By Rabbi Steven Bayar
This coming Shabbat is Shabbat “Zachor,” the Sabbath of “Remembrance.” During services on Shabbat morning we will read an additional section of Torah which reminds us to “remember Amalek,” the arch enemy of the Israelites throughout Biblical history. Haman, the villain of Purim is the last biological descendant of Amalek — and as we remember Amalek we also usher in the story of Purim.
Purim is not a simple holiday. We dress up, make noise and generally enjoy a good boisterous time during the reading of the Purim story — but it also raises questions about Jewish identity and suggests interesting parallels to other Biblical stories.
For instance, at first glance there seems to be no similarity between the story of Esther and the story of Joseph. Yet one has only to scratch the surface before the parallel story lines become apparent. In both cases a foreigner (Jew) becomes, through strange circumstances, second in command of the greatest power on earth. In both cases their real identity is hidden from the ruler. Both Joseph and Esther are called upon to save their communities from destruction.
Both Joseph and Esther have non-Hebrew names. Joseph is Tzafnat Pane’ach (Egyptian). Esther is also Hadassah (Hebrew). This invites speculation: Was Joseph just as reluctant to “remember” his identity as Esther was to put her life on the line for her people? Did they both place their power in jeopardy by admitting they were Jewish? Remember, when Moses finally realizes that he is a Hebrew, he must flee for his life from Egypt.
Is Purim an updated version of the Joseph story? Does this suggest that other periods of Jewish history share similar parallels?
Good questions to consider.