“Rava said: ‘It is one’s duty to make oneself fragrant with wine on Purim until one cannot tell the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blessed be Mordecai.'”
– Babylonian Talmud Megillah 7b
Now it came to pass in the days of King Ahasuerus,
(this is Ahasuerus who reigned
over the great Persian empire in 486 BCE)
that the King made a feast unto all the men of his kingdom
and Vashti the Queen held a feast for the women.
On the seventh day,
when the heart of the King was merry with wine,
he demanded that Vashti the Queen dance before him
wearing nothing but her royal crown.
But Vashti refused to come at the King’s command.
Thereupon the King asked his wise men,
“What shall we do to the Queen Vashti;
she has disobeyed an order of King Ahasuerus!”
Their answer: “Vashti has not merely insulted the King,
but all the people of Persia.”
The King’s men went to summon the Queen,
but she was nowhere to be found.
Some say she was executed,
others say she was imprisoned,
still others say she fled the empire.
The legends of her fearlessness however,
are told yet to this day.
(On many a moonlit night, they say,
Vashti’s songs and laughter can be heard
ringing out across the shores of the South Persian Sea).
The King sent out a royal command
Throughout all the provinces of his kingdom,
to all the maidens of the land:
Come to the palace!
The one that most pleases the King
shall replace Vashti as Queen.
Now the Jews had lived in Persia for a century –
ever since the Great Destruction
and they enjoyed freedom and prosperity
throughout the land.
In those days there was a certain Jew,
whose name was Mordechai.
Although he lacked for nothing,
he could not find peace,
for the memory of his ancestors’ exile
burned within him
like a fire that raged without end.
Mordechai’s niece Esther
decided that she would go the King’s palace.
When she told Mordechai, he smiled within.
“If Esther does indeed become Queen,” he thought to himself,
“I may finally avenge the wrongs done to my ancestors
and bring ruin upon the people of Persia.”
When Esther went into the King’s house
King Ahasuerus proclaimed:
“This one shall be my Queen.
Together we shall rule over all Persia.”
When Mordechai learned his niece
would soon be crowned as Queen,
he said to her:
“This is just the moment
for which we have waiting!
You must tell me everything
you hear from the King’s palace
so that we may move against it.
For we know it is but a matter of time
before the Persian empire makes good
on its plans to destroy our people.
Be true to your kin!
Who knows, maybe you have been made Queen
for such as time as this?”
But Esther said to Mordechai,
“This I will not do, for Persia is our home.
We dwell here in security and enjoy
a bounty of blessings in this land.
If I were as to do as you instruct me,
it would bring hatred and retaliation
against the Jewish people.”
And so Esther married King Ahasuerus
and joined him in his palace.
Esther did not hide her Jewish identity
from the King or anyone else who lived in the land.
The Jews of Persia rejoiced –
for although many of their kin
had held high and respected positions
in the King’s court,
they were proud that one of their own
had become Queen of all Persia!
Ahasuerus promoted Haman the Agagite
to a place of highest honor in his court.
Though the Jews had been taught
to fear his ancestors,
Haman was a man of compassion and wisdom,
held in great esteem by all who know him.
When Mordechai learned of Haman’s rise
in the King’s court
he was filled with loathing and dread.
He gathered with four conspirators
and together they plotted Haman’s downfall
by striking a mighty blow against his people.
Back in the palace, Esther grew bored of the King,
whose passions were directed exclusively
toward dreary matters of state
and late night trysts with his many consorts.
But Esther was not content
to remain alone in her chamber.
She and Haman had come to know one another
and soon they became lovers.
When night fell they would steal away to his bed
while the King was snoring
in the chambers of his concubines.
In due time, one of Mordechai’s co-conspirators
came to regret the terrible plans they had made,
and he requested an audience with the Queen.
Bowing low to Esther, he said,
“Please forgive me, your highness,
for I have committed a grievous wrong.
Mordechai has set a terrible plot in motion:
In one day, on the thirteenth day
of the twelfth month of Adar,
he plans to murder Haman while he worships.
None will be spared and all who are gathered in prayer
with him will be slain.”
That evening, Esther lay awake
with great anguish.
If she remained silent, she would allow
the death of many innocents
and the Jews of Persia would be in grave danger.
But could she betray her own kin?
If she told the King of Mordechai’s plot
he would most certainly be put to death.
With morning soon to break
Esther finally knew what she must do.
Leaving the palace quietly before dawn,
she rode to Mordechai’s home
and told him thus:
“I know what you have planned,
so hear me now:
Although you are my own flesh and blood,
I am prepared to tell the king
of your evil plot.
If you attack Haman and his people,
you will bring nothing but bloodshed and sorrow
to our people and all of Persia as well.”
Then coming closer she said to him:
“We are Jews, but Persia is our home.
As a Jew, as a Persian, and as your Queen:
I swear that as I stand here before you now,
I will turn you in before I allow you
to bring ruin upon us all.”
Thereupon Esther returned to the palace
as the sun rose on the thirteenth of Adar.
That morning, Esther woke with a start
because Haman had already left
for his morning prayers.
When he returned, she she gave thanks to God
for she knew that Mordechai had turned away
from his wicked plan.
As Esther embraced her love, she marveled
at how quickly her sorrow had turned to joy
her fear into power,
her anguish into hope.
(So may it be for us
and for all who dwell on earth).
to the ones who dwell in the halls
and chambers of the most high
we solemnly swear
we will hold you accountable
to uphold our rights
to ensure our safety
to safeguard our very lives.
we vow to preserve protect and defend
love support and sustain each other
through the coming storm
to the very best of our abilities.
we promise to never forget
the ones who went before us
the countless who fell
in the bright light of day
the nameless whose sacrifices
have vanished in the deep darkness
of the night.
this concludes our ceremony
but don’t be fooled
that roar you just heard
was just the latest call to action
in an endlessly unfolding struggle
it didn’t start with us
and it won’t end with you.
so you best get used to the sound
of our voices and the sight
of our multitudes pouring into the streets
because that call will keep resonating
long after this day is done
that’s right we plan to answer it without fail
and without end so help us god.
i’ve been singing your praises
for so long
i’m not sure if i know
how to stop.
sometimes i’m terrified
to imagine what would happen
if i even paused to take a breath.
sometimes i wonder
is this endless hymn really
just my way of avoiding
the awful truth:
that I’ve been sending
these words of adoration
into a surging swelling
if i choose to sing a new song
will you rage against me;
will you strike me down
like all the sad singers
who came before me
or will it even matter
to you at all?
let this be my prayer then:
when i grow short of breath
when my words grow weaker,
will you at least pretend
that these aimless words of love
somehow made a difference
You shall love the One
with all your heart,
with all your being,
with all you have.
Hold tight to this love, even as you send it out
to parts unknown.
Let this love flow through you
when you sleep though the night,
when you rise in the morning,
when you venture out and when you return.
Make this love real through your thoughts and deeds
no matter how trivial they may seem.
Keep it in front of your eyes
that your steps be true,
when they lead you toward the light
and when they lead into darkness.
Paint it thick upon the doorposts of your house,
so that the love you have offered
may always find its way home.
when you observe this seven day festival
you must explain to your children
it is because of what the lord did for us
when we were set free from the land of egypt
your child will ask
did the lord free us from the land of egypt
only that we might conquer a land inhabited by others
the canaanites the hittites the amorites
the hivites and the jebusites
and your child will ask further
did the lord free us from the land of egypt
only that we might lash out at the world
with a mighty hand
or rather to reach out with an outstretched arm
to all who seek liberation
your child will ask still further
did we mark our doorposts on that dark night
only to cower from the angel of death
or rather to announce to the world
that god stands with the oppressed and
that we have nothing to fear and nothing to hide
all who are hungry please
come and eat
(Parashat Bo, Exodus 12-13)
now i have heard the cry
of the israelites enslaved in egypt
you must go back and tell them
i have not forgotten my promise
i have been waiting
for precisely this moment
to liberate them
from their oppression
when you return
tell pharaoh i will strike him down
and lay waste to the land
soon all of egypt will know
who is the greater master
over heaven and earth
then you must tell the israelites
i will take them away from pharaoh
so that they may serve a new taskmaster
i will bring them into the wilderness
to possess as my very own
and as the titans clashed
and the rivers gushed with blood
the cries of the oppressed rose higher still
to the place where the promise
of true liberation
still patiently waited to unfold
(Parashat Vaera, Exodus 6:2-9)
venturing beyond the wilderness
he came to the mountain and
saw the sounds bursting from the flames
a blazing fire that burned insatiably
but was not consumed
voices calling to him over and
over again until he finally
opened his eyes and cried out
hineini here i am
one voice said i am the god of history
another said i am the one that is ever yet to be
another said i will keep you safe another said
i will teach you how to fear
another said i cannot bear the pain
of so many oppressed
will you free me from this suffering
another said go to them and tell them
they’ve got a new master now.
another said won’t you bring
my message of liberation to all
who are oppressed another said
you will never be free until you destroy
the people of the land i am giving you
as your inheritance
he asked which voice shall i heed and
which voice shall i say has sent me
but now there was only silence
as the fire lept higher and higher
sparks flying and twisting endlessly
then finally disappearing
into the dark night
(Parashat Shemot, Exodus 3:1-13)