Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Purim 5769

We are all familiar with the story of Purim:  The evil Haman convinces the foolish Ahasuerus to kill all the Jews and then Esther, the niece of the Mordechai, and the wife of Ahasuerus (and unknown to him a Jewess) turns the tables on Haman and the Jews are saved.  The simple story is taught to Jewish children from the time they can sit still long enough to hear it.  I remember my younger son, at the age of three, wanting to be Haman “because he likes baddies”.  This year (at age 5) he wants to Mordechai- seems he prefers the “goodies” now.  So much for the simplistic story- but very little in the Tanakh is ever what it appears to be on the surface.

Another view of the story came to me when my older son (8 years old) said “My teacher said that Ahaseurus was not a real king but a very wealthy man who was like a king.”  That struck me as odd; the megillah on the surface very definitely says that Ahaseurus was a king- but there are so many hidden things in this particular megillah (including the real identity of Mordechai who some claim to be Daniel) that it merited investigation.  And thus my reading through Mikraot Gedolot began.

Rashi brings that Ahaseurus did not inherit his crown- but achieved it on his own.  Since attaining great wealth can be seen as a crown- perhaps this was a form of support for this statement of the teacher.  Various other commentaries, however, seem to indicate he was a king, but not necessarily on his own.  Probably the most clear example of this is the “Megillat Estharim” commentary of R’ Yaakov bar R’ Yaakov Moshe Melisa.  He explains that Ahaseurus had been a King over the whole world- and then had been reduced in power- to “who was melech from Hodu to Kush”- in other words- he went from king over all to being king over a limited realm.

What struck me about this is the different flavour the story takes on when viewed through the lens of a king that has lost power, and perhaps fears losing more.  Lets look at it from that point of view:

Ahaseurus is celebrating one of his past victories, showing off his might before his nobles, courtiers and generals.  He summons his wife to dance naked before him, to display yet more of his authority and power- and she rebels against him.  Now, for a king secure on his throne and in his power- this would be provocative, but could probably be joked away.  For one who has lost power, facing the danger of further challenges to his throne and authority, this would be a hard blow- his authority is not even recognised as absolute by his wife!  Thus why Memuchan (who the commentaries state is Haman) would recommend death- it shows those present that the King still has power and cannot be rebelled against.

In the same light, his agreement to the Jews being killed can be seen through a different lens.  His second in command complains about a lack of respect for the authority of the King which he represents.  There were probably plenty of others- but here is a handy group to use as a capegoat- they are a minority, visible (Mordechai was a regular at court- how else would he have heard of the plot against the King?) and worship an unpopular religion; on top of that, Haman offers to fill the coffers of the King with the wealth they will steal from the Jews they kill.  And so, as in so many times throughout history, the Jews become the scapegoat, and target, of the authorities when a visible target is required to make their rule look good.

Through this lens, suddenly the story becomes one not just of the story of Jewish survival when in exile- but of Jewish oppression and anti-Semitism through the ages.  Haman’s anti-Semitism is purely driven by hatred; Ahaseurus is driven by political expediency and greed.  A weak ruler, needing to look visibly strong, finding a weak enemy to overthrow and thus bolster their own image; the fact that they may not actually be the enemy they are portrayed as is immaterial- as Haman says ““There is a certain people scattered and separate among the peoples throughout all the provinces of your kingdom, and their laws differ from [those of] every people, and they do not keep the king’s laws; it is [therefore] of no use for the king to let them be.”  It doesn’t matter that they obey the king- or how their laws may be different, or even if they ar ehostile- the fact that the Jews are different is enough for Haman to say “it is [therefore] of no use for the king to let them be.”  And the enticement of the money, combined with this spurious reasoning, enough for a weak king, needing to bolster his image and rule, to agree.

Unfortunately, we see this today still.  Hitler, yemach sh’mo, also blamed the Jews for Germany’s political weaknes; when Poland went to the voting booths after the fall of communism, the impoverished Polish Jewish community, all 5000 of them, were still being accused of being the architects of Poland’s woes by some; and today- we see the neo-Nazis, Islamic terrorists and even the extreme left all combining to blame the jews for everything from the political mess the world is in 9after all, the Jews control the world, media etc) to the financial crisis (after all Jews are the capitalists AND the communists!)  Anti-Semitism does not change- people put on new faces, new masks.   There are those who are blatant about it- those who follow in the path of Haman and openly call for the destruction of the Jews; and there are those who hide it- they hide who they are under a disguise- today it is the extreme anti-Israel rhetoric, the calls forIsrael to disappear, the biased media reporting that splashes every propoganda statement from Hamas and the other terrorist organisations across the TV screens of the world as if they are angels and would never lie and exagerate!  Yet time and again their lies are shown.  At the same time- human tragedies in othe rparts of the world receive little attention.  In Sri Lanka the government battle against the TamilTigers has resulted in TWO THOUSAND CIVILIAN DEATHS A MONTH since November.   Yet the UN is quiet, no politicians are jetting out to investigate the situation, the screens are not filled with the image sof this conflict.  Indeedn. anti-Semitism is yet another message of the hidden and disguised of Purim:  it may not be overt, but it is there behind a mask.

So, this Purim, in a world seeing an increasing level of anti-Semitism, with communities around the world experiencing ever more anti-Semtism, let us drown out the name of Haman; let us work on removing the disguises the anti-Semites hide behind and showthe hidden to the world.

And please, if anyone knows of a commentary that Ahaseurus was not a King- let me know.  I still can’t find it!

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March 5, 2009 - Posted by | Chagim, Current affairs, Other Torah, Torah | , , , , , ,

2 Comments »

  1. Nice post. I like it.
    I was gonna post on Y!A, but I can’t find the question anymore.

    With regards to him not being king, maybe it’s referring to Rash”i’s comment on the opening verse.

    v.1 who reigned: He reigned on his own, and was not of royal seed.
    Could be read as, he had no reason to be king, other than the fact that he rose to power on his own, through money.

    Comment by Keepin' It Kosher | March 6, 2009 | Reply

    • I did consider that- but it seems a stretch from that to claiming that he wasn’t a king. Sigh- and the teacher had an accident and won’t be back at school till after Pesach! Well, a refuah slemah to her, but it does mean I can’t ask her where she got her idea form.

      As for Yahoo Answers- seems that asking for reviews of this on there was a violation. Go figure.

      Comment by marcl1969 | March 6, 2009 | Reply


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