Many think of Purim as simply a time for groggers, costumes noise and merriment. With all the frivolity and fun that we shall hopefully experience, it is easy to dismiss Purim as merely a fun holiday for the young and the young at heart, but Purim is much more.
The Purim story confronts the mature reader with vital philosophical questions about the place of women in society, the phenomenon of prejudice, and the very meaning of life itself.
Too seldom do we ponder the courage of Vashti, King Ahasueras‘ first wife. In the story, the world’s most powerful man commands her to display her beauty for his drunken friends, but she refuses. She is a worthy role model for our daughters. She is also a good jumping off point for a discussion about the value of women as complete human beings. Vashti refused to simply be a sex object even if that refusal cost her throne. Hopefully all of us can learn from her courage
A vital lesson about prejudice presents itself when Mordecai refuses to bow down before Haman. Haman is angry, but as the Bible records: “…it was not enough for him to punish Mordecai alone, for they had told him the people of
Mordecai” (Esther 3:5). No, because of his anger at one man, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews.
Sadly, the prejudice presented against in the book of Esther has confronted our people many times throughout history. The Purim story provides a vivid example of this phenomenon that we can profitably discuss with young people.
The third vital lesson instructs us in the meaning of life itself. When Mordecai read Haman’s decree condemning the Jews of Persia to death, he sent a message to Esther to intercede for her people. Esther’s response was that she dared not enter the presence of the king because he had not summoned her, and the penalty is death for anyone even the queen who appears unbidden before the king unless he holds out his scepter as a sign of acceptance.
Mordecai, through the servant Hatach, asks Esther a question we should all frequently ask ourselves: “Who knows if you have not become queen for just such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). In other words, who knows if we are where we are at any given moment for the opportunity to make a difference.
Mordecai really asks: Are we on this earth just to enjoy life? Is our own pleasure the primary purpose of our existence?
Jewish tradition and the Book of Esther say, “No.”
Esther could have lived out her life in selfish luxury. She could have ignored the plight of our people. But Mordecai’s question pricked her conscience enough so that she risked everything to save in an effort to save our people.
Mordecai’s question addresses us as well. What are we willing to risk to keep our people vibrant and strong?
In our day-to-day lives, we, like Esther have moments when our action or inaction, our willingness or unwillingness to risk it all can make a vital difference in someone’s life. We can seize these moments or turn away from them. Esther swallowed her fear and seized her moment. Her example and her courage commend themselves to all of us when the times come for us to step up and make a difference.
As Purim approaches, let us prepare for more than fun and games. If we truly study the Story of Esther, what we learn about the dignity of women, the phenomenon of prejudice and the very meaning of life itself can enrich our Jewish souls long after the celebration is over.