AMALEK and KHAMENEI – a pre-Purim Blog by Rabbi Baruch Cohon
Before we take that first Purim drink, let’s read the Torah. What passage do we read on the Sabbath before Purim? Zakhor – “Remember what Amalek did to you!” Indeed this Sabbath is called Shabat Zakhor – the Sabbath of memory. And just one day later, on Purim morning we will read Vayavo Amalek – the story of the battle our ancestors fought in the desert on the way out of Egypt, a battle against a hateful and cowardly enemy tribe called Amalek. Time and again they attacked from the rear, killing the stragglers, the weakest of the trekking Israelites. Finally at a place called Rephidim they got punished. Of course they did not quit harassing Israel. After our ancestors settled in the Land and Saul became king, there was more warfare with Amalek.
So what does all this have to do with Purim? The battles with Amalek predated the Purim story by a few centuries. But the connection is there. Haman, the Purim villain, is identified in the Book of Esther as the son of Hamdassa the Agagite. Agag was the king of Amalek, the defeated chieftain whom the prophet Samuel kills in the special Haftorah for Shabat Zakhor. So the rabbis logically taught that Haman was descended from Amalek.
Indeed he was. Likewise Amalek’s spiritual descendants. Titus, Torquemada, Chmelnitzky, Hitler, Arafat – to name just a few. Destroying Israel was Amalek’s goal, a goal not limited to one locality or one kind of weapon. Haman brought it to Persia. And built a 75-foot gallows to hang Mordechai.
Now Amalek returns to Persia. His current descendants don’t use gallows – or crucifixes or gas chambers or UN committees. They plan to use atom bombs.
Esther’s Megillah tells the story of Haman’s threat and Esther’s courage as she champions the Jews before an unpredictable head of state. Could she help her people now? Recently Bibi Netanyahu met with the new president of the United States, and it was a much friendlier meeting than he had in Washington for many years. And our current ambassador to the United Nations expressed a strongly pro-Israel policy that we certainly haven’t heard lately. Could Nikki Haley be a new Queen Esther?
Check the Megillah. Even after condemning Haman to die on the gallows he built, Ahasuerus refuses to cancel his edict setting a date for mass murder of Jews. What he does, however, is arm the Jews and give them a chance to defend themselves. This they do with great success, once again defeating Amalek. Essentially, isn’t that what Bibi seeks?
Once again, Amalek returns. And once again our people is in serious danger. But we will survive. No enemy can finally prevail. We believe in miracles. And we celebrate those miracles. As the Talmud teaches, “When the month of Adar enters, we increase joy!” Purim coming on the 14th of Adar, that gives us 2 weeks to get in the spirit! In fact, the same Talmud tractate, Megillah, tells us to drink enough shnaps on Purim till we can’t tell the difference between Arur Haman – “cursed is Haman” – and Baruch Mordechai – “blessed is Mordechai.” And the Hebrew words for not knowing [the difference] became the name of Israel’s festive annual Purim parade, Ad-d’lo-yada.
We might well observe that in the Purim story itself Mordechai assures Esther that if she fails to convince the king to defeat Haman, “release and rescue will arise for the Jews from another place, and you and your father’s house will be wiped out.” Whether Mordechai was drinking or not, he knew the difference.
Today’s danger, today’s existential threat, is not limited to the Jewish people. Telephone calls and emails to Jewish Community Centers in the U.S. notwithstanding; individual attacks on kippah-wearing Paris Jews notwithstanding; demonstrations and lectures spewing Jew-hatred on college campuses notwithstanding – it is the future of Western civilization that forms the target for today’s Hamans and Amaleks. Let’s face facts. Khamenei and/or ISIS will attack both Israel and America if given a chance. Trial attacks already took place. And “release and rescue” can arise from the very places that once held our mortal enemies – places like the Church, and Russia, and America First. Thank G-d we have some friends now.
More than ever, we should celebrate this Purim. Drown out Haman’s name with those groggers. And make sure you only drown out Haman – certainly not Mordechai. Nor Esther. Nor even Ahasuerus. How can we time those groggers right? Gotta know the difference. I hope we do.
So drown your worries with another L’hayyim – could be non-alcoholic if you prefer! And let our comedic Purim performances show Amalek that nobody can destroy our sense of humor. That is definitely a Purim miracle.
As the old song goes, Haynt is Purim, brider, es is a yomtov grois! Today is Purim, brothers, a great big holiday! Enjoy it.