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What else does the Talmud say
about the events of Purim?

You may recall that at the beginning of Megillas Esther, King Ahasueraus made a great feast. He made this feast because he miscounted.

I'll explain.

The Prophet Jeremiah said (29:10): "For thus says the L-rd, that after seventy years of Babylon exile are completed I will remember you; and I will fulfill for you my good word to return you to this place (Jerusalem, and the Holy Temple)." (See also Daniel 9:2)

So it was known to all that G-d had promised a return to Judea and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple after seventy years. The question was, when did the seventy years start?

During the third year of his reign, Ahasueraus thought that the seventy years were over, when in fact they were not. Ahasueraus counted from the exile of Jechoniah, king of Judea, but Jeremiah had counted from the destruction of the Temple, eleven years later.

Ahasueraus was overjoyed, thinking that Jeremiah was wrong, and that now he had nothing to worry about. He was sure that the Jews would never be taken out of exile, and that the Holy Temple would never be rebuilt. He thought he had vanquished G-d! (As if such a thing could be possible!) So he made a great feast, in which he desecrated the vessels of the Holy Temple.

This being the case, it was forbidden for the Jews to join this feast, or to even attend. Indeed, Mordechai Bilshan (as Mordechai was called) warned them all not to attend. He alone did not attend the feast, and all the Jews warned him he was a trouble maker. He warned them that G-d would punish them, but they said it would be more dangerous to refuse to attend.

When Haman rose to power, he ordered everyone to "bow down and prostrate themselves before him" (Esther 3:2). Such a manner of obeisance, bowing and prostration, was normally reserved for divine worship. In addition, the Yalkut (Esther 1054) teaches, Haman hung the image of an idol on his clothes, so that whenever someone would bow down to Haman, they would also be bowing down to his deity. This, of course, is forbidden by Jewish law. Everyone was afraid not to disobey. Only Mordechai Bilshan refused.

All the Jews yelled at him again. They accused him of casting them all in a bad light. He still refused to disobey the word of G-d, which forbids us to bow down towards idols. Haman grew angry, and he resolved to kill all the Jews, but in truth he was merely a tool in the hands of G-d, Who was warning us to repent.

The decree to kill all the Jews was sent forth in the twelfth year of the reign of King Ahasueraus. Everyone was upset. Mordechai reminded the people of their sin of attending the king's banquet nine years earlier. He decreed days of repentance and prayer. Later, Esther decreed three days of fasting as well, although all the Jews were already fasting, unofficially. (See Esther 4:3)

The Jews, being good and holy people, all believed Mordechai. They could have insisted that it was Mordechai's fault. After all, he had refused to bow down to Haman. He had refused to attend the banquet. But instead they accepted Mordechai's admonishments, and they realized that the warning of the great tzaddik (righteous person) Mordechai was not to be taken lightly. They concluded that they should have obeyed Mordechai when he had warned them nine years earlier.

The people all repented, as evidenced by their fasting, mentioned in 4:3. (In Judaism, a fast must be accompanied by repentance, or the fast is meaningless.)

Since the people repented, it became possible for them to be saved. God had already prepared the salvation, in that Esther had been made queen, and that Mordechai had once saved the king's life.

And so, all the pieces of the puzzle suddenly fell into place. When the Jews sinned by attending the banquet, Heaven slated them for the decree later signed by Haman and Ahasueraus. But G-d always prepares the salvation before the trouble, says the Talmud. And at that very banquet, Queen Vashti was killed, paving the way for the ascension of Esther.

Suddenly the king's memory of Mordechai saving him shifted the balance of favor against Haman, and Haman was hanged on the very tree he had prepared for Mordechai. What irony!

Indeed, the irony of it all cannot be ignored. The Jews sinned with a feast, Haman and Ahasueraus made a feast when they decided to kill the Jews (see 3:15), and Esther wrought Haman's downfall with a feast (see 7:2).

Through it all, G-d manipulated events to reach the conclusion. But we had to take the hard way, to learn that lesson, to learn that it is the obedience to G-d's Laws that brings salvation. That it happened through the hand of Mordechai and Esther. Mordechai, who had refused to attend the banquet, and refused to bow before an idol. And Esther, who had obeyed the command of Mordechai the Righteous (see 2:10 and 2:20), and who had repeated the name of her source when she told the king about the plot to kill him (see 2:22). (It is a mitzvah to obey the words of the righteous.)

And we learned another lesson. That through it all, be it ever so invisible, the Hand of G-d controls all. That G-d still controls the universe, even if all the miracles are hidden miracles, and not always in defiance of nature. And that is another reason G-d's name is never mentioned overtly in the Megillah, only in hidden ways. And that is why it was prophetic that they renamed Hadassah "Esther," "hide". To fulfill the verse in Deuteronomy 31:18, "And I will utterly hide My face..." (Anochi hastair =ASTIR= panai) True, G-d "hides" his face, in that there were no overt miracles, as there were at the time of Chanukah. But G-d was still there, controlling things behind the scenes.

This was because we had sinned. We had hidden ourselves from G-d's words, so G-d hid himself from us. But G-d never forsakes us. And that is why it is called a "megillah". The word "megillah" means "scroll," but here it alludes to another concept. The word "megaleh" means to reveal. And that is the lesson of Purim: Megillas Esther, the disclosure of the hidden "face" of G-d.

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