I hope you are all enjoying your Purim, friends. Usually I have ideas about the Megillah but forget them by the time I get around to writing them down, but this year I remembered a lot more, so I want to get this done before I forget. I did write a bit last year though, but not as much as I would have liked to. As it happens I was even able to read the Megillah tonight in a limited assembly, so I guess that might have jogged my memory a bit.
I've got a few things to say on almost every chapter:
Chapter 1: "הוּא אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, הַמֹּלֵךְ מֵהֹדּוּ וְעַד-כּוּשׁ"- I don't know why it didn't seem as obvious to me in the past, but now it's quite obvious to me (not to mention it's well known by now) that this is a response to a confusion by the part of the reader when hearing "אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ"; the natural question is "Which אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ are you speaking of?", since the book of Ezra also mentions an "אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ" (it seems Xerxes (חְשָׁיָארְשָׁ) and Artaxerxes (אַרְתַּחְשַׁשְׂתָּא) were called by the same name in ancient Hebrew, although in Aramaic it mentions the latter by his actual name). To that it responds "the one who was the great emperor over all these lands".
"בִּשְׁנַת שָׁלוֹשׁ, לְמָלְכוֹ"- Since the destruction of the Judean kingdom, the Tanach counts years according to the Babylonian kings, and then according to the Persian kings. This change is evidenced clearly in the book of Daniel, which occurs before and after the twelve year Ahasuerus-reign of the book of Esther, but can also be seen in Ezra and "Tobit".
"כָּל-יֹדְעֵי דָּת וָדִין"
"אַחַת דָּתוֹ לְהָמִית" etc etc- It's well known that the book of Esther uses the word "דת" a disproportionately large amount of times. Many commentators say that in this context it's simply just another word for "law" or "royal law", but I'm starting to think it does have what to do with religion. With the rise of Persian prominence worldwide the Zoroastrian religion gained unprecedented renown and it's priests had much more political influence than they once did, considering that the emperor had to abide by their rulings. It seems to me that a lot of this "דת" in the megillah is speaking of religious decrees enacted by the Zoroastrian priests onto the monarchy. From the decision about what to do with a queen who doesn't show when summoned to the death penalty for someone who approaches the emperor without having been summoned. I use the word "emperor" by the way, and not "king", since he was, in fact, an emperor, it's just that there's no word for "emperor" in Hebrew, so it uses the same word for the ruler of a city state as for an emperor.
Chapter 2: "וַיֶּאֱהַב הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת-אֶסְתֵּר מִכָּל-הַנָּשִׁים, וַתִּשָּׂא-חֵן וָחֶסֶד לְפָנָיו מִכָּל-הַבְּתוּלוֹת"- The "One Night with the King" movie (which, I feel, has been a very successful attempt of the Evangelical community to create top notch entertainment that doesn't sacrifice Christian values in the process) portrays a romantic love between the emperor and Esther. I think anyone would agree that it's unlikely that they had an emotional attachment. He did want her to be the queen, but it was extremely uncommon back then for there to be anything but a political connection between king and queen.
Chapter 3: "הָמָן בֶּן-הַמְּדָתָא הָאֲגָגִי"- As if it would be possible to verify if he was some long-lost descendant of Agag. I think it might be saying that since he was so gung-ho about killing the entire nation of Mordecai, it must be he's from the seed of Amalek, i.e. a descendant of Agag (but it's hard to believe he went parading that fact in a nation who didn't know from such things).
"וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן, לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ--יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם-אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים, בְּכֹל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתֶךָ; וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת מִכָּל-עָם, וְאֶת דָּתֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֵינָם עֹשִׂים, וְלַמֶּלֶךְ אֵין-שֹׁוֶה, לְהַנִּיחָם. אִם-עַל-הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב, יִכָּתֵב לְאַבְּדָם; וַעֲשֶׂרֶת אֲלָפִים כִּכַּר-כֶּסֶף, אֶשְׁקוֹל עַל-יְדֵי עֹשֵׂי הַמְּלָאכָה, לְהָבִיא, אֶל-גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ."- I was thinking of making a post out of this and calling it "What Haman can teach us about Blogging"(!), but I'll just stick with this format. To me it seems that Haman has been reading his Dale Carnegie, and is being a very efficient public speaker. Now, notice that in the previous verse we're told that this is the twelfth year of Ahasuerus's reign, in other words four entire years since he was thinking about killing Mordecai and his people, and it was still on his mind. So he was probably looking for a way to carry it out for years, and he ends up accomplishing it in a couple of seconds by a very witty use of words. First, he takes advantage of the fact that the emperor is probably just as interested in hearing a twenty hour lesson on the history of the Jews, and about all their kings and how they ended up in Persia as Bush was interested in hearing the history of Iraq and what the deposition of Saddam Husein would do to it's infrastructure. He doesn't mention them by name and quickly demonizes them. Then he promises loads of cash if Ahasuerus lets him go through with it. So he's basically saying "There's some lawless group of anarchists throughout the empire that aren't willing to comply with us; you're better off without them. If it pleases the king, I'll rid you of them, aaaaand add ten thousand gold bars to the treasury". And viola, the signet ring is suddenly on his finger.
The connection to blogging is that people need quick sound bytes and can't be bothered to listen or think to much. If you want someone to be swayed by your words, they have to be biast, unclear, sweet and powerful!
Chapter 4: "כִּי אִם-הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי, בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת--רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר"-I think this is one of the most theologically significant points in the megillah; what would happen if Esther did nothing, would everything turn out the same for the Jews. Or, more importantly, what if Esther only fasted two days, or what if she said one less prayer? In other words: what exactly did any given spiritual activity affect in the world. Perhaps a Jewish community in some Persian occupied city on the North African coast heard about it; how much did the particularly fervent prayer of a young Jewish boy in that community affect the emperor's decision? What if he never did pray?....
Of less theological significance to me is the fact that Mordecai knew that salvation would come to the Jews no matter what, since there's some sort of biblical pact between G-d and Israel in the Tanach, that he would never destroy them.
"וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ--אִם-לְעֵת כָּזֹאת, הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת"- To us readers it seems quite obvious that she became queen for this reason, and he very fact that Mordecai finds it necessary to say this is indicative of the fact that Esther wasn't Evangelically quick in attributing Providence to everything in her life. After all, for a second it seemed like she was going to turn her back on her people since "כָּל-אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יָבוֹא-אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל-הֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִקָּרֵא אַחַת דָּתוֹ לְהָמִית". Even Mordecai seems to be mention the prospect of Divine intervention in very theoretical terms ("Who knows")....
"וּבְכֵן אָבוֹא אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ"- The funny thing is that after Mordecai's little speech, she seems to have gone 360 degrees and even be willing to show up by the king after having fasted for three days (which can't be the best thing from a cosmetic perspective), thus leaving the possibility of success entirely upon Divine Providence.
Chapter 5: "יָבוֹא הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן, אֶל-הַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁר אֶעֱשֶׂה לָהֶם"- Esther understood the importance of mystery and mystique. Which is something people are attracted to. Which is the same reason people are attracted to the anonymity of having an online personality.
Chapter 9: "וְהָרוֹג בְּשֹׂנְאֵיהֶם, חֲמִשָּׁה וְשִׁבְעִים אָלֶף"- It seems the exiled Judeans were still war-ready if they could kill 75,000 armed soldiers at the tip of a hat. This was well before the "ultra-urbanization" of the Jew...
"לְקַיֵּם אֶת-יְמֵי הַפֻּרִים הָאֵלֶּה בִּזְמַנֵּיהֶם, כַּאֲשֶׁר קִיַּם עֲלֵיהֶם מָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי וְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה, וְכַאֲשֶׁר קִיְּמוּ עַל-נַפְשָׁם, וְעַל-זַרְעָם: דִּבְרֵי הַצּוֹמוֹת, וְזַעֲקָתָם"- It seems that Ta'anit Esther is considered one of "the days of Purim".
Chapter 10: "וְרָצוּי לְרֹב אֶחָיו"- Again, in a more tribe-oriented reading of the text, it's possible that the Judaite Zealots were wary of a Benjaminite finding favor with the emperor, since he might have wanted to become a new monarch over Judea and have founded a new non-Judaite dynasty...
Another important point is the chronology, since the Megillah seems to span from the third year of Xerxes' reign to at least the twelfth, which is a pretty long timespan for a story to come together, especially considering that Xerxes' reign lasted only twenty years altogether...