It never ceases to amaze me that whatever Torah reading or holyday we are encountering in the Jewish calendar, it conveys valuable questions and insights that seem crafted just to address this exact moment. So, with Purim around the corner (from the evening of March 9th to March 10th), I turn to Megillat Esther as a Jewish lens for relating to the pipeline protests led by the Wet’suwet’en and other Indigenous leaders and community members.
We are all living history – This pipeline conflict is exposing a whole host of issues related to land rights, Indigenous sovereignty and questions about who speaks for Indigenous people. These issues are not new. In fact, they have been unresolved for generations.
It is illuminating that Haman is a descendant of the Amalakites, the tribe that attacked the Israelites in the wilderness, generations earlier. Amalek’s assault was particularly cruel because they attacked the Israelites when they were famished and weary, cutting down the weakest stragglers at the rear of the march. The Torah places particular caution and care on protecting the vulnerable in society and anyone, within the Jewish people or outside it who violates this imperative, capitalizing on the vulnerabilities of others and attacking when they are unable to protect and care for themselves is given the gravest condemnation. Haman enters the Megillah generations after Amalek carrying this history and legacy. The explicit mention of Haman’s lineage serves to highlight the reality that historical injustice and unresolved conflict continues to reverberate for generations and harm that is not rectified and repaired, continues to cause damage. Unresolved conflict is rearing its head for us now.
It’s not just that the conflict is unresolved; the pain from the conflict is also carried forward. Mordechai’s cry of anguish (za’aka) when he learns about the planned genocide is also a reverberation of an earlier biblical cry, the wailing (tze’aka) of Esau, rising in anguish after his blessing was stolen from him through his brother’s trickery. Mordechai’s cry is not only his own, but also that of Esau. Contemporary scholar, Nachum Sarna writes that both cries “connote the anguished cry of the oppressed…in the face of some great injustice. In the Bible, these terms (za’aka and tze’aka) are suffused with poignancy and pathos, with moral outrage and soul-stirring passion.” Both the destruction caused by Amalek and repeated by Haman, and the moral anguish experienced by Esau and repeated in Mordechai remind us that conflict ripples through history and continually repeats until the underlying foundations are consistently attended to and finally altered.
Describing the thorough systemic change that is presently needed, Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould stated, “Reconciliation requires transitioning from the colonial system of government imposed on First Nations through the Indian Act, to systems of Indigenous governance that are determined by Indigenous peoples and recognized by others…”
(www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-who-speaks-for-the-wetsuweten-people-making-sense-of-the-coastal). Wilson-Raybould is talking about a paradigm shift, and its one that Indigenous Canadians can’t bring about without the support of non-Indigenous Canadians, like most of us reading this.
The Purim story offers two models for how we can engage. We see Mordechai and Esther advocating and fighting for change in markedly different ways. Esther is within the system, and uses her position to influence policy change. Mordechai is outside the system and blatantly rebels against the norms. Neither is better or worse. In truth, both are needed. The choices of Mordechai and Esther were largely based on their circumstances and social context, their connections and relationships, and the courage they could each draw upon to take on something bigger than themselves. As Canadians, we too have many options for how to engage with this current, and very old, conflict, and for each of us, the path to involvement will likely be different.
But to choose no path, to stay silent and wait for others to resolve the issues, betrays our role as partners in reconciliation and our civic duty as Canadians. There is no neutral position here. Passively choosing to let others decide is choosing to keep an old conflict unresolved, thus fueling the fires of conflict currently and into the future.
One of my sister’s favourite lines in the Purim story comes when Mordechai approaches Esther and urges her to speak up. Esther shies away taking action explaining that no one can approach the king unless summoned and King Achashverosh hasn’t invited her in quite some time. Mordechai responds with a most exquisite passage, “וּמִ֣י יוֹדֵ֔עַ אִם־לְעֵ֣ת כָּזֹ֔את הִגַּ֖עַתְּ לַמַּלְכֽוּת/ And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis.”
We all have the capacity to deepen our knowledge of the roots of this conflict and how it impacts Canada in the present. We all have spheres of influence, great or small, and ways we can engage our voices, our relationships and circumstances. Wherever you are, whatever your circumstances happen to be, perhaps your being there is not happenstance. Perhaps you, too, are in the right place at this right moment to play a role in the paradigm shift toward true reconciliation.