Purim is an easy holiday to love. Costumes, hamentaschen, and carnivals make it an accessible experience for kids, families, and Jews of all denominations to celebrate. In all of the joy and fun we often forget that the holiday leaves us with a disturbing reminder about human existence. The Book of (or Megillat) Ester teaches that the hatred of just one person can lead to the almost destruction of an entire people.
Jewish tradition teaches, “when Haman saw that Mordechai, the Jew, would not bow down to him, Haman became filled with anger against Mordechai… they told him the Jews were the people of Mordechai; so Haman sought to wipe out all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom of Ahaseurus.” (Targum Rishon 3:5-6). Haman’s hatred was so deep that he wanted to kill Mordechai AND his community.
We are commanded to blot out Haman’s name each time it is read in the Megillah in order to wipe out wickedness in the world. This action should lead to a commitment to wiping out hatred and racism where ever it exists.
The famous Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “Racism is man's gravest threat to man - the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”
This Purim, I am internalizing the peril of racism much more acutely. Every day there are new reports of racial incitement happening in the US and the moment calls for all religious leaders to loudly condemn hateful speech.
Unfortunately, we are getting more and more polarized as a country and that polarization is leading to increased racism, distrust of the other, and permission to suggest previously unthinkable actions such as registering religious groups, silencing protests, and Americans yelling “go back to Auschwitz” or “return to Africa” at campaign rallies. Thank God, we are not at a place in American history where someone is proposing genocide but the moral imperative is to take a stand long before, God forbid, we reach that point.
Abraham Joshua Heschel also teaches, “there is no reverence for God without reverence for man. Love of man is the way to the love of God.” The true religious experience is grounded is love. The mitzvot of Purim encourage us to tap into love for each other. We are commanded to give gifts to our friends and to the poor. The holiday reminds us that the true path of joy is only through building a future founded on love.
This Purim, let’s remember what it is to be a nation saved from the brink of destruction. We must blot out hatred and anger when we hear about it. There should be zero tolerance for anything that leads to something less than love for our neighbor. But this exercise is not only about looking outward. We must also search inside ourselves and ask: what am I doing to condemn, instead of condone, hate speech? What excuses am I making for the hurtful actions of others? What am I doing to bring more peace into the world?
How are you answering those questions? How are you condemning, instead of condone, hate speech? Are you making excuses for the hurtful actions of others? What are you doing to bring more peace into the world? We'd love to hear your responses by sharing in the comments below.