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Discover the Purim Story's Message to Secular Jews

02/23/2018 06:35:53 PM


By: Rabbi Steven Schwartz 

The Book of Esther, called in Hebrew Megillat Esther, contains one of the best known and most beloved stories in the entire Bible.  From the time we are children we can recite the narrative's major plot points and characters.  We know of Mordecai as the steadfast uncle, supporting his niece but also determined to do all he can to save the Jews.  We know about the hateful and wicked Haman, and his plot to decimate Persia's Jewish community.  We recall the funny and somewhat bumbling King Ahashverosh.  And most importantly of all, we respect and honor Queen Esther, the brave woman who risks her own life to save her people.  

All that being said, I sometimes wonder if we take the Purim story for granted.  That is to say, we know it so well we don't bother to think about its deeper messages.  What is the Book of Esther really about?  

On the one hand, it is clearly a retelling of the core Jewish story of national survival and redemption.  Echoing the Hanukkah story, and the Passover story as well, Esther tells the tale of an endangered Jewish people and the few heroes who come along to defeat the enemy, save the day, and ensure the Jewish future.  Like the song from Beauty and the Beast, ‘a tale as old as time.'

But thinking about Purim from a modern perspective might enable us to see this ancient tale in a more modern light.  In a number of ways, the Book of Esther reflects today's Jewish community.  It is a story of secular Jews, Mordecai, and Esther, who still feel connected to their Jewish heritage, even if they aren't ‘religious.'  And the Book of Esther also is the story of an interfaith family.  After all, when Esther wins that beauty contest and becomes the Queen, she is a Jewish woman marrying a non-Jewish man.

On the surface, this might seem surprising.  Esther, one of the Hebrew Bible's great heroes, is intermarried!  But think about this for a moment - if she were not in an interfaith marriage, she would have had no chance to save her people.  It is the very fact that her husband is the (non-Jewish) King that puts her in a unique position.  If she had married a Jewish man, if she had ‘stayed in the ‘hood,' so to speak, it is entirely possible, in fact likely, that the Jews would have been destroyed.  Imagine the headline in the Shushan Times:  Interfaith Family Saves the Jews!

The truth is, maybe we shouldn't be so surprised after all.  Interfaith families comprise more than 50% of today's Jewish community.  They bring their children to Hebrew school, celebrate at their sons' and daughters' ‘b'nai mitzvah, participate in congregational life, give generously to Jewish organizations, speak out positively about Israel, and create Jewish homes.  Our congregation is in part the kind of community we are all proud of because of the commitment and connection of our many interfaith families.  They may not have saved the Jewish people in one fell swoop like Queen Esther and King Ahashverosh, but they truly are helping to preserve the Jewish people and Jewish identity for many generations to come.

We should be grateful and proud to have those families in our midst!

Happy Purim!

Sat, July 24 2021 15 Av 5781