There is no doubt that Purim is one of the most colorful holidays in the Hebrew calendar. If you ask any child, including me (and I am no longer a child), what Purim means, everyone will say one thing – joy! Indeed, there is no doubt that Purim is like this – wearing costumes, celebrations, parades throughout the city, reading a scroll and singing songs, gifts for the ebony, parcel deliveries and among many populations also editing a banquet that includes drinking wine ‘Ad Lo Yada’
“the days wherein the Jews had rest from their enemies, and the month, which was turned unto them from sorrow to gladness, and from mourning into a good day; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor.” (Esther 9/22)
But before all this joy and customs, let us talk for a moment about the events that led us, the people of Israel, to mark this date. It all began in the 4th century BC, when the Persian Empire, headed by King Ahasuerus, spread across over 120 countries, and the Jews were subjects of the Empire. At the same time, the relationship between Ahasuerus and his wife, Vashti, was bad, and the king decided to exile her and seek a new queen among all the virgins in the kingdom. Of all the women who arrived, Ahasuerus chose Hadassah, who we know as Esther.
Esther, who was Jewish, took advice of her uncle, Mordechai, to hide her Judaism, so that she could get close to the king. At the same time, Haman, who was Ahasuerus’s closest advisor, began to develop hatred and resentment toward Mordechai, since he refused to bow before him and even asked the king to hang Mordechai. Consequently, Haman planned to exterminate all the Jews who lived in the Kingdom of Persia.
Haman came to Ahasuerus with the plan to exterminate the Jews when his reason for this was that the Jews were different from all the other nations in the kingdom, and therefore needed to be destroyed. Ahasuerus agreed and the date for execution was set by Yud Gimel Be’Ader, a date set by Haman by imposing a ‘Pur’ (lottery).
When the news reached Esther's ears, she, along with Mordechai, began to work to thwart the plan, and so it did, right on the date Haman planned to carry out his malicious plan, the Jews broke into the ‘Shushan’, the capital, thwarted the plan, seized Haman and his sons, and prosecuted them against the plan to exterminate the Jewish people.
And from then on, the holiday of Purim is celebrated at this time, for none of the ‘Pur’ that Haman barred.
If so, we have briefly reviewed the historical events that led the Jewish people during the Persian Empire to mark Purim. Now, I would like to focus on a few aspects from the Purim scroll.
The scroll tells the story of the first anti-Semitism in the world - Haman, the oppressor of the Jews, who wanted to destroy the Jewish people only because of religion. Before him, there were no anti-Semites in the world who wanted to harm Jews only because of their religion. Unlike Pharaoh, for example, who did so for prophecy, others did so with fear or strategic reasons, but it was Haman who opened the door to anti-Semitism. On the other hand, figures who, wisely and willingly, stood up against him and succeeded in overturning the decision to carry out the extermination and thus effectively changed the face of history.
In the story of the scroll two strong women can be pointed out, and they are of course Vashti and Esther. At the beginning of the story, it is told that Vashti is trying to convey a message against the exclusion of women that he seeks to spread throughout the kingdom against the king and against all the ministers of his kingdom
“'Vashti the queen hath not done wrong to the king only, but also to all the princes, and to all the peoples, that are in all the provinces of the king Ahasuerus. For this deed of the queen will come abroad unto all women, to make their husbands contemptible in their eyes” (Esther 1/16-17)
This was the act for which Ahasuerus expels Vashti.
On the other hand, Esther, chosen in her place, is beautiful and silenced: being "beautiful and good-looking" she is taken to the palace and not compensated here, has no special demands, and accurately carries out her uncle's orders. At first, Esther was beautiful and remedies, but throughout it she goes through a miraculous journey of development and empowerment; She slowly discovers herself, her desires, and opinions, and step by step she takes charge of her fate and even the fate of her people. The most important thing is Esther's partnership in writing the story:
“Then Esther the queen, the daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew, wrote down all the acts of power, to confirm this second letter of Purim.” (ester 9/29)
History becomes both its own and not just history, her-story and not just history.
At this point there is an issue that usually preoccupies us even today. While our desire as a revised society is full equality of rights between women and men, inequality still exists and has changed in different sectors of society and then the question is asked what the preferred model of femininity is: a woman who stands her ground decisively and uncompromisingly but risks exclusion and dismissal, or a woman who penetrates the male system due to her gentleness and femininity and slowly gains strength and influence so that she can change the system from within.
We, as a youth movement whose value of gender equality and feminism is one of our values, need to discuss this issue all the time!
At this point I would like to engage another angle of the meaning of the word. Although the holiday of Purim is so called in the language of the "Pur" imposed by Haman in choosing the date of the extermination of the Jews, I would like to touch on the other side of the meaning of this word - fate.
Esther and Mordechai, who knew what was about to happen, did not wait for their fate, but sought to change it. They did everything they could to prevent the extermination of the Jews, and so it was in the end!
Against Esther stood an opportunity, opportunity to enter the King's Palace, to approach him and finally to influence his decisions. Perhaps we do not all agree on the path, but it was the goal that was before her eyes that led her.
When we have an opportunity, we do not always know how to recognize it, to see it, to catch it. Sometimes, the opportunity even seems insignificant,, or it takes too much energy for it, but we don't really know what that opportunity holds.
And here, I would like to briefly share my story of opportunities.
I met Habonim Dror movement a little over three years ago, during a delegation of youth from Israel to our movement's summer camp in South Africa. The experience enchanted me, the spirit of the movement, the values, the joy, the people. After a while, I was asked if I wanted to be the next Shaliach in South Africa. Being married and father of two daughters, the issue was very complex and required many consultations which we finally decided, together, that we were doing it.
All this happened during February 2020. Today, a year after the decision was made, these words I am writing still from my home in Israel, waiting to embark on this so important mission.
Many of my friends and those around me, including fellow emissaries around the world, have been heavily influenced by the past year in many ways – personal, family, employment, educational and more, and even some have decided to wait "until rage passes."
My family and I chose to take this period as an opportunity. An opportunity to deepen and strengthen the family unit, an opportunity to produce memories and dreams that, had it not been for this period, would not have been able to produce and more. But in my view, the most significant thing this period has created for me is the opportunity, despite the difficulty and distance, to get to know new friends, youngsters full of enthusiasm and a strong community who will do anything to keep each other during this period.
Thus, the connection was made with the leaders of the movement and the community in South Africa, through zoom calls, WhatsApp emails, so I learned to know different aspects of the movement, people, opportunities to share and share thoughts, produce educational content, and even dream dreams together, for this moment we reach South Africa, and we will begin to produce, together, hand in hand, the future of us all.
In conclusion, Purim is a great opportunity to change the atmosphere a little, celebrate, rejoice (and even fool around) but also an opportunity to look inside, ourselves, as individuals, as a community, as a people, and to know that the strengths and forces are in us and not anyone else, and if we learn to recognize the opportunities that are scattered around us and know how to seize them – the sky has long been not the limit!
With the blessing of a happy and funny Purim holiday,
Lior Agiv and the family :)