A Less Obvious Reason for Why Israelis Love Purim
While Israelis are excited to embrace the cornucopia of Jewish holidays, there is little doubt that Purim holds a special place in our collective and individual hearts.
Many things can start to account for it: the hordes of adorable kids in cute costumes, the ready availability of “l’chaims” and the creative and brazen opportunities to drown out Haman’s name during the reading of the Megillah.
But I think the reason why so many Israelis connect with Purim is because of what actually happened. The politically correct part of Purim, the part that is focused on in the US, is the plight of the Jews and their amazing extrication from the jaws of Haman’s extermination plans, thanks to the courage and cleverness of Esther and Mordechai.
While this is of great import in Israel, as well, it is the post-Haman part of the story that particularly resonates with Israelis: the triumph of the Jews over their enemies.
The Megillah revels in the extent of the revenge that the Jews are able to inflict upon those who had been set to destroy them: 75,000 in the provinces, 500 in Shushan on the 13th of Adar, followed by another 300 the following day.
This incredible turn of events alters the classic depiction of Jewish holidays from, “They tried to kill us; we won; let’s eat,” to: “They tried to kill us; we killed them; let’s eat, drink, get plastered and give each other gifts.”
Purim, though, is not some Quentin Tarantino revenge fantasy of the Persian Jews. What makes Purim so attractive, so unusual and so alluring to Israelis is not the extent of the revenge taken, but it was taken.
Purim uniquely provides an aura of sovereignty to Jewish action. By approving in principle, and then delegating to his newly chosen Jewish Viceroy the details of the defensive attacks of the Jews upon their putative destroyers, King Ahashverosh conferred quasi-sovereignty to the Jews.
While Esther is quite careful to get the King’s approval for incremental actions, the King is dazzled by the success of the Jews, and the more they succeed, the more amenable he becomes. While initially offering Esther up to half his kingdom, in the face of Jewish triumphs, he is reduced to asking what more Esther wants; a request without limits.
How wildly divergent from the world of the Galut is Purim! Jewish militias, a veritable Jewish army, vanquish its enemies. The Jews know that they have complete sanction to kill not only those who came to attack them, but also those who were only planning to attack them, but desisted out of fear.
Purim represents a lone way station on the long road of exile and dispersion where the Jews could once again act almost as if they were in full charge, as if they were sovereign.
What Purim shows is the potential for Jewish might when given the chance.
One follow on benefit of this might is the deterrence that comes from it. While not spelling it out explicitly, it is clear from the Megillah that the show of force by the Jews creates an aftermath of security and tranquility for them, and the opportunity for Mordechai to become a trusted and effective Viceroy to the King.
The Purim story thereby provided both an inspiration and an education to the pioneers and settlers of the Yishuv that given the chance, Jews were a force to be reckoned with. Furthermore, when they were able to assert themselves they could be successful, even dominant. Finally, when they could assert themselves, they should do so definitively, seeking relief and deterrence, through wholehearted and not half-way steps.
For Jews reeling initially from pogroms, and them the nightmare of the Shoah, Purim provided an antidote to Jewish helplessness — not just because of success, but because of the success that arises from the sense of being in charge, of being in control, of being sovereign.
Purim has many meanings and much significance attached to it: it represents the ultimate acceptance of the Oral Law by the Jews; it is a holiday that encapsulates all the others, and, according to our Sages, together with Yom Kippur, it is the only holiday that will be celebrated in the aftermath of Mashiach’s coming.
I think that for Israelis especially, it is Purim’s inspiring message of what is possible given the freedom to act, and the ability to control one’s destiny, that has resonated and continues to resonate. Purim is a story of past political success, and a harbinger of possible future political success.
For thousands of years, Purim cast a light illuminating Jewish possibilities and potential. All of that is now being realized, and the beneficiaries of that success maintain a special place in their hearts for their forebears who showed the way long ago in Persia.