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Parshat Zachor(Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

Purim 5769

A Multifaceted Book

The Book of Esther has many levels of interpretation. At times we are unsure if it is a comedy or tragedy. We are unsure if it was written with irony, or if the book simply recounts events as they transpired years ago in Persia. Be that as it may, the holiday of Purim transcends the words contained in the Book; the symbols, ideas, and words of Megillat Esther create images that teach us deep theological concepts.

Rabbinic tradition transmits insights into various aspects of the text. One such insight, found in kabbalistic sources, makes a comparison between Purim, a day celebrated with revelry and joy, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippurim1 , the most solemn day of the Jewish calendar. At first glance, the comparison between these two days would seem to begin and end with the linguistic similarity: the words "Purim" and "Kippurim" sound alike. However, more careful analysis will show that these days are more closely connected than we could have imagined.

Examining the names of these two festivals, we are faced with a challenge from the outset. The Biblically mandated "Yom Kippurim" is rendered "day of Atonement", but could also be translated as "a day like Purim" 2 . This latter translation may lie at the base of the statement in the Tikunei Zohar:

 

Purim is named after Yom Kippurim. (Tikunei Zohar 57b)

 

The word Purim is associated with the lots Haman drew to choose the most fortuitous day to eradicate the Jewish People.

 

7. In the first month, that is, the month Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahashverosh, he cast pur, that is, the lot, before Haman from day to day, and from month to month, to the twelfth month, that is, the month Adar. Esther 3:7

 

24. Because Haman the son of Hammedata, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast pur, that is, the lot, to confound them, and to destroy them; Esther 9:24

 

Each time the word "pur" is used in the Book of Esther, the text qualifies and explains that "the pur" is a type of lottery - "goral".

The Goats

The word goral is used twice in the Torah, both times in the same verse, referring to the service performed on Yom Kippur, regarding the lots drawn to identify which goat would be for God and which for Azazel3.

 

And Aharon shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for God, and the other lot for Azazel.

 

The goat allotted "for God" would be offered as a sacrifice in the Beit Hamikdash. The other goat would be thrown off a cliff in rocky terrain; this goat was destined for the netherworld. While the two goats' destinies are polar opposites, they are identical in all other ways, as indistinguishable in form and appearance as identical twins. On a symbolic level, the two goats represent Yaakov and Esav4 – the most prominent twins in the Torah.5 Yaakov and Esav, twins who went in opposite directions, eventually metamorphose into the People of Israel, on the one hand, and the nation named after Esav's grandson6, the nefarious Amalek, on the other.

The central anti-hero of the Purim story is a descendant of Amalek – Haman the Agagite7 . Haman seems predisposed to the destruction of the Jewish People; no other explanation for Haman's reaction to Mordechai is forthcoming. Haman's Final Solution in response to one Jewish man's refusal to bow cannot be understood otherwise. For a descendant of Amalek, such behavior is not surprising.

We may say, then, that the very name Purim, and the lots which gave this festival its name, represent the dichotomy between Amalek and the Jews, a dichotomy which is represented by the goat sent to the forces of Esav – the Goat for Azazel. According to the Ramban,8 on Yom Kippur we "bribe"9 the forces of Esav, the satanic forces, as it were, not to testify against us. We send all of our mistakes away to their more natural habitat, the realm of Esav - Azazel.

Twins

The motif of two goats appears elsewhere in the Torah, in circumstances that are related to this ritual of atonement, and are instructive for our study of the connection between Purim and Kippurim: When Yitzchak decides that the time has come to bless his son, Rivka summons Yaakov and instructs him to bring two goats to his father:

 

Go now to the flock, and fetch me from there two good kids of the goats; and I will make them into savory food for your father, such as he loves; (Bereishit 27:9)

 

Yitzchak's blessing was meant for Esav, but through Rivka's intervention, the blessing was given to Yaakov. Both Rivka and Yaakov had complete clarity as to the risks. They knew that even though Yaakov had acquired the birthright from Esav earlier, although Esav "detested" his birthright, if they were caught in the act of usurping the blessing intended for Esav, they would be cursed rather than blessed. And yet, they continued, propelled by the understanding of what the blessings of Yitzchak involved: When Yaakov purchased Esav's rights as firstborn, what he took was the right to perform the avodah, the metaphysical uniqueness that would be the birthright of his descendents:

 

Then Yaakov gave Esav bread and pottage of lentils; and he ate and drank, and rose up, and went on his way; and Esav despised his birthright. (Bereishit 25:34)

 

Rashi explains that it was the responsibilities as Kohen that Esav detested:

Thematically, Yaakov's entrance into Yitzchak's tent with the two goats serves as a precursor to Yaakov's descendents who would enter the Beit Hamikdash and perform the avodah on Yom Kippur. Esav wanted no part of the life of Kohen Gadol; he rejected the demands that a life of purity and sanctity would place upon him. Yaakov wanted what Esav detested. When Yaakov entered the inner sanctum, offering his father two goats and seeking his blessing, he was functioning as Kohen Gadol, an act that would allow his descendents in the future to function likewise.

Yaakov was well aware of the risk of failure, of the curses that might result should he fail to carry out his mission perfectly; these were not unlike the fears of the Kohen Gadol as he entered the Holy of Holies each year.

Mordechai Would Not Bow

Significantly, the only other time in Tanach that the term vayivez, "detested", is used is in the Book of Esther. Here, it describes Haman's feelings as he considered the possibility that he would murder Mordechai alone, and not Mordechai's entire People:

 

6. And he detested laying his hands on Mordechai alone; for they had told him the people of Mordechai; therefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahashverosh, the People of Mordechai. (Esther 3:6)

 

The reason for Haman's ire was Mordechai's intransigence, his refusal to prostrate himself, to submit to Haman's megalomaniacal delusions of grandeur. When the Book of Esther refers to Mordechai's, refusal an interesting grammatical form is used, which is imperceptible in translation:

 

And all the king's servants, who were in the king's gate, bowed, and did obeisance to Haman; for the king had so commanded concerning him. But Mordechai would not (or, will not) bow, nor do obeisance. (Esther 3:2)

 

Not in the past, "Mordechai did not bow or prostrate", rather Mordechai is not bowing - past and present and future. Mordechai would never bow to Haman; not then, not ever. In fact, the past shaped the future – more precisely, what didn't happen in the past: After years of exile, when Yaakov met up with his bloodthirsty brother Esav, he offered him gifts, just like the gifts that would later be given every Yom Kippur to the angel of Esav10. In fact, the Zohar11 teaches that Yaakov and Esav met on Yom Kippur.12 Setting a very negative precedent, Yaakov and his family bowed down to Esav, giving Esav power to dominate them in some way.

The Midrash notes that there was one family member who did not bow: Binyamin, the youngest of Yaakov's sons, was born after this fateful "reunion". Only Binyamin would not be subservient to Esav, and he and his descendants would never bow down.13

Ish Yemini – A Man From Benjamin

When Mordechai is introduced in the Book of Esther he is called "Ish Yemini" a Benjaminite; no wonder he did not bow down, would never bow down.

In general, Judaism does not include prostration in its rituals; Jews generally do not bow down. There is one day a year which is the exception to this rule, as we learn from the Mishna that describes the scene in the Beit Hamikdash on Yom Kippur:

 

Mishnah. He then came to the scapegoat and laid his two hands upon it and he made confession. And thus would he say: I beseech You, God, Your People, the House of Israel have failed, committed iniquity and transgressed before You. I beseech You, o God, atone the failures, the iniquities and the transgressions which Your People, the House of Israel, have failed, committed and transgressed before You, as it is written in the Torah of Moshe, Your servant, to say: "For on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins shall you be clean before God." And when the kohanim and the people standing in the Temple court heard the fully-pronounced name come forth from the mouth of the Kohen Gadol, they bent their knees, bowed down, fell on their faces and called out: "Blessed be the Name of His Glorious Kingdom for ever and ever." (Talmud Bavli Yoma 66a)

 

However, Mordechai in not only called Ish Yemini, he is also called Ish Yehudi:

 

There was a man of Yehuda in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shim'i, son of Kish, a Benjaminite; (Esther 2:5)

 

Despite our modern use of the word Yehudi as a general term for all Jews, the use in ancient times was far more discerning, far more specific in denoting tribal affiliation. Careful reading of this verse leaves us with what may then seem an irreconcilable contradiction: either Mordechai is from Yehudah, or he is from Binyamin, but how can he be both an ish Yehudi and an ish Yemini? The Talmud offers a number of resolutions: One parent was from Binyamin and the other from Yehuda; one term refers to his lineage and the other to his hometown.14

There is, however, a profound connection between Yehuda and Binyamin15 : the Beit Hamikdash was built on land which traversed their boundaries.16

 

...for it has been taught: What lay in the lot of Yehuda? The Temple mount, the cells, the courts. And what lay in the lot of Binyamin? The Hall, the Temple and the Holy of Holies. And a strip of land went forth from Yehuda's lot and went into Binyamin's territory, and on this the Temple was built — Binyamin the Righteous was longing to swallow it every day as it is written: "He coveted him all day", therefore he obtained the privilege of becoming the host of the Omnipotent, as it is said: "And He dwells between his shoulders. (Talmud Bavli Yoma 12a)

 

Mordechai and Esther represent the unity of Binyamin and Yehuda; they represent the Beit Hamikdash. This is one more of the ironies of the Book of Esther: Far away from Israel, far from Jerusalem, when the building of the second Beit Hamikdash has stalled, there is one vestige of holiness, a remnant of the Beit Hamikdash in Shushan -- Mordechai and Esther.

In fact, the unfinished17 second Beit HaMikdash18 is the Midrashic subtext for the entire Book of Esther.

Evil Forces This last island of holiness is threatened by evil forces. While Ahashverosh impresses us as a paranoid, hedonistic despot, his primary advisor, Haman, has an evil about him. In fact, his malevolence is borderline sociopathic. Genocide does not perturb him; it is seen as a fitting response to a slight to his honor. The Talmud paints his character with the same palette as the very first misanthrope, the Serpent in Eden.

 

Where is Haman indicated in the Torah? — In the verse: 'Is it [hamin] from the tree...'?

 

More than the meaning of the name Haman, the Talmud looks for the ideological roots of such evil. How is such a personality formed? The Gemara looks beyond his grandfather Agag, beyond his great-great grandfather Amalek, beyond his forefather Esav, and looks even further back, to our first and deadliest adversary, the Serpent19 who encouraged man to eat20 from the Tree of Knowledge, even if – or precisely because - the price was death.

 

And He said, 'Who told you that you are naked? Have you eaten of the tree, of which I commanded you that you should not eat? (Bereishit 3:11)

 

This is the verse from which the name Haman emerges; this is the deadly tree, a "Tree of Death", which served the objective of the Serpent – to kill man. This is the stuff of which Haman is made. Eventually, Haman becomes ensnared in the tree he tries to use to kill Mordechai; it is that very tree that becomes the instrument of his own demise.

The Midrash develops this theme by illustrating Haman's tactics. Haman is credited with a very devious plan to do away with the Jews. Like the Serpent, he aims at the weak moral underbelly in an attempt to lead to their downfall. Like the Serpent, Haman concocts a plan to corrupt the morals of his intended victims – in this case, the Jewish exiles in Shushan - leaving them spiritually vulnerable and bereft of Divine protection21 .

 

Said Haman to Ahashverosh: 'The God of these men hates lewdness. Make a feast for them and set harlots before them, and order them that they should all come and eat and drink and do as they please,' as it says, To do according to every man's pleasure (ib. 8). When Mordechai saw this, he rose and issued a proclamation saying, 'Do not go to partake of the feast of Ahashverosh, since he has invited you only in order to be able to lodge a complaint against you, so that the Attribute of Justice should have an excuse for accusing you before the Holy One, blessed be He.' But they did not listen to Mordechai and they all went to the feast. R. Ishmael said: Eighteen thousand and five hundred went to the banquet and ate and drank and became drunk and misconducted themselves. Straightway Satan arose and accused them before the Holy One, blessed be He, saying: 'Sovereign of the Universe, how long will You cleave to this nation who turn their heart and their faith from You? If it so please You, destroy this nation from the world, because they do not repent before You. (Midrash Rabbah Esther, 7:13)

 

Haman insures that the Jews are invited to participate in the royal celebrations, where Ahashverosh uses the utensils of the Beit Hamikdash22 , and dons the robes of the Kohen Gadol23 ; Ahashverosh sets himself up as the replacement for the Temple, while we see him as a coarse, decadent and defiled mockery of the Holy Temple. Yet the Jews participate in the celebration; intoxicated, they join in the merriment - and forget Jerusalem. Their new capital is Shushan. But in keeping with the pattern of the Purim story, in the final round of their battle, it is Haman who is finally undone at a party; he ends up drunk on Esther's couch. 24 All the weapons in Haman's arsenal are turned back on him.

When the Talmud traces Haman's roots back to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, there is an additional message that we should not miss. The result of partaking of the fruit of this tree is confusion - confusion between good and evil. We may say that this is a major theme of Purim, turned on its head - the confusion between friend and foe, good and evil, even between drunk and sober. We should note that the events of Purim are celebrated with a feast, like the feasts of Haman and Ahashverosh, and the Talmud instructs us to imbibe to the point of confusion, to the point that we can no longer differentiate between 'accursed Haman and blessed Mordechai' – between good and evil.

 

Raba said: It is the duty of a man to mellow himself [with wine] on Purim until he cannot tell the difference between 'cursed be Haman'' and 'blessed be Mordechai'. (Talmud Bavli Megilah 7b)

 

The phrase used by the Talmud to describe this state of inebriation on Purim is ad d'lo yada - until you don't know. The Sfat Emet points to the language used in Bereishit to desribe the forbidden tree, and interprets this phrase to mean "until you are no longer affected or impacted by the confusion caused by the Etz haDaat, the Tree of Knowledge.25 This idea requires further study: If eating from this tree caused confusion, how can we move beyond the tree, escape the confusion – and nonetheless be commanded to drink until we don't know the difference between the curse of Haman and the blessing of Mordechai? Would this not be the ultimate sign of confusion between good and evil?

At times, good and evil are disguised in surprising ways. For example, there was a time that Yaakov dressed up and looked just like Esav, creating confusion between good and evil par excellence. Yaakov puts on his brother's clothing and impersonates Esav. One could argue that had Yaakov not dressed as his brother and usurped the blessings, the enmity of Esav never would have emerged, and all of Jewish history would have been different. Was this really the better course of action? Should we reject Yaakov's chosen modus operandi? Jewish custom26 continues to encourage dressing up on Purim, as if to embrace Yaakov, and his choice. 27

A Queen?

The Book of Esther seems so full of masquerades and shifting identities that we take some of them for granted: for example, Esther dresses up as a queen before going to see Ahashverosh. While we might be tempted to say that she was, in fact, a queen, in fact she was not even "Esther". The name Esther, which is from the root seter, secret or hidden, was her "incognito" name; her real name was Haddasa. Haddasa first masquerades as Esther, who in turn dresses as a queen. In reality, our heroine is a Jewish girl – not a Persian Queen. She is from Jerusalem, she is from the Tribe of Binyamin, the tribe that could boast the Holy of Holies in its portion. The Talmudic passage that searches for Haman's roots in the Torah asks the same question regarding the two protagonists of the Megila28 .

 

Where is Esther indicated in the Torah? — [In the verse,] "And I will surely hide [astir] my face." Where is Mordechai indicated in the Torah? — In the verse: 'Flowing myrrh', which the Targum renders as mira d'khia. (Talmud Bavli Chullin 139b)

 

Esther's name is attributed to a verse in which God describes a period of concealment of His Presence. This would certainly be appropriate for the role of the heroine of Purim, who lived in such a time and behaved in just such a manner to bring about national salvation. On the other hand, the verse in which the Talmud finds Mordechai's name seems to have a far less intrinsic relationship to the events of Purim. The Talmud seems intent on forcing the verses to fit this purpose, going to the Aramaic translation ("mar d'khia") of the Biblical language (mar dror) in order to arrive at words that sound more like "Mordechai". However, a closer inspection of the Biblical verse and its context may explain why the Sages felt that this is where Mordechai is rooted.

A Beautiful Smell

The verse quoted in the Talmud is concerned with the preparation of the incense used by the Kohen Gadol when he enters the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur. As we saw in last week's parsha29 , one of the major elements of the Yom Kippur atonement process was the incense with which the Kohen Gadol entered the Kodesh Kodashim: The incense was both a symbol and a vehicle of the transformation of the sins of the Jewish People on Yom Kippur.

Last week, we discussed a teaching of the Bnei Yissachar regarding the corruption of the senses by the sin in the Garden of Eden: When man sinned, all the senses were involved - sight, touch, taste, and hearing - all the senses with the exception of smell30 . Therefore, from the uncorrupted sense of smell, healing can take place. This is why incense was a central element of the avodah of Yom Kippur. 31 Furthermore, the incense itself was made of different elements, but included the putrid smell of the khelbona: Teshuva, spiritual metamorphosis, includes a conversion process similar to covering up the putrid smell of the khelbona, and making it a part of a new identity, converting evil to good.

Mordechai, mar dror 32 mar d'khia, was able to take evil and use it for good. 33 Haman, like the serpent, sowed confusion, and led the Jews into a spiritual vacuum. Mordechai stood strong and would not bow to Haman. On Yom Kippur even the adversary attests to the righteousness of Israel: our enemy is confounded and turned into our supporter34. That is the symbolism and the power of the Ketoret, of taking the putrid-smelling khelbona, and creating something pleasant. This is not a confusion of good and evil, but the creation of a different compound - an elevation of evil, parallel to the ad d'lo yada of Purim: Evil no longer impacts in a negative way, rather evil is co-opted to become an element of good.

This is the power of Mordechai: He was able to use a plot hatched by others to kill the king - to catapult his own standing. He was able to use a plot woven by Haman to kill the Jews - to set in motion the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash. In fact, Rabbinic tradition adds a postscript to the story of Purim which emphasizes this type of reversal as a major theme of Purim: The Gemara tells us:

...descendants of Haman learned Torah in Bnei Brak (Talmud Bavli Gittin 57b) 35

 

Haman's fate is turned "upside down", not once but twice: He is hung on the tree he himself prepared for Mordechai's execution, and his descendents become a part of the nation he wished to destroy.

But what of Esther? She is, as we have seen, hidden, her true essence not immediately perceived. In fact, Esther's real name, Haddasa, is also related to a pleasant smell, a redemptive smell not unlike the Ketoret. In explaining the use of the Four Species in the rituals of Sukkot, The Midrash36 tells us that each has different characteristics, representing the totality of the Jewish People. The Haddas has a beautiful smell but lacks taste, representing Jews who perform good deeds but lack Torah knowledge. In other words, the defeat of Haman was brought about through Mordechai and Esther, who together symbolize the sense of smell, the oasis of purity in a tainted world. Mordechai and Esther represent not only the Beit Hamikdash, they represent the exalted avodah of the Ketoret performed by the Kohen Gadol in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur.

And yet, we read the Book of Esther, and commemorate the Fast of Esther. Clearly, there is more to Esther's role that must be explored.

When news of Haman's diabolical plot is revealed, Esther fasts and then hosts a feast of her own. This dual preparation is imitated each year, as Taanit Esther37 leads into Purim. The Vilna Gaon pointed out that this is the inverse of the Yom Kippur experience, where first we eat and then fast, in his understanding Purim and Yom Kippur are mirror images of each other representing an inverse in behavior. 38

When Mordechai exhorts Esther to take action, Esther must enter the king's inner chamber. Her plan is fraught with danger: If she does not find favor in his eyes, she runs the risk of immediate execution. She prepares herself spiritually through fasting and prayer, but her plan of action is not exactly innocent. She is well aware that the best way of finding favor with the libidinous Ahashverosh is through seduction. Now, the sweet young Jewish girl Haddasa, dressed as Queen Esther, would have yet another role to play: Up to this point, she was quite ambiguous in her role. She was taken to the palace, but took no active part in the competition for the throne. She did not make any effort to ingratiate herself to Ahashverosh, asking for nothing to make her herself more alluring. Now, Esther was now forced to play a new role - of courtesan.

The Talmud discusses the ramifications of this change of role upon her personal status: Up to this point she was halachically considered a victim of rape. She was a passive, even unwilling participant in the events which had swept her into Ahashverosh's harem. Strangely, her passivity was interpreted by Ahashverosh as aristocratic: Her standoffish attitude reminded Ahashverosh of his former wife, the regal Vashti, and it was this aloof and insubmissive demeanor that helped her "win" the contest for Vashti's vacant throne. The moment that Esther takes action, entering the king's chamber willingly, enticing and inviting, intent on winning the king's favor by any means, her personal status is forever changed. She clearly knew what she would have to do to find favor with Ahashverosh, and she laments her fate for she knows she is lost:

 

Go, gather together all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my girls will fast likewise; and so will I go to the king, though it is against the law; for as I am lost, I am lost. Esther 4:16

 

 

R. Abba said: It will not be "according to the custom of every other day". Until now [I have associated with Ahashverosh] under compulsion, but now I will do so of my own will. "For if I am lost, I am lost." As I am lost to my father's house so I shall be lost to thee. (Talmud Bavli Megila 15a)

 

Esther will initiate a tryst that will change her forever. Her behavior poses extremely difficult moral and legal dilemmas, 39 but this is what she feels she must do; this, she understands, is what Mordechai has commanded her to do. And so she prepares by rallying the support of the nation, by fasting and praying; then, she puts on her costume and enters the inner chamber of the king.

Kohen Gadol

 

1. And it came to pass on the third day, Esther put40 on royal dress, and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, opposite the king's palace; and the king sat upon his royal throne in the royal palace, opposite the gate of the house. (Esther 5:1)

 

It is specifically on these words that the Zohar makes the comparison between Yom Kippurim and Purim: Lest you think that Esther is entering the inner chamber to conduct herself in a sordid manner, the Zohar says that Esther's putting on the royal garb is just like the Kohen Gadol dressing in the priestly garments. She enters the inner chamber like the Kohen Gadol. In the story of Purim, when everything is "upside down", a beautiful Jewish girl in far-away Persia enters into the inner chamber to save her people and she becomes the Kohen Gadol:

 

This is Yom Kippurim, when (the Kohen Gadol) is clothed in beautiful clothing, clothing of atonement: the tziz, the mitznefet, the avnet, the four white garments from the right side, the four garments of gold from the left side. At that time she (Esther) beautified herself with clothing of forgiveness. That is what is meant by the verse, "And Esther put on royal clothing." And with these garments she entered into the inner sanctum. That is the meaning of the verse "She stood in the inner chamber of the King". "She found favor in His eyes"- this is the mystery...immediately God heard, God forgave,...Purim is named for Yom Kippurim ... 41

 

Esther enters the inner sanctum, not motivated by lust, not for money or power. She enters motivated solely by love for her people and her desire to save them; she enters as the Kohen Gadol. Esther is Haddasa, a pleasant smell, a redemptive smell like the Ketoret. 42 Esther's deeds were indeed beautiful, performed with purity43 and total self-sacrifice: she knew that willingly entering the chamber of Ahashverosh and seducing him would bear a heavy cost, in this world (for she would be unable to return to Mordechai44 ) and in the next (for she would be guilty of one of the three sins for which one should give up their life45 ). As in the case of Aharon, the First Kohen Gadol, Esther was prepared to sacrifice her soul for the Jewish People46 . Just as Aharon's sin in the episode of the Golden Calf was performed to save the Jewish People from destruction, so Esther transgressed in the chambers of Ahashverosh in order to save the Jewish People from annihilation. And in both cases, God accepted their sacrifice, understood their total devotion, spared the Jewish People because of their personal sacrifice, and elevated them both a new status: 47 Aharon became Kohen Gadol, and Esther joined the pantheon of Jewish heroism; according to the Zohar, for at least one day Esther functioned as Kohen Gadol – just like Aharon.

Esther's behavior once she gained access to the inner sanctum was very carefully planned: First, she befriended Haman. She bribed him with her friendship48. And when his guard was down, she gave him and Ahashverosh wine, made from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. 49 Just as on Yom Kippur a gift is given to Azazel, just as Yaakov gave a gift to Esav, Esther bestowed gifts of her own: Her physical beauty and the mesmerizing scent of pure incense captured her unsuspecting enemies and brought salvation to the Jewish People. Later, when the Jewish People studied the events that led to their rescue, they understood the transformation of sin into salvation: 50 Rav Tzadok of Lublin points out that the lesson could not have been missed by the Jews of Shushan who had participated in the sinful feast of Haman and Ahashverosh: The very same vehicles with which they had sinned, used for pure motives by Esther/Haddasa, brought about their own salvation. Sin can be turned on its head; evil can be co-opted, turned into good. Khelbona can be turned into Ketoret. Both Aharon and Esther possessed the ability to make this change.

Purim51 and Yom Kippurim are the two sides of this coin. In truth, Purim and Yom Kippurim are one.

 

NOTES

1)It is important to note that the phrase "Yom Kippur" is never used in the Torah; the Day of Atonement is always referred to as Yom Kippurim. See Vayikra 23:27,25:9

2)Rav Tzadok Hakohen, Pri Tadik- Purim, section one. Shem Mishmuel, Titzaveh 5675.

3)See the teachings of R' Nachman of Breslov, for a parallel between the lots of Purim and Yom Kippurim. Likutei Halachot:

4)See comments of the Rosh on Vayikra 16,8:

Notes

5)See my book Explorations, Parshat Aharei Mot, for a fuller treatment of this idea.

6) See Bereishit 36:12.

7) Haman was a descendent of Agag, King of Amalek. See the Book of Shmuel I, 15:8.

8)See Ramban Vayikra 16:8, based on Pirki Drebbi Eliezer chapter 46.

9)For an in-depth explanation of how this "bribe" works, see "On Repentance" based on the discourses of Rabbi Soloveitchik, page 117ff.

10)For more on this meeting, see Explorations, Parshat Vayishlach.

11)See Zohar volume 3,100b

12)See the comments of the Maharal, Tiferet Yisrael chapter 53

13)See Midrash Panim Aherim ("other aspects") Nusach Bet chapter 3,6. Yalqut Shimoni Esther chapter 3 Remez 1054. Also see Sefer Liqutim Parshat Toldot perek 28, this teaching is cited numerous times in the Shla Hakadosh.

14)Talmud Bavli Megilah 12b
There was a certain Jew in Shushan the castle, etc. a Benjamite. What is the point of this verse? If it is to give the pedigree of Mordechai, it should trace it right back to Benjamin! [Why then were only these specified?] — A Tanna taught: All of them are designations [of Mordechai]. ‘The son of Yair' means, the son who enlightened [he'ir] the eyes of Israel by his prayer. ‘The son of Shim'i means, the son to whose prayer God hearkened [shama']. ‘The son of Kish' indicates that he knocked [hikkish] at the gates of mercy and they were opened to him. He is called ‘a Yehudi which implies that he came from [the tribe of] Yehuda, and he is called ‘a Benjaminite', which implies that he came from Benyamin. [How is this]? — R. Nahman said: He was a man of distinguished character. Rabbah b. Bar Hanah said in the name of R. Joshua b. Levi: His father was from Binyamin and his mother from Yehuda. The Rabbis, however, said: The tribes competed with one another [for him]. The tribe of Yehuda said: I am responsible for the birth of Mordechai, because David did not kill Shim'i the son of Gera, and the tribe of Binyamin said: He is actually descended from me.

15)See the commentary of the Baalei Tosafot to Dvarim 33:8, which links the location of the Beit Hamikdash to the fact that Binyamin did not bow to Esav.

16) See commentary of Rav Ovadya MiBartinura on Mishna Midot 3:1

17) See Midrash Rabbah Esther 1:15
R. Nehemiah said: In the third year after he stopped the building of the Temple. When three years had passed after he stopped the building of the Temple,

18) See Midrash Rabbah Esther 1:1
…This is Achashverosh who stopped the building of the Temple. 'He is a brother to the destroyer – that is, Nevuchadnezzar who destroyed the Temple.

19)See Shla Hakadosh Drush L'parshat Zachor

20) The Shla Hakadosh on Parshat Tizaveh, sees a parallel between the eating of the fruit of this forbidden tree, and the participation of the Jews at the feast of Ahashverosh.

21)See Bnei Yissachar, Adar section 4.

22)See Midrash Rabbah Esther 2:11

23)See Midrash Rabbah Esther 2:1
"His glorious (tiferet) kingdom"; and it says elsewhere, ‘And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for splendor and for beauty (le-tifereth) (Shmot 28, 2). Just as the word tifereth there refers to the garments of the Kohen Gadol, so here it refers to the garments of the Kohen Gadol.

24)See Megilat Esther 7:8

25)Sfat Emet Shmot – Purim 5640

26)See Shulchan Oruch Aruch Hayim 696:8 in the comments of the Rama.

27)The one area of spiritual superiority of Esav, was his filial devotion. It is interesting that The Talmud states that among those who never neglected the Mitzva of properly honoring their parents were those who never met their parents, such as Rav Yochanan and Abaye, whose fathers died after conception, and mother's died during childbirth, the same is told regarding Esther, and presumably this is one of the reasons Esther was able to defeat Haman. See Kiddushin 31b, and Megila 13a,
Kiddushin 31b -R. Johanan said: Happy is he who has not seen them.10 R. Johanan's father died when his mother conceived him, and his mother died when she bore him. And Abaye was likewise.
Megila 13a -For she had neither father nor mother. [And it continues] and when her father and mother died. Why these last words? — R. Aha said: When her mother became pregnant with her, her father died; when she was born, her mother died.

28) The Gemara does question regarding the origin of the name of a fourth character – who is decidedly not part of the purim story, and someone whose name should require no source – Moshe. The common denominator with all four names, may have been their usage as names related to Idolatry. Moshe who was taken out of the Nile which was seen as a deity – may also have been seen as a deity – see My book on the Parsha Explorations Parshat Shmot for more on the name of Moshe. Regarding Haman, it is quite clear that he saw himself as a deity, hence the insistence that all prostrate before him. see Yaarot Dvash Part two chapter 2, also see Shalmie Toda Purim page 437. Regarding Esther – who is "hidden" there is an uncomfortable connection between Esther and Ishtar, apparently Chazal were aware of this connection, for they deemed that the psalm of Ayelet Hashachar (Psalm 22) – the morning star refers to Esther see Talmud Bavli Yoma 29a. Mordichai also has a resemblance to Marduk. If these names had a connotation of idolatry within the cultures that they were used we would then understand the Talmud's query – where do we see such names in the Torah. There is a law that names of Idolatry found in The Torah may be uttered – others should be avoided. See discussion in Shalmie Toda Purim page 437

29)See my Notes to Parshat Tetzave 5769.

30)Bnei Yissachar, Adar, section 4

31)Bnei Yissacher, ibid.

32)Then numerical value of the word "mar" is 240, identical to the numerical value of "Amalek"; Mordechai – mar dror, represents dror – freedom - from Amalek. See Tiferet Shlomo Moadim Rimzai Purim.

33)Bnei Yissachar, ibid.

34)See Maor Vshemesh, Rimzai Purim:

35)Legal and philosophical implications of the conversion of descendants of Amalek are discussed in my book on holidays, Emanations.

36)Midrash Rabbah Vayikra 30:12
Another exposition: "The fruit of the hadar tree" symbolizes Israel; just as the etrog has taste as well as fragrance, so Israel have among them men who possess learning and good deeds. "Branches of palm trees", too, applies to Israel; as the palm-tree has taste but not fragrance, so Israel have among them such as possess learning but not good deeds. "And boughs of thick trees" (ib.) likewise applies to Israel; just as the myrtle has fragrance but no taste, so Israel have among them such as possess good deeds but not learning. "And willows of the brook" also applies to Israel; just as the willow has no taste and no fragrance, so Israel have among them people who possess neither learning nor good deeds. What then does the Holy One, blessed be He, do to them? To destroy them is impossible. But, says the Holy One, blessed be He, let them all be tied together in one band and they will atone one for another. If you have done so [says God], then at that instant I am exalted. Hence it is written, It is He that buildeth His upper chambers in the heaven (Amos IX, 6). When is He exalted? What time they are made into one band; as it says, When He1 hath founded His band2 upon the earth (ib.). Accordingly Moses exhorts Israel: "And ye shall take you on the first day the fruit," etc.

37)Esther herself did not fast on "Taanit Esther" in Adar. Her fast, as well as the other major events of the Megila, occurred in the month of Nisan. See Talmud Bavli Megilah 15a. The origin of our custom to fast on the 13th of Adar is not easily traceable. See Shulchan Oruch Aruch Hayim 686:2

38) See Liqutei Hagra MiVilna, Moadim, Chanuka – Purim, page 193.

39)The permissibility of a married woman to use her sexuality to save lives has been debated in halakhic sources. See Responsa Shvut Yaakov Volume 2, section 117, Responsa Noda Beyehuda Tanina Yoreh De'ah 161, Responsa Binyan Zion 154. An audio lecture on this subject can be found at www.rabbiarikahn.com.

40)The first time the word vatilbash is used in the Torah is when Rivkah dresses Yaakov in Esav's garments – as he prepares to enter with the two goats to feed his father. There, the word is pronounced vatalbesh.

41)The Tikunei Zohar continues, and makes more comparisons between Yom Kippur and elements of the Purim story. The commentary of the Sulam understands this entire passage in reference to the exile of the Shekhina.

42)See Rav Zadok Hakohen of Lublin, Liqutei Amarim, section 16:

43)The Talmud and Midrash report that Esther prepared for her liaison by immersing her body in a mikveh. See Migilah 13b. Midrash Tihillim Buber 22:16

It is interesting to note that the Kohen Gadol prepared himself to enter the Temple and perform the service by immersing himself. See Yoma 30a.

 

44)Rabbinic sources maintain the Esther and Mordechai were not only cousins – they were in fact married. This assertion complicates her legal status. See Talmud Megilah 13a
A Tanna taught in the name of R. Meir: Read not "for a daughter?[le-bat], but for a house [le-bayit] (I.e., a wife.). …so here, it means a wife.

45)Her actions may fall under the rubric of a "Sin for the sake of Heaven". See Talmud Bavli Nazir 23b. Alternatively, the Noda B'Yehuda, op. cit., suggests that, to save all of Israel, and with the blessings of Mordechai's court and with Divine Inspiration –Esther was permitted to act as she did.

46)See Rav Zadok Hakohen, Takanat HaShavin section 5.

47)Ibid section 10.

48)See Maor Vshemesh

49)For the identification of the Tree of knowledge with grapes see Zohar Berishit 73a.

50)Pri Zadik Vaylech-Shabbat Shuva section 21.

51)Rav Yehonatan Eybshitz (Ya'arot Dvash, vol. 1, Drush 8) says that Purim is even greater than Yom Kippur, for Yom Kippur only heals the rift between man and God (Mishna Yoma 8:9). Purim, with gifts sent from one to another and gifts to the poor, heals the rift between man and his fellow.


Published: March 8, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 1

(1) Yehudith Shraga, March 14, 2014 12:14 AM

One of the best ever written articles!

Thank you so much for sharing and your outstanding gift to see the interconnections on all the levels and sources.

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