In March we celebrate Purim. Purim means Lots. It is a reference to the evil Haman who thought to determine the day and month that he would carry out the genocide of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire. The date would be divined in a cruel haphazard game of chance, a sort of throw of the dice practiced in some ancient cultures. Haman fashioned himself to be god-like as he followed a practice in which he believed in a destiny that existed without a divine order and without a caring G- d. A would-be sociopath, his idea of fate existed only by personal whim.
Haman was a court official, a Prime Minister of sorts in the reign of the Persian ruler, Ahasuerus. He wanted to destroy Jews because they refused to assimilate by bowing down to him instead of the One True G-d. It’s an all-familiar story repeated again and again in Jewish history.
This story is found in the Book of Esther. She is an orphaned Jewess who became queen. It is also the story of her relationship with Mordechai, her older cousin who raised her like a daughter. More than that, it is the story of a coming of age of a young woman facing the realities of life and her responsibility towards her people and to her own relationship with the Almighty G-d.
Haman convinced a foolhardy king to create an edict for all to bow and worship him or face death. Haman pretended to care for the king while seeking revenge for those who would not worship him. Such a decree went out to all the provinces of the Persian Empire. This edict would have destroyed the Jews in the known world including the province of Judea. It would have marked the end of Jews as a people and would’ve nullified the prophecy that the Messiah would come into the world, dooming mankind to eternal damnation.
Once Mordechai learned of the decree, he was horrified. He sent instructions to Esther to seek a reprieve from the king on behalf of their people. But she explained that to present herself before the king without having been summoned is almost certain death. Moreover, the royal court did not know that she was from the seed of Abraham.
Mordechai, akin to a doting father, walked daily in front of the woman’s courtyard to find out Esther’s welfare. He now sternly responds as is written in the Book of Esther, Chapter 4:13-14, by stating, “Do not think in your soul that you’ll escape in the king’s household more than all the (other) Jews. For if you remain SILENT, at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place-but you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows whether you have attained royal status for a time as this?”
These words of Mordechai, who is knowledgeable in the Torah, are actually a reference to a certain Law of Moses from the book of Numbers 30: 6-8, and this is what the Law says, “Suppose a young woman should marry, and makes a rash promise by which she obligates herself. Now if her husband hears about it but is SILENT to her on the day that he hears about it, her vows will stand and her pledges by which she has obligated herself will stand. But if her husband should hear about it and on the DAY he hears about it, he thereby NULLIFIES her vow and her rash promise by which her lips have
obligated her, then Adonai will forgive her”. Especially due to her youth, a husband could annul a decision by his wife.
By the way, among Jews, a vow to do something in the name of God is very serious. G-d does not look upon it lightly. As the Book of Yakov (James) 5:12 proclaims: “…do not swear either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your ‘yes’ be yes and your ‘no’ be no, so that may not fall under judgment”.
But Mordechai, perhaps prophetically, makes a fascinating application of the Law by adapting the gender in the Numbers passage. He now turns the tables by making a husband be the one who makes a rash vow and that it is the woman, Esther, who now has the duty as a wife to annul what the king has done. Moreover, he tells her that choosing silence means that she’s a partner in something that is evil. And here is what Esther could have said, “You yourself said that God will find a way of relief and deliverance so you know what? Thank you but no thank you, I think I’ll take my chances! The chances of getting killed by the King are greater than being found out that I’m Jewish.’
Instead, Esther, who was raised by Mordechai in the ways of G-d, makes the fateful decision to risk her life and reach out to Ahasuerus. As it turns out, the king responded favorably to her. In doing so, she became a part of G-d’s salvation of the Jews and of her own life. She in fact nullified the king’s foolish choice. This led to a series of circumstances in which the Jews were saved and Haman was led to the very death he had wished on the Jews.
Even though G-d is sovereign, He invites us to make righteous choices even when they’re difficult. The fact that G-d has His plans, doesn’t release us from responsibility from playing a role in G-d’s decisions. For us, Messianic Jews and Messianic gentiles, the day will come, if it hasn’t already, when a choice will have to be made to identify unrighteousness and identify ourselves for what we believe, perhaps at a great risk. When we do so, we walk in the path of a young Jewish woman who could have kept quiet but placed herself in jeopardy for the sake of her people, for the love of her cousin and for doing the right thing before G-d.
And by the way, ‘Pur’ which is the basis of the word purim, means ‘lots’ in Persian and in Aramaic but the root word for annulment in Hebrew is also pur. And today, instead of remembering Haman’s dastardly lots, we celebrate the courage of a young woman who nullified those lots. Baruch HaShem.