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Purim Guide for the Perplexed 2013

A Purim lesson: Be wary of enemies, posing as partners of peace, concealing a strategic goal of extermination.
The courtroom of the International Military Tribunal, Nürnberg, 1946-1947.

The courtroom of the International Military Tribunal, Nürnberg, 1946-1947.
Photo Credit: USHMM.

6.  Purim is the holiday of contradictions as well as tenacity-driven-optimism:

Annihilation replaced by deliverance; Esther’s concealment of her Jewish identity replaced by the disclosure of her national/religious identity; Haman’s intended genocide of the Jews replaced by his own demise; Haman replaced by Mordechai as the chief advisor to the king; national and personal pessimism replaced by optimism.  A Purim lesson: Life is complex, full of contradictions, ups and downs and difficult dilemmas, worthy of principled-determination. Threats and hurdles are challenges and opportunities in disguise. The bigger the mission is, the bigger the adversity.

7.  Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of Ezra’s deputies, was a role model of principle-driven optimism in defiance of colossal odds, in the face of a super power and in defiance of the Jewish establishment.  He fought Jewish assimilation and urged Jews to sustain their roots and return to their Homeland.  He was endowed with the bravery of faith-driven individuals, such as Nachshon – who was the first to walk into the Red Sea before it parted. Mordechai was a politically-incorrect, out-of-the-box thinking statesman and a retired military leader, who utilized a “disproportionate pre-emptive offensive” instead of appeasement and defense. The first three Hebrew letters of Mordechai (מרדכי) spell the Hebrew word “rebellion” (מרד), which is consistent with the motto/legacy of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin: “Rebellion against Tyrants is Obedience to God.” Mordechai did not bow to Haman, the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire.  He was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who did not bow to Esau. The name Mordechai is also a derivative of Mordouch,¬ the chief Babylonian god.

Mordechai was a descendant of King Saul, who defied a clear commandment (to eradicate the Amalekites).  He spared the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, thus precipitating further calamities upon the Jewish People. Consequently, Saul lost his royal position and life. Mordechai learned from Saul’s error. He destroyed Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite and Haman’s entire power base, thus sparing the Jewish People a major disaster.

In Gimatriya, “Cursed Haman” (ארור המן) equals 502, which is identical to “Blessed Mordechai”  .(ברוך מרדכי)

8. Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim’s Scroll of Esther (the 24th and concluding book of the Bible) was Mordechai’s niece. Esther demonstrates the centrality of women in Judaism, shaping the future of the Jewish People, as did Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel. Leah, Miriam, Batyah, Deborah, Hannah, Yael, etc. Sarah was the first Jewish woman, and Esther was the last Jewish woman mentioned in the Bible. Sarah lived 127 years and Esther ruled over 127 countries. The name Esther (אסתר) is a derivative of the Hebrew word הסתר , “to conceal” - reflective of her initial concealment of her Jewish identity, while the Hebrew word for “scroll,” מגילה, derives from מגלה – “to reveal.”  God is concealed in the scroll of Esther, which is the only biblical book which does not mention God. The Purim custom of wearing costumes highlights the transition from the concealment to revelation of identity.

The name Esther (pronounced Ester in Hebrew) derives also from Ishtar ¬ a Mesopotamian goddess, Astarte, “star” ¬ a Phoenician goddess.  In fact, the one day pre-Purim Fast of Esther (commemorating the three day fast declared by Esther in order to expedite deliverance), was cherished by the Maranos in Spain, who performed Judaism in a clandestine manner.While God’s name is hidden/absent in Esther’s Scroll, Michael Bernstein suggests that there are 182 references to “King,” corresponding to 26 (the numerical value of God) times 7 (days of creation). Esther’s second name was Hadassah, whose root is Hadass (myrtle tree in Hebrew) ¬ whose leaves are shaped like an eye.

The name Esther is identified with the planet Venus (hence, Esther’s other Hebrew name ¬Noga, just like my oldest granddaughter ¬ a shining divine light, which is Venus in Hebrew). In Gimatriya, Esther (אסתר) and Noga (נגה) equal 661 and 58 respectively, and the sum of 6+6+1 and 5+8 is 13 (the number of God’s virtues).  In “small Gimatriya” both Esther (1+6+4+2) and Noga (5+3+5) equal 13, which is also the total sum of “one” in Hebrew (אחד) ¬ which represents the oneness of God, monotheism, as well as the total sum of love in Hebrew (אהבה).

9.  The Persian King appointed Mordechai to be his top advisor, overruling Haman’s intent to prevent the resettling of Jews in Zion, the reconstruction of the Temple and the restoration of the wall around Jerusalem. He foiled Haman’s plan to exterminate the Jews. The king prospered as a result of his change of heart and escaped assassination. That was the case with Pharaoh, who escaped national collapse and starvation and rose in global prominence, once he appointed Joseph to be his deputy.

About the Author: Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is consultant to Israel’s Cabinet members and Israeli legislators, and lecturer in the U.S., Canada and Israel on Israel’s unique contributions to American interests, the foundations of U.S.-Israel relations, the Iranian threat, and Jewish-Arab issues.


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