Posts Tagged 'Esther'

Purim Today: Xenophobia, Sexism, and Violence

At a town hall meeting last Wednesday night, Senator Marco Rubio was grilled over gun control by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people. On Comedy Central’s Daily Show, Trevor Noah argued that Rubio was “totally out of sync with the entire room,” also pointing out the clip about assault-rifle loopholes. “That was such an epic fail. Rubio said the solution like it was the problem.”

Then Noah related the moment to the “Me Too” movement: “It reminded me of the reaction that a lot of men had to  the ‘Me Too’ movement, you know, when people were like, ‘If we carry on like this, we’re going to live in a world where men can’t even hit on their female staff. Oh, that is what we want? Okay. OK, fair enough, I misunderstood.'”

I was thinking of this when reading Megilat Esther. At the start of the story Achashverosh is having a series of parties. Amidst the revelry the king instructs his wife Vashti the Queen to show up to his party to display her beauty. She refuses and a crisis ensues. The king has no idea what to do when she refuses to obey him and calls on his advisers. Memuchan steps forward and advises that the king.  He warns: “Queen Vashti has committed an offense not only against Your Majesty but also against all the officials and against all the peoples in all the provinces of King Achashverosh. For the queen’s behavior will make all wives despise their husbands…“( Esther 1:20). The fear is that the Queens sleight of her husband’s unreasonable request will have implications all over the kingdom that women will not obey men.

This in turn becomes interesting in that one of the critical moments of the Megilah is when Mordecai beseeches Esther to proactively meet with the king without being asked and reveal her hidden identity to save her people. After the whole Vashti affair Esther knows that it is risky but relents on the condition that the people fast with her in solidarity. There we read:

“Go, assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan, and fast in my behalf; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will observe the same fast. Then I shall go to the king, though it is contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish!” So Mordecai went about [the city] and did just as Esther had commanded him. (Esther 4:16-17)

Esther is courageous and as we know the whole plan comes together and the people are saved. The story turns on Esther’s leaning in and also Mordecai doing what he was commanded to do. At the start of the story the fear was that women would not obey men, and here in the end we see that we were saved because a man obeyed a woman. Like Rubio and Trevor Noah’s making fun of Rubio, the perceived problem is actually the solution. Throughout history  xenophobia, sexism, and violence are mixed together to distract people from the real problems facing their lives. The more things change the more they stay the same. These forces of division are just out of sync.

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21st Century Synthesis : On Jewish Life, Camp, and Purim

Despite being erroneously attributed to Hegel, it was actually Johann Gottlieb Fichte, an 18th century German philosopher, who originated the idea of  thesis–antithesis–synthesis. This idea takes an intellectual proposition, reacts to this by negating it, and then solves the conflict between the thesis and antithesis by reconciling their common truths and forming a new thesis, which in turn starts the process over. In its most elementary way, Fichte’s idea can be used to describe the story of Esther we will read on Purim.

In the Megillah it seems that the thesis is best described by Haman when he says to the king:

“There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king’s laws; therefore it does not profit the king to suffer them.” (Esther 3:8)

As an orphaned child of these refugees, Esther is presented at the extreme margins of society. It seems that the pendulum swings to the other extreme for Esther when she ascends to the Persian throne. But is there a synthesis? Mordecai pleads for Esther to speak to the king to save her people from Haman’s plot. On a simple level he asks her if she will remain comfortable in the king’s house or risk death and approach the king. On another level Mordecai is asking her to synthesize her Persian and Jewish identities.

I was thinking about this process these last few days at the 2016 Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Leaders Assembly. At this conference we hosted 750 people committed to vibrant Jewish future through high quality, meaningful Jewish summer experiences. Together we celebrated the genuine maturation of the field of Jewish camp and 18 years of the FJC. It is interesting to think about the history of Jewish summer camp in North America in the context of Fichte/Esther’s process.

At the inception of Jewish summer camps in this country at the start of the 20th century, the goal was to bring inner-city children of Eastern European immigrants out to the country to “Americanize” them. This thesis to acculturate our children was met by the antithesis in the emergent trend to use camp to indoctrinate a generation intentionally in Jewish culture, education, and religious and Zionist ideologies (e.g. Cejwin Camps, and denominational camps). The most recent phase has emerged in the last decade of specialty camps. After listening to visionary camp owner and director Scott Brody at our Leaders Assembly, I realize that this specialization is actually part of a larger synthesis.

Scott is the former national vice president of the American Camp Association and currently serves on FJC’s board. He recently expanded his camp business into China, where affluent parents are looking to give their children an edge in a competitive economy. At our conference, he eloquently spoke about the movement to use camp to strengthen 21st century skills in the next generation (see recent article). Jewish parents, like their Chinese counterparts, are increasingly looking for experiences that give their children an advantage, add value, prepare them for college and position them to succeed in their careers. Last year, Brody said:

“When you look at the entrepreneurial and innovation skill set, a lot of what you need are the qualities that people get to practice at camp – creativity, communication, collaboration, and building your own sense of resilience … All of these themes are interwoven with the American dream. And the opportunity to practice these skills is the critical novelty of the camp environment.” (Yale Globalist)

At camp we foster leadership, grit, tenacity and resilience in the next generation. Away from our watchful eyes, our campers and staff increase their independence, friendship, confidence, responsibility, and teamwork. At a Jewish camp, the next generation have a profound feeling of connectedness to the Jewish people, gain a deeper understanding of Jewish values, and explore their heritage of wisdom and spirituality. We need to help the next generation synthesize their identities.

We understand how we all want to see “Esther” pursue her interests in all facets of life – whether that is getting into a certain college, establishing herself in her career of choice, and empowering her to compete in the global marketplace. Like Mordecai, we want Esther to do well and to do good and to be fully self-actualized. We need to better articulate how our Jewish engagement efforts help do all of these things and at the same time create mensches who make the world a better place. With Jewish camp, parents do not have to choose between their children’s future and our heritage. The right synthesis will ensure a bright future for all.

– Reposted from ejewishphilanthropy.com

The Secret Life of Moshe II : Shemot and Purim

Can you keep a secret?

As I written about before, I think that secrets play a dynamic and critical role in the Bible, Jewish memory, Jewish life, human psychology, contemporary life, and of course most family issues.  OK that is not the best secret. If only the Elders of Zion really existed I would have some better secrets to share with you. But how might I argue my claim of  the importance of secrets? For now I am going to focus on this week’s Torah portion.

In the beginning of the book of Sh’mot we see that a couple from the tribe of Levi clandestinely have a male child. They, Amram and Yocheved, need to keep this a secret out of fear that this male child will be killed under the new government rule. How long will they be able to keep this secret? They put the child in a basket and put him in the river. None other than Pharaoh’s daughter and her maidservants discover the baby in the bulrushes. Batya, Pharaoh’s daughter, names him Moshe and brings Miriam and Yocheved into the plot to raise Moshe as a closeted Israelite in the house of Pharaoh.

In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead. ”  How did so many people conspire to keep this secret? It seems somehow that these people are able to keep a secret; Moshe grows up with his secret secure.

Moshe’s identity seems  safely hidden until one day when he sees an Egyptian slave master beating an Israelite. Moshe is inspired to action, but he does not want to betray his secret. We read, “And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he smote the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand.” (Exodus 2:12) It seems like the perfect act of vigilante justice. He saves his fellow Israelite, there are no witnesses and he is able to  maintain his old secret of being an Israelite and his new secret of killing the Egyptian. The very next day Moshe intervenes as one Israelite is beating another. The Israelite responds, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you plan to kill me, as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14) Moshe leaves town out of fear that his secrets are known by all. The juxtaposition of these two secrets, one kept and one not, frame the importance of secrets in Moshe’s life.

In many ways a secret is like being naked. If shared with the right person it is high level of intimacy. If your secret is revealed to the wrong person you feel exposed, embarrassed, and even in real danger. But, if you had a secret that you could never  share, it could be a very large burden to carry having to keep this part of yourself in the closet. In the words of Sigmund Freud, “He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every pore.” Moshe had to leave Egypt because  everyone knew his secrets. He also had to leave to evade the deafening sound of the  Tell-Tale Heart. While he might have been killed if he stayed, keeping his secrets bottled up would have also killed him. But if his secret identity as an Israelite male would have been known he also would have been killed.

This seems to be resonant with the story of Purim.  Like Moshe, Esther has a secret identity of being Jewish at a time when the Jewish people are going to be killed. Like Moshe’s connection to Yocheved, some how she and Mordecai  the court Jew carry on their relationship without anyone knowing her identity. Esther maintains this secret even after she reveals the secret plot to kill the king in the name of her uncle.  The main difference between the two stories seems to be the role of God. In Moshe’s story when his secret comes to light his role is to share the secret of God with the people.  In the story of Purim the climax comes when Esther reveals her secret identity to the King, but if God has a role in the story, that remains a secret. There is still more to be explored as to the role of secrets in the Torah.

– Reprieve of an older post on Moshe and His Life of Secrets

Hoist By His Own Petard

Mi Sh’nichnas Adar, Marbim b’simchah- With the advent of Adar we increase joy in preparation for Purim. Each of us find different ways to bring joy. Here I want to explore Schadenfreude one distinct genre of humor. Why is the pain of other people such a rich source of laughter for so many of us?

I think that Megillat Esther might provide us some interesting insights into this question. The whole story  seems to get started when  Achashverosh asks his queen Vashti to come his banquet in her crown. When she rejects him he is angry and turns to his inner court for counsel. There we read:

And Memucan answered before the king and the princes: ‘Vashti the queen has 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 Achashverosh. For this deed of the queen will come abroad to all women, to make their husbands contemptible in their eyes, when it will be said: The king Achashverosh commanded Vashti the queen to be brought in before him, but she came not. And this day will the princesses of Persia and Media who have heard of the deed of the queen say the like to all the king’s princes. So will there arise enough contempt and wrath. If it please the king, let there go forth a royal commandment from him, and let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes, that it be not altered, that Vashti come no more before king Achashverosh, and that the king give her royal estate to another that is better than she. And when the king’s decree which he shall make shall be published throughout all his kingdom, great though it be, all the wives will give to their husbands honor, both to great and small.’ ( Esther 1: 16-20)

So just like that, by royal decree, the queen was out, women needed to listen to their husbands, and honor was restored to the men.

Later on in the story we meet Haman the kings lead counsel. Haman has ascended to be all-powerful, he has been given permission to kill the Jews, and he recently was invited to a very exclusive party with the king and Esther the new queen. And despite all of this he is unhappy because Mordecai sits at the kings gate and will not bow to him. There we read:

Then Zeresh his wife and all his friends said to him: ‘Let a gallows be made of fifty cubits high, and in the morning you should speak to the king that Mordecai may be hanged on it; then you can go in merrily with the king in to the banquet.’ And the thing pleased Haman; and he caused the gallows to be made. ( Esther 5:14)

The story continues that Haman follows his wife’s advise and goes to see the king where he is met with an interesting question. “What shall be done to the ma n whom the king delights to honor?”( Esther 6:6) Assuming the king was talking about himself he suggests that the king bring out the royal apparel so that the person being honored can ride around the streets on the king’s horse wearing the king’s crown and being led by the kings most noble prince announcing that this is how the king honors people. Then the king said to Haman:

‘Make haste, and take the apparel and the horse, as you have said, and do even so to Mordecai the Jew, that sits at the king’s gate; let nothing fail of all that you hast spoken.’  Then took Haman the apparel and the horse, and arrayed Mordecai, and caused him to ride through the street of the city, and proclaimed before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.'( Esther 6:10-11)

It is noteworthy that while Mordecai is honored to be led around by his nemesis Haman he does not get to wear the king’s crown.  Why is this the case? The king could not sleep at night so he read the chronicles where he saw that he had not appropriately honored Mordecai for saving his life.  And why was the king awake? Well I think it might be because some Jackass listened to his wife and kept him up all night building a gallows. On a number of levels Haman is hoisted by his own petard .

So, if you are anything like me you ask, what does it mean to be hoisted by a petard ? The petard, a rather primitive and exceedingly dangerous explosive device, consisted of a brass or iron bell-shaped device filled with gunpowder. This was attached to a wall or gate using hooks and rings, the fuse lit and, if successful, the resulting explosive force, concentrated at the target point, would blow a hole in the obstruction, allowing assault troops to enter. So this phrase means “to be harmed by one’s own plan to harm someone else” or “to fall into one’s own trap.” So on one level Haman wanted to have the king honor him and in the end had to honor Mordecai in that same way. On another level the gallows on which he hoped to kill Mordecai was the reason the king was awake. In the end it was means by which Haman and his family were killed. So that plan really blew up on him. And on yet another level we see that the whole story was set into motion to preserve men’s honor and ensure that their wives would listen to them. Haman is killed because he listened to Zeresh and Achashverosh listened to Esther.

So going back to the question of Schadenfreude. There is nothing noble about laughing at someone’s pain, but is seems justified when the one in pain is being hoisted by his own petard. Hell I am honored to do it. Have a very joyous Adar.

 

 

Purim in Verse

For Mishloach Manot this year Adina got sauce and pasta and I got colanders to give to people. Here is a poem I wrote for it:

Purim in Verse

The Megilah gets terse

When you put it into verse

Esther found when almost all was lost

To save her people might come at an extreme cost

All the Jews united and did not eat

She mustered the courage and did the king meet

In the end Haman was hoisted by his own petard

Thus revealing a divine plan and the holy word of god.

And throughout Persia the Jews found peace.

And the viceroy Mordecai loved Queen Esther his niece *

Just as Oedipus Rex loved his mother Jocasta.

From all of us to you, we hope you enjoy the pasta

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* The Megilah says, “And he adopted Haddasah, i.e., Esther…and when her mother and father died, Mordecai took her to him as a daughter.” (Esther 2) Was she his niece, daughter, or wife? “Took her to him” is always used in the Torah to refer to marriage. The terms “sister” and “daughter” are common expressions of endearment, as we see in other places  (e.g., Ruth 2:8, Shir Hashirim 4:9,and  Shabbat 13b). That makes the story that much more twisted in that Mordecai is not only her uncle and husband but also Esther’s pimp. Also see Thomas Mann’s The Blood of the Walsungs
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What else rhymes with pasta?

Purim Sameakh-The Frydman Orlows


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