Haman’s contemporary

Haman’s contemporary

Rabbi emeritus, Temple Avodat Shalom, River Edge, Reform

Purim is a holiday based upon a fictional tale that nonetheless contains a very truthful and salient message.

As we prepare for Purim this year, I cannot help but think about the fact that a modern-day Haman, who held the position of prime minister to the king of Persia, has a direct counterpart in the president of Iran, the modern name for the land of Persia. Like Haman, who was beholden to the king, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is subservient to the “religious supreme ruler.” Like Haman of Persia, Ahmadinejad of Iran sees Jews as scapegoats upon whom he can place all the failures of his kingdom. Like so many other anti-Semites throughout history, both the biblical Haman and the present-day Ahmadinejad allow their hatred of Jews to blind them to the policies that are in the best interest of their own people.

The one crucial difference, of course, is that the Purim story is fiction, the evil Haman is defeated, and the Jews are seemingly saved without any serious cost in terms of their lives. In real life, even when anti-Semites are defeated, the human costs are real and, as we know living just two generations after the Shoah, they can be very high.

One important similarity between the Purim story and real life is that the defeat of tyrants requires people to stand up, to speak out, and to be willing to take risks and, if necessary, to fight.

In the Purim story, Esther had to get over her fears of speaking truth to the king and revealing her true identity in order to save her people. Today, in the wake of the terrible losses in human life and treasure that the United States has suffered in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are many Americans who believe that we just cannot afford another battle. The lesson I take away from the Purim story is the opposite. We cannot afford not to engage in another battle if that is the only way to foil the plot of this modern-day Haman.

Are we really not supposed to believe that Iran’s intent in developing its nuclear capability is to produce weapons that will (a) fulfill Ahmadinejad’s promise to wipe Israel off the map and (b) fulfill the promise of the first “supreme ruler,” the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, to defeat the “evil Satan,” as the late dictator referred to the United States? Both goals have both been stated unequivocally and continually since the current regime took power in 1979. Should we ignore the threats?

Purim is the most joyous of Jewish holidays because it represents the willingness of good people to stand up against hatred and bigotry. It is a time to acknowledge that, having been created by God with free will, each of us individually and all of us collectively has the responsibility to not only choose good over evil, but to hold those who choose otherwise accountable for their actions.

The Purim tale is a wonderful story because all the innocent lives are saved. It is an important story because it reminds us that the miracle of the holiday was due to good people doing what good people should do: choosing good over evil; action over passivity; life over death. It is a story of Jews successfully and assertively lobbying non-Jewish political leaders on behalf of their community. It is a story about speaking truth to power.

When you attend a m’gillah reading on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, take a moment to reflect on our responsibility to express to President Barack Obama and our congressional representatives our support for the bipartisan effort to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

This year, in addition to sending mishloach manot gifts to family and friends, please join me in sending them a thank you, along with our hope that they will continue to stand firm in their resolve to thwart the evil plans of the modern Haman in Tehran.