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Saturday, March 26, 2005

At Purim time, two visions of America

Haman came to Ahasverosh with a modest proposal in the swiftian sense.

ח וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן, לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ--יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם-אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים, בְּכֹל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתֶךָ; וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת מִכָּל-עָם, וְאֶת-דָּתֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֵינָם עֹשִׂים, וְלַמֶּלֶךְ אֵין-שֹׁוֶה, לְהַנִּיחָם. 8 And Haman said unto king Ahasuerus: 'There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of thy kingdom; and their laws are diverse from those of every people; neither keep they the king's laws; therefore it profiteth not the king to suffer them.
ט אִם-עַל-הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב, יִכָּתֵב לְאַבְּדָם; וַעֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים כִּכַּר-כֶּסֶף, אֶשְׁקוֹל עַל-יְדֵי עֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה, לְהָבִיא, אֶל-גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ. 9 If it please the king, let it be written that they be destroyed; and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those that have the charge of the king's business, to bring it into the king's treasuries.'

Now Michael Schiavo and his lawyers and his advocates and the ACLU come before us with another modest proposal. Terry Schiavo is not really living, she is of no value or use. Give her into our hands and we will dispose of her. Haman makes the same point to Ahasverosh, the Jews are scattered, they are not a true nation and not living in accord with the king's laws; they are not really people and their deaths are meaningless.

The Nazis half a century before held the same view of both Jews and disabled people bridging the gap between the ACLU and Haman, there is a life unworthy of life in Nazi terminology. There are people who do not merit to live.

Haman's criteria for it was simple. Haman was entirely selfish. His view of the world was that it was only worthwhile as long as it served him. When the King summoned him, he could think of no one but himself who merited honor. He related to his wife and friends the extent of his riches, to demonstrate his worth. He needed others to confirm his importance for him to have a sense of pride and worth. When Mordechai refused to grant him that affirmation by bowing before him, Haman decided to wipe out all the Jews rather than Mordechai alone because wiping out one man would demonstrate his pettiness. In Haman's world, things only had value to the extent that they served him and since the Jews did not serve him; out they went.

The modern criteria of the world for life is selfish too. In a consumer society we are encouraged to be selfish. To abandon communal values for personal values, the needs of the many for our own needs and to reject any obligation to sacrifice our own comforts for the comfort of others. It is the society we are becoming increasingly comfortable with. The criteria for life is what benefits us. If a baby is inconvenient, the sensible thing is to abort it. If our aged parents get too inconvenient, we ship them to a home. If our ailing wife becomes too much of a burden, kill her.

Consumerism is all about the freedom to make the choices that are most convenient for you. The remote control can then turn on your tv as well turn off your wife's feeding tube. In such a world self-sacrifice is dangerous. Anything that does not serve us introduces a dangerous and contradictory value system into the equation. One that promotes self-sacrifice over consumerism. One that does not serve us and such a value system must be stamped out and as Terry has become the representative of such a value system, the Hamanic view is that she must die.

Thus two views emerge. One is Haman's view which places a premium on comfort and self-satisfaction uber alles. The other is Esther's view of self-sacrifice, of carrying a burden for others even when it's difficult and painfull to do. These are also two visions of America struggling against each other and finding expression in the Schiavo case.

This is not a struggle between liberals and conservatives or democrats and republicans. It is a struggle between people who believe that life has value even when it seems like a burden and those who believe that inconvenient life should be shifted away.

Charity thus is given to agencies, the poor shifted over to a welfare state, removing the responsibility for caring for the needy from us and delegating it to bureaucats. Human welfare becomes impersonal, love for the sick and the needy becomes alien and distantly removed. In the Hamanic view it is not life that counts but our own needs. The law matters but not morals. Money matters but not righteousness.

The Esther view though is that we are obligated to care for others as G-D cares for us, even though we are not worthy of it. Alone and seemingly abandoned in her palace to her rapist king, Esther nevertheless risks her life to save her people. She does not weigh their sins against them, their participation in the Feast or their obesience to Haman. She does what is right because it is right.

Haman stood for no one but himself, Esther risked her life for an entire people and in the end emerged both politically and morally triumphant.

Which america do we want to be part of?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

America is being weighed in the balances over this and many things right now.
Unfortunately the evil Amalekites are winning.

Sultan Knish said...

it's a matter of their control of the law in many cases which will take time to remove from their control

Anonymous said...

Beautiful piece, Sultan, from SS613.

Sultan Knish said...

thank you ss613 :) and feel better soon

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