Purim The Megilla for Pshat Lovers

Nov 17, 2014
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Six Straightforward Insights into the Megilla
(From Harav Chaim Aryeh Leib of Yedwabna’s Shaar Bat Rabim collection)

1. Esther’s Family and Nation
2. Sending the Messages
3. The Fifty Cubit Gallows
4. You and Your Father’s House
5. Slaves vs. Destruction
6. The Converts After the Purim Miracle

Esther’s Family and Nation (Emunat Chakhamim 23)
Both before and after Esther was picked as queen, she did not reveal her national or her family background. However, there seems to be a discrepancy in the Megilla on this point. Before going to the king, “Esther did not tell of her nation, nor of her family background (Esther 2:10),” placing nation before family. After the marriage, we are told, “Esther did not tell her family background, nor her nation (Esther 2:20),” placing family before nation.

There is a simple reason for this distinction. When Esther became one of the candidates, her main goal was to avoid being picked by Achashveirosh as queen. Therefore, she did not want Achashveirosh to find out about her royal lineage to King Shaul, and definitely did not mention her family background. She was also worried that even if she mentioned her nation, they would inquire into her ancestry. Here the Megilla places nation before family – she did not reveal her national identity in order to avoid revealing her ancestry.

After Esther was crowned queen, she had a new worry. Perhaps Achashveirosh would get angry (like he did with Vashti), and kill her and her nation. She therefore made sure never to mention her nation. She was worried that even mentioning her family would reveal her nation. Therefore here the Megilla places family before nation.

Sending the Messages (Or Chadash, Maharal)
When copies of Haman’s message announcing the planned annihilation of the Jews were sent out, the Megilla (3:13) uses a passive word, “venishloach” – they were sent out. Later on, however, when Mordechai and Esther’s messages announcing the legitimacy of Jewish self-defense were sent out, the more standard active word, “vayishlach” – he sent – is used (8:10). Why?

When an outlandish message to destroy an entire people was sent, the messengers were reluctant to go. They had to be forced to take on such a strange task. Since the messengers were forced, thus being passive in the process, the passive voice is used. But later, when the messengers announced the defense of a nation from its’ oppressors they went without coercion. Here, the message was delivered willingly and the standard form is used.

The Fifty Cubit Gallows (Imrei Moshe, Ramak)
Why did Haman make a fifty cubit gallows?
On the one hand, he wanted everyone in Shushan to see how even an important dignitary like Mordechai was hung for not showing proper tribute. On the other hand, the Yalkut tells us that Haman’s family assured him, “You will sit with the King at the Feast of Esther, eating and drinking, while joyfully watching your enemy hanging on the gallows.” So the gallows had to be placed low enough that Haman could see it from inside the palace. The Gemara in Eruvin (2b) says that the doorways of palaces were made fifty cubits high. If the gallows were any higher, Haman would not have seen them because of the lintel. Fifty cubits was just right.

You and Your Father’s House (Alsheich)
Mordechai tells Esther (Esther 3:14) that if she does not act to save the Jews, salvation will come from some other source, and “You and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows if it was precisely for this moment that you became queen?” Why Esther should be destroyed for putting her personal concerns above those of the Jewish people is understandable, but why is her extended family responsible? Why should they perish?

According to our tradition, Haman is called Agagi because he is descended from King Agag, the Amalekite king that King Shaul took captive instead of killing in the war. The night Agag was in jail he conceived a child through a maidservant. Haman was descended from that union.

Esther, a direct descendant of King Shaul, was given the opportunity to correct the family mistake. By bringing about the downfall of Haman, Agag’s descendant, Esther would atone for the sin of King Shaul. If not, the stain of the sin of King Shaul would still rest on all of Shaul’s descendants, and therefore all would be punished.

Slaves vs. Destruction (Yalkut Halevi)
Esther, when pleading for her people, says, “If we were only to be sold as servants and maidservants I would have kept quiet.” This is difficult to understand. Why would she have kept quiet? The enslavement of the whole Jewish people is still quite tragic.

The Yalkut tells us that the decree of Haman came about as a result of the sin of the sale of Yosef. The Torah tells us that the brothers sat and ate bread when Yosef was sold into slavery. This brought about, generations later, a decree against the Jews as Haman and Achashveirosh sat drinking. However, such a sin would only merit, “midah keneged midah,” (measure for measure), causing the Jewish enslavement, not destruction.

Now we can understand Esther’s statement; enslavement could be rationalized, but a decree to destroy the Jewish people would be too stringent. Therefore, she needed to speak out to ensure an equal punishment.

The Converts After the Purim Miracle (Emunat Chakhamim)
When the word of the Jews’ defense spread throughout the kingdom, the Megilla tells us (8:17) that many non-Jews converted to Judaism. The present tense verb, “mityahadim” – literally, were converting – is used instead of the seemingly more appropriate past tense “hithayadu” – converted. Why is this so?

Perhaps the Megilla is hinting that their conversions were insincere and therefore unacceptable. That same verse gives the reason for their conversion, “because the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.” Fear is not a legitimate motivation for conversion. In fact, the Gemara tells us that a powerful and successful Jewish kingdom, like in the days of David and Shlomo, and what will be in Messianic times, does not accept converts at all.

In the Purim miracle the Hand of G-d was hidden. This is why the Name of G-d does not appear in the Megilla. It appeared to the non-Jewish world that the Jews had gained power through this-worldly forces. Therefore, they reasoned, it was wise to be on the Jews’ good side. What better way than converting? However, these converts, motivated by fear, would not be accepted. Therefore the Megilla says that they were converting, “mityahadim,” but does not say that they actually become converts – “hityahadu”.

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