Purim and Ki Tisa: Is All That Violence Needed?

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            This is a very interesting and somewhat conflicting week for us. The question that troubles some is the role of violence as a means of punishment. The God of love, compassion and forgiveness seems to be missing in several key texts.

            All over the world this week, Jews will celebrate Purim. We will have our fill of the shpiels and Megillah reading, the carnivals and hamantaschen. Rarely however, in our studies, do we get passed the time in the story when Mordecai and Esther confound Haman and save the Jews. As Mordecai gains power, go to chapter 9 of Esther and read the punishment that is exacted. Maybe that is one reason why God is absent from the book?

            Then there is the Torah portion for this coming Shabbat. Ki Tisa. The headline in this portion is, of course, the Golden Calf. God’s anger is in full view, Moses’s “pastoral counseling” tact is to play to God’s ego: after all, if you destroy these people what will all the other nations say about you? In the end, there is punishment exacted in direct and brutal fashion. (see  Exodus 32: 27ff)

            One can make the argument that the situation in Esther does not equal the context of the Golden Calf. Maybe so. There is justification, I imagine, in both stories and indeed, the Calf story may very well have been the attempt to draw attention to the civil war that broke out after Solomon’s empire divided and, according to I Kings 12: 25-33, the Northern King Jeroboam erected Golden Calves at Bethel and Dan to draw followers away from Jerusalem and the Southern kingdom of Judea and King Rehoboam.

            While the historicity of these texts may be discussed at length, a question I ask you to raise at your Torah study this week is why the violence? Are there contexts that do demand a response to attacks on us only through violence? Do the increases in antisemitism here in the USA demand such a response? Does meeting violence with violence ever achieve that desired goal? And why is so much of this in our sacred texts.

            A troubling week? No doubt. Much food for thought and contemplation as we navigate Purim and Torah.


Rabbi Richard F Address


  1. No. Meeting violence with violence never is good. But in the case of self defence it may be justified according to the context. That and protecting the life of another which depends upon context and circumstances. In my humble opinion and based on personal experience.

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