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Purim and Anti-Semitism


Question:

I was wondering if classical Jewish sources explain why there was such great anti-Semitism in ancient Persia (Iran) that we see in the Purim story read in the Scroll of Esther? Perhaps their motive then can shed perspective on current events. Thanks.



AskTheRabbi.org answered:

When the evil Haman offered the Persian King a large amount of money to get permission to enact his genocidal plot against the Jews, the king replied, “The money is given to you, as well as the people, to do with them as you see fit.” (Scroll of Esther 3:11). The king then gave Haman his royal signet ring to seal the decree of this “final solution.”

Our Sages compare this scene to a dialogue between a man who had a hill in his field that prevented cultivation of it, and another man who had a similar problem with a deep hole in his field that he wished to cultivate. Each farmer wanted what the other had in his field to solve his own problem. One day the person with the hole approached the person with the hill with an offer to buy his hill from him in order to fill his hole. However, the farmer with the hill amiably refused to accept any money, and happily let his hill be taken — for their mutual benefit.

The Persian King Achashveirosh and Haman both hated the Jews, but for opposite reasons. To the haughty king, this wise and noble people represented a “hill” that threatened his own stature. To the evil Haman they were lowly, contemptible creatures to look down upon, as one would look down at a hole in the ground.

These two symbols represent two classical approaches to overcoming anti-Semitism throughout the ages. The Jews who believe they are hated because they are “different” have discovered that assimilation only earns them the disrespect of those they attempt to imitate, who subsequently look down on them even more than before (i.e., the hole). Other efforts to win the affection of non-Jews by reminding them how much they owe the Jewish nation who has enriched their commerce, science and arts, only produce an irritating “hill” of debts, which our enemies, like that Persian king, are glad to get rid of. 

The classical Jewish solution to a problem, including that of anti-Semitism, is to “do teshuva” — repentance. And how was that achieved in the time of Purim? Our Sages teach, “The transfer of the power of the king’s ring achieved more than the efforts of all of the forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses. These great leaders could not succeed in getting the Jewish People to repent, whereas the transfer of the power of the king’s ring succeeded in causing the Jewish People to repent and be saved by God.” It seems from this that anti-Semitism occurs when the Jewish People stray, and only the fear of anti-Semitic consequences will return the nation to its correct path.


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