When ‘Enemies’ Meet
During the Everest climbing season last May, just 1000 feet from the top of the world, twenty-four year old Israeli law student Nadav Ben-Yehuda noticed a 64 year old Turkish man, Aydin Irmak, lying in the snow with no gloves, no oxygen, no shelter as other climbers streamed past him in their quest for the summit.
Climbers know instantly 26,000 feet is the infamous ‘death zone’ where the lack of oxygen is insufficient to sustain human life for any length of time. Exposure in that zone quickly leads to acute mountain sickness, hypothermia and, most often, death.
In the death zone of Everest, there is no time for inaction. In an instant, Nadav relinquished his summit bid and put all efforts into Aydin’s rescue. Nine hours later, Nadav arrived at base camp having saved the life of Aydin.
What makes this story remarkable is that Turkey and Israel have long been nations with relations icier than the slopes of Everest. Nadav’s act not only saved a life, but also bridged a distance between inimical countries. When asked why he relinquished his dream of conquest and instead stopped to help, Nadav answered, “Because we had shared a meal together.”
Watch the Video: Eating with the Enemy: Esther's Story
Esther in the Court of the King
As the lectionary text (Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22) for this week unfolds, Esther, Haman and King Ahasuerus are sharing a meal together. Within hours of this wine being poured, one of them will be dead and an ethnic group, destined for death, will be spared. While I wish this story ended without a single death, the text challenges us to enter the courts of our own enemies, eat with them and encounter the beginnings of understanding.
Esther did not choose the court of the King. After Vashti’s refusal to be objectified caused her to be deposed by the King, Esther’s uncle, Mordecai, brought his orphaned niece to be considered as Queen. Ahasuerus, King of Persia, had eyes for greater and greater conquests. Esther, a young Jewish woman displaced from Jerusalem, had eyes for her people. The two of them were an unlikely match.
As the meal unfolds, Haman, an Agagite, who is plotting to kill all the Jews of Persia, joins Esther and Ahasuerus to eat and drink. Could there be any more tension in the room?
By this time, Esther has gained the trust of the King after reporting to him a plot to kill him that had been overheard by Mordecai and whispered to Esther. At this feast, Ahasuerus wants to return the favor. He says to her, "What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled."
Between the two of them, a mutual understanding aside from the biases of nations, hatreds and ethnic identities had been reached. Throughout Esther, many a cup of wine is poured at any number of fanciful feasts. But here, as 7:2 unfolds and they are drinking wine, the reader and hearer of the story can’t help but hear something other than the clanging goblets of decadent feast. Here is a moment when two ‘others’ are lingering for a moment over a glass of wine and leaning in to understand each other.