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PURIM IN MAPS: YESTERDAY & TODAY

 

The scroll of Esther describes historical events that happened over 2,500 years ago. The Purim storyline involves so much intrigue, drama, and sudden turns of fate that it can sound at times more like a fairy tale then like the historical event it was. Yet, as fantastic as it may appear the first time around, the basic features of the Purim chronicle seem to have again been set in motion in today's current geopolitical situation. Once again, the Persian nation, (Iran), sees itself as the leader of an empire, (Moslem), that spans "from India to Cush (Ethiopia)". Once again, a son of Haman and Amalek, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, has declared for no other reason than blind hatred of the Jews, his intention to wipe the nation of Israel off the map. Once again, "point zero" is Jerusalem and Mount Moriah. And once again, saviors like Esther and Mordechai will arise to rescue the Jewish nation from the grips of her most implacable enemies. And once again, pulling the invisible strings is the G-d of Israel, His presence hidden from all those whose faith fails to penetrate the sound and the fury of of mortals hellbent on evil.

Below is a presentation of maps and facts.

 

"Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus - this is the Ahasuerus who reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over a hundred and twenty seven provinces..." (Esther 1:1). This first map shows in red the extent of Ahasuerus' empire. Its most eastern reach was India. It stretched as far west as Ethiopia in eastern Africa. Ahasuerus inherited his empire from Cyrus, (Coresh), the Persian potentate who conquered the Babylonians. The Babylonians, under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, had just decades earlier conquered the kingdom of Judea, pillaged and destroyed the Holy Temple and Jerusalem, and brought the Jews in captivity to Babylon. "... that is in those days, when the king Ahasuerus sat on the throne of his kingdom, which was in Shushan the castle..." (Esther 1:2) Ahasuerus ruled from his capital city of Shushan. It was there the Purim story transpired. The city of Shushan survives to this day. Some of its ancient ruins bear a striking resemblance to the descriptions provided in the book of Esther. In modern Iran the city Shushan is known as Susa. Although it is mentioned but once in the book of Esther, (2:6), Jerusalem, according to midrash, played a major role in the unfolding struggle between Esther and Mordechai, representing the Jews, and Haman and his supporters.

As the midrashic literature reveals, the underlying issue in the balance was the fate of the Holy Temple. The Jews of Babylon were permitted by Cyrus, (Coresh), to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Holy Temple, and some 42,300 took up the call. Political intrigue, however, convinced Cyrus to rescind his permission, and the building project was suspended. The issue was taken up again by Ahasuerus, whose policy was influenced by two figures: his wife Vashti, and advisor, Haman. Vashti, the great granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar, warned Ahasuerus not to allow to be rebuilt what her ancestor had destroyed. Haman, had had an earlier run-in with Mordechai in Jerusalem. Haman had been sent on a fact-finding mission by the king, but decided to take matters into his own hands, and personally intervene against the Jews. Mordechai, residing in Jerusalem at the time, was able to rebuff Haman. Neither one would forget their encounter. When the banquet that opens the Esther narrative was taken up in Shushan, it too was all about the Holy Temple. According to the calculations of his political advisors, the time prophesized by Jeremiah for the rebuilding of the Holy Temple had passed. The prophecy was false. The Holy Temple would not be rebuilt. The god of Israel had been vanquished. Hence, Ahasuerus' decision to celebrate his own ascendancy by holding a feast, and inviting all the notables, Jews included. At the lavish banquet the precious vessels of the Holy Temple were brought out for display and used for serving the delicacies. One Jew refused to take part in this public humiliation: Mordechai. This, very briefly, was the background for all that was to transpire as the Purim story unfolded.

Today, many of these same themes are in play. An extremist Islamic regime controls the nation of Iran, historic Persia. For nearly thirty years it has been exporting radical Islam and terror around the world. It has been fomenting Islamic revolution in the Arab nations of the Middle East, the same Middle East that comprised much of the Persian empire. It is has spared no effort in inciting the entire Moslem world against the west, but more specifically against the tiny nation of Israel. Its present leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, like Haman, has made public his intention to destroy the Jewish nation of Israel. Jerusalem, or more specifically, the Temple Mount, long usurped and ravaged by the Moslems, remains the flashpoint. The rebuilt Holy Temple is Ahmadinejad's nightmare. As in the days of Esther and Mordechai, there are many Jews that go along with the humiliation, by trying to divest the Jewish nation of the Temple Mount and its spiritual significance. Today, as then, an elaborate charade seems to be unfolding. Today, as then, the future of mankind hangs in the balance. Today, as then, an invisible hand is choreographing a drama whose repercussions will reverberate the world over.

May we once again merit "light and gladness, and joy and honor." (Esther 8:16)
May G-d once again deliver us from our enemies.

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