Israel is once again surrounded by turmoil. As Purim approaches the following meditation can be our guide to sanity and common sense wisdom in the complex and dangerous neighborhood called the Middle East. Translated by Philip Birnbaum from the Daily Prayer Book and read on Purim for generations, these verses continue to be a source of faith and endurance to Jewish people everywhere.
(The numbers refer to footnotes I have added at the bottom)
The Lord wrecked the counsel of the heathen,
Frustrating the plans of the crafty,
When against us rose a wicked man.
A hateful offshoot of Amalek, 1
Who grew in wealth and dug his own grave,
It was his power that ensnared him! 2
He wished to entrap and was entrapped;
He sought to destroy and was destroyed.3
Haman revealed his fathers’ hatred,
And stirred Esau’s enmity to Jacob 4
He failed to recall that he, the foe,
Was born thanks to Saul’s pity for Agag. 5
The wicked panned to cut off the righteous;
But the impure was caught by the pure. 6
Mordecai’s kindness offset Saul’s fault; 7
Wicked Haman heaped guilt upon guilt.
He hid his crafty plans in his heart,
And gave himself over to evil. 8
He laid his hands on godly people,
Spending his wealth to destroy their name. 9
When Mordecai saw that wrath had gone forth,
Haman’s decrees issued in Shushan, 10
He put on sackcloth, sign of mourning,
Proclaimed a fast and sat in ashes.
Who would rise to atone for errors,
To gain pardon for our father’ sins? 11
A flower blossomed forth from a palm,
Hadassah 12 rose to stir those who slept!
Her servants hastily brought Haman,
To make him drink the wine of poison, 13
He rose by wealth and sank by evil,
Being hanged on the gallows he made. 14
All the people of the world were agape 15
When Haman’s pur 16 became our Purim.
The upright were saved from evil men;
The enemies were put in their place.
The Jews undertook to make Purim,
To rejoice each and every year.
Thou didst hear Mordecai and Esther;
Thou 17 didst hang Haman and his sons.
1Amalek an ancient and unrelenting enemy of Israel comes to represent all the enemies of good and of God.
2 Although Haman is part of a long list of anti-Semites, the reasons the prayer gives for hating Jews is fascinating. The first of these is that money and power corrupt. This is a major issue for the Middle East dictators trying to hold onto their positions.
3 The theme of the enemies troubles falling on their own heads runs right through scripture beginning with the story of Cain and Abel. The jealousy and anger that captured Cain’s heart towards his brother Abel becomes the mark on his forehead condemning him to a life of wandering isolation and unfruitful labor. What he wanted to do to others came upon himself. Muslims are now fighting amongst themselves.
4 The prayer understands that prejudice, racism and hatred are often passed down from one generation to the next. This idea is expressed in Jeremiah 31:29 “The fathers have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Could this be part of Yeshua’s prayer when he recognizes that the children do not even understand what they are doing? “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”
5 King Saul spared wicked King Agag (an Amalakite) though the Lord was angered with Saul for this. It appears that Saul’s mercy though well intended was unappreciated and resulted in even more trouble.
6 “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” Yeshua
7 Refers to Mordecai taking care of the young orphaned Esther. As Yeshua says, “Wisdom is justified by her children.” Luke 7:35 Good deeds will always find their reward.
8 The prayer acknowledges that Haman didn’t just wake up one day and decide to hate the Jews. There is a long process that goes on which eventually results in his wicked actions. God is longsuffering and allows for every opportunity for repentance. Let us keep our hearts open for the real possibility for change in the Middle East.
9 How many Middle East nations are wasting their vast resources on hatred and violence instead of social and economic development? If they continue in this way they will bring poverty upon themselves.
10 The Persian capital city of the times.
11 In spite of all the evil and wickedness that have arisen against his people, Mordechai, and the Jewish people, cry out and mourn in repentance for their own sinfulness. Wow.
12 Hadassah whose name in Hebrew means myrtle is the common bush that grows in every back yard in Israel. Its leaves carry an aromatic perfume and it shows small white flowers in Spring.
13 Of course it wasn’t real poison he drank, but rather the results of his bitterness of heart and soul because of his anti-Semetic attitudes. It is a fatal cup to drink.
14 Oh the irony and the ecstasy of God’s kingdom ways.
15 Not the Greek for love. They were so deeply moved that they were left wide-mouthed speechless.
16 “pur” comes from the Babylonia “puru” which means “lot” and is used only in the Book of Esther. It is similar in meaning to the usual Hebrew word for “fate” which is “goral.” Naming the festival Purim is acknowledging the uncanny circumstances surrounding this uncommon story where we witness the sovereign hand of God throughout though his name is never mentioned once n the entire scroll.
17 God is given credit although it was the King of Persia, King Ahasuerus, that said, “Hang him.” Rabbis referred to God's role as hester panim, or "hiding of the Face", which is also said to be hinted at in a word play (Megillat Hester) regarding the Hebrew name for the Book of Esther, Megillat Esther—literally, "revelation of [that which is] hidden."
The festival of Purim is celebrated in Israel once again on the 14thday of Adar orMarch 20th.
Inwardly I have been laughing at what is happening all around the Middle East. I have been afraid to admit it, but for weeks as I watch the protests raging in Arab nations, I’ve been holding back a smile. I just can’t help it. Something about this situation is making me happy. I even want to laugh. But I couldn’t admit it. I felt restrained, like I shouldn’t be enjoying someone else’s troubles.
You see I didn’t want to give the impression that I enjoy watching my enemies kill one another. That wouldn’t be right. I don’t want to be like the Muslims I see dancing in the streets when Jews are slaughtered or honoring suicide terrorists (see for example http://palwatch.org/). That is not funny. The cold-blooded murder of innocent men, women and children is no reason to rejoice.
Retribution does not make me laugh either. I thought I was glad to see Muslims killing each other because of what they have done to the people of Israel. Those of you who know me know that I have labored tirelessly for the past 3 decades building relationships with Arabs across the Middle East. I love the Arab people. I do not enjoy watching people in these nations killing each other. Vengeance is not funny.
I couldn’t understand why all this turmoil in the Middle East was making me laugh, until I read the story of Purim.
No matter how many times I read the story of how Haman had to parade Mordecai through the city square on the king’s horse I laugh out loud. Every time I picture Haman bent over walking in front of the horse proclaiming, “Thus shall is be done to the man whom the king delights to honor,” I can’t help smiling.
That is why I am laughing. It is the comic relief watching the fool foiled by his own foolishness. It is Haman hung on his own hemp. It is the amusement of watching the malevolent make a laughing stock of themselves.
All these many years I have listened to Arab countries ridiculing, demeaning and despising Israel. I have listened to their calls and lived through their plots to destroy my people. While I try to brush aside their deceitful propaganda as ignorance, evil or insanity, these threats do not go unheard. I am aware of deep fears and intimidation these threats produce within me. The continuous contention, belligerence, hostility and bad blood leaves us with insecurities. We are not at peace in our own land. Even our strongest faith can leave us vulnerable.
But now I am laughing. I am laughing because I am comforted in the knowledge that things are the way they should be. That justice rolls down, eventually. That right is right, even when the whole world says otherwise. And it is reassuring to know that wrong gets it in the end.
I am laughing because my fears are getting released. Now when I hear them blaming Israel for this or for that, criticizing and spreading vicious lies, it doesn't bother me so much anymore. I just think about how much trouble they are having in their own countries. And I have a little chuckle.