Perplexed about who’s right and wrong in American politics? The story of Purim can offer some guidance. Haman and Mordechai have never been more relevant to our time.
The social divide in America is violently escalating. The whirlwind of accusations between the political left and right continues to spiral downwards, hitting new lows. At every step, new “evidence” surfaces in the attempts of each side to condemn and incriminate the other.
Making sense of this political landscape is becoming ever more difficult as each side produces and portrays its own perception of reality. This clash is so great, that it not only inhibits America from functioning properly, it is infecting the entire world with chaos and hostility. And with the general atmosphere of social polarization comes the alarming wave of anti-Semitic acts, raising even more accusations and suspicions across the board.
Good and bad in American society have become so confused and mired in fake news, media bias and politics, that the famous verse from The Book of Esther, “the city of Shushan is perplexed,” sounds just right for today’s America.
The silver lining, however, is that perplexity always presents an opportunity to reassess our values and priorities. The blind division between left and right keeps us confined to our primal instincts and knee-jerk reactions. Confusion, on the other hand, could be a step towards raising ourselves a bit higher to look for a more constructive approach. Here’s how the story of Purim can help us do that.
Insights from the Story of Purim
The story of the Jewish holiday, Purim, takes place in ancient Persia, at a time when Jews found themselves under existential threat, perpetrated by then counselor to the throne, “Haman.”
Haman knew that the Jews were in a state of division, and that this weakness would enable him to get rid of them, as is written “there is a nation dispersed between other nations, and Haman said that in his opinion, they will succeed in getting rid of the Jews for they are in a state of separation from one another” (Megilat Esther). But the hero of the story, Mordechai the Jew, worked to correct this division, as is written, “The Jews unified and by that they were saved” (Megilat Esther).
This ancient story holds great meaning for Jews today as once again we see that anti-Semitism is on the rise. But it is also relevant to the whole of American society which finds itself perilously divided. Yet, who is modern day Haman? Who is the true perpetrator of division?
Some will easily label President Trump as a current day Haman due to his “America first” rhetoric. However, those who are open to it can hear that he has actually been calling for unity on many occasions. Democrats, on the other hand, could be considered Haman due to their defiant and even violent action to bring Trump down and retake their ruling position, instead of aiming for cooperation. So even if we cannot agree on which side is causing more of the divide, we better see that unity is our only hope if we are to heal our society.
Beyond accusations and personifications, we could say that today’s Haman is the very mindset of division, the desire to take power at any cost, which enslaves us, harms us, and blinds us from seeing it.
It’s time for Mordechai to come out from his passive stance, watching events unroll. This gentler, more subtle approach that calls for unity and open hearts, just as it called for the unity of Jews in the Purim story, is easily pushed aside. But we should ask ourselves what we really want. Is it for left to conquer right, or vice versa? Or is it to achieve sustainable societies that work?
Today we must find that voice inside us that calls for shared purpose and connection, it is the very thing that will bring America and the world to any state of peace.
It has been the salvation of Jews all along history. Every time they were in existential threat, it was the commitment to unity that allowed them to prevail and survive. Today Jews must remember their ancient wisdom and set a positive example for everyone.
Haman and Mordechai are archetypes that show us that egoism, division and the will to dominate are strong and threatening to our society more than ever, but the meek and gentle force of unity and connection above differences, is always available to us, waiting for us to nurture it.
Jews have a prime responsibility to be a model for choosing connection over division, but you don’t have to be Jewish to enact these natural forces. It is up to all of us to see that this is our only way forward.
Happy Purim to all!
Featured in Huffington Post UK