The Day After Purim: Dvar Torah for Purim 5778

0 Comments 26 February 2018

By Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman

There is no holiday more challenging to Jews committed to human rights than Purim. Human rights are by definition universal— for humans, all humans, and not just for a specific people, tribe or group. On Purim, we remember an existential threat to the Jewish people and celebrate our victory over our enemies. Where is the universal message? Most of us take refuge in relating to Purim as a children’s holiday so that we can avoid confronting the many moral challenges it poses. Many parents busy themselves with preparing costumes for their children (in Israel it’s multiple costumes – school, youth group, the carnival and synagogue…). On the holiday itself we are so appalled by the message of the megillah that we encourage drunkenness and call it a mitzvah. We explicitly aim to blur the ability to distinguish between good and evil— blessed be Mordechai and cursed be Haman.

The celebration of Purim reflects how deeply we react to the existential threat we faced and the physical power that enabled us to kill thousands of our enemies. Megillat Esther describes the fear that gripped the Jews of Shushan when faced with the nefarious plans of Haman and the decrees of King Achashverosh. Without the cunning planning of Mordechai and the audacious bravery of Queen Esther the story might have ended differently. For generations, Jews living in the diaspora with limited political power the people reading this story understood the impotence of the Jews of Shushan. The Megillah also describes our violent revenge –a fantasy that they could only dream of.

What was true for past generations applies to us in ways that our ancestors could never imagine. We experience that same tension today. The memory of the Shoah still grips the Jewish people. Likewise, the existential threat that the Jews of the Yishuv in pre-state Israel and the security threats Israelis face every day. However today we have an army to defend us. Who could have imagined, seventy years after the Shoah, that one of the challenges facing the Jewish people is how we use our enormous military power? As a Zionist, I firmly believe that it is preferable to have an army and to confront those challenges. We cannot allow ourselves the luxury of choosing powerlessness. This does not free us from the responsibility of facing the challenges of sovereignty and military power.

There are political voices in Israel dedicated to exacerbating the tensions in Israeli society by calling for a strengthening of the Jewish identity of Israel and weakening the rights of the non-Jewish population. They do this by playing on Jewish real fears. There are many rabbinic voices that are part of that nationalist, xenophobic chorus.

At Rabbis for Human Rights, we sound a different rabbinic voice. Rooted in the Jewish tradition, secure in our national identity, we support the rights of the strangers who dwell among us. We know that the survival of the State of Israel is based on it being Jewish and democratic, a society defined by justice and compassion.

I believe that we can continue to celebrate Purim as long as we are aware of the many challenges it presents. For one day a year we can allow ourselves to confuse good and evil, righteous and villain. On the day after Purim we get back to the ongoing work of building a society based on the vision of the Prophets.

Please show us you too are committed to this crucial and courageous work by donating generously today. 

Happy Purim!

Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman

Captain Weiman-Kelman fighting for inter-galactic human and extra-terrestrial rights at a recent synagogue Purim carnival

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