Purim

The Megillah Story

by Rabbi Nissan Wilson
A summary of the Megillat Esther story with thought provoking footnotes
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Foreword

The Megillah is the only book in the whole of Scripture, which does not contain G-d's name. Not once is G-d mentioned in all of its ten chapters. The miracle of Purim was a hidden one.

But whoever knows how to read between the lines will see the Hand of G-d in the story. With a little bit of analysis, the story begins to unfold and almost ... read itself:

Chapter 1

Achashverosh1, the king of Persia and Media threw a 180-day party to all the officials of his 127-province worldwide empire.2 Upon completion of this party, he threw yet another party for the inhabitants of his new capital city, Shushan. All were invited to this grand bash, from the highest nobleman to the lowliest peasant.

His wife, Queen Vashti threw a party of her own for the noblewomen of Persia & Media.

On the seventh3 and final day of the party, when the King was somewhat inebriated, he called for Queen Vashti4 to appear in her crown (only her crown!) and parade in front of the men at his party. Her refusal infuriated Achashveirosh and his anger burnt within him.

Her refusal5 to obey the King's request threatened Achashveirosh in two ways. Who can respect a King who can not even rule in his own house? Perhaps the women of the Empire would follow the Queen's lead and disobey their husbands.

The King's advisors recommended swift punishment for Vashti.6 Not only was Vashti put to death, but also her story was to be written into the royal constitution. Letters were to be sent to all the provinces. No woman would ever repeat Vashti's mistake. The king had decreed that every man should rule in his home and speak the language of his people.

Chapter 2

Not surprisingly, Achashverosh began to feel lonely without his dear Vashti. It was time to find a new queen. But where would Achashverosh, look for this new queen. Enter the advisors: "Let the king appoint commissioners in all the provinces of his kingdom, to gather together every beautiful young maiden to Shushan the capital." -- a beauty pageant. In the royal harem, under the charge of Hege, these fair maidens would undergo six months of "oil and myrrh" treatment, followed by six months of "cosmetic treatment". Only then would each girl have her own personal audience with Achashverosh.

There was a Jew by the name of Mordechai who had been exiled from Jerusalem to Shushan by Nebuchadnezzar7 . He had reared his niece, Esther, ever since her parents had died. She was as charming as she was beautiful and found favor in the eyes of all whom met her.

It is every girl's childhood dream to marry into royalty; to be the richest queen in the entire world -- every girl except…Esther. But there was no avoiding the king's decree. After four years of hiding, Esther was taken against her will to the king's harem. And when it came her turn to come before Achashverosh, although she had requested no special perfumes or cosmetics, the king was so taken with her that he immediately set the royal crown upon her head and pronounced her as his queen. He made a great feast in her honor and declared a holiday for all the provinces. Following Mordechai's instructions, Esther kept her ancestry hidden. Achashverosh did not even suspect that she was of Jewish descent.

Now, Achashverosh was not loved by all his royal subjects and two of his chamberlains, Bigsan and Teresh, planned to assassinate him. Mordechai just "happened" to be outside the gate of the king's palace8 and he overheard9 them plotting. Mordechai informed Esther of their attempted treason and she promptly informed the king, mentioning of course that it was Mordechai who had thwarted their plans. The matter was investigated and corroborated, and both Bigsan and Teresh were hanged. The incident was recorded in the king's "book of chronicles" and was then promptly forgotten!

Chapter 3

Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a new player arrives on the stage -- Haman. He quickly advanced in the political hierarchy and ultimately the king, himself, promoted him and placed him above all his fellow officers

According to the king's command, all would bow down and prostrate themselves before Haman. Mordechai, however, refused to participate in this new Haman-worshiping cult10. The kings' servants tried to warn Mordechai, but he refused to heed their words.

When Haman became aware of the defiance of this Jew, he was filled with rage. However, it seemed contemptible to him to lay his hands on Mordechai alone. He would die together with his people: the Jewish people.

That was Haman's plan, the only thing that remained was to pick a lucky date for the annihilation to begin. In the twelfth11 year of Achashverosh's reign, in the month of Nissan, Haman cast lots. Adar was Haman's lucky month12, and the thirteenth was his lucky date. Haman now had twelve months to make his plan a reality.

Haman then approached the king "There is a certain13 people scattered throughout and dispersed among all the provinces in your realm. Their laws are different. They do not observe the king's laws. The king should not tolerate them". Haman was ready14 to pay Achashverosh ten thousand silver talents (the equivalent of 750 tons of silver)15 for the right to the lives of the entire Jewish nation.

Achashverosh removed his signet ring and gave it to Haman to write an edict for the destruction of the entire Jewish people and to have it sealed with the king's signet ring. "And as for the money," said the king, "keep it!". Letters were sent out by courier to every province.

Happy with their new plan, the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the Jews of Shushan were confused and bewildered.16

Chapter 4

When Mordechai learned of the threat, he tore his clothes and donned sackcloth and ashes. The Jews throughout the provinces followed suit with fasting and weeping.

Mordechai sent a message to Esther, bidding her to appeal to the king on behalf of her people. "It is well known", Esther replied, "that anyone who approaches the king without being summoned is put to death. And I have not been summoned for the past thirty days"

"Who knows" replied Mordechai, "whether it was for just such an opportunity as this that you attained your royal position".

Esther agreed to try, but with one condition. Mordechai was to gather all the Jews in Shushan and declare a three day long public fast. Esther, together with her maids, would also fast. "Only then," she said "will I go. And if I perish, I perish".

Chapter 5

Esther approached the king's chambers. As she stood in the inner courtyard, Achashverosh noticed her. She won his favor and he extended his golden scepter to her "What is your wish Queen Esther? Up till half of my kingdom, I will grant you".

Esther did not request half of his kingdom. All she asked, was that Achashverosh come together with Haman to a private banquet later that day.

Later, at this little feast Achashverosh, sensing that Esther was leading up to something repeated his offer to Esther "What is your request? Up to half of my kingdom and I shall grant it you".

Again, Esther replied, that all she desired was that the king, together with Haman, attend yet another banquet the following day.

When Haman left the party, he was euphoric. Just the king and queen and Haman…oh what an honor. But as he left the palace, he saw that arrogant Mordechai, who refused to stand up for him or bow down to him.

Haman told his wife and sons of all the honor that had been accorded to him. "But all this is worthless to me", he continued "as long as I see that Jew Mordechai sitting at the king's gate".

Haman's wife Zeresh had the answer " Let a gallows be made, fifty cubits high; and tomorrow morning speak to the king and have them hang Mordechai on it". Haman was pleased with this plan and was so eager to carry it out that he immediately had the gallows constructed.

Chapter 6

That night Achashverosh was unable to fall asleep. So he ordered to be brought before him the king's "book of chronicles" and had it read before him. The royal story readers "chanced" to open the book at that long forgotten chapter - the story of how Mordechai had saved the king's life. "What honor has been bestowed upon Mordechai?" asked the king. "Nothing has been done for him", answered the king's pages.

Just then, Haman happened to be standing in the outer court of the palace. Not wanting to loose a moment, he had come to speak to the king about hanging Mordechai.

Achashverosh ordered for him to be brought in. "What should be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?" asked Achashverosh. So Haman, thinking that there could be no one who the king would want to honor more than him, saw the opportunity to have his dream made a reality. "Dress him in the king's robes and have him ride on the king's horse with a royal crown on his head. Then have one of the king's most noble officers parade him through the city square". Oh…What honor, thought Haman.

"Then hurry", said the king "Get the robe and the horse and do as you have suggested for Mordechai the Jew"

Haman returned home, dejected and despondent and told over the day's events to his wife Zeresh and to his advisors. Zeresh saw that there was no hope and forecast his downfall. "If Mordechai is of Jewish descent then you will not prevail".17

Chapter 7

At Esther's second party, Achashverosh once more repeated his offer: "What is your request, Queen Esther? What is your petition? Up to half of my kingdom and I will grant it you".

The time was right. Esther replied "If I won your favor, let my life be granted to me as my request and my peoples as my petition. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, slain and annihilated".

Achashverosh was taken by surprise. "Who is the one who dared to do this?"18

"An adversary and an enemy", she replied "This wicked Haman".

As Haman trembled in terror, the king rose in anger and went out to the palace garden, leaving Haman to beg Esther for his life. Achashverosh returned to find Haman prostrated on the couch upon which Esther was sitting.

"Would he actually assault the queen while I am in the house?", stormed Achashverosh.

At that point, Charbonah, One of the chamberlains in attendance, informed the king that the fifty cubit gallows, which Haman had built for Mordechai, was ready and waiting and would be perfect for Haman!19

"Then hang him on it!" ordered the king.

So Haman was hanged on the very same gallows which he had prepared for Mordechai.

Chapter 8

Now Esther and Mordechai were in favor with Achashverosh. He gave Haman's entire estate to Esther and placed Mordechai over it.

Esther approached the king and begged him to avert the evil decree, which Haman had brought about.20

"An edict signed with the royal signet ring cannot be revoked", said Achashverosh. But he handed the signet ring to Mordechai and Esther and told them that they may write whatever they desired.

Mordechai ordered for letters to be sent to the Jews in all the provinces stating that the king had given permission for the Jews of every province to prepare their defense against anyone who may attack or threaten them.

The fate of the Jewish nation had been turned around. From destruction to salvation; from dejecton to honor; from sorrow to gladness.

Chapter 9

So the Jews organized their defense. Those in the provinces succeeded in fighting off their attackers on the thirteenth of Adar and so celebrated on the fourteenth. However, the Jews of the capital, Shushan, took until the end of the fouteenth to fight off their enemies, and so their celebration took place on the fifteenth of Adar.

Haman's ten sons were hanged and their enemies were destroyed, but the Jews did not lay their hands on the spoils.

The Jewish nation accepted upon themselves to celebrate these two days, without fail, at the proper time each year. Aside from the feasting, they were to send delecacies to one another and gifts to the poor. That was how Purim would be remembered for generations to come.

Chapter 10

Mordechai had been promoted to the position of Viceroy to the king. He was respected by all and was able to take care of the welfare and posterity of his people.

THE END!


FOOTNOTES

(Click on footnote number to return to the main body of the text)


1 Achashveirosh is also known in the book of Ezra (4:6-24) as Artaxerxes. He was the successor of King Cyrius of Persia. Cyrius permitted the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Achashveirosh rescinded this permission upon the incitement of Haman and his sons.


2 This feast also celebrated the permanent downfall of the Jewish people and their G-d. Daniel prophesized that the Jewish People would be exiled for 70 years. Achashveirosh thought that these 70 years had begun with the exile of King Yohoyakim of Yehudah. The end of 70 years from this date coincides with the beginning of this feast.


3 According to tradition the seventh day of the party was Shabbat (the seventh day of the week).


4 Queen Vashti was the daughter of Belshazar, King of Babylon, grandson of Nebuchadnezer. She made Jewish women serve her naked on Shabbat and was punished by G-d measure for measure.


5 Her exact words to Achashveirosh were that "a peasant stable boy in her father's house could hold his wine better than Achashveirosh, without making such insane requests".


6 The advisor who managed to make his voice heard above the others was called Memuchan. According to tradition this is a nickname for Haman. The name Memuchan implies that he is destined or prepared for a certain end. With this advice he prepared the way for his own destruction.


7 This verse of the Megilla, is said aloud in the synagogue by the congregation during the public reading. It marks the beginning of the redemption, which took place through Mordechai. The seeds for the redemption were sewn through the hands of the evil Nebuchadnezzar, even before the threat of annihilation.


8 He would frequently pass by to inquire about Esther's well being. He understood that G-d must have some reason for causing such a righteous woman as Esther to be forced into marriage with someone like Achashverosh.


9 Being a member of the Sanhedrin (Great Rabbinical Court), Mordechai knew seventy languages. They spoke in their native Tarsian tongue in Mordechai's presence, not expecting him to understand them.


10 To make it clear that homage due to him was of an idolatrous character, Haman fastened an idol to his clothes. This was the main reason behind Mordechai's objection.


11 Note that five years have passed since Esther's appointment as queen and nine years have passed since the story began with the grand feast. How would these events have appeared to the people who lived in Shushan at the time?


12 Haman was happy -- he had picked a winner. Adar was the month in which Moses had died, surely an unlucky month for the Jews. What he did not know was that Moses had also been born in Adar, and the effect of his birth far outweighed that of his death.


13 The Megillah records that Haman worded his scathing remarks on the Jews with the word "Yeshno" -- 'there is'. In Hebrew Yeshno also contains the word "Yoshen" -- they are sleeping. Haman was aware that in the past his ancestor, Amalek, had failed in his attempt to destroy the Jewish people, but he thought that he now had a unique opportunity. They are sleeping, they slumber in their observance; they are not worthy of G-d's special protection. He was right, but there was one thing that he had not accounted for. What was it?


14 Note again the significance of the word ready or prepared (see note 6). Haman was prepared to do whatever it takes to destroy the Jews.


15 It is symptomatic of the true enemy of the Jewish people to value the final solution to the Jewish problem more highly than anything else in the world.


16 Note how quickly everything takes place. The plan, the lots, the date, the king's consent, the royal edict, the letters -- all in the space of a few days. No wonder the reaction was one of bewilderment. What else takes place at lightening speed later on in the story?


17 She explained Israel are compared to stars and to dust (Genesis 22:17). When they fall, they fall right down into the dust and when they begin to rise, they rise all the way to the heavens.


18 Note that Achashverosh was still unaware of Esther's ancestry.


19 The importance of Charbonah's recommendation for immediate action should not be underestimated. The king was so fickle that unless Haman was hanged there and then, he could easily find his way back into the king's favor. For this reason the celebratory passage, which is sung after the public reading of the Megilla, makes mention of Charbonah as being worthy of praise.


20 Note that this decree had been ordered by the king and signed with his signet ring. To retract the decree at this late stage would make him look indecisive. No wonder that Esther had to beg and plea for the lives of her people.

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