|Esther - Edwin Long (1878)|
This year however, Purim arrives with a dose of reality. Persia, Queen Esther’s homeland, after all, is not a land in a far, far away place, or an allegorical figment of our imagination, but the origins of present-day Iran. Try as we might to ignore it, the tale of Esther has an uncomfortable ring to it, as if it carries a message that we’re meant to heed.
And it does.
|Protests against planned speech at Columbia - David Shankbone|
This message hasn’t been missed by journalists in past weeks, who have been quick to remind us of the gravity of a nuclear Iran. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu took advantage of the timing of Iran’s nuclear aspirations by providing President Obama with a copy of the Megillah Esther, as if to demonstrate that the Jewish people had walked this path before and took its history, and its lessons, seriously.
But while the story of Purim carries a valid warning against complacency, I wonder if we aren’t missing another part of the Megillah’s message.
Our recount of the rally against Haman begins not with a preemptive strike against the Persians, but with dialogue. It is Esther’s disclosure to the king that brings about a change in the political balance and the rescue of the Jewish people from destruction. Esther’s bravery is personified by her willingness to go against protocol and use her position to win the king’s ear.
|Iranian Jews, 1917 - Public Domain|
The information we are afforded is scant, but as Ajzenman points out, Iranian-Jewish author Roya Hakakian has summed up the issue with a point that make historians squirm.
“(By) bombing Iran we would be bombing a portion of Jewish history,” said Hakakian, in a recent interview with YnetNews. Hakakian fled Iran with her family in 1979, and now lives in the United States. She frequently writes on the state of affairs in Iran.
It is estimated that as many as 25,000 Jews still reside in Iran. Historical monuments such as the shrine to the Jewish prophets Habakkuk and Daniel and of course the presumed tomb of Esther and Mordechai still stand in Iran.
|Mausoleum of Esther and Mordechai, Iran - Philippe Chavin|
But Hakakian has offered another reason for reconsidering a preemptive strike: Jewish ethics, which urge us, said Hakakian, to regard others’ fates with compassion.
According to Hakakian, a strike on Iran would force the Iranian Jewish population to go into protective hiding and “would weaken Israel’s position in the region.” It would be the populations that would suffer, not the regime, which is already on tenuous ground in a country that is “ripe for revolution.”
This may be why Obama has been stressing patience. He knows the ramifications of a war with Iran would cost Israel, as well as many innocent victims in Iran. He knows it would do little to engender a source of support for Israel’s existence in the region, a source that Israel needs badly.
The Megillah Esther helps us to see the benefits of avoiding complacency in our dealings with others. It reminds us of who we are, and of our unity as a people. It is determining how we use that information, and still retain our compassion toward others however, that truly tells our story as a people.
|Man praying in synagogue, Shiraz Iran - Dept. of State (US)|