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Dvar Torah - Purim 5771

Dvar Torah - Purim 5771

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Published by Maurice Harris

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Published by: Maurice Harris on Apr 13, 2011
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04/13/2011

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D’var Torah – Purim 5751 / March 18, 2011Rabbi Maurice Harris
Shabbat shalom. Tonight I’d like to focus on Purim, since itcomes but once a year and arrives tomorrow night. EdithDeen writes, “Like many of the great characters in history,Esther makes her first appearance as one of the humblest of figures, an orphan Jewess.”
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Deen is right. Esther alsoknown by her Hebrew name, Hadassah – is introduced to usas an adopted child. The scroll of Esther states at its outsetthat her parents had died, and that she was raised by hercousin, the pious and virtuous Mordechai.As many of you know, Esther is not alone in the Tanakh– the Hebrew Bible – as an adopted child who goes on tobecome a hero. The same holds true for Moses, who wasadopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in theEgyptian court. Like Esther, Moses also redeems his peoplefrom catastrophe.Joseph, of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame in the Book of Genesis, comes to mind as well. Although he lived to be a
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Deen, Edith, All the Women of the Bible, p.147.
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teenager under his father’s roof, his mother died when hewas young and, when his jealous brothers sold him to slave-traders and told their father that he was dead, Josephbecame an orphan of sorts. Bereft of his birth family, thesheltered and pampered youth goes on to save the day.So what is it with orphans in the Bible, or for thatmatter, in the great stories of mythology and evenHollywood fame? We humans, the world over, seem to lovea good story about a child overcoming this form of adversityonly to rise to greatness. The Torah is emphatically clearthat wronging the orphan is a sure way to invite God’s wrath.In Exodus chapter 22, God tells us:
You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan child. If you do mistreat them, and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry, and my wrath willburn…
And the prophet, Hosea, says about God:
In you theorphan finds mercy.
 I’ve been teaching a unit in my 7
th
grade religiousschool class on the many ways the Jewish people haveconceived of God over the centuries. One of the things thatstands out when you look at how our biblical ancestors
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described God’s attributes is that God cares especially forthe poor and the most vulnerable. God feels a specialcloseness to orphans, it seems. Psalm 68 includes a versewith some striking language about orphans. God is called
avi yitomim
, the father of all orphans. Maybe this explainsthe intensity of the warning God gives against harmingorphans in Exodus 22.There’s something more that Joseph, Moses, and Estherhave in common. The three of them are not just orphanswho overcome that adversity in their lives – they are, eachone of them, cross-cultural navigators, carefully managingtheir status as Jews in a powerful non-Jewish country. Let’slook at Joseph first.Joseph rises to power in ancient Egypt and is evengiven an Egyptian name by his adopted nation:
Zaph
-eh-nat Pa-
ney
-ah. He marries the daughter of an Egyptianpriest and becomes fluent in the language. When hisbrothers finally make the journey down to Egypt in order tobuy food due to the famine in the land of Canaan, theyapproach Joseph, but they don’t recognize him. His dress,
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