According to the Purim story, that is not the right question.
“It’s likely that the Jewish people will, in this century, become essentially extinct,” writes Marty Nemko in a Psychology Today article about the contribution of the Jewish people.
He’s not the only one worrying about the continuity of the Jewish people.
With the largest group of Jews being those who do not identify with Judaism, and the threats of antisemitism and assimilation, it’s no wonder people are questioning the future of the Jewish people.
It’s an understandable question, but it’s the wrong question. This question surfaced during the Purim story.
Faced with what looked like certain and complete annihilation, Mordechai, the leader of the Jews, turned to his niece Esther.
Esther had been chosen by King Achashverosh as his queen, and was strategically positioned to go and beg the king to rescind the decree.
Mordechai delivers what is perhaps the worst motivational speech in history.
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But Esther had a valid objection. Achashverosh had a rule that if saomeone came to him unannounced and he didn’t stretch out his royal sceptre, he could kill them.
And this king had quite a track record; he had recently killed his previous wife Vashti! Esther was hesitant about going and risking her life.
It’s a pivotal moment in the story, the fate of the Jews is hanging in balance. It seems like Esther is the only hope.
Yet Mordechai delivers what is perhaps the worst motivational speech in history. He tells her, “Esther if you don’t go, the Jews will be saved from elsewhere, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, if not for this moment you were chosen to be queen.”
If that was me I would have replied, “Fine, if the Jews will be saved anyway, why on earth should I risk my life?”
Yet Esther understood this differently and responded, “I want you and the Jews to fast and pray and I will go to the king. And if I die, I die.”
How did she understand Mordechai’s message? And how could Mordechai be so certain that the Jews would survived this genocidal threat?
Mordechai reminded Esther that God made a promise to the Jewish people that He will never allow them to become extinct.
There will always be a Jewish people and a Jewish future. As God told Abraham, “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis, 17:7). The Talmud says, "The Jewish people will never be destroyed. As it is written, 'For I am with you to save you, says the Lord' (Jeremiah 30:11)" (Yoma 86a).
God promised that the Jewish people will be an eternal nation. But there is no guarantee for every individual Jew.
So the answer to will there be a Jewish future is a resounding yes, because God promised that the Jewish people will be an eternal nation.
So why did Esther agree to risk her life if she knew that there would be a Jewish future? That was in the second part of what Mordechai told her.
Yes, we have a promise that there will always be a Jewish people, but there is no promise that each and every individual Jew will remain part of the nation. Mordechai told Esther, if you don’t go the Jewish people will be saved, but the question is: Will you be part of the Jewish people?
Don’t think your personal survival is reassured. Perhaps this is your moment to step up to the plate for the Jewish people?”
Indeed, Esther heard the call and she went to the king, choosing to remain with her people. It was the moment that transformed her from the passive niece of Mordechai, who did what he told her to do, to the heroine of the Purim story who brought about the saving of the Jewish people.
“Will there be a Jewish future?” is not the right question. The question each of us needs to ask is: Will you, your children and your grandchildren be part of the Jewish future? There is no guarantee; that is up to the choices we make