Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Netanyahu’s speech, Purim—and the Kotel

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just finished speaking to a joint session of the US Congress. In both America and Israel, everyone has an opinion about this speech.

Was it brilliant—or an insult?

Here’s some advice: forget the opinions.  When you read about this speech, keep just two thoughts in mind: the Kotel (the Western Wall), and Purim.

When our history is written a hundred years from now, the most important part of this speech could be the way it ties Benjamin Netanyahu to the Kotel and to Purim.

The Kotel is a wall located in Jerusalem. It’s the Western Wall or, alternatively, the Wailing Wall.

It’s not just a wall. It’s the outer surface of a tall retaining wall built more than 2,000 years ago. It was built to hold up the Temple Mount, upon which was built the Holy Temple.

The Temple Mount is where Jews believe G-d’s Presence rested for close to 1,000 years. Jews had built two Temples there. The first had been destroyed in app 586 BCE by conquering non-Jews. The second Temple was also destroyed (in 70 CE) by conquering non-Jews.

This Kotel has no official holiness. It’s just a wall. But for close to 2,000 years, it’s the closest Jews have been able to get to the Temple Mount, which does have holiness.

For almost 2,000 years, non-Jews didn’t allow Jews to visit the Temple Mount. That’s why Jews came to pray at this wall. It was the closest they could get to the ‘real thing’.

Because the Temple Mount has been so restricted, Jews have continued to use the Kotel for closeness to G-d. Soldiers go there before battle to pray. Brides, widows and businessmen go there to pray.

All who go there seek G-d’s help.

On Sunday afternoon, March 1, 2015, a friend told me a story about the Kotel. She said her daughter had gone there the day before. The daughter told her mother, ‘while I was there, I turned and saw this tight-packed crowd of men fast-walking toward the Kotel wall. There was a man in the middle of the pack’.

That man was Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Just hours before he left Israel to go to America for his speech to Congress, our Prime Minister went to the Kotel.

We can guess he wasn’t there to buy a soda. He was there for the same reason the rest of us go: to talk to G-d—to seek G-d’s help.

The day after Netanyahu left the Kotel to fly to America, the Kotel made news. Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ruled that Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount (above the Kotel) was legal.

Was this a coincidence—or a message?

Netanyahu’s need to seek G-d’s help (for surely that’s why he was there) reminds us of the Purim Story. At the crucial moment in that story, the Jewish Queen Esther needed G-d’s help before going to court, to stand before her husband the king.

The king, at the behest of his advisor Haman, had signed off on a plan to kill Jews. The plan was set to be implemented. Esther now had to risk her life to reveal her Jewishness to the king her husband and to plead for her people.

Netanyahu, in a more modern setting, has also gone to the ‘court’--the Congress of the United States of America. He, too, spoke up for his people. He, too, presented a case to save the Jewish nation.

Like Esther, Netanyahu’s appearance before the powerful carried risk. His speech could win him the election he faces in two weeks. But it might also destroy his political career. If the speech backfires—or if the Obama administration succeeds in destroying his credibility—he could lose the March 17, 2015 election.

Benjamin Netanyahu doesn’t have a reputation for being a religious Jew. But he’s still a Jew, and he has shown—with that little- publicized visit to the Kotel—that he understands the Power of his G-d.

He also understands Purim. In his speech, he said, “Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy it” (Itamar Sharon and Marissa Newman, “In blistering speech, PM warns ‘bad’ deal ‘paves path’ to Iranian nukes”, Times of Israel, March 3, 2015). That’s a direct reference to the Persian Potentate of the Purim story.

Tomorrow, Jews begin the fast of Esther. This is a fasting day that, on one level, reminds us of the risks the Jewish Queen took for her people. After the fast, our Purim begins. That’s the day we celebrate how Esther succeeded in saving the Jews.

The Purim holiday begins with the fast of Esther, which begins just hours after Netanyahu’s Washington speech to Congress, which began some twenty-four hours after a Jerusalem Court ruled that Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount was legal, which occurred some forty hours after Netanyahu visited the Kotel. That juxtaposition suggests that this Netanyahu speech could find a place on the pages of Jewish history.

Purim tells the story of how Man’s behaviour brought about the fall of the Jews’ enemies—and the survival of the Jewish people.

Will the fallout from this speech tell the same story?


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