Friday, March 02, 2007

Dvar Megillat Esther

As of late I've been reflecting a bit on the fortunes of Jewish history and how the story of Purim is meant to be a commentary. My common understanding was that in Jewish history, as is well known, the Jews get the short end of the stick once or twice and that therefore Purim was meant as a statement saying that a) we Jews are survivors and no matter what our enemies try to throw at us, we'll still come through and b) that, as a sort of ironic joke, sometimes even when great calamity seems imminent and another round of kinot are going to find inspiration, things can still work out in our favor.

It then struck me, as I was reviewing Megillat Esther, that Mordechai makes an interesting statement as he's convincing Esther to use her prominent royal position to help the Jews. And he says, "Do not think that because you are in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish."

What's fascinating about this is that Mordechai seems so sure that the Jews will be saved even though he himself was the product of an Exile which was one of the worst calamities in Jewish history. What makes him so certain that the Jews weren't in for another round?

Some may say the answer is because Cyrus had already proclaimed that the Jews could return to their land and rebuild the Temple and thus he'd figure that God's anger was assuaged enough that the Jews didn't deserve another whopping. Could be, could be.

But I prefer to see it more as a statement of hope and determination even in the face of apparent certain death and destruction. If you are working on the assumption that all plans are doomed for failure then you will never act - and you will fail. But if you are acting on the assumption that something can be done successfully and that you have a responsibility to act - then you will act and you may very well succeed.

The correct attitude when one approaches a problem then should be one of self-confidence and duty - that you ought to act and that your actions will lead to success.

Some hamentashen for thought.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

there is a Rashi on the Megilla that says that Dovid Hamelech and Mordechai where unique in history in that they saw the really big picture. Dovid hamelch sadi that it was inconceivabel that he could kil a lion and a bear that where attacking his flocks and that it could not have repircussions for all eternity. When he went to face Golyias, he rememberd that he had the martial skill to take him on. this ended in Dovid eventually becoming king. Mordechai realised that it was inconceivable a Tzadekes like Esther would be forced to live with a degenerate like Achasverosh unless a great Yeshua was coming.

e-kvetcher said...

Could be, could be.

Where have I heard that annoying turn of phrase before?

Actually, a question on the quote. Is Mordechai saying that if salvation came from elsewhere, Esther and her family (with Achashveirosh? or siblings?) would be explicitly punished for not volunteering to help?

Orthoprax said...

Anon,

Interesting.


E-kvetcher,

"Actually, a question on the quote. Is Mordechai saying that if salvation came from elsewhere, Esther and her family (with Achashveirosh? or siblings?) would be explicitly punished for not volunteering to help?"

Well, yeah, there does to be some implicit threat there. I'm not sure what to make of it. I think it's more along the lines of it would be a sin to not help your people if you are in a position to do so and therefore God will punish you if you do not.

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alex said...

"But I prefer to see it more as a statement of hope and determination even in the face of apparent certain death and destruction."..."But if you are acting on the assumption that something can be done successfully and that you have a responsibility to act - then you will act and you may very well succeed."..."The correct attitude when one approaches a problem then should be one of self-confidence and duty - that you ought to act and that your actions will lead to success."

I'm not disagreeing with you, but my question is: Then why do you think Esther called for a three-day fast?

alex said...

"Some may say the answer is because Cyrus had already proclaimed that the Jews could return to their land and rebuild the Temple"

Mordechai would trust flesh and blood? (As my son would say, "yeah, right!") I think a better answer would be that Mordechai was well aware of the promise of Jeremiah (25:12, 29:10.) But I suspect you are of the camp that claims that this "prophecy" is nothing more than retro-"prophecy."

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

"I'm not disagreeing with you, but my question is: Then why do you think Esther called for a three-day fast?"

I guess it can't hurt to also try to get God on your side as well. Mordechai was the confident one, not Esther.

"Mordechai would trust flesh and blood? (As my son would say, "yeah, right!") I think a better answer would be that Mordechai was well aware of the promise of Jeremiah (25:12, 29:10.) But I suspect you are of the camp that claims that this "prophecy" is nothing more than retro-"prophecy.""

I suspect the author of Esther was well aware of the book of Jeremiah. And I was thinking of those verses in Jeremiah as I wrote my post but they amount to the same thing. The point was that Jeremiah's prophecy doesn't rule out another whopping and that Mordechai may have been confident that Cyrus' action had implicated the forthcoming arrival of geulah.

In any case, I think the book of Esther is largely romanticized so it's more of a character's words which I wrote about than the words that a real Mordechai necessarily spoke.

Interestingly, the Gemara itself says that Esther was written by the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah (Bava Basra 15a) - which, as we know, was active many years after the time when the events of Purim are said to have taken place.

alex said...

"the Gemara itself says that Esther was written by the Anshei Knesset Hagedolah (Bava Basra 15a) - which, as we know, was active many years after the time when the events of Purim are said to have taken place."

The footnote in the Schottenstein Talmud disagrees with you.

Orthoprax said...

Does it give a reason? Rashi certainly seems to imply that the natural reading is correct.

alex said...

I was unclear. The Sch. Talmud says, of course, that the A.K.H. wrote the book of Esther (maybe not from scratch, but that's a separate question). I meant that the Sch. Talmud said that the A.K.H was "active at the end of the Babylonian exile."

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

And they were active all the way until Greek times, according to tradition.

alex said...

I interpreted your statement: "which, as we know, was active many years after the time when the events of Purim are said to have taken place." to mean that you believed the megillah had to have been written many years after the story was said to have taken place. What I was doing is showing that it could've been written immediately after it had taken place.

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

Well, yes and no. On that point alone there is no compulsive reason to conclude that it was written very late - traditionally Mordechai was a member of the AKH. But there are implications within the text of the megillah itself that imply it was written awhile after the time of the event. The megillah explains the holiday as if it had been around for awhile.

alex said...

The implications imply that *part* of it was written awhile (whatever "awhile" means) after the time of the event. No argument from me there.