Yesterday (beginning Wednesday evening) Jews celebrated Purim. We read the Book of Esther, which presents a great threat to the Jews of ancient Persia. So what’s changed?
According to the megillah (scroll/story), Haman, King Ahasuerus’s top counselor, responds negatively to the Jewish Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him. “Accordingly, written instructions were dispatched by couriers to all the king’s provinces to destroy, massacre, and exterminate all the Jews, young and old, children and women, on a single day… and to plunder their possessions. (Esther 3:13)”
Many Hamans have arisen over time. Today, Iran’s Supreme Leader (and how does such a title not raise eyebrows?), Ayatollah Khamenei, and president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wish to obliterate Israel. Not surprisingly, tensions are high this Purim. Israel is publicly considering military action against Iran’s nuclear-weapon capabilities. President Obama has indicated that U.S. military action remains on the table even if he wishes Israel to hold back for now. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit to Washington this week did not necessarily resolve strategic differences, but Netanyahu did ask for advanced “bunker-buster” bombs and refueling planes. At the same time, the Pentagon is preparing for possible military activity in the Gulf and elsewhere, since Iran, even if attacked by Israel alone, may strike at U.S. interests abroad and at home.
Tuesday night, Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-el. As ceremonial head of state, Peres did not rattle sabers. But he remarked that Iran is the only country calling for the destruction of Israel and termed its government the most corrupt and immoral of our time. Peres also declared, “We feel so close to the United States.” This gave a boost to President Obama, whose support Israel seeks, in the face of Republican claims that Obama is anti-Israel. But Peres reiterated that only Israel, as has long been Israeli policy, will decide what actions to take in its own defense. American help will be valued but not required.
Meanwhile, Iran again seems willing to return to negotiations. They have previously used this as a ploy to delay Western actions. Israel is wary. France voiced skepticism. The outcome remains to be determined.
Back to Purim. Most Jews know that Queen Esther, Mordecai’s adopted daughter, reveals Haman’s plot and saves the day. But there’s more that usually goes unmentioned. Esther asks Ahasuerus to give the Jews permission to fight for their lives if attacked and kill those who plotted to kill them. The Jews slay over 75,000 enemies, including all of Haman’s sons.
Note that the Book of Esther is very much a satire, poking fun at the drunken Ahasuerus and his antics, including his advisors’ concerns about wives obeying husbands. Likewise, many in the West see Iran’s ayatollahs as caricatures. But they are human beings, and their views of Islam’s relationship with Israel and the U.S. are real as are their threats.
May it be that diplomacy resolves the situation. But if force cannot be avoided, know that Haman was impaled on the stake he had prepared for Mordecai—one 50 cubits high. Let us hope the ayatollahs realize that today’s nuclear stakes are far higher.
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