Our Esther moment?

Rabbi René’s sermon for Parashat Tsav

When Mordecai found out what Haman was planning to do against the Jews, he informed Esther and asked her to appeal to the king and to plead for their people. But this was a perilous matter: should the king not extend the golden sceptre to allow a person in his presence in the court, the law said, he or she should be put to death.

But the situation was very pressing, and Esther decided to take the risk. Mordecai said to her, “if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance for the Jews may come from another quarter, but you and your family shall die. And who knows, maybe it is for a situation like this one that you have become a queen?” (Esther 4: 14). What is indeed the purpose of the story of Esther if it is not to talk about a courageous woman who braved a highly patriarchal society to save her people?

Have you ever wondered why you are where you are? We often wonder why we are doing what we are doing, and what is the purpose of our life. It is impossible to know until we find ourselves in a situation where everything makes sense. It takes us by surprise, and sometimes we realize it only after the event. And yet, as our Torah portion says, “a perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out” (Leviticus 6: 6). Sometimes this light is hidden behind the mundane tasks of everyday life. Sometimes we are buried under many worries, and we can’t see it. But it is always there, burning in perpetuity, telling us, don’t forget I am here.

These past few years have seen our world change dramatically. A pandemic, a war at our doorstep: it is as if our universe was trying to give birth to a new one, and the pains of childbirth are felt everywhere. It would be easy – and understandable – to give in to despair. We’ve lost loved ones, we’ve lost some security, and the future is uncertain.

Maybe these certainties were delusion?

Maybe these troubled times are a sign that something must change? Maybe we are having an Esther moment, when we realize must take part in changing this world.

Around us, people are mobilizing to bring help and relief to Ukraine. The WUPJ has raised over 1.5 million dollars. On a smaller scale, Rabbis came together to offer help to communities overburdened with a massive influx of refugees. Many initiatives are popping up everywhere.

And here, at KLS, where do I start? Very early on, some people, the ones you saw earlier on the bimah, rolled up their sleeves and decided to “do something”. There were no questions asked, no hesitation, just the drive to participate in this large effort of relief for a population that has been so unjustly attacked under false pretenses, by a man whose hubris is so large that he couldn’t imagine a moment that people would resist the way they did.

Just a fraction of the boxes of donations packed and ready to be transported onto Ukraine

Esther did resist a cruel and petulant tyrant. She reminds me of this Russian journalist who held a banner during the news asking people not to believe the government propaganda.

It would be wrong to blame collectively the Russians. Remember that thousands of them are now in jail because they dared oppose the war. This conflict has a different nature. It is a war of two radically opposed worldviews, where the Democratic and liberal West has received a sort of wake-up call. We’ve indulged ourselves in an ego driven, individualistic and consumerist society. We have lost a sense of common purpose. On the other side, we see a man who has mustered an entire population behind a religious and nationalistic ideology that excludes those who are different and sees the rest of the world as an existential threat.

This Esther moment that we are experiencing now is a reawakening of a democratic society that is liberal in its dealings with the diversity of human expressions, a society that has rediscovered the value of togetherness, compassion, and care. How else could we explain the countless hours of volunteering for the unique purpose of bringing relief to a people that is suffering?

I don’t say this very often, but when I witness this positive energy rallied for the common good, I am optimistic for our future. This eternal light that shines about the altar of God’s abode shines throughout the world and leads the way to a better future.

Thank you for your time, your money, your donations. Thank you for bringing hope to a world that needed to see it. Thank you for being you.