Purim is soon upon us. Thankfully the calendar locates it this year on Saturday night and Sunday. It is calendrically convenient. Lots and lots of Jews will make it to the synagogue for the reading of the Megillah and all of its attendant fun and hoopla. This is a good way to deal with the fact that the Book of Esther has some horrible and frightening verses and persons. Pharaoh just wanted to enslave us. That made a lot of sense. Slavery is, after all, of great economic benefit. Pharaoh also calculated that if we, the Jewish people, were enslaved we could not form any strategic alliance with some of his enemies against him. This is pragmatic. Not nice for us, but pragmatic.
Haman has no such practical considerations. Haman tells the king, "There is one people dispersed and scattered throughout all the nations and peoples of your land. They have their own practices and culture. They pay no heed to the king's laws. And if it pleases you, let's annihilate them." Not only that, Haman continues, "I'll cover the expense of doing it. It won't cost the royal treasury anything." Haman, the first really great hater of the Jewish people is cost effective. During World War II, the Germans were also cost conscious. They produced accounting documents to show that with an effective exploitation of the bones and ashes of incinerated Jews the killing enterprise could make a profit.
Haman and Pharaoh are two types of enemies of the Jewish people. Pharaoh is a political and economic tyrant. He has no special brief against us. He is a control freak. He just wants to control any people within his borders and a few who are without his borders, and exploit them for real gain. Political and economic expediency is what drives Pharaoh. Haman, on the other hand, has no such consideration. Haman is not a political enemy of the Jewish people. Haman is an ideological enemy of the Jewish people. He is opposed to the Jewish People's very purpose for existence. Hence he has to erase them. Haman is opposed to Jewish distinctiveness. If the Jews won't assimilate and become like everyone else, they have to be erased. It is not possible to make peace with Haman like enemies. There is nothing to negotiate.
On the other hand, one can make a deal with Pharaoh-like enemies. They are not opposed to the existence of the Jewish people. They just want certain political, economic, or strategic benefits. After he launched an unprovoked war against Israel, on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, in 1973, that God help us, nearly succeeded, and ended up killing approximately 2,200 young Israeli men, Anwar Sadat was the most hated and vilified name in all of Israel. And then four years later, that's right, just four years later, he came to Jerusalem. He was received with open arms; not just by the political leadership of the country, but by virtually all of the citizens of the country. We Jews know how to make peace. We know how to engage in reconciliation with those who were and no longer are our political, economic, or strategic enemies. In four years, Anwar Sadat moved from being an enemy to being greeted because he was ready to make peace. For that he got back all the land taken in the Six-Day War.
Today, when Israel confronts a variety of opponents this is a useful way of understanding them. There are those who are rivals and competitors in the game of nation state relations. They are like Pharaoh. There are those who seek the destruction of the State of Israel. They are like Haman.
Now we shouldn't end here because the Megillah doesn't end with the hanging of Haman and his 10 sons who went into the family business. After the terrifying threat of genocide, of annihilation, the Jewish people throughout the Persian Empire went into deep mourning. And then, they were saved. Haman's decree was nullified. What did they do to celebrate? They gave presents to the poor and sent packages of homemade food to each other. After a threat like Haman is averted, there is only one thing to do. It is to be good to each other. And being good to each other, in the simplest sense of the term, means taking care of those amongst us who are poor and being kind to them. It means sending gifts of food, not electronics, not technology, just the simplest of all gifts. The gift that says I love you. The gift that says I want to nourish and nurture you more than any other gift; here, have some homemade food.
So, before you head off to the synagogue on Saturday night, right after Shabbat, to begin Purim's celebration, please make sure that you spent the previous week preparing a lot of food that you can then deliver on Sunday in the morning or afternoon to the people you know and the people you like. It doesn't matter what kind of food it is as long as you made it and cooked it at home. They tried to kill us. We overcame. Let's have a family meal. Can't beat that!