by Simon Jacobson
March 20, 2003
For behold I am arousing and bringing up upon Babylon
an alliance of great nations from the north land, and they
will set themselves in array against her - from there she
will be taken; his arrows are like those of an intelligent
warrior, none will be wasted
- Jeremiah 50:9
The leader of Persia will attack an Arab nation and
the Arab king will go to Aram for advice. The leader of
Persia will bring destruction to the entire world, and all
nations will be outraged and confused... and they will say,
“Where shall we come and go?” G-d will answer them: "My
children, do not be afraid, everything I have done, I have
done for you. Why are you afraid? Do not fear, the time
of your Redemption has arrived.
- Yalkut Shemoni Isaiah, remez 499
Many Iraqis can hear me tonight in a translated radio
broadcast, and I have a message for them: If we must begin
a military campaign, it will be directed against the lawless
men who rule your country and not against you.
As our coalition takes away their power, we will deliver
the food and medicine you need. We will tear down the apparatus
of terror and we will help you to build a new Iraq that
is prosperous and free. In free Iraq there will be no more
wars of aggression against your neighbors, no more poison
factories, no more executions of dissidents, no more torture
chambers and rape rooms.
The tyrant will soon be gone. The day
of your liberation is near.
- President Bush in his Monday night address to the nation
On Purim eve (Monday night) President Bush gave Iraq/Babylon/Persia
a 48 hour ultimatum which ended on the night of Shushan Purim
Unexpectedly, as if a Higher hand was at work
insisting that the battle begin on Shushan Purim, the attack
began earlier after intelligence reports caused the administration
to bomb a leadership command bunker in Baghdad with the hope
of killing Saddam Hussein, his sons and some of his inner
circle (as of this writing we do not yet know whether the
bombing was successful).
Now, we all know that the story of Purim took
place in this precise geographic region, which was then under
the rule of the Persian King Achashverosh. The Persian Empire
had several years earlier conquered Babylon. In the book of
Daniel (chapter 5) we read about the fall of Babylon. Babylonian
King Belshazzar – a grandson of Nevuchadnezzar (who destroyed
the First Temple) – throws a party using the holy vessels
that his grandfather had plundered from the Holy Temple. During
the party Belshazzar sees the “writing on the wall” (hence
the contemporary euphemism for obvious and impending doom),
and that same night he is slain, followed by the Persian conquest
of Babylon. And this destruction is a result of Babylon’s
arrogant celebration – “because you were glad, because you
rejoiced, robbers of my heritage” (Jeremiah 50:11. See Malbim)
A few years later Persian King Achashverosh
replays the same scenario. He too throws a party displaying
all the vessels he had pillaged. Achashverosh is actually
compared to Nevuchadnezzar and also to Belshazzar; both Achashverosh
and Belshazzar miscalculated the 70 years of the Babylonian
exile and thought that the time had already passed for the
Temple to be rebuilt; both threw parties (Talmud Megillah
11a-b). By now we know the end of that story – the miracle
of Purim. Haman (who plotted with Achashverosh) like Belshazzar
is destroyed. Several years later Koresh (Cyrus) gives the
Jews permission to rebuild the second Temple (Ezra chapter
And now, on the night of Shushan Purim (Shushan
is the capital of Persia), “an alliance of great nations from
the north land” (Jeremiah 50:9. See also 50:3), “from the
farthest parts of the earth” (50:41) attack modern day Babylon
and Persia. Indeed, Saddam Hussein modeled himself after Nevuchadnezzar
who destroyed the Holy Temple. On various occasions Saddam
considered himself as a successor to the Babylonian king.
In 1979, he was quoted by his semi-official
biographer as saying: “Nevuchadnezzar stirs in me everything
relating to pre-Islamic ancient history. And what is most
important to me about Nevuchadnezzar is the link between the
Arabs’ abilities and the liberation of Palestine. Nevuchadnezzar
was, after all, an Arab from Iraq, albeit ancient Iraq. …
That is why whenever I remember Nevuchadnezzar I like to remind
the Arabs, Iraqis in particular, of their historical responsibilities.
It is a burden that should… spur them into action because
of their history.”
Saddam Hussein had a replica of Nevuchadnezzar’s war
chariot built and had himself photographed standing in it.
He ordered images of himself and Nevuchadnezzar beamed, side
by side, into the night sky over Baghdad as part of a laser
light show. He has spent millions rebuilding the ancient site
of Babylon, Nevuchadnezzar’s capital city. He restored
part of Nevuchadnezzar's 600-room palace, and atop some of
the original bricks, marked with Nevuchadnezzar’s name, are
others that declare, "In the era of Saddam Hussein, protector
of Iraq, who rebuilt the Royal Palace."
The dots continue to accumulate…
If that’s not enough, consider that Iraq is
the area where the Garden of Eden was located, as the Bible
describes the location in juxtaposition to the four rivers,
Pishon, Gihon, Tigris and the Euphrates (Genesis 2:11-14).
The area of present day Iraq was called Mesopotamia, which
means (in Greek) ‘between the rivers.’
Indeed, the Midrash associates the four rivers
with the four kingdoms that would dominate the world, the
Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires (Vayikra Rabba
When you connect the dots it becomes very clear
that they lead us back to thousands of years ago, and even
back to the beginning of history itself. How fascinating is
it that the focus of battle today is back where it all began
– with Adam and Eve!
Even the greatest skeptic will be hard pressed
to chalk all this up to coincidence.
Thousands of years have passed since ancient
Babylon and Persia. Yet, the events are uncannily the same.
Same locations, same time of year, same challenges, just different
By no means am I suggesting that we just draw
a simplistic parallel between the American confrontation with
Iraq and the confrontation in the past with Haman and Persia.
That would be naive and one-dimensional. Self interest on
all sides does not allow us to simply say that one side is
all good and the other all evil.
Rather we should be looking to history to understand
the true nature of today’s war. Above all, the United States
can learn critical lessons from the past – from Purim.
The United States is standing at a crossroads.
One rule prevails throughout history: all superpowers and
global empires ultimately fall. As great as they were at their
peaks, they all collapsed, without exception. Why should the
United States be different?
The answer lies in the secret of Purim. The
most telling moment in the entire story is the fact that Mordechai
refused to bow to Haman. This infuriated Haman to the point
that he determined to have all the Jews destroyed. Mordechai
was demonstrating the secret to eternal victory: True humility.
Not conforming – not bowing to anything except G-d.
Indeed, in the entire Megillah the Jews are
called with the unique name “Yehudim,” “Yehudi,” from the
word ‘hodaah,’ acknowledgement – the absolute bittul and self
suspension to a force greater than your own self. Mordechai
ha’Yehudi embodied this personality – the personality that
defines true freedom. Nothing, absolutely nothing can intimidate
you, because you don’t worship anything man-made. You bow
to no one except to G-d.
This is the secret of eternity. When you are
dedicated to yourself – as great as you may be, as special
as you may be, ultimately you are only as strong as your resources
allow you. And since you are mortal and impermanent, your
survival will also be mortal and temporary. When you dedicate
yourself to a cause beyond yourself – and bow to nothing else,
when you connect to an eternal cause – than you too become
The ultimate reason for the fall of all empires
is: Arrogance. No matter how it manifested itself in history,
and it clearly took on many different shapes, dominant powers
eventually self destructed due to their own arrogance. Occupation,
imperialism or just plain tyranny – not driven by any cause
greater than individual interests, ego and power – are some
examples of this arrogance.
Note the emphasis on Babylon’s arrogance as
cause for their destruction in the abovementioned chapter
50 in Jeremiah.
So as America goes to war on Shushan Purim it
can learn much from the original Purim. Above all, the need
for ultimate humility. The more powerful and dominant this
country is – and the more fear and suspicion it arouses in
other nations – the more humble this country has to be in
appreciating the gifts that it has been blessed with.
President Bush and this entire nation is standing
at a crossroads: Will we use our overwhelming military and
economic might to create more markets for McDonalds and Coca
Cola. Or will we use it to help other countries independently
discover their destiny under G-d without the threat and fear
of oppressive dictators.
Will we use a shock and awe campaign (or the
threat of one) to just intimidate the world, or will we demonstrate
that our greatest power is our ability to humbly challenge
our power into a force of virtue and equality.
Will President Bush’s words “The day of your
liberation is near” be just another cliché or will
these words carry the deeper message of the Midrash: “The
time of your Redemption has arrived?”
No doubt that self interest – whether financial,
leaving a legacy or some other interest – can blind even the
most benevolent leader. Using the name of G-d to justify one’s
cause can easily turn into a self-righteous arrogance. The
challenge here is to learn from Purim and reconnect to the
roots of the nation’s hard won independence – recognizing
the inalienable Divine right of all human beings, in all nations,
of all races, cultures, religions and beliefs.
The Founding Fathers of the United States would
have preferred to have lived in peace under English rule.
However they were forced – due to British arrogance – to fight
for their independence. They did not establish this country
merely to create economic opportunities; they wanted a nation
that would allow people to live freely – freedom of religion,
freedom of expression and all the basic freedoms each person
is entitled to. Economic opportunity became a natural result
of this freedom, not the other way around.
They also clearly knew the risks of power, they
had seen it first hand, and did everything in their power
to ensure that arrogance would not dominate the governance
of this country.
Now, 227 years later, the experiment of the
United States has succeeded beyond anyone’s imagination. The
prosperity of this nation has created an unprecedented force,
never before seen in history.
But with this power comes this nation’s greatest
challenge. At its inception, the United States had nothing
else except its passion for freedom. Now that it has become
so prosperous – the danger of arrogance looms, and with it
– the destiny and future of this great country hangs in the
For now, we must pray for the success of the
war effort for a righteous cause, pray for the safety of all
those fighting the war and for protection of all innocent
people. May this war end quickly, with the least amount of
But our greatest responsibility is to understand
the true meaning of this war. As war begins on Shushan Purim,
the uncanny timing and location of today’s events cannot be
Just like in the time of Purim, events today
have led us back to the cradle of civilization. To the place
on Earth where Adam and Eve began the human journey. To the
region where Abraham, Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel and Leah were
born. The events in the first 2000 years of Genesis all take
place in this area.
We are led back to this place ‘between the rivers’
for a reason. It helps us connect the dots.
The dots are very clear today: The war began
on Shushan Purim. The coming days – that link Purim to Passover
are days of redemption. It is on our hands, we are told, to
bring the redemption into reality.
It’s interesting to note, that the actual miracle
of Purim takes place in a matter of one day – the second day
of Passover. On the 13thof Nissan the decree is
sealed and sent out to the entire Persian empire. The next
three days Esther declares a fast, concluding with Haman’s
hanging on the third night of Passover (16 Nissan at night).
We must closely watch the events of the coming
days. I don’t mean watch the events as they unfold on the
battlefield or watch the endless chatter on CNN or MSNBC –
but watch the connecting dots of history and learn from them.
But not just watch, but actually connect the dots – and ensure
that these events do help bring redemption to the world.
A sound of battle is in the land (Jeremiah 50:22).
As we face the sound, may we learn from battles past what
constitutes true victory.
So watch closely the events in the coming days
leading to Passover.
Can we read the writing on the wall?