In a few days, Purim will be upon us. Many of us will dress in costume. Others of us will hear the megilla, or Scroll of Esther, read in synagogue and then join together for a festive meal. We have a mandate to give tzedaka on Purim, and also to give gifts to our friends, to celebrate our ancient victory. Some of us will have a drink to commemorate the many wine parties in the book.
In many ways, the Book of Esther is a blueprint for Jewish success. The megilla ends with Esther as winner of a beauty pageant and savior of her people, and Mordechai appointed as second to the king of Persia and its 127 provinces. They both achieved political power through different means: Esther, initially through her looks, and Mordechai through his loyalty (he revealed a conspiracy to kill the king). But their real success comes only when they stand up for what they believe in, leverage their joint wisdom, and transform power into influence.
On multiple occasions, Esther and Mordechai gather the Jews to mark sadness and celebration. Initially, they gather the Jews to mourn the fate determined by Haman’s evil decree (feel free to blot out his name with your delete button!). They wear sackcloth and ashes. Mordechai takes his case to the king’s gate to protest. Esther gathers the Jews to fast on her behalf when she approaches the king to beg for her people’s salvation. Later, Mordechai and Esther gather the Jews in self-defense, and then in celebration when the Jews were victorious and averted Haman’s decree.
This repeated gathering makes sense if you are trying to create community, especially in the Diaspora, where you lack autonomy and the ability to self-govern. You need strength in numbers. You need to know who your friends are. You need company in your misery, and friends in your happiness. You need to make the case for Jewish peoplehood.
I think of Esther and her message of gathering Jews, again and again, when I reflect on The Jewish Agency's work on fostering the development of the Joint Government of Israel and World Jewry's Initiative to Secure a Thriving Jewish Future. Our challenge today is no less significant than in Persia, and it will require the marshaling of our joint intellectual, emotional, and financial resources to solve it. We have been enlisting thousands in this conversation, and we need to engage even more. It enables us to find strength, not only in our numbers, but also in our common history and values, joint dreams and shared homeland. It helps us stop and celebrate our enormous impact on the world.
This Purim, think of our heroes and heroines, and whom you will gather in creating community. Consider how we can support those who continue to live and breathe Esther’s dream for us. Imagine how you, like Esther and Mordechai, can transform the future of our people.