In this current political season, it is not hard to imagine Donald J. Trump sporting the three-sided, Hamentashen-looking hat donned by our least favorite Purim villain. It is not a stretch to see the same bigotry, prejudice and fear-mongering woven into the narrative of the Book of Esther echoing today when we watch and listen to the message emanating from the camp of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
In listening to Mr. Trump’s recent speech at the AIPAC convention, I am reminded how difficult it is to confront Haman. I do not think I have spoken with any Jews who are not at the least uncomfortable with this candidacy and at the most outraged by it. When the scheduled speech was announced, my inbox was flooded with reactions and plans by those in attendance at the AIPAC conference to protest in some form or fashion. And yet, as I watched and listened to his speech on YouTube ... I was surprised to hear ovations and cheers as the candidate offered the platitudes about Israel, the U.S. and Iran that for which the 19,000 Jews in attendance were waiting.
All 19,000 of the attendees were not cheering and there were some people who actually did protest and walk out. And yet, it is probably safe to say that there were still thousands of Jews applauding and cheering on the candidate with the Hamentaschen on his head. After all, his inflammatory remarks have not been about Jews ... and he did march as marshal in the Friends of Israel parade in New York City ... his daughter is a Jew, about to give birth to a Jewish child ... and it seems by the things he is saying about Israel as if we Jews might be ‘safe’ in the crazy world in which Donald J. Trump is elected to the one of the most powerful positions in the world.
It’s easy to spot the Hamans out there, it’s hard to embody Esther when we encounter him.
Esther’s challenge was in overcoming her relative comfort and safety. Chances were, or at least it appeared, that her status within the kingdom would preserve her life in the face of Haman’s decree to kill the Jews. He did not appear to be a direct threat to her. By standing up to Haman and the King, she threatened her relative comfort and safety. Her genius, her courage lay in her risking this lack of immediate threat ... and remembering her highest values and paying attention to the larger realities ... she named and confronted Haman. The consequences of her safety and security be damned.
It is easy to confront Haman when he threatens us directly, it is more uncomfortable and unsettling to do so when the threats are toward the other. The other who seems not like us, but in truth in not very far from us. In this case it is the ‘illegal’ immigrant, the muslim ... but there are plenty more ‘others’ out there whom Haman threatens.
The challenge of Embodying Esther is about using our Jewish lens on the world ... the lens shaped by our values of justice, mercy and peace ... to recognizing the injustice and intolerance that impacts others. Embodying Esther is not simply about recognizing such things, but putting aside our relative comfort and security and confronting them. Whether the other who faces injustice is a Muslim, an immigrant, a woman, a Palestinian, an African American ... anyone whose security, liberty and dignity is threatened by someone donning the three-sided, Hamantaschen-looking headwear.
We’ve got plenty of Hamans. We need more Esthers.