Purim: Time to Stand Up and Speak Out

BY RABBI BEN KURZER

One of the most dramatic moments of Megillat Esther occurs when Mordechai impresses upon Esther how critical the situation is and the unique role she must play. I have often found this conversation inspiring but never more than this Purim. Mordechai’s words remind us all that there are moments in life where we are faced with choice and must stand up to boldly face the challenge ahead.  

Interestingly, Mordechai’s words seem to contradict an earlier directive at a crucial moment in Jewish history. “כִּי אִם־הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת, If you stay silent at this time,” Mordechai explains, things will not end well. Yet there was an earlier moment in history when the Jews were told to do exactly that – to stay silent!

Almost a thousand years earlier, as our nation was trapped at the sea and the Egyptians were bearing down on them from behind, they cried out to G-d. At that moment, Moshe told them, “ה’ יִלָּחֵם לָכֶם וְאַתֶּם תַּחֲרִשׁוּן, G-d will fight for you and you will be silent.” The phrase הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי shares its root with תַּחֲרִשׁוּן and its connotation is not just about being silent – in halacha, a חרש is both deaf and mute and, in the ancient world, unable to function properly in society. Why were the Jews by the sea told to sit back and remain silent, while Mordechai demanded that Esther speak? 

The stories of the splitting of the sea and the Book of Esther are paradigm examples of two different ways that G-d manifests in the world. The era of the Exodus was a time of open miracles, with supernatural plagues, manna from heaven and the clothing that would not fray. By contrast, the age of Mordechai and Esther was defined by “hester panim, the hiding of G-d’s face,” when G-d’s role in the world is hidden from the naked eye.

When it is clear to all that G-d is running the show, our role is to sit back and “remain silent.” There is no need to get involved in any active way. However, during times of hester panim it is crucial for us to act. Mordechai’s rousing words to Esther echo through the generations, for through most of our history G-d’s hand has been hidden. Though we must learn to recognize the Hand of G-d, we must also act and participate in our own redemption.

My teacher, Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky, often shares this idea to encourage us to actively uncover the depths of the Torah She’ba’al Peh, the Oral Torah, and become an active participant in G-d’s eternal conversation with Am Yisrael. However, since Simchat Torah I think of Mordechai’s message in a different way. The horror of October 7 led to sickening demonstrations of antisemitism across the world, from the UN to Harvard to Leeds and beyond. As the world turns against us, we must not remain silent. Like Esther, we must raise our voices and become advocates for Israel and our people in every way possible.

The most alarming part of Mordechai’s warning comes at the end of his message to Esther. He does not tell Esther that the fate of the Jewish people rests on her, but rather that her own fate is at risk. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere.” G-d is the eternal saviour of our nation and will stand by us to the end of time, but if we do not stand with our nation at this time, we will be the ones who lose out: “you and your father’s household will perish.” 

To be a Jew in this world is different today than it was six months ago. Our enemies look upon us with hatred simply because our brothers and sisters have been forced to go to war to defend their homes and their families. Yet this is not the time to “be silent” and hide our Jewish identity, thinking that we will be left alone and escape unharmed. If we do not stand proudly as Jews today, it is us and our families who stand to lose out. We will be forgotten by history. 

As we approach Purim, I pray that Mordechai’s words inspire us all to stand openly and proudly as Jews with confidence in our future and with the strength to stand up to our enemies.

 

Rabbi Ben Kurzer currently serves as the rabbi of Pinner United Synagogue. In May 2024, he will become the senior rabbi of Golders Green United Synagogue.

 

© 2024 World Mizrachi

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