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PURIM vs. LEVITICUS: a Jewish Inevitability

Humans universally ask the question: What does the Lord require of you? (Micah 6:8, Deuteronomy 10:12) Every culture; every place. The answer becomes their religion.

The Torah book we open this shabbat for the first time this year, Leviticus, answers those questions: How to offer gifts to God in return for God’s gifts to us? How do we dedicate the sacred space set aside for God’s presence on earth? What may we ingest from God’s animal creation? What does illness say about our relationship to God? Which intimate sexual relationships are permitted and which are forbidden? How shall we treat our neighbors compared to ourselves? What is our relationship to the land God has given to us?

Millennia later, the answers have changed but the questions remain, cross culturally and internationally.

In addition to embarking on reading Leviticus, this shabbat is named “The Sabbath of Remembrance,” the sabbath before Purim, on which Jews read  the farcical, fictitious account of Jews living as a minority in diasporic Persia, The Book of Esther.

Haman, the demonic villain, who accuses Jews of three transgressions against the king: 1. Being dispersed widely in Persia, and by implication not paying taxes, 2. Having different customs than Persians, and 3. Not obeying the laws of the King.

Having accused the Jews, Haman offers the King ten talents of silver, an enormous fortune, if Haman will be authorized to murder the Jews.

While the story originates in the 4th century b.c.e., likely in ancient Persia, these questions recur to this day in false charges against Jews, the basis for antisemitism.

While Leviticus sets out the goal of Jews, to live harmoniously with God, the Book of Esther recounts the first instance of anti-Judaism and the arbitrary persecution of Jews.

These issues perniciously raise their ugly heads, like Chuckys appearing through Jewish history to plague the people out of nowhere. Purim becomes the paradigm of diasporic Jewish life: you never know where persecution and expulsion will occur, so never rest too easy and keep your passport current.

The same people who dedicated their lives to harmony with God, who gave the Bible and the Christian Son of God to humanity, the prophets to Islam, and over 20% of the Nobel Prize winners to humankind are once again today vilified in many corners of “polite” Western society.

The descendants of Jews murdered and expelled from Europe and Arab lands, invaded by 5 surrounding nations on declaring their independence granted by the United Nations, blockaded twice and invaded by neighboring Egypt before finding peaceful relations these last 40 years, and now embroiled in a war in which the enemy has declared “We will repeat the actions of October 7 with every opportunity until we destroy Israel;” a nation of people with no other peaceful place to settle in the world and constantly invaded by both neighbors and internal enemies; is once again vilified among the nations even while threatened on their Western, Northern and Southern borders.

I recognize the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs living in Israel are peaceful, and I have supported an independent Palestinian State for decades. But the peacemakers for Israel: King Abdullah, President Sadat and Prime Minister Rabin, get assassinated. Extremists continue to win, and Israeli Jews have nowhere else to go. Israel provides Israelis with not only a home, but a final refuge.

I am no fan of the current government. I believe them racist, extremist, hateful, and supremacist, even as I watch the world prove their point: Jews who defend their own lives are welcome nowhere else. That was proven by Hitler in World War II, and apparently it is equally true today. Antisemitism, the refusal to allow Israel to defend itself against enemies who promise her destruction even as they exploit their own people as human shields to protect their combatants, once against threatens the Jews of the United States and Europe. Purim’s Book of Esther and the writings of Theodore Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, prefigure today’s tragic events.

While I watch Israel attack and starve the innocent residents of Gaza, and cry at the fate of innocent people, I recognize that not a single nation has forced Hamas to surrender, has gotten the hostages freed, has announced that Hamas’ leaders are not only persona non grata in their nations but will be arrested and tried and punished for their villainy, has frozen Hamas’ businesses internationally and frozen or forfeited their bank accounts to rebuild the lives of the people they have destroyed. Instead, they blame the victims, even while proving that their anti-Israel stance really is antisemitism, despite liberal Jews who seek to divide antigovernment from antisemitism.

In studying Leviticus we inspect our lives to answer the humanitarian question: in a world created by a God who seeks a covenant with humanity, how should we respond in gratitude for God’s presence and gifts? While Jews historically have sought a haven to simply live our lives without constant threat, once again we see that out of nowhere, using nonsense philosophies with special conditions for Jews, we must defend our very existence. The Left wing claims we are guilty because we are White; the Right Wing claims we are not White and therefore not welcome. The Left claims we are colonizers and guilty; the Right claims we undermine society and must be expelled. The Left claims we are insiders. The Right claims we are outsiders. No wonder the tradition on Purim is to read a farce, drown out the villain’s name, and drink alcohol. Life for Jews has often been absurd, and at least once a year we must recognize that despite our best efforts, for Jews, the world is a dangerous place.

May peace break out, the hostages freed, the war end, the people of Gaza rebuild their lives, Palestinians and Israelis dedicate their lives and nations to peace, and then the messiah will be unnecessary, and declare “Well done my children, well done.”

Happy Purim!


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