It’s a classic line from a classic scene. Towards the end of Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” the team of protagonists finds themselves in a space ship hurdling through the atmosphere in what will surely be a catastrophic crash landing. In the few remaining moments before the ship collides with the surface, Groot (a sentient plant life-form) grows a nest of branches from his own body in order to wrap his friends in a protective cocoon of foliage. This heroic act presents great risk to Groot but it gives the team a fighting chance of making it through together. His compatriots ask him why he would do such a thing. Groot, who only ever speaks the phrase “I am Groot” in response to every situation, instead replies to this question with the powerful variation, “WE are Groot”.
The underlying message is a profound one. When confronted with a harrowing situation, we have a choice. Will we remain in and perhaps even intensify our sense of “I”? Or will we strengthen our connection to others and take on the challenge as a “We”? In many ways, this is a central question of Purim. When Haman hatches his nefarious plot against the Jews, Esther must also choose between acting as an “I” or as part of a “We”. What we celebrate each year is her choice to stand up for her people, which on a more profound level was a choice to connect instead of isolate, to lead with courage instead of fear, and to recognize that “We” are stronger together.
Such choices are by no means easy. What often times motivates the “I” decision is the belief that being solely concerned with one’s self will somehow keep one safe. While this may be true at times, it is more often the case that when each person is concerned only with him or herself, even at the expense of others, one unwittingly creates a situation far worse for everyone. This is the point that Mordechai makes to Esther in his message to her, “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4:13-14). Conversely, when we summon the courage to remain connected to a sense of “We” during trying times, we do so from an understanding that we share in shaping one another’s fate and that with each act of courageous connection, we help build a reality better for all of us.
When society encounters vicissitudes, each person must of course choose the path they believe is best and one certainly shouldn’t be cavalier with their own well being. At the same time, one’s own well being must not become a source of callousness or blindness toward the plight of others. If we let that happen, we help no one, not even ourselves in the long run. And so, we must all challenge ourselves to keep rooted in a sense of “We”. A song from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” soundtrack summarizes it nicely, “in these times of hardship, just remember, ‘We are Groot.'”