The jolly holiday of Purim will be observed in the Jewish world this year on Monday evening and Tuesday. The name of this holiday is derived from the Hebrew word pur, which means "lots," referring to the "lottery tickets" used by the villain Haman to determine a date for his planned destruction of the Jews of Persia. The story took place nearly 2,500 years ago and is recounted in the biblical book of Esther. Of course, Haman's diabolical plan was foiled by the bravery and courage of Mordecai and Esther, who risked their lives to save the Jews.
In commemoration of this happy ending, Jews gather in their synagogues for a boisterous celebration. Prayers are recited in a light-hearted vein, songs are sung, children and adults dress up in costume, humorous plays are staged, noisemakers called groggers are twirled, and three-cornered cookies called hamantaschen are enjoyed by all.
Although Purim is technically a minor festival on the Jewish calendar and is a lively celebration, its message is very serious. It reminds us of the specter of anti-Semitism that continues to rear its ugly head even today. We are, of course, most fortunate to be living in America, which has provided a safe haven from governmental acts of anti-Semitism that have existed in practically every other place Jews have lived. But as we monitor world events, we can still see and hear the ugliness of anti-Semitism.
Terrorism: Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and President Bush have made it clear that the war with Al-Qaida is far from over. There are still thousands of terrorists throughout the world whose targets are Americans, Jews and Westerners in general.
Arafat is still blessing his suicide bombers and paying the bills for shiploads of armaments. Bush has denounced Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas as terrorists and criticized those who give refuge and comfort to them, but the bloodshed persists. Wafa Idris, a young woman who worked as a volunteer for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, seeking to save lives, recently detonated herself on a busy Jerusalem street, killing an elderly person and gravely wounding several Israelis.
Solutions in the book of Esther are neat and clear. One day, the Jews of Shushan are down. The next day, they're victorious. One day, the bad guys are riding high, proud and powerful. The next day, Haman is swinging from the gallows he had intended for Mordecai.
This year, Purim is not so neat and clear. This year, Purim is blemished by uncertain agonies, battles still raging, terrorists still inflicting their missions of death and mayhem. How should we deal with such a reality? How do we cope with this gut-wrenching world we live in with little or no resolution to the dangers before us?
With laughter: We Jews are a people who have never succumbed to despair or hopelessness. As our ancestors have done for generations, we express ourselves not in sadness or sorrow over our plight, but with gusto, with a demonstration of pride and strength, of laughter and celebration. To do otherwise is to grant victories to our enemies, to those who have not yet accepted the fact that America will not be defeated, the Jewish people will not be defeated, and Israel will not be defeated. Despite the challenges before us, despite the present glut of Hamans, we will have a very happy Purim.
XFranklin Muller is rabbi at Congregation Rodef Sholom in Youngstown.