The seventy year reprieve from anti-Semitism that the nations of the world have given our people, perhaps out of pity and sympathy in the aftermath of the Holocaust, seems to be coming to an end. Our default status in the world – scapegoat, and object of blame, hatred, anti-Semitism, and de-legitimization – is being restored as Israel is no longer the underdog and victim in the world’s eyes, but rather somehow has become the aggressor and the perpetrator.
Mi’shenichnas Adar, marbim b’simcha, we sing with great enthusiasm. When the month of Adar begins, we increase, expand, and intensify our sense of joy. But how can we be happy right now when we reflect on the Jewish condition in the world? What does Adar contain that would allow us to overlook and disregard the threats that Israel confronts, the isolation it experiences, and the challenges our people face?
When Haman approached Achashveirosh with his diabolical, genocidal plan to exterminate the Jews he said, “yeshno am echad mefuzar u’mefurad bein ha’amim…there is a nation scattered abroad and dispersed among the nations.” Rav Dovid Miller, Rosh Kollel of YU’s Gruss Kollel in Israel, pointed out the Gemara in Megillah 13b, which expands on their conversation, is very instructive for us today.
When Haman targeted the Jews for annihilation, the Gemara records, he said to Achashveirosh, “Let’s destroy the Jews.” Achashveirosh replied, “Not so fast. I am afraid of their God, lest He do to me what He did to my predecessors.” Haman relieved the King of that fear when he said, “yeshno am echad,” which translates literally as there is a certain nation. The Gemara quotes Rava, who explains that Haman was telling the King something much more strategic and insightful. Not yeshno am echad, there is a certain nation, but rather yoshnu am echad, there is a sleeping nation. “They have been negligent of mitzvos, they are divided, fighting with one another and divisive. They are asleep as to what is important and what threatens them,” said Haman.
We were vulnerable and literally on the brink of elimination and extinction as a people because we were asleep. Our eyes were closed to what was happening around us. We didn’t take the threats seriously, and we didn’t stand up for our right to simply exist. Haman, like so many of our shrewd enemies throughout Jewish history, understood that going about business as usual, living with our eyes closed and sleepwalking through life exposes us and makes us particularly vulnerable and susceptible to attack.
Haman recognized and took advantage of yoshno am echad, there is a nation that is sleeping. All he had to do was continue to lull the Jewish people into a false sense of security, to breed complacency and apathy and at that moment he could accomplish his goal of ridding the world of our people. So how did we survive? What spoiled his plan? Why did we ultimately triumph over Haman such that we are here today and he is a distant memory? The answer is simple: Mordechai and Esther, two heroes stood up and, like an alarm, rang and rang until they woke up our people from their practically comatose sleep.
Mordechai understood that the antidote to yoshno am echad, there is a nation that is sleeping, is lech knos kol ha’yehudim, go and wake them up. He understood that the response to heim am mefuzar u’mefurad bein ha’amim, they are weak because they are scattered, is to bring them together in fasting and praying. That wakeup call saved our people and ignited a response that provided not only the spark that led to military victory, but attracted people of Shushan to want to join the Jewish people.
Yoshno am echad. Too many of us have been lulled asleep and into a false sense of security and are therefore vulnerable at this time. Our enemies are no less evil than Haman, their plans no less nefarious, and their goals no less threatening to our very existence. And yet, for so many, it is business as usual, apathetic and indifferent to the threats we face.
The story of Purim is unfolding again right before our very eyes. Last week, Iran marked the 36th anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution with rallies and gatherings in which participants chanted “Death to Israel.” Iran is modern day Persia and its leaders are modern day Hamans sharing the same explicitly stated goal of wiping out our people. If they are successful, they can accomplish in minutes what it took the gas chambers years, to kill 6 million Jews and with it the Jewish homeland. We must not allow that to happen.
Like Mordechai and Esther before him, on the eve of Ta’anis Esther this year, the Prime Minister of Israel will speak before a joint a session of Congress and seek to sound the alarm, to awaken from their sleep the decision-makers who can stop the wicked plans of modern day Persia. You don’t have to agree with the decision to invite Prime Minister Netanyahu, and you don’t have to agree with his decision to have accepted.
But now that he is scheduled to speak, as Holocaust survivor and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said, “On the day before Purim the Prime Minister of Israel will address Congress…I intend to be there. Should we not show our support for what might be the last clear warning before a terrible deal is struck?” Democratic Senator Charles Schumer called on his fellow Senators, Republican and Democrat alike, to attend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech in Congress, saying the Israel-US relationship should “transcend” any political differences.
Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending a private event with Senator Mark Kirk of Illinois, leading sponsor together with Senator Robert Menendez, of the new Iran sanctions legislation. Senator Kirk spoke bluntly and directly of the threat that Iran poses not only to Israel, but also to the United States and the entire free world. He turned to those gathered and after invoking the story of Purim challenged us, will you rise to your Esther moment? Will you do all you can to make sure Iran’s nuclear ambitions are stopped? When he graciously took questions and called on me, he joked, “Rabbi, are you going to correct my quote from Esther?” “Quite the contrary,” I responded, “I want to expand on your parallel and share an incredible insight of Rabbi Soloveitchik with you.”
We all study and celebrate the story of Purim as commemoration of a miracle, the triumph of the Jewish people over evil tyrants. Do you know what the real miracle was, explained the Rav? A madman rose and articulated his intentions to destroy the Jewish people. The miracle was that we didn’t ignore him, we didn’t excuse him, and we didn’t seek to reinterpret him. The miracle was that we actually believed him and sought to do something about it.
I thanked Senator Kirk for being our miracle and taking the bold steps to protect Israel from an existential threat, but Senator Kirk told us that the work is not nearly complete. He challenged us that if we care about Israel and if we care about America’s national security, we must take the time to contact Senators across the country and ask them to commit to both attending Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address and voting in favor of the sanctions bill. He told us to take out a pen and paper, write down the number for the Senate switchboard (202) 224-3121 and make calls every day.
With the Iran negotiations deadline looming and the new Iran sanctions bill in Congress, now is the time to wake up, now is the time for lech k’nos kol ha’yehudim, to come together in prayer, and in fasting, in letter writing, phone calls, advocacy, lobbying and any way that we can raise our voice on behalf of our people.
Perhaps the joy of Adar is the happiness of waking up, of rising from our sleep and recognizing what we confront and stepping up to make a difference. Rav Miller suggested that simcha is being alive, responsive and alert, ready to face whatever challenges may come and to be confident that we will be triumphant as we ultimately have been throughout our illustrious history. Mi’shenichnas adar, marbim b’simcha. When Adar begins, we remember enemies past like Amalek and Haman and we focus acutely on our present enemies and stopping them. When we wake up and confront them, marbim b’simcha, that in itself is a source of joy.
On Sunday, June 7, 1981, on the eve of Shavuos and under the order of then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Israel unilaterally attacked the Iraqi nuclear reactor in Osirak and carried out a perfect mission that afterwards, even the U.S. military could not believe was possible. In his incredible book “The Prime Ministers,” Ambassador Yehuda Avner recalls that moments after they received the phone call saying the mission was a complete success and the boys are on their way home, Begin dictated a communique to President Reagan that he concluded: “Let the world know that under no circumstances will Israel ever allow an enemy to develop weapons of mass destruction against our people. If ever such a threat reoccurs, we shall take whatever preemptive measures are necessary to defend the citizens of Israel with all the means at our disposal.”
On the eve of Ta’anis Esther, the Prime Minister of Israel will seek to ring the alarm and wake up many of our elected leaders from their sleep. Let us do our part by taking the few moments to contact them and encourage them to attend. Let us pray that they have the fortitude, tenacity and resolve to do all that is necessary to protect not only Israel, but the interests of the entire free world.