(Jewish Daily Forward) Avi Shafran–Why Purim Is a Holiday of Ironies

Purim approaches. Its narrative concerns an ancient Jew-hater, the Haman whose name we traditionally make noise at when the Megilla, or Book of Esther, is read in synagogue.

The narrative is a virtual parade of ironies: Haman turns up at just the wrong place at just the wrong time, and ends up being tasked with arranging honors for his nemesis Mordechai. All his careful planning ends up upended, and the gallows he prepared for Mordechai become his hanging-place. In the words of the Megilla, v’nahafoch hu, “and it was turned inside out.”

Such “chance” happenings are the hallmark of the defeat of Amalek, the irredeemable and sworn enemy of the Jews and Haman’s ancestor. Amalek, the Torah recounts, “chanced” upon the Jews (“karcha baderech,” literally, “happened upon you on the road”), a phrase that has been stressed in Jewish texts as reflecting that enemy nation’s belief that all is mere chance, and nothing is meaningful. That “chance-iness” is reflected as well in Haman’s “casting of lots,” or purim, from which the holiday takes its name. But chance, the message of Purim teaches, is an illusion; God is in charge. Amalek may fight with iron, but he is defeated with irony.

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