by Daniel R. Weiss, Head of School
This coming week (Monday night), we celebrate the holiday of Purim. On the Shabbat that precedes Purim, we read a special portion from the Torah about a group of people called Amalek. We are told to “REMEMBER” what Amalek did to the Jewish people. We call this Shabbat, Shabbat Zachor. The Shabbat of Remembering. The word Zachor is also used in the fourth commandment, as we are told to “Remember the Sabbath day”. It is also a word that has been used for much of the past 75 years, as a way of remembering the tragedies of the Holocaust.
As the Purim story enters its conclusion, Queen Esther and King Ahashverosh are speaking with one another. Ahashverosh tells Esther that no matter what her request, he will grant it. Esther’s wish is that Haman’s ten sons are hanged on the gallows.
Esther’s request seems a bit non-sequential since Haman’s sons had been hanged earlier in the story. Why ask to hang them if they have already been hanged? Many commentators suggest that Esther is referring to the hanging of Haman’s sons in the future. Truth is, Haman had more than ten sons and those that survived had descendants that are still considered part of Amalek, to this very day.
Amalek is the nation that snuck up behind the Jews and killed many women and children while they were wandering in the desert. Following that episode, God commands us to wipe out Amalek. Amalek shows up again later in the Chumash during the time of King Saul, who is instructed to kill all of Amalek. Saul, however, allows the king of Amalek to survive. The king’s name is Agag – Haman is an Agagite (a descendant of Agag).
We still believe that Amalek is alive today (as descendants of Haman). Hitler is often thought of as being one of Haman’s descendants.
As we often look at the Scroll of Esther (Megillat Esther) as a document in which there are both hidden and revealed images and messages (for example, God’s name does not appear, yet most columns on the scroll begin with the word, Melech, King, which is one of God’s names), there is perhaps another message related to Haman’s ten sons.
In the Megillah in the section with the hanging of Haman’s ten sons, there are three letters that are written smaller than the other letters (the taf of Parshandata, the shin of Parmashta and the zayinof Vizata). There is also one letter that is written larger (vav in Vizata). By using Gematria (where each letter of the Hebrew Alphabet is assigned a number value), we can put those letters together and get the sixth millennium (vav= six) with the year 707 (tav= 400, shin= 300, zayin= 7), the Hebrew year of 5707 which is 1946.
In 1946 as World War Two had come to a close a group of Nazi officials were on trial in Nuremberg, Germany (trials that would be known as the Nuremberg Trials). Eleven men were sentenced to die as a result of the trial. Two hours before the sentence was to be carried out, Hermann Goering committed suicide leaving ten to die. In most military tribunals the punishment would have been death by firing squad or electric chair, but the court declared that they were to be hanged (just as Haman’s ten sons were hanged). Commentaries suggest that Haman had an eleventh child, a daughter who committed suicide after having embarrassed her father earlier in the story.
To some this is simply a coincidence, a fancy made up connection based on fake “Bible Codes”, but the connection goes one step further. On October 16, 1946 the New York Herald Tribune reported that Julius Streicher “with burning hatred in his eyes… looked down at the witnesses and shouted: ‘Purim Fest 1946!’” Even Streicher, a Nazi, was able to see the similarities.
The idea of the holiday of Purim is to reveal those things that are hidden. The name Esther itself means concealment or hiding. Esther hid her identity as a Jew from the king, Achashverosh through most of the story. We wear costumes on Purim in a similar purpose. We hide our identities as a reminder that not everything is as though it appears. In the end, just as Esther reveals herself and her true identity, we must do the same. We must look for the hidden messages that appear in our lives in order to “remember” what make us who we are today.
As we begin our celebration of Purim at Bornblum, this morning, our Second and Third Grade students presented an integrated program about masks and revealing what is hidden. Students learned about the moon and how Purim falls when the moon is at it’s brightest. Students also learned about the importance of being an upstander and revealing what is right.
Wishing you a Shabbat that reveals your truest you, just in time for Purim.