Op-Ed: The Ages of Purim
Saturday night began the celebration of the Jewish holiday of Purim, which lasts one day and is celebrated on Sunday night and Monday in Jerusalem. Like so many Jewish holidays, Purim is an inconvenient fit for liberal clergy and their dimwitted parishioners who insist that Jewish values consist of the liberal trinity of environmentalism, abortion and social justice.
Three Jewish holidays end with mass bloodshed, not with reconciliation commissions. There is no peace process conducted with Haman, the chief villain of the Purim story.
No one tries to understand his point of view or figure out how much bowing he will accept in exchange for calling off the genocide. Instead he and his fellow conspirators must die.
Haman is a zero sum villain who responds to a failure to submit with genocide. The response to him is equally zero sum. Those who try to kill you, deserve what's coming to them. It may be an alien notion to the preachers who try to pass off liberal values as Jewish values, but it is a reminder that real Jewish values are not a suicide pact or a soppy tale of moral ambiguity and bleeding heart empathy for genocidal monsters.
Jewish holidays mark historical events by testifying to a G-d of history who is less concerned with feelings and tolerance, than with justice and truth.
Moses, the Maccabees and Mordecai don't seem like progressive role models, not even if you rebrand them as community organizers fighting prejudice. There is something relentlessly bloody-minded about them. They walk through the corpses of their enemies with no regrets or apologetic winces. They don't seem to want to make the world a better place, all they really do is stand up for their own people in a regrettable show of "tribalism" that perpetuates a "cycle of violence".
Purim began when a narrow-minded fanatic refused to bow to the Grand Vizier of a multicultural empire. Jewish leaders hurriedly reassured him that this fanatic was in no way representative of their values of tolerance and appeasement. Hadn't they attended the feast where the sacred vessels of their own people were used to serve spirits to the mob? Rather than anticipating the return to their land at the end of the prophesied seventy year period of exile, they had cheered the brutish tyrant and made Shushan, his capital, into their new holy city.
The illusion of history is that every age brings with it the end of history, a new age whose awesome achievements break with the past and usher in a boundless future. And then the walls come crashing down and the new era of history ends up buried under the rubble of time.
History never ends. That is the lesson of the Holocaust, of Purim and of countless other horrifying intrusions of the old into the new. The shining new era that begins with grand public spectacles and displays of the power and might of an empire, ends with corpses and men and women fighting and running for their lives.
The Jewish people, break down into Jews and New Age Jews.
The Jews wandered a meandering course through history using ancient maps and concerning themselves with a past that modern people dismissed as myth and legend. The New Age Jews saw a new era of history that made all those old moldy beliefs completely irrelevant. History had ended and a new age had begun. How could they be expected to take a few fairy tales retold by barbarians seriously? Such things weren't for enlightened people who were witnessing the end of history.
The old Jews know what the New Age Jews do not, that history has not ended, that the past is still with us and that it has sharp teeth. They know that Man has not changed, that his sophistication is still only a shell and that sooner or later the shell cracks. If it does not crack from within, then it is cracked from without. While the New Age Jews sneer at the Holocaust obsession, Jews know that the past in all its awful terrors is a map and that forgetting it carries a terrible price.
Those who feel time in their bones know the patterns of history and can never lose themselves in one age or fall into the fallacy of a new era. They know that there is nothing new under the sun. Machines may come and go, but the world is a broken place because the hearts of men have not turned from their ways. And so they remember that every age carries within it the seeds of its ruin. They witness the ruin, climb out of the rubble and move on.
Liberal pieties embrace the new age, fixate on a final transformative era of history at the hands of messiahs who promise to make the world into a better place. Clergy who preach the cant of Tikkun Olam, whose climactic religious holiday of the year is Martin Luther King Day cannot meaningfully cope with that history. Their tattered scraps of philosophy that they mistake for a religion has no room in it for the bloody-minded men who stride through history without saving the whales.
Purim, a holiday preceded by a fast kept by the men going into battle and their loved ones, is not about forgiving your enemies, progressive taxation or coming out of the closet. It is about survival. Not mere survival, but the skin of the teeth sense of how close we came, that moment of revelation which pulls back the curtains of the material world and reminds us of the impossibility of our survival under all the ordinary rules of the world that new ages are founded on. It reminds us that behind the brick and mortar of the material world is a force that breaks apart history, that saves us when we should have died, that has entrusted us with a mission.
It reminds us of what the world is and reminds us of Itself and of what we are.
When you stand on the edge of death, life is a revelation. It is not our deaths under the Egyptian sun, the blades and bullets of a thousand empires and kingdoms, or the ovens of Dachau that we are obsessed with. It is that moment of survival. The revelation that even amid the horrors of all that we have witnessed and the terrible things that we had to do to survive, we have risen out of the ground, watched the flesh cover our bones and stood alive again upon the earth. Every time we survive, we are reminded of the fragility of the material world and of our enemies who wielding every power and trick, have failed to destroy us. Each time we rise, we transcend the world, in confronting our dead, we confront our immortality.
It is not a purely joyous experience. The day of Purim is preceded by a day of fasting. Before the celebration comes a day of battle as the struggle to survive, the long decline into the abyss, the final desperate hours, suddenly give way to the upheaval of an impossible salvation. We remember the pain, the sense of the grave closing over us, the bodies lying everywhere, the certainty that we will be next.
We accept the hopelessness of our situation and then we walk out of the grave and praising G-d, sit down to the feast.
This is Jewish history. It is an alien one to the New Age Jew who clings tightly to the new era and its rules, to its pieties and its mores, who scowls at the old ones for refusing to come and join the imperial festivities where the vessels of the temple are used to serve drinks and the mob toasts that the seventy years have come and gone, and still there is no chance of the Jews returning to their Jerusalem and reclaiming the lost history.
"The past is the past," says the New Age Jew. "The past is the present is the future," says the Jew.
The feast of the New Age is the celebration of the end of history, a golden time with an unlimited bounty for all, where the wine and the free health care will never run out, where everyone will live together under one government in perfect brotherhood for all time. Many Jews are drawn to this feast, its golden vessels, its vast bounty and its glorious ideals. But then the Grand Vizier begins to speak and some of them grow uneasy for though he speaks soothing words, they sense that he is a monster.
They don't always know how they know it, but the nagging feeling creeps into them that there is something rotten at the heart of this new age.
Most of them still bow to him, touching their heads to the floor, some even celebrate his vision. They assure others that he is our friend, the only man who can realize the promise of this age, a wise and noble leader whose vision of change brings new hope. But one or two stay away from the feast and refuse to bow to him. Instead they look to Jerusalem, to where the battle between good and evil was once fought, and where it will be fought again. They know him for what he is.
The Grand Vizier knows that he must destroy them, must destroy them all, because they have seen through what he is, and through the shallow trappings of the golden age of fools. They know that there is more to the world than the might of men and the cornucopias of kings. They know that he is not all-powerful and when he looks at them, a scowl wrinkles his face, because now he knows it too
So he casts a lot, random chance in a random world where chance is supreme and the whim of every ruler outweighs the weight of history. The bills are signed, the laws are passed, the decrees go out, the officers from the vast imperial bureaucracy are assigned to inform every citizen that their new age will be inaugurated with blood. A people who are not a proper part of the multicultural empire of laws must be wiped out in a properly democratic fashion.
And then the Grand Vizier ends up dangling from a rope, the tanks break through to Berlin, the chariots fall into the sea, the mustachioed dictator dies in a bedroom outside Moscow his clothes soaked in his own urine-- and everything has gone completely wrong.
It's an old story and a new story. We tell it over and over again because it is always happening. It is our story and the story of the world. It is the story we have accepted from our parents and it is the story that we will pass on to our children. It is the story of the blood sacrifice of the New Age that goes wrong. The sacrifice survives, bloodied and scarred, while the New Age goes down to ruin.
Once again we are the sacrifice to be slaughtered on the altar of peace with the Muslim world, of an age of global government and the brotherhood of man for which only a few million people need to die. The knife is sharpened, the Grand Vizier and his aides smile, and the time is almost here. But it is not here yet. Now we sit down to hear the Megillah and remember how the story always ends.