The Biblical Story of Esther and the Immoral Society, by Avrohom Gordimer, 2/26/17
The Jewish holiday of Purim, which celebrates God's salvation of the Jewish people from the annihilation scheme of the evil Haman, as recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther, is a mere few weeks away. While the narrative is thousands of years old and depicts occurrences in ancient Persia, the story's relevance to contemporary society at large is striking, for it describes the eventual results of an absence of divine moral norms.
This concept was elucidated by the illustrious 20th century rabbinic scholar, Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who taught thousands of students at Yeshiva University's affiliated rabbinical school over the course of nearly half a century.
Rabbi Soloveitchik explained, based on a careful reading of the Book of Esther, that the locus of its narrative - the Persian capital of Shushan - was the seat of an orgiastic society, drunken with unbounded enjoyment and self-gratification. Hence does the text of the Book of Esther give exceptional attention to the ornate furnishings of the king's palace, the detailed cosmetics regimen of the women, the eunuchs of the king’s harem, and so forth, so as to portray Shushan as the apex of indulgence in pleasure and hedone. Such a society, devoid of divine morality and steeped in blind and limitless self-gratification, is most vulnerable for takeover by amoral totalitarianism.
To quote Rabbi Soloveitchik's lesson on this theme: The hedonic society is, more or less, a democratic Western society, in pursuit of pleasure and happiness. That society’s world philosophy and outlook can be broken into a number of component parts. This democratic society is in pursuit of pleasure, insists on minimum government interference in private life, resents controls, demands unrestricted freedom in matters which do not affect the community, particularly, matters of sexual morality, hates discipline imposed from above, not even by teachers, is opposed to any constriction...
There is also another society. There is another path which human beings take in order to escape from the finiteness awareness and in order to engage in self-defeat, not only in an allusion but simply in a delusion. The second path, along which frightened man runs in his wild flight from finiteness and death, leads in the opposite direction… Man, traveling along the second path, tries to calm the fear of finiteness through a big lie, through convincing himself that he is more than man. This is done by intentionally magnifying, a hundred-fold, and exaggerating and lying about human ability and power to solve both scientific and metaphysical problems of humanity, and by painting, in iridescent colors, the eschatological age which should be brought about by man alone, through his wisdom and creative efforts.
Then something happens… By idolizing man and setting him up as a deity, it inevitably leads to the formation of idolatrous cults, from time to time, like the cult of Stalin… Society, mankind, humanity is idolized, defined and set up as the omnipotent deity… The idol is the class, not the individual… In the name of some man-made doctrine or code, they appeal for sacrifices… Arrogant man becomes a tyrant, and the arrogant society which he establishes turns into a tyrannical society.
As a rule, orgiastic society eventually succumbs to a tyrannical, arrogant society… Orgiastic man overemphasizes the importance of freedom. He simply lacks the courage, the vision, to have the power of anticipation. He lacks the predictive element in history. He does not experience history, since he just lives for the present. Little by little, his power is eroded, and he is replaced by the irrational (tyrannical) man...
Man cannot, and must not, legislate the moral norm. Man should be ready to either accept morality from God, or give up any attempt to lead a moral life. Imposition of a secular, finite and relative code upon society is in vain and is worthless. In my opinion, that is exactly what the original sin consisted of. Adam tried to impose and legislate norms of good and bad. He brought disaster upon himself and mankind. Irrational man does that with arrogance and ends up with the law of immorality...
A society that lacks a divine moral code cannot endure. The empty, meaningless void that is created by pliable and disposable communal norms gives entry to totalitarianism, be it Marxism, communism or fascism.
I fear to ponder what would have eventually happened with American society, originally structured by a strong sense of Biblical values, had the Democratic party won the recent elections. The Democrats' rejection of any sense of divine morality and their basic embrace of unbridled permissiveness portended the eventual collapse of American society and a severing of its historical connection to Biblical values. When such values are replaced with trends of self-gratification and the breaking down of all semblance of dignified social order, one must worry. When the Biblical concepts of marriage, gender and even honesty are banished in favor of a contrived right to totally redefine and overturn these truths, society is in major trouble.
Rabbi Soloveitchik addressed these issues very clearly, explaining during a 1974 public lecture in Boston: A philosophy of homosexualism is being preached throughout the Western world, to such an extent that a certain rabbi came to me and said, “How can we defend ourselves against it?” I told him, take out a Bible and read the verse, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman.” We are on the defensive, you understand. Why? And the same is true of abortion and so forth.
I can never predict what modern society will come up with. Everything is possible. The most abnormal, obnoxious, repellent ideas may be introduced in the form of legislation to Congress. And now, since it is modern to be liberal, it’s quite in vogue to be heretical, so any law can be adopted. The Supreme Court in America is the most unpredictable body. Did you see, did you read carefully, the decision about abortion? (Roe vs. Wade)
This is the meaning of the phrase in Genesis, “children of the flesh”. Children of the flesh are oversensitive to beauty, to unredeemed beauty. We ourselves cherish beauty, but redeemed beauty. Unredeemed, vulgar, coarse people. And simply what the children of the flesh preach is non-interference on the part of ethics and morality. This man wants to enjoy life, that’s all. Because actually the pagan way of life rests upon the idea of egocentric hedonism. The latter was declared by the pagans to be morally desirable. In other words, free man is expected to reject any restrictive norm interfering with his hedonic freedom. The permissive society is the pagan society, which heads toward disaster.
The permissive society consists of the children of the flesh, who are obedient to the flesh and its biological pressures. The main sin of pagan society consists in its exploiting nature for the sake of man’s enjoyment without the latter accepting responsibility for the very act he enjoyed. In a word, hedonic society, the generation of the Great Flood, drove itself and the environment to annihilation. That is exactly what happens to the Western part of the world, the so-called “democratic world” or the “free world”.
Rabbi Soloveitchik opposed liberal, hedonistic societal values, and he likewise was an outspoken opponent of communism. He voted for Eisenhower, despite the Democratic Party's all-out efforts to secure the Jewish vote, and he was a staunch supporter of the Vietnam War, viewing the spread of communism as the greatest evil.
There is another lesson of Purim: the defeat of lies and hypocrisy. Haman persuaded the king that his Jewish subjects were not loyal and hence should be done away with. Haman lacked any factual basis for this claim, and, to the contrary, the Jewish community of Persia was quite loyal to the government, as evidenced by various events in the Bible.
The Talmud teaches that one must pray for the welfare of the government, and to this day, every synagogue recites a public prayer for the President during Saturday morning prayers. (I must admit that even though I, of course, always respond Amen to this prayer, it was quite a challenge to do so the past eight years, until January 20th of this year.) Haman perpetuated a great lie, and was a hypocrite par excellence.
And today, with so much fake news and totally baseless attacks on the president emanating from the liberal media, inspiring naive people to take to the streets in protest incessantly, the lesson of Purim that the truth must be sought and falsehood must be boldly dispelled needs to be taken to heart and acted upon.
The current hypocrisy of the American left knows no limits, as media and protesters selectively overlook liberal politicians' numerous and outrageous statements and acts of prejudice, and are obsessed with fabricating implications of bias on the part of President Trump.
We must ask:
· Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations when it came to the racial overtones of an important election season communication by the campaign manager of Hillary Clinton?
· Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations when it came to the now former Vice President Biden calling then-candidate Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy“?
· Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations when it came to Nevada’s Democratic Senator Harry Reid stating of then-candidate Obama that he was electable because of his light skin and “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted one“?
· Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations when it came to former President Clinton stating about then-candidate Obama, "A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee"?
· Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations in reaction to top advisers to the Hillary Clinton ticket harboring and being associated with misogynistic and anti-Israel views?
· Where was the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations in reaction to top-tier Democratic party and administration leadership making disparaging remarks about Indians (such as here and here)?
· Where is the righteous indignation of these people and media organizations in reaction to Minnesota Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison's likely ascension to chair the DNC, in light of Ellison's support for Nation of Islam and other anti-American and anti-Semitic causes?
Purim instructs us not to fall for the Big Lie and to be ever so wary of efforts to strip society of divine moral values. I pray that the coming years represent a reversal of these trends and of the overall damage of the past eight years.
Avrohom Gordimer serves on the editorial board of Jewish Action magazine, is a staff writer for the Cross-Currents website, and is a frequent contributor to Israel National News and a host of other publications. He is a member of the Rabbinical Council of America and the New York Bar, and he is also a board member of Coalition for Jewish Values, (http://coalitionforjewishvalues.org/), a national organization that speaks on behalf of what are commonly known as Judeo-Christian ethics — the moral voice of the Torah. By day, he works as an account executive at a large Jewish organization based in Manhattan. The views expressed in the above article are solely those of the writer.