I didn’t get to watch Netanyahu’s Congress Address last Tuesday, but a friend sent me a quote from the speech that caught his attention. In the quote, Netanyahu mentions the upcoming festival of Purim, when Jews read the book of Esther, describing the foiling of Haman’s plot to destroy them. Haman was the king’s viceroy. As Netanyahu put it, “Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred—the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism.”
Oddly enough, when I read these words and thought about anti-Semitism, another picture came into my mind—the 1984 motion picture, Gremlins. In that film, a cute little creature named Gizmo splits into multiple vicious creatures called Gremlins at the touch of water. The only way to kill those creatures is to expose them to direct sunlight.
Evidently, Ayatollah Khamenei is a threat to Israel and a zealous anti-Semite. But in the 21st century, he is not the only one spewing out this hatred. Throughout the world, anti-Semitism is not only rising, but is becoming increasingly vigorous, brazen, and worst of all, socially acceptable.
Haman was never cute, like Gizmo, but 2,500 years ago, when this instance of anti-Semitism emerged, there was still only one of him. Today it seems less like he has incarnated in the body of Khamenei, and more like he has split into millions of gremlins. Luckily, the same tactic that overturned Haman’s verdict can now overturn this “oldest hatred of anti-Semitism” in people’s hearts.
When Haman first contemplated destroying the Jews, it was not just personal vengeance against Mordechai for not bowing to him. It was vengeance against Mordechai the Jew! This is why it is written that “it seemed contemptible in his eyes to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him the people of Mordecai. Therefore, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.” Haman went to the king and told him they were disobeying his law, explaining that “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples … and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not in the king’s interest to let them be.”
The Jewish nation is not an ordinary one. Its foundation is ideological, rather than biological or geographical. Its formation was completed at the foot of Mount Sinai, when we pledged to unite “as one man with one heart.” At that time, we were also entrusted with a task to be “a light for the nations.”
When Haman said that the Jews were breaking the king’s law, he specifically meant that they were separated. This is why he complained about their separation and their breaking of the law all in the same sentence. By separating from one another, the Jews broke the law of unity by which they were formed as a nation, and therefore could not be a light for the nation. In that state, the only logical conclusion that the king could draw was that Haman was right, and he had no interest in letting them be.
The king agrees with Haman’s rationale and readily gives him the go-ahead to destroy the Jews. Likewise, today’s Hamans are blaming us of spreading selfishness and ill-will wherever we are. They are blaming us of causing wars because they do not feel that we are displaying unity, but the opposite. Naturally, they take Haman’s view: there is no point letting us be.
Just like Haman, today’s anti-Semites don’t necessarily hate Jews personally. Many of them have Jewish friends. But when it comes to thinking about Jews as a collective, this is when their hatred emerges. If we keep this point in mind, we will recognize that anti-Semitism is not personal hatred, but anger at a nation that is not performing its task in the world, and is therefore detrimental, or at least redundant in many people’s eyes.
Esther’s wisdom solved the problem for the Jews in ancient Persia. She said to Mordechai, “Go, gather the Jews.” As soon as they gathered and reestablished their unity, they undercut Haman’s argument in favor of destroying them and rendered it invalid. From there on it was only a matter of time before Haman would be overthrown.
Today, we need not overthrow anyone. All we need is to employ the same tactic that Esther initiated and Mordechai implemented: we need to unite. As gremlins are killed by direct sunlight, anti-Semitism is dissolved by unity. Spreading unity, the law by which we were forged as a nation, is the meaning of being “a light for the nations.” When we unite in order to spread that unity throughout the world, no one will think that “it is not in the king’s interest to let them be.”