Parashat Tetzaveh

Parashat Tetzaveh – Shabbat Zachor-Purim

Hate by Any other Name

For he had told them that he was a Jew (Esther 3:4)

כי הגיד להם אשר הוא יהודי (אסתר ג:ד)


The Purim story reveals that the answer begins with Israel—and that same answer rings true today.

In a nutshell, the theme of the story of Purim is very familiar—baseless hatred of the Jewish people that leads to threats, violence and ultimately attempted genocide. While we can speculate on the genesis of Haman’s hatred towards the Jews, Midrash suggests one possible origin. According to the Talmud, the anti-Semitic overtones within story of Purim began not in Shushan, but years earlier in Israel. Shortly before the era of the Purim story, we read in the book of Ezra, that King Cyrus of Persia charged the Jews with the mission to return to the Holy Land, rebuild Jerusalem, and reconstruct the Temple. A small group took the charge and began that project. We learn that a number of years later, “When the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the children of the captivity were building a temple…in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 4:1-6). In their letter, those adversaries accused the Jews of attempting to rebel against the king, charging that a rebuilt Jerusalem would serve as a seat of that rebellion. “Know that this city is a rebellious city, and hurtful to kings and provinces, and that they have moved sedition within the same of old time…” (4:15). One is left wondering, who were those anonymous “adversaries” that accused the Jews of disloyalty to the Persian king? According to the Sages in the Midrash (Seder Olam Rabbah 29), “the ten sons of Haman wrote the letter.” Perhaps Haman’s hatred and ultimately his plot to destroy the Jewish people began not with blatant anti-Semitism, but rather with accusations that the people of Israel are disloyal and not unified in purpose—accusations that escalate to claims that Jews are a threat to the world at large.

We are witnessing precisely the same phenomenon today. For years, we have watched anti-Israel activists single out the Jewish state in an attempt to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist. Disguised as a righteous movement, the BDS campaign blames Israel—and only Israel—for the absence of peace and attacks the Jewish state with a moral code applicable exclusively to Israel. By eroding confidence in Israel’s legitimacy, BDS attempts to isolate, weaken and ultimately destroy Israel. Speaking to the Times of Israel, Malcolm Hoenlein, head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, directly connected anti-Semitism in the U.S. to the anti-Israel movement. “For the last decade or two, it was okay for Americans to say that they are anti-Israel. Today it is accepted to say I am anti-Jewish,” Hoenlein said. This, he suggested, is partly to due to the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which, he said, provided a “cover for anti-Semitism.”

Now more than ever, we must follow in the footsteps of our forefather Mordechai from the Purim story, and stand up against not only anti-Semitism, but also the anti-Israel attitude that serves to legitimize that hatred. If we fail to act now, we increase the likelihood that hatred for Israel today could turn into something far more sinister tomorrow. Shabbat Shalom