Purim – The Courage to Speak Out

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, February 26, 2020

Be happy it’s Adar! So says our tradition in this month that we celebrate Purim, the story of Esther and her uncle Mordecai and the heroine Esther’s rescue of the Jewish community of Persia’s from the evil Haman. A first glance it looks just like many other stories that are part of 4,000 years of Jewish history, summarized in three short sentences: They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat. In this case, let’s eat hamantaschen, the delicious triangle shaped pastry filled with fruit, poppyseed, or even chocolate, that is supposed to represent the evil Haman’s triangle shaped hat, or ears, depending on the song you sing, or perhaps something else entirely – but we’ll leave that aside for an adult discussion – this is a family friendly publication.

Purim is a time of joy, of celebration, of dressing up in costumes and celebrating Esther’s bravery – she spoke up against conventional norms for a woman when her uncle Mordecai reminded her, that “if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.” Esther had the courage and the inspiration to move forward to say what needed to be said, even at the risk of her own life. She responds to Mordecai: “I shall go to the king, though it is contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish!” After all, it was well known what happened to another woman, the king’s wife, Vashti, in the first chapter, for disobeying the king.

These two characters, Vashti and Esther, women who speak out, women who take a stand for what they believe is right, are role models for us as Jews and for us as both women and men. Our lives are not about ourselves alone. We are called to engage in the struggles and injustices of the world. As Esther saw injustice and challenges facing her and her people, she understood that she, herself, would be saved only by saving the world around her. And she became stronger by defending others.

The sages say that it is important when Adar arrives to rejoice, to laugh, and to be silly – because there is so much in our lives that is serious, so much that is difficult, so much that is heartbreaking. And they also remind us to remember the story of Esther, and to have the courage and fortitude that she had, to go forward and raise our voices, and not to be silenced. Her ability to speak out enabled her to secure the safety of the Jewish people. Her example teaches us that it is up to us to change the world.

Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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