Home history Looking Away from the Abyss
Home history Looking Away from the Abyss

Looking Away from the Abyss

For most Purim is a joyous holiday, a time of celebration, a carnival for kids and a time to eat, drink and be happy.

Even with the reading of the Megillah and the well known story of Purim, many don't properly appreciate what Purim really is. Purim is a holocaust. A holocaust didn't happen, a genocide deferred. We know that intellectually, but we often forget it emotionally. It's easier not to think of such things. To focus on the salvation, the downfall of Haman, rather than what could have been and what has recurred throughout Jewish history.

It is easier to be merry and look away from the abyss.

For Western Jews in some ways, every day is Purim. Whatever difficulties our lives hold, they are still an incredible festival compared to the lives of our ancestors in exile for the last two thousand years. It's easier to celebrate, to shop and work and live our lives, looking away from the horror.

The horror comes from understanding how close to the knife's edge we really live. It's difficult to live with that knowledge. It's much easier to reduce it to words, to formulas we recite. Worse yet it's easier to go into denial. To insist that it is no longer an issue for us and in the ultimate triumph over reality, to invert it all backward and insist that not only are we not in danger, but we are the danger. And there the triumph of liberal denial is complete.

In the feasting and drinking, there is a certain Carpe Diem, a need to seize the joy of the moment, because we know all too well, that tomorrow the catastrophe may come. Drinking and celebrating becomes another form of denial, another way of looking away from the abyss. So is the collective amnesia that often grips Jews when it comes to history. The patterns of assimilation and self-hatred and self-destructive behavior. After all if the abyss is already there, you might as well jump into it.

As impossible as it can be to contemplate the Holocaust retroactively, it is sometimes even more difficult to see that while men in neat clothes plotted the annihilation of millions using neat charts and figures, Jews around the world went on living their daily lives, celebrating their holidays and looking away from the abyss.

In most cases there was nothing much they could do anyway that would have made any difference. Europe would soon be overrun. America was closed and the State Department was working hard to insure that Jewish refugees would be kept out of nearby territories too. England had blocked escape to Israel and Russia was almost as much of a death sentence as Germany. And so millions of Jews went on living their lives, until the machinery of Nazis transported those unlucky enough to be living on the wrong side of the ocean, into the maw of the system that would break them down, reduce them to living skeletons and often as not, kill them.

When faced with an overwhelming horror and shock, another thing people do is isolate it. How many people really accept the reality another 9/11 attack will happen. How much of the anti-war movement ballooned through the ranks of those eager to blame America and shoulder responsibility for crimes against Muslims, because that would give them control over the attacks. Once they confessed and expressed their full hatred for the government, certainly such attacks would not happen again. As Michael Moore put it, why didn't the hijackers strike a state that voted for Bush? The phenomena behind Jewish self-hatred is hardly unique, when millions of Americans suffer from it too. If more people prefer to watch the Anna Nicole Smith circus, rather than the war, it's just another way of looking away from the abyss.

Today men in rooms somewhere in the Iranian Republic are working on their plans for mass murder. The targets are still uncertain, the means yet undeployed but the final disposition is increasingly clear. Whether millions of Americans or Israelis will die, the consequences will be horrific if we look away from the abyss. If we assume someone somewhere is doing something about it. If we assume that the worst cannot happen.

The worst has happened. It will again. History testifies to that.


  1. Excellent post. Despite history repeating itself over and over, people seem to think that time will heal all wounds and evil will eventually fade away.

    People find solace in lies following tragedies because lies are more comforting than facing the truth and doing something to prevent similar tragedies.

    I think we're both having the same post-Purim thoughts. Sadly, yours comes from knowledge and insight. Mine...from the chance viewing of a couple of movies.

  2. Purim also points the way of escape.

  3. Lemon: yes it does and it makes you wonder why so many rabbis prefer to give us watered-down, useless methods of escape, rather than looking at how we did at that time.

  4. The feast for the king was a small part, right? The fasting, prayer and donning of sack clothes more important, as I understand it.


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