Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jewish History Never Ends

We all know the famous Santayana quote, "Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it." But why is it that we are so forgetful that we cannot remember the past, and thus must keep repeating it, over and over again?

Human self-centeredness convinces us of our own specialness and uniqueness, and all too easily fosters the historically fallacious idea that we are living in a unique time and a special age. That we have left behind history with our progress and our achievements, and with it entered a new state of existence. That we exist now apart from the great roll of human history. And as soon as we become convinced of this idea, the past comes sneaking up on us, dooming us to repeat it.

That is why it is so very dangerous to forget history, to sacrifice the past to our own egotism, to convince ourselves that it doesn't matter anymore. And that is why so many of the Jewish holidays are historical holidays. To observe the Jewish calendar, is to immerse oneself in Jewish history. Its holidays do not simply link the present to the past, they incorporate the past into the present, making them into one great whole.

In the winter, we rise up against an empire and fight for our freedom. In the early spring we are sentenced to death and fight for our lives in the streets of the Persian Empire. We build pyramids for a Pharaoh, feel the lash on our skin and are led out through the Red Sea by the hand of G-d. In the summer our temples fall and we are led into exile. In the fall, we wait out the desert heat of the Exodus in booths as we prepare for our new life. We cannot let go of history, because we are history. It is the history we have carried with us in our calendar, for our holidays and our history are one.

To observe Purim now and hear the Megillah read, is to bear witness to a planned Holocaust that is aborted at the last minute. Someone who comes to sit and hear the Wannsee Conference take place in Persia, 2500 years ago, understands that the Holocaust was not a new development, but a very old one. That is what too many Jews failed to understand in 1939. It is what too many Jews fail to understand in 2010. Because history has never ended. History never ends until it is done.

When you watch Haman strut on stage, whispering in the king's ear, crowing to his friends, boasting of his power and burning with hate against anyone who will not bow to him-- you hear the ancient echo of Barack Hussein Obama. The man whose gaudy entrances belie his own desperate inadequacy, highlight the hole in his heart that can never be filled with any amount of praise or wealth or power. Who would destroy the Jews simply because his ego demands it. No one who hears and understands the ancient message of the Megillah, would have voted for Obama.

The story of Purim, like the story of Pesach (Passover) and Chanukah, the three great historical Jewish holidays, is the story of unchecked human power pitted against the visible and invisible hand of G-d. They tell of how easily hubris and arrogance in power translate into brutal tyranny and even genocide. But that history too is all around us, Hitler's Nazi Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union, Nasser's Great Arab Socialism, Saddam's Iraq, Kim Jong Il's North Korea, and the EU with its Tower of Babel rising to the heavens. And of course Obama and his followers, throwing up their own banners and symbols, holding their heads high and declaring their unlimited power.

History never ends. To forget that is to repeat it. And the great lesson of history is that when men try to make themselves into gods, they will fail and destroy themselves. The tower leans and then falls. The tyrant aspires to the sky, but winds up in the dirt. And before that day comes, unlimited tyranny quickly extends its grasp into the mind of man, to control his thoughts and beliefs. To transform him into a mindless slave of the regime. To teach him to cheer in a crowd and applaud the Great Leader. To forget that the past is the future.

And so we remember. Purim is more than the story of how the Jewish people were saved from the murderous plotting of one Haman, 2500 years ago. It is the story of the rise and fall of Haman but it is also the story of what happens when we forget, as the exiled Jews brought down by Babylon, stripped off their past and holy books, forgot. Instead they attended the feast. They cheered the empire. They watched the rise of evil, and failed to understand that one way or another they were bound to be among the first on its list.

And now since then, year after year, Purim reminds us. Year after year, we become part of the story again, drinking and feasting, confronting genocide and being saved by G-d and the self-sacrifice of one man who remembered, who never forgot that one does not bow to evil. Because to forget that is very dangerous. It is the first step to slavery.

While the postmodern intelligentsia have abandoned and forgotten history, treated it as a bauble in their philosophies and ideologies, history does not forget them. And so Purim comes again to remind us that we are part of history. That one cannot observe Purim and attend the feasts of Obama. The two are incompatible to anyone who remains a part of Jewish history. And so the groggers spin, the noise drowning Haman's plot in defiance. And we continue to live again the cycle of history, the holidays and Parshas that chronicle the Jewish journey from the fields of Caanan to slavery in Egypt and to free men again. The story is more than a part of us. It is who we are. For to those who choose to be Jews, we are our history and our history is ourselves.


Anonymous said...


Happy Purim!

Keli Ata said...

Brilliant Daniel. Simply brilliant. This has to be the best article on Judaism that I have ever read.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

thank you, and a purim sameach to you both

Akiva said...

Well said, clarifies for me....Obama, not Haman, he's Achashverosh!

Anonymous said...


You are really a mensch and a great writer !

Purim Sameach ,

An admirer from the eurabian capital.

val said...

The Jews have survived because of their history and G-d tells them to remember. Hillary Clinton said awhile ago "control the numbers". Exodus 1 Pharoah said "control the numbers" nothing is new, history repeats itself.

aileen said...

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" was not said by anyone named Fukuyama. The statement is from George Santayana's The Life of Reason.

yamit33 said...

Adar 14, 5770, 2/28/2010

he decree of destruction fell upon the Jews of Shushan because they wanted to stay loyal Persian citizens instead of returning to Israel to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash when the prophesied seventy years of exile drew to an end. They wanted to rub shoulders with the goyim, attend the gala parties of Achashverus, holding up their goblets of kosher Manischewitz wine, while feasting their eyes on the king’s harem of half-naked women.

Unlike on Hanukah, we don’t say the joyous recitation of Hallel on Purim because even after the great salvation, we were still subject to foreign rule in a foreign land – as King David teaches us, “How can I sing the L-rd’s song in a foreign land?”

A Jew cannot really be happy in a foreign land. He can find material comfort, physical pleasures, and egotistical highs, but he can’t find true joy of the soul. True joy for a Jew can only be found in the Land of Israel.

That’s why the Psalm continues: “How can I sing the L-rd’s song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem!”

The Jews in the time of Mordechai wanted to forget Jerusalem and stay right where they were in the flesh pot of Shushan.

Sound familiar?

One of the reasons that we dress up in costumes on Purim is to remind ourselves that a Jew who lives in a foreign land is like a person who dresses up in a costume. Whether he dresses up in the costume of being an American, or a Frenchman, or an Englishman, he is living a masquerade. We can try to pretend that we are loyal Persians, or Germans, or Americans, but the Hamans and Hitlers of the world will always eventually come to power to remind us that we are Jews, strangers in a strange land.

And if Hamans don’t arise to save us by reminding us that we don’t belong in a foreign land, the lavish parties and loose women and career opportunities and open arms of the gentiles devour us all the same.

The fact is that a Jew doesn’t belong in a gentile land. It is like a man dressing up as a woman. It’s unnatural. Even perverted. It is against G-d’s will for the world.

The conclusions therefore should be self evident.

yamit33 said...

On Purim, we do not celebrate deliverance from evil Haman. He was hanged nine months before that (Esther 8:9) for two offenses: plotting against Esther’s people and apparently trying to rape her (7:8). Mordechai was appointed in his stead.

The celebration marks Jews killing “those who hated them” (9:1). It was not “an eye for an eye” retaliation or even the rabbinical, “He who comes to slay you, slay him first” because the midrash relates that the haters’ children were also killed. That was a classic war of preemption, albeit a belated one.
The central theme which is the first presentation of anti-Semitic theory and practice.

Thousands of anti-Semitic books have been written since them in every country and every language, which are all nothing but a repetition and amplification of the same basic theme stated by Haman: "There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of every other people, and they do not keep the king's laws, so that is not to the king's advantage to tolerate them." (Esther 3:8)

No clearer, more succinct definition of anti-Semitism has been formulated since. All the three elements are there: Desire for domination, particularism, disloyalty. But Haman was not only the first anti-Semite theoretician, he was also a man of action who submitted to his king, and to all the kings and rulers throughout the ages, the model plan for the FINAL SOLUTION -- this time not in Berlin and not at the Kremlin, but at Shushan:

"To destroy, to slay, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, and plunder their goods" ( Esther 3:13).

For Mordechai, the Jew of ancient Shushan, it was not enough to have the anti-Jewish decree revoked. He also realized that it was necessary to pray and fast -- and pray and fast he did. He saw that it was necessary to plead with the king, and so he sent a certain lady to plead with him. Ultimately, he also asked the king's permission to destroy and kill all of Haman's followers, and if the Book of Esther says that he killed seventy-five thousand men that day it means that Haman has a whole party behind him a kind of Persian SS or El Fatah, through which he had intended to implement his final solution. On them Mordechai took his revenge.

Haman’s example follows the Torah’s exterminatory logic. G-d commanded the Hebrews to leave no trace of natives in the land he gave us. If they wish to leave, they may do so, but if they dare to fight us, they have to be exterminated to the last child. Divine logic is spotless: if allowed to remain, the natives would always remember that Jews took away their land, and they would hate and fight us forever, becoming thorns in our sides. Under Mordechai’s leadership, the Jews realized that they could not afford to leave their haters alive, and killed them. Leaving the haters’ children would have just perpetuated the violence, as children grow and take revenge.

Jews prevailed over their enemies on the thirteenth of the month of Adar (9:1). On the fourteenth, the Jews rested (9:18) and killed choice enemies (v.14). When we celebrate Purim on the fourteenth, it is about killing our enemies rather than saving ourselves.

What Mordechai did in Shushan was to set up a Jewish Defense -- and Revenge -- League. one cannot always rely on the "establishment" and on the police. Sometimes they come too late. Nor can one always rely on the democracy of a city like Shushan. Therefore, a people that has a leader like Mordechai, a leader who can follow the triple course of faith and prayer, of political action and active defense may call itself truly blessed.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

thank you and purim sameach to you

Joe said...

Thank you, Dan. Purim is more relevant today than ever before. We better wake up fast!

Chag sameach.


Anonymous said...

No one can understand the past or wake up to his present fate unless it is given to him from above. Salvation to be freed from the past and to live in the present has been at hand for two milenia. If only we would be still in our soul, and know the truth. Our hearts are too hard.

A reader of your blog

Lemon said...

nicely written

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