Purim is in the air, and I find myself considering what it will be like to celebrate this festival for the first time as an Israeli citizen. And, so far, it feels strange….
Because, you see, I’ve always considered Purim to be the paradigmatic diaspora festival, with a frightening current running beneath the fun and games.
The events that give rise to Purim occur at a pivotal time in Jewish history, when the Babylonian exile is transformed from an exile of force into an exile of choice. After 70 years of praying for, and dreaming of, a return to Zion, the Babylonian Jews are suddenly confronted with the reality for which they have yearned. Persia conquers Babylon, Cyrus the Great allows for Jewish return to Israel, and the exile is potentially at its end.
Faced with this new astounding reality, more than 90 per cent of Babylonian Jewry votes with its feet. The Jews stay put. Babylonian comfort trumps the imperative of return.
Strikingly, it is roughly at this juncture that the events of Purim unfold, dramatic events through which God seems to say:
If it’s diaspora life you want, it’s diaspora life you will get, in all of its glory.
You will live in a world of “Vena-haphoch Hu” — a phrase from the Megillah connoting extreme instability and transience — a world where nothing is stable, where your fate can turn on a dime, where the whims of others will define your destiny.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.