What Lessons Can We Learn from the Story of Purim?

A thought for Purim

Published 6 March 2008
purim mask with mishloach manot 1

This Purim message from Rabbi Sacks was directed towards the community of Sderot, in solidarity for the terror they had been living through which had significantly increased since May 2007, when the city was targeted thousands of times by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.


Two weeks ago, I was part of a mission that we’ve done each year for the past six years to bring music and friendship to victims of terror in Israel. This year the mission went to Sderot and Ashkelon and saw at first hand a little of what you have had to live through.

While they were there, a missile landed just a few hundred yards from where they were, and they were shaken. That was just one attack. It’s almost impossible for us to imagine what you have gone through, not once but a thousand times, each time with – at best – fifteen seconds warning; each time not knowing where the devastation would fall.

And tragically what you are suffering now is part of a larger pattern that has accompanied Israel since its birth. For sixty years the people of Israel has had to live with war or the threat of war, terror or the threat of terror. No nation on earth has had to live through what Israel has had to live through, and it has done so with “koach u’gevurah”, unshakable courage.

And what Israel has had to suffer is itself part of a larger pattern that goes back to Purim and the book of Esther, the evil wish “l’hashmid laharog ul’abed et kol hayehudim”, to kill, destroy, and exterminate every single Jew – the first warrant for genocide, the attempt to deny to the Jewish people the right to be.

Why is it that the people who first taught the world the sanctity of life, has had so often to walk through the valley of the shadow of death?

Why, in a world in which there are 82 Christian nations and 56 Muslim ones, is it so hard for people to accept the right of the Jewish people to just one nation of its own?

Why, when the connection between Jews and the land of Israel goes back more than 3,000 years, far longer than any other nation in the West, do Jews still have to fight for the right to be, a right denied by Hezbollah and Hamas? Heaven alone knows.

But we want you, the people of Sderot, to know that we in British and Commonwealth Jewry are with you. We have said special Tehillim for the people and state of Israel every day, morning and evening, for the past seven years. Your suffering is our pain. Your courage gives us pride.

We learn two lessons from the story of Purim. The first is that “uMordechai lo yichra v’lo yishtachaveh”, Mordechai would neither kneel nor bow down. The Jewish people does not bow down to any pressure. Especially the Jewish people in Israel. “V’hu yolichenu komemiyut l’artzenu,” and He will lead us upright to our land. Because of Israel, because of your strength, because of your refusal to be intimidated, every Jew walks a little taller today.

The fate of Haman has been throughout history the fate of individuals and nations: that those who try to destroy the Jewish people end by destroying themselves. Great empires sought to harm the Jewish people: from Egypt, Babylon, Greece and Rome in ancient times, to the Third Reich and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century. They seemed at the time to be indestructible. Yet every one of them has disappeared, while our tiny, vulnerable people can still say “Am Yisrael Chai”.

We therefore say and pray: “LaYehudim hayta orah v’simchah v’sasson viykar. Kein tihyeh lachem v’lanu, bimheira b’yameinu, Amen.”