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Laura Hausman


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Home From the Rabbi From the Rabbi - March 2018
From the Rabbi - March 2018 PDF Print E-mail
The old saying is that Jewish festivals can be defined by the phrase – “They tried to kill us.  We survived.  Let’s eat!”  This description definitely applies to two festivals we will be celebrating this month – Purim and Passover.  In the first Haman tried to destroy the Jewish people because he could not handle the fact that we would not bow to him and his hatred of us drove him to want to eradicate us. On Passover we remember how Pharaoh, fearful of the Israelites, enslaved us. In both cases we overcame these enemies and live to celebrate to this day.

But while these festivals are similar in many ways the evil that presented itself against our people, each case was quite different.  Pharaoh begins by stating that he is fearful of the Israelites and presents what at first appear to be “rational” reasons to enslave the Israelites.  He says: “Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them, so that they may not increase; otherwise in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise from the ground.” Superficially this sounds reasonable.  But in reality these are not reasons but rationalizations.  It is hard to believe that the mighty Egyptian was truly threatened by our small people.  Pharaoh sadly did what many do.  He felt fear and instead of facing it he found a rationalization for it and convinced himself and his people that it was logical and reasonable.  He was neither the first nor the last person who engaged in evil because they convinced themselves, through false logic and rationalization, that being cruel to others was justified when it was not.  As so many have noted, no one thinks they are the bad guy in their own story.  And yet, of course, he was.

Haman represents a different but equal evil.  No real reason is given for Haman’s hatred beyond his whim and caprice. Mordechai refuses to bow down to Haman and thus he was “filled with rage.”  This aspect of his hatred is further clarified by the fact that the Rabbis connect Haman with the people of Amalek, who in the course of Israel’s wanderings in the desert, came upon the Israelites and attacked them.  Not only are they described as specifically targeting the weak and the stragglers among us, but their attack comes from nowhere and there is no discernable reason for it.  Like modern day terrorism or mass shootings, this is an evil that was particularly horrifying because it was based on irrational, baseless hatred.  Such evil expresses itself in randomness and chaos and is terrifying because it comes from nowhere and undermines our sense of control and security. 

In celebrating these two festivals we are called not just to celebrate our survival in the past but to fight against the evils of the present.  We are called to challenge ourselves and others not to rely on easy rationalizations that prevent us from seeing the evil before us and facing it when we have the opportunity.  And in facing the randomness and chaos of Amalek, the evil of baseless hatred of Haman, we are called as Jews are always called to fight baseless hatred by living life with purpose and good values, joining together to make real and significant change, and working to bring order to chaos and light to darkness.

 

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