Welcome to the Weekly D'var!
Read about this week's Torah portion from the perspective of some of our students!
The Importance of Jewish Pride
Purim is a holiday that Jews celebrate to honor Megilat Esther (The Story of Esther). In Megilat Esther, a Jewish woman named Esther marries the king of Persia. When she marries the king, Esther hides her Jewish identity. Later, the king’s advisor, Haman, makes a decree to kill all the Jews after Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, refuses to bow to Haman. In order to save the Jews, Esther reveals her true identity to the king. Learning that Esther is Jewish, the king decides to change the decree that would kill the Jews, and punishes Haman instead. By being true to her Jewish identity, Esther was able to save her people.
I always have been inspired by the story of Esther. When I was a kid, I often hid my Jewish identity from others because I was didn’t know how they would see me. Purim reminded how powerful being open about your Jewish identity can be. Because of of that reminder, I would proudly dress up on Purim and walk to synagogue in my costume. I always had so much fun each year on Purim as a kid, and as I grew older I made sure to extend my Jewish pride into my everyday life. In college I’ve had more opportunities than ever to hide my Judaism, but I make sure to be open about who I am and the experiences I’ve had.
The Need for Urgency
Purim is approaching, which means family, sweets and stories. Megillat Esther specifically is a rich text, evoking many emotions and displaying many meanings. One such message is one of confronting challenges, displayed through the two queens of Megillat Esther. The first queen, Vashti, makes a brief appearance before being executed. She refused to do a lewd performance for king Achashverosh, and was killed for it. What I want to focus on is the fact that Vashti seemingly had been the queen for a long time, and that other instances like this probably occurred through king Achashverosh’s reign. She let the feelings she had about this behavior brood for a long time, and when they finally erupted, she had been in the king’s presence for so long that nothing could be done. Esther, on the other hand, did not let her emotions brood. When she found out that Haman planned to kill all of the Jews, she did not wait for long to take action. After three days of fasting and two kingly feasts, she took a risk and approached Achashverosh about her predicament. As a result, she was able to work out the situation and the Jews lived. By contrast to Vashti, Esther did not let her predicament build up over time: instead, she made a plan and directly confronted the issue.
This is a lesson for those who have a situation that they have been thinking about for a while. Brooding for too long will distort views and prolong the issue until either it is not relevant anymore or there are less options available for a solution. For those of you, like me, who have a few phone calls they need to make, an essay that they just have to start, a person that they need to clear things up with, or whatever other brooding troubles exist, a look at Vashti and Esther reminds us that taking sooner action leads to better success and a clearer mind for the future.
The Sweet Irony of a Bitter Intention
Among the cultural elements of Purim, the Hamentasch serves as a distinct feature of the holiday. The triangular shaped pastry represents Haman, the evil prime minister of the Purim story who was dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish people. A obvious question arises: Why do we commemorate such an evil man with delicious pastries? The truth is we are not glorifying Haman and his malicious intentions. Rather, we are affirming the inevitable fulfillment of G-d’s will. This is evident in the irony that permeates the Purim story. While Haman sought to destroy the notion of Jewish identity, his efforts ironically brought about the revival and sustainment of Jewish conviction and commitment. In the end, Haman was hanged upon the same gallows that he had built to execute Mordechai, the leader of the Jews. These triangular shaped pastries are named in memory of Haman to symbolize the irony that his destructive efforts wrought, namely the sweetened nourishment of Jewish continuity.
As we celebrate Purim with delicious Hamantaschen, here is a survey indicating students’ favorite Hamantaschen fillings:
The Heroism of Esther
As a child, I loved reading about Queen Esther. I felt a deep connection to her story. While the Torah is filled with stories of great men, I was able to connect much more with stories about strong women. She risked her life to save Jews and serve the Creator. It seemed much like a Hollywood thriller. As a child, I looked to Esther for guidance. Even to this day, when I am faced with a tough decision I think of what Esther or Ruth would do. Purim is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the roles of women in Judaism. As I got older, Purim took on a whole new meaning. The tremendous internal struggle of Esther and Mordechai is unfathomable. I realized that with the united faith of the Jewish people, each person has great power. G-d is not mentioned in the story, but He is orchestrating everything.
Growing up, my family never celebrated Purim. At Illini Hillel, I have found so much joy in celebrating Purim. Last year, I attended my first and only drag show to celebrate Purim. Seeing the story played out on stage was so memorable. I felt so much love from the Jewish community there. It became an event for the entire campus. People from all over came to celebrate and watch the show.