On Sunday, Jews the world over congregated to read the story of Purim from the Megillah (scroll). For those who don't celebrate Purim, and those Jews who don't know what they're celebrating, the story of Purim sounds like a fairy tale: The monarch of Persia, King Ahasuerus, kills his first wife, Queen Vashti, and takes a second wife, Queen Esther, a secret Jewess. Ahasuerus' chief adviser, Haman the Amalekite, convinces Ahasuerus to exterminate the Jews. Mordechai, Esther's uncle, advises Esther to use her position to prevent Haman from realizing his evil plans. Esther convinces Ahasuerus to execute Haman, and the Jews are saved. Let's eat.
But this is only half of the story. The point of Purim is not to commemorate the wisdom of Mordechai or the heroism of Esther. The real essence of Purim revolves around what happened after Esther changed Ahasuerus' mind: Ahasuerus issued a decree allowing Jews to kill any anti-Semite seeking to destroy them, and the Jews did so. During a two-day period, Jews killed over 75,000 Jew haters throughout the Persian Empire, 800 in the capital city of Shushan alone.
Purim is certainly the most modern Jewish holiday in the intellectual sense. God's hand is revealed only through the actions of men -- in fact, God's name is not mentioned once throughout the entire Megillah. Haman, the villain of the story, is far more the subject of Purim than Esther or Mordechai; Jews are told to boo, to drown out, Haman's name each time it is mentioned in the Megillah.
Why this focus on the bad guy? Because Judaism realizes that we live in a world where God does not regularly act through open miracles. Judaism recognizes that it is the job of all good people to stand up and fight evil. The focus must be on removing evil, both spiritual and physical, from this world. God approves of such action and facilitates its success in hidden ways.
This is why every year Jews are required by the Torah (Old Testament) to read the following passage on the Saturday before Purim: "It shall be that when God, your God, gives you rest from all your enemies all around, in the land that God, your God, gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven -- you shall not forget!"(Deuteronomy 25:19)
Who is Amalek? Amalek refers to spiritual evil, but it also refers to a real, physical nation. Jews are enjoined to kill descendants of that nation. Haman was an Amalekite. Hitler was an Amalekite. An Amalekite is someone who fears neither man nor God, who destroys the world through moral degradation, who wishes to exterminate every last Jew.
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