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Upset Victory

03/16/2017 01:47:23 AM

Mar16

And the winners are: The Atlanta Falcons and La La Land.
We are all captivated by the story of a last minute plot twist, whether in sports, entertainment, or more serious realms. Of course, the experience can be glorious or excruciating depending on who you are rooting for. As a lifelong fan of the New York Mets, I have a deep appreciation for miracle wins, and also for those who can “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” The Purim story, that we read this weekend, is another such story.
The phenomenon that I am referring to is not that of a “close game” where the teams are evenly matched, neck and neck, all the way through. It’s the surprise, the come- from-behind when all hope is lost. The Falcon's loss is still too painful to talk about. On Oscar night, no one was surprised when La La Land was initially announced to win best picture- it had already garnered 5 awards, to Moonlight’s 2. The shock was when the accountants rushed the stage (something you never want to see happen, under any circumstances) to announce the mistake.
As Jews, we feel a particular affinity for the underdog. In most of the Bible, the result was assured. Our ancestors counted on God to bring a miracle or some plagues to rescue us when times were grim. If God wasn’t going to speak up, the prophets had already warned us. In contrast, for much of the rest of our history, it seemed like the odds were against us- landless, friendless, at the mercy of the larger tides and current of history, and often there was no miracle in sight.
Perhaps that is the appeal of the Purim story. Haman was the power behind the throne in Shushan. His decree to destroy the Jews had been sent out under the king’s signature, and could not be undone. . God was not visible, with no prophets to announce His intent. It was the most ironic twist of fate, or God operating under deepest cover, that the Queen Esther was in position to thwart the plan. Even then, Mordechai’s attempt to “repeal and replace” the evil decree was fraught with danger. The Jews would have to fight for their lives, and there was no guarantee that they would be victorious.
Last minute upsets can be inspiring or horrifying. As we celebrate Purim this year, we are reminded every day that “it’s not over till its over.” Whether things look like they are perfect, with no chance of disruption, or awful, with no hope of recovery, we can’t make any assumptions. That uncertainty reminds us to avoid complacency and depressive paralysis. We can't give up either way, because the final outcome is known only to God.
Fri, July 19 2019 16 Tammuz 5779