On Purim we are introduced to the heroine Esther who risks her life to save her people. At the start we read:
There was a certain Jew in Shushan the castle, whose name was Mordecai the son of Yair the son of Shimei the son of Kish, a Benjamite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem with the captives that had been carried away with Yeconiah king of Yehudah, whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried away. And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter; for she had neither father nor mother, and the maiden was of beautiful form and fair to look on; and when her father and mother were dead, Mordecai took her for his own daughter.(Esther 2:5-7)
So much attention is paid to her rise to power and how she risks everything for the sake of her people that we forget her humble origin as an orphaned refuge child. All of us are filled with images from across the world of refugee children from recent crises. Thinking about her I recalled Shlomo Gronich & The Sheba Choir cover of the classic Negro spiritual “Motherless Child”
Most people think that this song was composed by the children of slaves who were sold to other owners being raised without their parents. There is something haunting about a group of black Ethiopian immigrant children singing : “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, Long way from my home”. Understanding the loneliness of all of these children make me appreciate Esther in a deeper way.
In this light, Esther’s courage is significant beyond her as an individual. All of us in diaspora are living away from our mother land. Despite our salvation on Purim, we do not end up as an autonomous people in our own land as we do on Hanukkah. This is the reason we do not say Hallel today. We should still take a moment and appreciate that the”Jews had light and gladness, and joy and honor” ( Esther 8:16) amidst the darkness of hatred and bigotry. Esther represents our national courage to survive and even thrive in diaspora.
Chag Purim Sameakh