I think that’s still being worked out. There are some in Messianic Judaism who say that no Christian should ever worship in a body of believing Jews nor perform any mitzvot that even remotely suggests Judaism. There are others however, who say that Lydia and her group of devout women in Philippi (see Acts 16:13-15) should be a sort of model for the rest of us; a template for Gentile Christian congregations to recite the Shema, pray the Shemoneh Esreh, and read from the Torah and the Prophets during Shabbat services.

In less than three months, a group of Jews and Gentiles in Messiah will gather together in Hudson, Wisconsin to celebrate Shavuot and to discuss and share the gifts of the spirit. Last year I attended this conference and was blessed to be part of this unified body of Messiah, which for just a few days, seemed to summon the Messianic future we will all one day enjoy.

Since the gathering included a wide variety of people representing different expressions of faith, philosophy, and theology, there were a few who were still struggling with the “identity issue,” including one Christian gentleman who said he insisted on wearing a kippah and tallit gadol to different churches in his area to act as a “witness” to his faith. This viewpoint was gently challenged by the hosts of the event, but the majority of us seemed to have a clear idea of who we are in Christ and what role God expects of each of the parts of Messiah’s body.

Gentile believers ate kosher alongside Jewish believers. We had every opportunity to pray side by side, share ideas, discuss our devotion to God, hear the Torah being read, and bask in the glow of the light of the world in one house as one family.

And whitewashing our identities to create some sort of illusion of uniformity (which after all, is not the same as unity) was not requested nor required.

Assimilation and its shadowy twin which I’ve been describing are remnants of the past, vestiges of an era when it was thought that Jews and Christians could not co-exist as co-heirs in one body of Jesus.

Small groups of Jewish Christians (more accurately, Christian Jews) persisted through the first five or six centuries CE, but they were regarded as sects by both the Jews and the Christians. As one fourth-century church father remarked, “They are not Jews because they believe in Christ, and they are not Christians because they observe the Jewish laws.”

-Shaye J.D. Cohen
Chapter 5: Sectarian and Normative
From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, 2nd ed (kindle edition)
quoting Jerome, Epistle 112, in A.E.J. Klijn and G.J. Reinink
“Patristic Evidence for Jewish-Christian Sects” (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1973), 201

diversity-dayenuWhile Cohen may believe (and while Jerome may have believed) that a Jew who is a disciple of Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah and who is still performing the mitzvot is an oxymoron, I do not. I don’t believe those Jews who continued their faith in the Master into the fifth and sixth centuries CE were confused or misguided for their faith or for continuing to observe Torah. I don’t believe that we non-Jewish disciples of our Jewish Messiah King are confused for desiring to recite the Shema or pray the Amidah alongside our believing Jewish brothers and sisters. I just think we need to be exceptionally mindful of the fact that coming alongside Israel does not make us Israel; it makes us the beneficiaries of God’s love and mercy toward humanity through Israel, the light to the nations, and through Messiah, the light to the world.

But if we Christians, especially those of us drawn to the Torah, to the siddur, and to Shabbos, truly honor our Jewish brethen and “love Israel,” then we will do anything to protect them, which means protecting the very identity of the Jewish people and of Judaism, even from ourselves.

Protecting Jewish identity is how Jews and Judaism have always been saved from Hamans, Hitlers, assimilation, and whitewashing.

The Rebbe concluded his letter this way:

With best wishes for a joyous Purim, and may we live to see a world free of Hamans and all types of Amalekites, the enemies of the Jews, of their body, soul and faith.

Put away the paint brush and the bucket of whitewash and enjoy the colors, hues, and shades produced by the differing “organs” within the body of the Christ. Appreciate the “civilized” Jewish branches along with the “wild” Gentile branches, soaking up the same nourishment from the same root, and growing and flourishing together.

Purim: Death in the Presence of the King

hadassahWho [but Moses] ascended to heaven and descended? Who else gathered the wind in his palm? Who else tied the waters in a cloak? Who established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name if you know?

Proverbs 30:4 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

On that day at the turning of evening he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the sea.” They left the crowd of people and took him in the boat that he was in, but other boats followed him. A great, stormy wind arose, and the waves were flooding inside the boat to the point where it was almost full. He was asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat, so they woke him up and said to him, “Rabbi, are you not worried about us? We are perishing!” He woke up and reprimanded the wind, and he said to the sea, “Hush and be silent!” The wind calmed down, and there was a great silence. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Why are you lacking faith?” They feared with a great fear and said to each other, “Who is he, then, that both the wind and the sea listen to him?”

Mark 4:35-41 (DHE Gospels)

Faith in the face of certain disaster is at least “difficult” for most of us. We struggle to maintain our faith in God when “ordinary” trials and troubles confront us, but when the difficulty is extreme and death or severe hardship seems absolutely unavoidable, where is our faith then? Moments like those are times of extreme testing and most of us, myself included, hope and pray we will never have our faith tested like that.

And yet, at this time of Purim, we see before us that faith is tested and tested harshly. Yes, the story of Esther is known and realizing that it has a happy ending takes some of the tension out of her situation, but that’s not how life works for us. That God knows the ending of our life of troubles before it begins does nothing to comfort us when we are in the midst of terror, injury, disease, and grief.

Only Esther could save her people from the evil decree of Haman, but to approach the King when he has not summoned you could lead to death. Could Esther risk her own life for the sake of the Jewish nation in exile as they rapidly approached extermination?

Then Mordechai said to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine in your soul that you will be able to escape in the king’s palace any more than the rest of the Jews. For if you persist in keeping silent at a time like this, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether it was just for such a time as this that you attained the royal position!”

Esther 4:13-14 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

While in the Jewish world, Purim is a time of joy and frivolity, a time of wearing costumes, children’s plays, candy, cakes, and a little of the “hard stuff” (for the adults), what lessons can we learn, Jews and Christians alike, from Esther’s example?

How should we understand this give-and-take? Was it simply a matter of Esther fearing for her life, while Mordechai urged her to put the plight of her people first?

Their argument, explains the Nesivos Shalom, was much more fundamental. Esther had accepted the fate of her people. She argued that they had reached such a spiritual low that they were undeserving of Divine deliverance from Haman’s decree. The Al-mighty has rules, and the people had broken them and were sealed for extinction. Mordechai countered that the situation is never hopeless. We will be saved “some other way,” one that defies all rules. G-d has a profound love for us and will break the rules of His kingdom, even if we don’t deserve it. If we reach beyond our limits for Him, He will go beyond His limits for us. Go into the palace against the rules, he said, and demonstrate how our love for Him also transcends all limits.

Purim encourages us to live in this plain that overlooks our natural limitations. Walled in by physical, emotional, and spiritual boundaries, we often fall short of our potential for greatness, accepting that some things are just impossible to achieve. Some things are indeed impossible, but never are they hopeless. The Al-mighty has limitless love and help waiting for us, and with Him all is possible. With that in mind, we can have the strength to attempt and hopefully achieve the impossible.

-Rabbi Mordechai Dixler
“Beyond the Law”
Commentary on Esther and Purim
Project Genesis

symmes_chapel_churchIt is said that we should maintain our hope in God, even when our death seems certain, “even if a sharp sword is resting on [our] neck” and the decree against us is final, that through prayer, the mercy of God may still be aroused. We read the story of Esther at Purim. We dress in silly, brightly colored costumes and participate in plays where, when Mordechai’s name is said, we cheer, and when Haman’s name (may it be blotted out forever) is mentioned, we boo. We eat and drink as if we had been a prisoner on death row who, in the final seconds before the fatal injection was to be given to us, we were miraculously pardoned and set free.

But we must always be mindful that there are still prisoners.

“[A]fter all of these pressures, after all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ.”

Pastor Saeed Abedini
from a letter he wrote as a prisoner in Iran

Pastor Abedini is still a captive in Iran and his jailers continually demand that he deny his faith in Christ and “return to Islam.” I don’t normally “get political” on this blog nor was I intending on writing a commentary on Purim or for that matter, on Pastor Abedini, but I think God had other plans. In faith, we pray for deliverance when times are difficult. But it is trust and hope that drives us to pray when the sword is in motion, falling toward the back of our necks, and death is certain.

I raise my eyes upon the mountains; whence will come my help? My help is from Hashem, Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Who is it who has gathered the wind in his palm? Who is He and what is the name of his Son? Who is he, then, that both the wind and the sea listen to him?

Pray that the God who created us all liberate Pastor Abedini soon and that his faith and hope does not falter. Pray that none of us will be put to a similar testing, but if we are, pray that we are strengthened and can endure.

Pray that the King finds favor with us and welcomes us into His Presence.