Purim is here once more. For me it is a bitter-sweet holiday.
The year was 1996. Earlier that day, I went to the hospital to wish my father a “Freilach Purim” (Happy Purim). I was reading the Megillah for my synagogue, when suddenly, somebody informed me,”Rabbi, your father just died.” Feeling stunned, I could not finish reading the Megillah.
Death is as mysterious as life; I believe we have to find meaning in the events that occur around us. Psychologist Victor Frankl discovered in Auschwitz that a human being needs something more to live for, other than fulfilling one’s biological needs. The search for meaning and personal fulfillment propels us toward living a more spiritual kind of life.
So I wondered . . . Why did my father pass away on this particular day? What is the meaning of this event? How is my father’s death related to Purim, a day when Haman attempted to commit genocide on the Jewish people?
The answer was only too obvious.
My father, Leo Israel Samuel, was a survivor of the death camps of Madianek and Auschwitz. Like so many other Holocaust survivors, he faced “Haman” and survived. Because of his own miraculous survival, Purim was always a special holiday for him. I suspect his soul saw something almost poetic in passing away on a day that epitomized his own life journey.
The Jewish people have a long list of adversarial foes who have tried to destroy her. Some have taken aim at destroying her spirit, through attempts to inculturate the Jews to whatever the dominant faith happened to be, e.g., Hellenism, Christianity, Islam. Other enemies tried to physically destroy the Jew, because the Jew represents hope for a more enlightened and tolerant world.
I often tell my Bar and Bat mitzvah students that we owe the anti-Semites a great debt of gratitude. Despite our attempt to assimilate and be like every other people, the anti-Semites remind us that the Jewish people are indeed different. As a faith and as a people, we stand for something rather than nothing. The message of ethical monotheism is still as threatening to dictators and autocratic nations, just as it was in ancient times. If we stood for “nothing,” believe me–nobody would care.
In a society where we enjoy the civil liberties, freedoms, and benefits of our great country, it behooves us to make a conscious choice why we should be Jewish. In a free society, sometimes the greatest enemy we face that threatens our own faith is ourselves. It seems the tragedy of the modern Jew is that he is a messenger who is rapidly forgetting his message and his spiritual sense of purpose.
If nothing else, Purim reminds us that we are still a vital link in the tortuous evolution of our world in its journey toward wholeness.