THE PURIM STORY TODAY
It happened in the days of Trump, that Trump who ruled over 52 states from Maine to California, Alaska to Florida. In those days, when President Trump occupied the White House in the capital Washington DC, in the third year of his presidency, he gave a banquet for all the officials and inner circle – the administration of his presidential campaign for a second term, the senators and governors of the states in his service. For no fewer than 180 days, he dominated the airwaves and social media, displaying the vast riches of his dominion and the splendour of his presidency… – not least, the lavish furnishings of a White House that had become a Palace of Gold (See: Book of Esther, chapter 1, verses1-6).
The Book of Esther, which is at the heart of the festival of Purim, reads like a fairy story, complete with heroes and villains. Depending on your point of view, President Trump is either, a populist demagogue, fomenting hatred and division on the one hand, or a saviour of the people on the other. But Trump is neither a Haman nor a Mordechai. If he has a counterpart in the Purim tale, it is, perhaps, King Achashveirosh: vain and narcissistic, self-aggrandising and self-indulgent, for whom women are play-things and wives are trophies. Nevertheless, it’s not possible to dismiss King Achashveirosh out of hand – after all, he not only surrounded himself with sycophants who did his bidding, he promoted Haman, advancing him and placing him higher than any of his fellow officials (Esther 3:1). Perhaps, Trump will not get a chance to complete three years and start preparing for a second term in the fourth. Perhaps his flagrant disregard for the American constitution and due legal process will result in him being impeached. If this does happen, then his right-hand man, Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian with a hard-line right-wing political agenda will step into his shoes…
The Purim story centres on the scapegoating and demonisation of the Jewish people. But when we celebrate Purim, are we simply rejoicing in the defeat of a heinous plot to destroy us, or are we also expressing our rejection of xenophobia and the persecution of any marginal group? After all, as the Torah teaches: ‘You shall not to oppress the stranger, for you know the inner-being (nefesh) of the stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Mishpatim, Exodus 23:9). Written like a fairy story, the Book of Esther nonetheless addresses challenging issues about the vulnerability of religious and ethnic minorities, which remain pertinent today. Thankfully, Jews don’t seem to be the target of the Trump administration – although let’s not forget, Trump’s supporters include an assortment of racist and anti-Semitic organisations, including, the Ku Klux Klan. But the new government is directly targeting Mexicans and Muslims. As we celebrate Purim, let us express our support for all immigrant and minority groups at risk of victimisation.
Rabbi Elli Tikvah Sarah
(also published in SJN, March 2017)