The words in the title are a direct quote from Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther, which Jews worldwide will read on Wednesday night as Purim begins. The background to the story is the plot by Haman the Agagite, the evil Vizier of the King, to murder all the Jews in the Persian Empire. The words are spoken by Mordechai, the leader of the Persian Jewish community during the Babylonian Exile, who advises his niece, who had been selected by the King to become his Queen despite her extreme reluctance, that it is entirely possible that it is for this very reason that she was chosen to become Queen – in order to intervene with King Ahasuerus (Achashverosh) to stop the planned genocide of the Jews in the Persian Empire, organized and initiated by the wicked Amalekite Haman.
Esther is scared to approach the King because if you enter the King’s chamber without an invitation, there is an automatic death sentence. Mordechai reminds Esther that if she reamins silent, G-d will surely rescue them some other way, but Esther herself, as the King’s wife, might be at risk herself if there is a palace coup.
Much as I am loth to compare Binyamin Netanyahu to Queen Esther (!) the parallels between the two events, roughly 2,500 years apart, are startling.
A short snappy email from a friend (h/t Henry) explains the situation perfectly:
Once there was a King in Shushan, the most powerful ruler in the world, who had a strong disdain, dislike or perhaps even hatred of Jews.
Today there is a President in Washington, the most powerful ruler in the world, who has a strong disdain, dislike or perhaps even hatred of Jews.
Once there was a Persian who wanted to kill all the Jews, but needed the King’s authorization to proceed.
Today there are Persians who want to kill all the Jews, but need the President’s authorization to proceed.
The King didn’t really care, as long as there was something in it for him – lots of money.
The President doesn’t really care, as long as there is something in it for him – a deal with the Persians.
The Jewish Queen wanted to tell the King what was really happening, but going in to talk to the King was dangerous.
The Jewish Prime Minister wants to tell the President what is really happening, but going to talk to him is dangerous.
Some people thought she shouldn’t go, it would just anger the King and make things worse.
Some people think he shouldn’t go, it will just anger the President and make things worse.
The Queen asked the Jews to fast and pray for the success of her mission. They did so, and the King accepted her words, and the plot to destroy them was thwarted.
Will we fast and pray for the success of his mission? Will the President and Congress accept his words? Will the plot to destroy us be thwarted?
We commemorate the fasting prior to the Queen’s plea to the King on Taanit Ester, which commences on 3rd March.
The Prime Minister of Israel has been invited to address the United States Congress on 3rd March.
The obvious parallels between Purim and Netanyahu’s Washington visit are evident to all, and articles in the Jewish and Israeli media abound.
First of all, Binyamin Netanyahu himself is aware of the extreme importance and the symbolic timing of his speech:
“I feel like an emissary of all of Israel, even those who do not agree with me,” he said, adding that “I sense a deep angst for the fate of Israel; I will do everything to assure our future.”
Last night, Netanyahu paid a visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem, where he also related to his upcoming journey.
“I want to take this opportunity to say that I respect the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I believe in the power of the relationship between Israel and the US, and their ability to overpower the differences – those that we have had and those that, one imagines, are still to come.”
However, he emphasized that his decision to address Congress despite the White House’s objections were the result of his fears over the existential threat posed to Israel by a “bad” deal with Iran over its nuclear program.
“As the prime minister of Israel it is my duty to safeguard the security of Israel, and that is why we strenuously oppose the deal that is forming between Iran and the powers, which can endanger our very existence.
Ruthie Blum in Yisrael Hayom also writes about the similarities “Between Esther and Congress”:
Within the framework of the discussion over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned speech before Congress, several historic figures have been dug up from their graves and revived: Roosevelt and Chamberlain, Hitler and Churchill. Those inclined to look further back and have a Jewish calendar handy cannot help invoking a deeper historical comparison — a chilling one. The date of the speech is the 12th of Adar after sunset, in other words the 13th of Adar: “And the letters sealed with his ring were sent by the king’s messengers to all provinces, to kill and destroy all the Jews, both young and old, little children, and women, in one day, that is, on the 13th of the 12th month, which is called Adar, and to make a spoil of their goods” (Esther 3:13). This is the date, that’s the story. A 2,300-year gap, bridged in an instant.
Now the head of the Jewish state is traveling to the palace of Ahasuerus to cry out against the decree. The present-day Ahasuerus is not a king ruling over 127 states, but 50; he is not a drunkard or an idiot, but he is apathetic to the fate of the Jews. And this is the third year of his second term, just as Ahasuerus was in the third year of his kingdom, according to the Book of Esther. Esther arrived at the palace on the third day, after three days of preparations; Netanyahu will speak before Congress on the third day of its convening.
By the way, Mordechai also came under attack back then: He was “held in high esteem by many of his brethren” (Esther 10:3). As it is written, “many” of his brethren, not “all” of them. There were always those who put on sour faces and harbored bitter hearts. Not much has changed.
… And on the 13th of Adar, in the year 5776, the messenger of the Jews, Netanyahu, will walk into Congress, accompanied by 8 million plaintiffs, the citizens of Israel, and the weight of 2,300 years on his shoulders.
Netanyahu will speak the words of Esther and his voice will reverberate to all corners of the world.
Arlene Kushner stresses the Divine commandment to “remember Amalek and wipe it out“, which Torah portion we read in shul this past Shabbat. I highly recommend you read what she has to say:
Sam Shore, one of the rabbis in my shul, addressed this with a powerful relevancy yesterday, which I want to share:
More than Amalek was a people, it was an ideology of evil. At one and the same time, we must work to defeat – wipe out – that ideology wherever we find it and we must remember what Amalek did so that we stay alert to what evil is possible in this world.
What is more, we Jews, having been commanded to remember, are charged with alerting others in the world about evil when we see it.
Netanyahu’s speech, he told me after his talk, is holy work.
Read the whole thing. There is so much more there.
The Megillah of course has a happy end. Esther intervened as Mordechai requested, the King was happy to see her, and – shocked at Haman’s betrayal – orders Haman’s execution and the promotion of Mordechai to the position of Vizier.
We must all pray that tomorrow, as 2,300 years ago, Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech will have the desired effect, and that, unwelcome as it is to so many, it will shock American lawmakers into action that will prevent the future genocide (G-d forbid) of the Jews of Israel.