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Beit Hamidrash

The Tragedy of Megilat Esther

By: Elihu Anouchi

Why is Megilat Esther in the Tanach? There are many stories about our troubles and salvations. Why is this the only one canonized? What is so special about this specific story?

By Elihu Anouchi

Why is Megilat Esther in the Tanach?  There are many stories about our troubles and salvations.  Why is this the only one canonized?  What is so special about this specific story?  We are used to looking at Megilat Esther as a nice story about how we are saved once again by God with a hidden hand.  Maybe we have been looking at it the wrong way.  The story of Megilat Esther is one of politics, trickery, and conspiracies.  We must look at the context in which the story takes place.  When does this story take place?  What happened before?  What happened after?  We need to read the story in a historical context. 

Historical Background

Up until the rise of the Assyirian Empire, rule was maintained over newly conquered countries via taxes, leaving the native nation in its own land.  The Assyrian Empire introduced a new method to maintain control, deportation. By uprooting a nation and scattering it, national identity would be lost, and submission to the new ruler would be a more likely outcome.  After Yerushalayim was conquered, we were uprooted and sent all over the Assyrian Empire, a large chunk being in Bavel.  This galut, as prophesized Yermiyahu, would end in 70 years.  When King Koresh rose to power, he made a decree allowing us to return to Yerushalayim and build the Beit Hamikdash.  A small minority answered this call, returned, and built the Beit Hamikdash.  However, the majority of us did not hear “God’s knock” and stayed in our comfortable homes in Bavel while our brethren in Yerushalayim were struggling with the native Samarians that were causing many problems.  It is this point that Megilat Esther has come to criticize. 

The Satire of the Megilah

The story of the megilah is written as a series of events without any form of God’s presence.  However, the Anshei Knesset Hagdola decided to include it in the Tanach.  Therefore there must be some sort of significance expressed in the story.  We must ask ourselves, why are we punished? What did we do?  What was our sin?

Chazal help diagnose our problem by showing hidden allusions throughout the megilah. 

We can see a clear connection between Achashverosh’s palace and the Beit Hamikdash. Chatzer P'nimit = Holy of Holies, Chatzer Chitzona = Kodesh, Sha'ar Bet HaMelech = Azara, Rechov Ha'Ir Shushan = Yerushalayim.  It is said that Acheshverosh wore the bigdei kehuna.  Even Achashverosh’s 6-month party followed by 7 day special celebration reflects the 6-months of building the mishkan followed by the 7 day milium ceremony.  Chazal even read the pasuk "v'keilim mikeilim shonim" as drinking out of the vessels from the Beit Hamikdash!  We made ourselves very comfortable in Shushan when our brethren in Yerushalayim were struggling.  We replaced the Beit Hamikdash with Achashverosh’s Palace, obeyed Achashverosh and not God, and overall preferred Shushan over Yerushalayim.  It is for this reason that we were punished.  Haman says to Achashverosh that there is a nation scattered in many countries and does not keep the laws of the “King”, it is not worth it for the “King” to keep them around.  It seems that God might be having similar thoughts. 

The name אסתר, we are told, comes from the Hebrew word הסתר, hidden.  This is usually used as an explanation for how we were saved from the impending crisis, with God’s hidden hand.  However, God’s concealment may actually be the punishment itself.  Before entering the land of Israel, God says to Moshe that Bnei Yisrael will sin, and when they do, He will “hide is face” from them, and many evils will come upon them.  But if this is the case, what did we then do to deserve being saved?  Why did the story of Megilat Esther merit a happy ending? 

Now What?

Were we really saved?  Did the megilah really have a happy ending?  Our punishment was not destruction by Haman.  The punishment was God “hiding his face.”  It is at this point that God withdraws himself from the equation and lets coincidence take over.  Whatever happens from that point on is not his doing, it is our own.  We are left to fend for ourselves.  Will we choose to return to God?  Or will we remain in galut at the mercy of coincidence and chance? Will we serve God or pledge allegiance to a foreign king? The story of the megila ends here, but what happened after?  At the end of the megilah, a tax is mentioned.  What is the connection to this random pasuk?  The tax is a symbol for חזרה לשיגרה, return to routine. It is a symbol of submission to status quo, completely missing the message the story of the megilah is trying to convey. This fazed no one, and things went back to normal.  However there is no promise that next week a new “Haman” won’t rise up and start the process all over again.  Furthermore, if he does, there is no promise that it will have the same happy ending. 

When we go to shul on purim to hear the megilah, we must open our eyes and ears and listen for God’s knocking.  The megilah is not a fairy tale.  Anshei Knesset Hagdolah included it in Tanach for a specific reason.  We should understand, that even though things seem to be quiet, there is only one real way to be completely safe.  We must bring God out of hiding.  We must understand whose laws we are sworn to, and to whom we pledge our allegiance.  But above all, we must leave “Achashverosh’s Palace” and build Yerushalayim. 

Chag Purim Sameach!