Purim: Power & Responsibility

by Rabbi Jodie Siff

As we approach the festival of Purim, I am reminded of the timeless lessons embedded within the narrative of the Book of Esther (I am also reminded of the huge blow up slide in the sanctuary for the Purim Carnival). This sacred tale, though seemingly distant in time, carries relevance for us today, especially as we navigate the complexities of our world and work to find our individual and collective voices.

The Book of Esther recounts the perilous journey of our ancestors, faced with the existential threat of annihilation at the hands of Haman (BOO), a high-ranking official in the Persian Empire. Through the courage and resilience of Esther (who becomes Queen), our heroine, and her uncle Mordecai, we witness the unfolding of a narrative filled with intrigue, bravery, and divine providence.

At the heart of the Purim story lies a lesson about the nature of power and the responsibilities it entails. When Queen Esther is granted an audience with King Ahasuerus, she is presented with a unique opportunity to advocate for her people (she has hid her Jewish identity from the king up until to this point). Esther recognizes that true strength lies not only in the ability to wield a sword (to gain safety for the Jews), but also in the power of diplomacy, persuasion, and political engagement.

Esther and Mordecai demonstrated diplomacy throughout the narrative. Esther carefully chose the timing of her appeals to King Ahasuerus, waiting for the opportune moment to approach him with her requests. She understood the importance of timing in diplomacy, waiting until the king was receptive to her pleas (as annoying as that might have been for her). Esther and Mordecai navigated the cultural norms and protocols of the Persian court with finesse. They understood the importance of respecting the customs and traditions of the king and his courtiers, which helped them gain favor and influence. Mordecai cultivated alliances within the palace, particularly with individuals like Hathach, the king’s eunuch, who served as a trusted intermediary between Esther and the king. By building these alliances, Mordecai and Esther were able to communicate their messages effectively and influence key decision-makers.

In the face of adversity, Esther and Mordecai navigated the corridors of power with wisdom and tact, leveraging their positions to effect change on behalf of the Jewish people. Their actions serve as a powerful reminder that the fight for justice often requires more than just physical resistance—it demands active engagement in the political arena and a commitment to advocating for our rights and freedoms.

As citizens of the United States, we are blessed with the opportunity to participate in the democratic process. One of the most fundamental ways we can honor the legacy of Esther and Mordecai is by exercising our right to vote and by doing work we are passionate about and deepening our learning.

I am reminded of an exercise we do with our B’nei Mitzvah class, where we ask them to pick something that represents their Jewish connection and something that represented their American connection. Just as we live in multiple civilizations, one being our Jewish identity and the other our American, both identities need us to bring our full self. The ballot and the Torah symbolize these dual identities. We need your voice for the continuity of a democratic United States and for the continuity of the Jewish people.

Wishing you and your loved ones a joyous and meaningful Purim.

With blessings,

Rabbi Jodie