And so the Jewish people, loosely break down into Jews and New Age Jews. The Jews wandered on their meandering course through history using ancient maps and concerning themselves with a past that modern people dismissed as myth and legend, more ancient than that story about Troy, and even more dubious.
The New Age Jews saw the coming of a new era of history, a bright and shining plateau that made all those old moldy beliefs completely irrelevant. History had ended and now a new age had begun. The age of Alexandria, the age of Shushan, the age of Berlin. How, in such a new age, could they be expected to take a few bygone fairy tales retold by barbarians seriously? Such things weren’t for enlightened people who were witnessing the end of history.
History never ends. That is the lesson of the Holocaust, of Purim and of countless other horrifying intrusions of the old into the new. The shining new era that begins with grand public spectacles and displays of the power and might of an empire, ends with corpses and men and women fighting and running for their lives.
The old Jews know what the New Age Jews do not, that history has not ended, that the past is still with us and that it has sharp teeth. They know that Man has not changed, that his sophistication is still only a shell and that sooner or later the shell cracks. If it does not crack from within, then it is cracked from without. While the New Age Jews sneer at the Holocaust obsession, Jews know that the past in all its awful terrors is a map and that forgetting it carries a terrible price.
Those who feel time in their bones know the patterns of history, reading ages like constellations, can never lose themselves in one age or fall into the fallacy of a new era. They know that there is nothing new under the sun. Machines may come and go, but the world is a broken place because the hearts of men have not turned from their ways. And so they remember that every age carries within it the seeds of its ruin. They witness the ruin, climb out of the ashes and move on.
Liberal pieties embrace the new age, fixate on a final transformative era of history at the hands of messiahs who promise hope and change, who will uplift us and inspire us to make the world into a better place. Clergy who preach the cant of Tikkun Olam, whose climactic religious holiday of the year is Martin Luther King Day and who like Caliph Omar on witnessing the Library of Alexandria proclaim that if the bible contains liberal dogma then it is redundant and if it does not, it is heretical, cannot meaningfully cope with that history. Their religion has no room in it for all these chambers of history or for the bloody-minded men who stride through it, without saving the whales.
Purim, a holiday preceded by a fast kept by the men going into battle and their loved ones, is not about forgiving your enemies, progressive taxation or coming out of the closet. It is about survival. Not mere survival, but the skin of the teeth sense of how close we came, that moment of revelation which pulls back the curtains of the material world and reminds us of the impossibility of our survival under all the ordinary rules of the world that new ages are found on. It reminds us that behind the scenes of the brick and mortar, steel and steam world, is something else entirely. A force that breaks apart the towers of history, that saves us when we should have died, that has entrusted us with a mission. It reminds us of what the world is and reminds us of Itself and of what we are.
When you stand on the edge of death, life is a revelation. It is not our deaths under the Egyptian sun, the blades and bullets of a thousand empires and kingdoms, or the ovens of Dachau that we are obsessed with. It is that moment of survival. The revelation that even amid the horrors of all that we have witnessed and the terrible things that we had to do to survive, we have risen out of the ground, watched the flesh cover our bones and stood alive again upon the earth. Every time we survive, we are reminded of the fragility of the world and of our enemies who wielding every power and trick, have failed to destroy us. Each time we rise, we transcend the world, in confronting our dead, we confront our immortality.