Dispatches from Jerusalem: On Purim, Passover, and the coronavirus

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Dispatches from Jerusalem: On Purim, Passover, and the coronavirus

March 19, 2020 -

Orthodox Jews and tourists during Passover at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Orthodox Jews and tourists during Passover at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Orthodox Jews and tourists during Passover at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

NOTE: Since 2005, Reuben Nevo has led guided tours of Israel for many Christian groups (including Denison Ministries), government delegations, educational programs, and Jewish federations. He has also spoken at many US churches about his Jewish heritage.

His many previous jobs include officer of combat forces in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), representative of the Jewish Agency and the government of Israel in Chile, teacher and director of a guide school in Jewish agency, developer of the program “Jewish roots in Spain and Europe,” and official government tourist guide at the Ministry of Tourism.

He holds a masters in history of the Jewish people from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is married and has two children.

Reuben and Dr. Denison are very close friends. Our ministry is honored that he would share his perspective from Israel with us.

On Purim and Passover

Purim is over and Pesaj (Passover) is knocking on our doors—two celebrations that are so different and yet so similar. 

Here in Israel, we just read from the book of Esther. We read it the whole night. Part of the celebration included girls dressed up as Queen Esther and boys in cowboy costumes. The “Ears of Haman” were so tasty this year—marmalade or chocolate inside baked cookies in the shape of an ear, which made all of us later go on a diet.  

The origins—and the enemy—of Purim

Haman, one of Ahasuerus’ ministers in Persia (Iran today), was promoted to the position of prime minister. Haman was a descendant of the nation of Amalek. The tribe of Amalek lived around the Dead Sea area, all the way to the Sinai Desert. The first battle of Israel in the desert after leaving Egypt was against the Amalekites.

Deuteronomy 25:17 says, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt,” reminding us of the immoral act of the Amalekites, chasing and killing the weak ones from Israel who were walking at the back. This probably refers to the elderly, the sick, the children, and all others who had difficulty walking.  

Immediately after Haman’s promotion, the king issued a decree ordering everyone to bow down whenever Haman appeared. Haman would now walk around with a large idol hanging from a chain around his neck. 

When Mordecai, a proud Jew, refused to bow down, Haman was infuriated. Haman resolved to take revenge against all the Jews and threw lots to determine the “lucky” day when he would implement his plan. The lot fell on the thirteenth day of the Hebrew month of Adar. The translation of the word lot in the Persian language is pur. From there we call the celebration purim.  

Thank God we were saved and the anti-semitic Haman was hanged. 

In the synagogues, we read the Book of Esther happily, even acting in a foolish way. Finally, we have one day where we are obligated to act foolishly, Adloyada in Hebrew: “until one no longer knows.” Every time we read the name Haman, all members of the synagogue shout, make noise, and say “Buuuuzzz” to his name—like Americans booing an opposing team at a sporting event. 

Haman is our enemy in Purim as the Pharaoh is our enemy in Passover.  

The enemy of Passover

Pesaj is about to come.

Yesterday, I went to the supermarket here in Jerusalem and found that the place of the bread has moved already. Remember in Pesaj, we Jews don’t eat leavened food. Instead of normal bread, we eat matzah. 

Did someone say diet again since we eat and eat and read?  

The book is called Hagadah (“Let them know”), where we remember how God took us out of Egypt. Moses, a tremendous leader with very few words but a huge burden of leadership, brought us through the desert to the promised land. 

The enemy Egypt passed through ten plagues before letting us out. Exodus 14:28 says, “The waters returned and covered the chariots and the horsemen; of all the host of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea, not one of them remained.”

Whether the Pharaoh died there or not is still under different opinions, but the lesson is clear: “not one of them remained.”

The enemy of today

Purim and Pesaj are two very different yet very similar celebrations. 

In both, we were suffering—but this is normal for us Jews in all our celebrations. (We like to suffer).  

In both events, leadership was very dominant in saving Israel. We were saved thanks to God and to leaders who knew exactly the correct way—a human compass.  

A new enemy is now in front of us. Since I’ve never seen a virus face-to-face, I don’t even know what it looks like. I just know its name: coronavirus.

The way of the compass is still not clear. Even the enemy is not so clear. 

And I doubt that at the end we will eat something in “honor” of our new enemy. 

We in Israel need three main things: the help of God, the collaboration of all human knowledge and creativity, and the unity of our leaders with a clear compass.  

I have the feeling it’s what you wish also. 

More by Reuben Nevo

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