Fascism and the Book of Esther

It’s purim! A holiday of masquerading and fun. But before we dress up and celebrate can we reflect for a moment on a serious matter? 

The Book of Esther is a story about Ahasuerus, a pleasure seeking King asleep at the helm, and Haman, an “evil” Prime Minister who conspired to kill the Jews. Esther, a Jew, was crowned Queen for her extraordinary beauty and foiled Haman’s evil plan with her smarts.

In the story Esther saved the Jews with two moves:

1. She identified the threat with the help of her uncle Mordechai; Haman’s evil plan.

2. She devised a plan to stop it; to open the King’s eyes to Haman’s evil plan.

Esther had the courage to see the situation clearly and not deny or hide from the painful truth of what is coming. Even though her life at the palace was pleasant and she could have ignored and deny the threat by saying it was “fake news,” she didn’t. Instead, she took a huge risk by telling the King about it, confronted Haman and save the Jews. 

This is a unique story because antisemitism’s harmful effect was foiled before it devestated, and Haman, the Antisemitic leader was hung. In history usually much harm was caused before it stopped. This year it’s not hard to see this story as a mirror to our times with the growing antisemitism and fascism in the world. In history both are intimately interrelated.

I am writing here after reading Fascism: a warning by Madeline Albright who writes at length about examples of fascism in history and now. She tells about her own experience meeting dictators and she warns that fascism is dangerous because it doesn’t arrive overnight. She writes “it implements itself little by little plucking the chicken one feather at a time.” Change happens slowly and gradually and before we know it, it’s fully here and democracy is gone. 

In her opinion we may be overly trusting democratic governments to be able to withstand the pressures and avoid a change to fascism. In fact, there are many examples to show how changes happened insidiously in governments, and are happening now.

Because fascism grows with influence little by little it’s hard to detect it. It’s hard to fight against it. We also look with disbelief at the situation and want to trust and believe democracy will prevail. 

You may ask, as I do, what can we do? I don’t know exactly how or what we can do, but I know we must respond to mend the situation before it is too late. We cannot be paralyzed by disbelief and idly hope for the best while we do nothing. We all need to be like Esther. Open our eyes, stop denying the truth and combat the forces of antisemitism and fascism. Esther asked everyone to pray and fast, to stand with her, to give her support to have the power and be the unlikely leader to foil the threat. Esther, a pretty woman who has no authority or standing in the hierarchy of leadership except for being beloved to the king, led against Haman, a leader with power who’s plans to cause harm had to be stopped.

May we all be like Esther.

“If not you, who?  If not now, when?” 

Variation on Hillel quote by Rabbi Sigal

Blessings and prayers for a mendful world.

Happy Purim! Rabbi Sigal

Retreat with Rabbi Sigal at Kripalu Center