Purim is a Jewish holiday, whose etiology is found in the Hebrew Bible’s book of Esther. In the book, a behind-the-scenes plot to destroy the Jewish people is foiled by an informed Jew named Mordechai and his strategically placed niece Esther. The book presents an ancient anti-Semitic antagonist by the name of Haman, a descendant of the infamous Amalek (Deuteronomy 25:17-19; Exodus 17:8-16). At its core, the book tells a tale of how the Jews survived death in the face of anti-Semitic hatred. Berlin states, “In the end, though, the message is positive: Good triumphs and evil is eradicated; the threat of Jewish annihilation is averted and the Jewish community is assured of continuity and prosperity” (Berlin, 2004, p. 1625). As Purim approaches, it is the Prime Minister of Israel who is seeking the good of his people and interceding for the welfare of his kindred, against threats from those in a modern Persia who desire their destruction.
While the Jewish people prepare to celebrate their survival in antiquity, the words and themes of the book of Esther seem to take on a new relevance as Benjamin Netanyahu travels to the United States to speak before the American Congress. The visit of Israel’s Prime Minister has created quite the stir. The invitation it seems, violated certain protocols, comes at a crucial period in negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran over its nuclear program, and is viewed by many as counter productive when it comes to an already strained relationship between the governments of Israel and the United States. None of this has deterred Bibi. Against all of the encouragement and pressure to cancel his address, the Israeli leader has promised to do everything in his power to make his concerns heard. He has clearly said that as the Prime Minister of Israel he is obligated to ensure the security of Israel, and part of this obligation is to do everything in his power to oppose the present negotiations with Iran.
Is the threat real or imagined? Is there any hope in reaching a peaceful resolution to the concerns of the global community? Every sensible person is concerned about the intentions of Tehran’s leadership when it comes to their nuclear program. One does not have to look far to find threats against the Jewish state from people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. Some have suggested that Hassan Rouhani is more moderate, but others doubt this assessment. Due to global mistrust, an international team has formed to negotiate a peaceful resolution to concerns around Iran’s nuclear program. The team is known as P5+1 and consists of delegates from the U.S., UK, Germany, France, Russia and China. The European Union is facilitating the negotiations.
Benjamin Netanyahu remains unconvinced that the negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran will prove successful and sees his appeal to Congress as perhaps his only chance at convincing American leadership of the true intentions of Iran. Netanyahu holds that the potential threat is too real to ignore and that easing sanctions will enable Israel’s enemies to reach a nuclear threshold state within a short period of time, thus endangering the people of Israel. So, on the eve of the Jewish celebration of Purim, a modern Jewish voice, inspired by characters and events from the Bible’s book of Esther is making his way to the United States.
While it is untenable to make direct correlations between the characters of the book of Esther and the modern day, Netanyahu may find it useful to draw from the characters and events in the story of Esther. Like a modern day Mordechai, he is right to refuse to bow down to edicts that contradict his values and beliefs. Perhaps his visit to the Western Wall before leaving for the U.S. correlates to Mordechai’s mourning, and his speech before Congress to the crying out loud over the threat against his people (Esther 4:1). Like Mordechai of old, he will not have access to the king. He will need to do his work through friends in high and influential places. There is no Esther in our modern play unless Congress can fill the role. If they fear a breach of protocol, perhaps he should warn them that even their present position will not guarantee their safety and that if they “keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while [they] and [their] father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:15). Netanyahu might further encourage members of Congress that perhaps they have attained their present positions, “for such a time as this.”
The role of Haman is played out in the voices of such men as Khamenei and Ahmadinejad, who want to destroy the Jewish people. If the scenario plays out in modern times as in antiquity, their true intentions will become manifest and the evil that they intend for the Jewish people will be returned upon their heads. Perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes was correct when he said that there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). On March 3, 2012, on a previous trip to Washington, Benjamin Netanyahu presented President Obama with a scroll of the book of Esther. This trip, the Israeli Prime Minister will need to share the story with Washington as if the existence of the Jewish people depended upon it. If he does his job effectively, generations from now, people will say of him that he was “highly regarded by the Jews, popular with the multitudes of his brothers, he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of his kindred” (Esther 10:3).
Berlin, A., & Brettler, M.Z. (2004). The Jewish Study Bible (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.