On Sunday, Jews the world over congregated to read the story of Purim from the Megillah (scroll). For those who don't celebrate Purim, and those Jews who don't know what they're celebrating, the story of Purim sounds like a fairy tale: The monarch of Persia, King Ahasuerus, kills his first wife, Queen Vashti, and takes a second wife, Queen Esther, a secret Jewess. Ahasuerus' chief adviser, Haman the Amalekite, convinces Ahasuerus to exterminate the Jews. Mordechai, Esther's uncle, advises Esther to use her position to prevent Haman from realizing his evil plans. Esther convinces Ahasuerus to execute Haman, and the Jews are saved. Let's eat.
But this is only half of the story. The point of Purim is not to commemorate the wisdom of Mordechai or the heroism of Esther. The real essence of Purim revolves around what happened after Esther changed Ahasuerus' mind: Ahasuerus issued a decree allowing Jews to kill any anti-Semite seeking to destroy them, and the Jews did so. During a two-day period, Jews killed over 75,000 Jew haters throughout the Persian Empire, 800 in the capital city of Shushan alone.
Purim is certainly the most modern Jewish holiday in the intellectual sense. God's hand is revealed only through the actions of men -- in fact, God's name is not mentioned once throughout the entire Megillah. Haman, the villain of the story, is far more the subject of Purim than Esther or Mordechai; Jews are told to boo, to drown out, Haman's name each time it is mentioned in the Megillah.
Why this focus on the bad guy? Because Judaism realizes that we live in a world where God does not regularly act through open miracles. Judaism recognizes that it is the job of all good people to stand up and fight evil. The focus must be on removing evil, both spiritual and physical, from this world. God approves of such action and facilitates its success in hidden ways.
This is why every year Jews are required by the Torah (Old Testament) to read the following passage on the Saturday before Purim: "It shall be that when God, your God, gives you rest from all your enemies all around, in the land that God, your God, gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven -- you shall not forget!" (Deuteronomy 25:19)
Who is Amalek? Amalek refers to spiritual evil, but it also refers to a real, physical nation. Jews are enjoined to kill descendants of that nation. Haman was an Amalekite. Hitler was an Amalekite. An Amalekite is someone who fears neither man nor God, who destroys the world through moral degradation, who wishes to exterminate every last Jew.
Clearly, there are members of Amalek alive today. One of them is named Obeida Khalil, a failed female suicide bomber and member of Islamic Jihad. In her own words: "For me, all the Jews are soldiers, and I wanted to kill as many as I could ... As long as I am alive, I will never leave the Jews alone." That's Jews, not Zionists or Israelis. No code words here.
Khalil and Haman aren't alone. If you read Haman's words in the Megillah, it becomes all too clear how many Amalekites live on: "There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the countries of your kingdom," Haman tells Ahasuerus. "Their laws are different from every other people's. They do not observe even the King's laws; therefore it is not befitting the King to tolerate them. If it please the King, let it be recorded that they be destroyed; and I will pay ten thousand silver talents into the hands of those who perform those duties, for deposit in the King's treasuries."
Substitute "United Nations" for "King," and "barrels of oil" for "ten thousand silver talents," and these words are mouthed today by all too many people in all too many nations. The Jews -- and their national manifestation, the state of Israel -- are accused of living by their own law, of refusing to bow to the sanctity of world opinion.
Purim reminds Jews, and the world, of the ever-present threat posed by today's Amalekites. Purim is not about dress up or drinking, noise making or gift giving. It is about recognizing that evil still exists and that God obligates mankind to obliterate it. When men act to stop evil in its tracks, God fights on their side, from the beaches of Normandy to the hills of Judea to the streets of Baghdad.