By Saul Golubcow
In early January, 20 minutes after first media reports of Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani’s death, a friend called and said, “Happy early Purim.” I immediately knew what he meant. A Haman-like enemy of the Jews, Persian ironically, who was plotting the extermination of Jews in Israel, was eliminated.
I was pleased that this murderous villain was gone, just as I am joyful during the megillah reading when the evil Haman is hanged. But the megillah also recounts the slaying of thousands of Haman supporters who were preparing to murder the kingdom’s Jews. Does this added narration of human carnage attenuate our joy? After all, hasn’t a repugnance for killing for millennia been a part of the Jewish psyche? As a result, might our emotions lead us to blur the distinction between a Mordechai and a Haman?
That there is a clear differentiation between the two comprises an eternal Purim lesson, one particularly imperative for our times. For Haman, his genocidal hatred is baseless and furious. For Mordechai, his actions are defensive and desperate. When faced with annihilation, there is nothing virtuous in a moderated response. All virtue is extinguished if genocide succeeds.
Similarly, our country’s killing of Soleimani and his confederates should be applauded and never likened to the genocidal motivations of the Iranian regime. Oddly, while we thrill not only to our triumph in the Purim story but also to other Jewish struggles against evil such as the Maccabees, the Bar Kochba revolt or the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, there has been equivocation in our reacting to Soleimani’s death. I’ve looked at Jewish opinion pieces that have provided the obligatory nod to Soleimani’s villainy, but this is followed with questions about the timing of the strike and demanded details plans for combating Iran’s murderous future designs.
Why the hesitancy to be fully supportive? Would we ask the same questions of Mordechai facing the impending slaughter if it were best to wait before hanging Haman and how his execution might reverberate with his followers?
As we sit distantly in our homes, listening to Iran’s vow to destroy Israel, should we not think of Israel’s fate the same way as Mordechai did of his Jewish people when he challenged Esther: “Don’t think that you will escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews.” Isn’t our collective Jewish fate today tied to Israel?
I have my own reservations about how presidents may use the War Powers Act. I also want a well-considered foreign policy. But responding forcefully to evil aimed at us must be fervent in conviction and speed to save lives. In the life-long fight for Jewish survival, let’s always be grateful for such victories as we ready for the next battle.
We as Jews must keenly understand how different we are as a Mordechai from a Haman. Like Mordechai, who at the height of Haman’s power proclaimed his Jewish identity, in our fight against anti-Semitic forces we cannot be back on our heels, ashamed of who we are.
We are the people who fought for civil rights. We are our country’s most philanthropically generous ethnic group and not rapacious or offensively privileged in the financial status we have achieved. And Israel, our spiritual homeland, has always contributed scientifically, medically, technologically and monetarily to the welfare of others around the globe and is not a neo-colonial bastion of oppression.
Thus, with certainty at Purim and throughout the year, we must rejoice, wish each other chag sameach, and know we have always been Mordechai and never Haman.
Saul Golubcow writes from Potomac.