Thursday, February 26, 2015

Cyrus, Darius, Xerxes, Mordechai, Binyamin

Modern propaganda can distort historical retrospectives. To unravel mysteries one must be sensitive to actors and cultures that influenced people of an ancient time. One such example is the great Xerxes, a Persian King of mythical proportion about whom modern movie going audiences are unlikely to ever restore a real sense. Historical documents, archaeology, anthropology and punctuated moments during his rule are the only tools we have to reconstruct his story. One such source is the Jewish perspective, you see, Xerxes is the Greek name of the well known King Ahasuerus (Ahashverosh) of Susa (Shushan), from the story of Purim.

Shushan housed the palace of Xerxes, an ancient Persian city, close to the the border of modern Iran and Iraq. It was in Shushan, some 70 years prior that the Jewish nation had been exiled by the Babylonians shortly before they were defeated by the Persian King, Cyrus The Great.

The confidence of Jewish leaders in their prophecy that predicted the Jewish exile would be limited to 70 years bewildered Persian officers and the King. Was the prediction arrogant enough for Jews to dominate the will of the Persian King? As the time approached and the intellectual challenge to Xerxes grew more intense, he strengthened his hand, subjecting the Jews to a battle of wits. He hosted an elaborate feast that lasted 6 months and subjected the pious Jewish community to exotic foods, luxuries and practices they were not permitted, by Jewish law or accustomed. During the feasts his sorcerers served from the vessels that had been captured and only ever previously used in their holy temple in Jerusalem.

Rapid assimilation became Xerxes objective. Ultimately, when that did not appear to shake the confidence of the Jewish nation, he was convinced to authorize his officers to execute the Jewish genocide. His leading bureaucrat proponent, known through the Jewish story as 'Haman' was of the Amalekite bloodline that also became Hitler’s Germany. Primed and ready for the final genocide Haman eagerly negotiated with and paid Xerxes to obtain the coveted rights to the impending Jewish spoils.

Unbeknownst to Xerxes, one of his recently isolated harem girls whom he is said to have favored, became his Queens’ envy. In a moment of jealousy the Queen publicly challenged Xerxes. He banished her and instead began a courtship with Hadassah, the hidden harem girl who was a relative, some say wife of Jewish nobleman Mordechai, of the Benjamin tribe. As the seventy year prophecy drew closer and conditions for the Jews became intolerable, Mordechai incensed Haman, by refusing to bow to him. This became the catalyst that led to the events of Purim, one of the happiest events on the Jewish calendar.

In the miraculous series of events that followed, Hadassah or Ester, which means hidden approached and influenced Xerxes to see futility in Haman's plot. She complained of the insult to her and her people who had fasted and prayed for three days prior to her approaching the King. Xerxes favored her opinion over Haman, who was subsequently hanged. Xerxes and his successor integrated the Jews into Persian society, they became loyal servants of the King and in accordance with their prophecy they were permitted to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple. Although the prophecy of return from exile had in fact come true, the significant majority of exiled Jews never returned. Life in Persia had become comfortable, Xerxes had cleverly integrated them into his society and the Jews would empower his dynasty for many generations into the future.

The small number of returnees to Jerusalem under Nehemiah and Ezra, the head of the Great Assembly eventually restored the destroyed temple and rekindled the age old practices of the Jewish people. Jewish influence was then centered in Jerusalem and Persia. For the millions of Jews entrapped in their Persian exile who did not return, modern day Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine became home.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s addressed the US Congress on 13 Adar, the day Jews remember the Fast of Esther. It is reminiscent of Mordechai’s incite, but when the annihilation of your nation is still threatened by Iran, the very nation over which Xerxes ruled one must be prepared to make a stand!