The Feast of Purim

By Dave Kopel

KUVO radio, Feb. 26, 1994. More by Kopel on Judaism.

This is Independent Thought, and I'm Dave Kopel from the Independence Institute. Today is the feast of Purim, a Jewish festival with an important lesson for people for all religions.

The story of Purim begins many centuries ago in Babylon, where the Jews were living in exile. An arrogant man named Haman was one of the King's closest advisors. Haman insisted that all people bow down to him. The only person who refused was Mordecai, a Jew who refused to bow to anyone but God.

Haman hated Mordecai for this, and went to the King, and told him: "There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people, and they do not observe the king's laws; there is no gain for the king in tolerating them...Let it be ordained in writing that they are to be exterminated."

The King followed Haman's suggestion, and ordered the Jews to be exterminated.

Unbeknownst to the King and to Haman, one of the King's wives, Queen Esther, was a Jew. And unbeknownst to them, she was also Mordecai's niece.

At the risk of her own life, Queen Esther went to the King, and told him that she was a Jew. She convinced him to cease the extermination campaign. Haman was executed on a gallows that Haman had built intending to hang Mordecai. Throughout the kingdom, all the Jews took up arms. And with God fighting for them, they destroyed the attackers who had come for plunder and murder.

Things have changed little over the centuries. Even in the United States, our history has often been a sad story of attempts to exterminate groups who follow their own spiritual path, instead of submitting to the state. Mormons, Indians, Jehovah's Witnesses, atheists, and Quakers are only a few of the groups who have been persecuted and sometimes murdered for daring to follow their conscience. It was only a few years ago that New York City Mayor David Dinkins refused to let the police halt a pogrom of Hasidic Jews in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. And it less than a year since the federal government illegally broke into the Branch Davidian compound, and began shooting to kill.

But as the feast of Purim reminds us, no matter how mighty the forces of oppression and intolerance, God will fight for all people who risk their lives for justice.

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