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Posts Tagged ‘esther’
Then spoke the king Achashverosh and said unto Esther the queen: ‘Who is he, and where is he, that does presume in his heart to do this? (Esther 7:5)
This translation, taken with slight adaptation from the 1917 JPS edition, does not fully convey the repetitive nature of this verse. The verb “va’yomar” appears twice, a seemingly unnecessary doubling. Ibn Ezra suggests that repetition reflects the king’s anger; indeed, fury often expresses itself in recurring exclamations. Amos Hakham, in the Daat Mikra, adds that the later part of the verse may also convey doubling. Arguably, “mi hu ze v’eize hu” repeats the same question twice. Though some translations avoid this by interpreting the second question as relating to place, a more literal rendering has both questions asking to identify the person responsible. .
Ralbag and Malbim explain that Achashverosh first addresses his question to other people in the palace and then turns to Esther. The servants and guards could not answer his question; only Esther could explain who threatened her nation. Perhaps the monarch first turns to the others in a fit of anger or because he worries that his queen will remain too coy to inform him. In the end, he turns to her to discover the truth.
Megilla 16a provides an alternative approach. Achashverosh first spoke to Esther through an intermediary. After he discovered that she was of royal stock, a descendent of Shaul, he spoke to her directly. The doubling of the verb “va’yomar” indicates a shift in the king’s mode of communicating with his queen.
Perhaps this gemara refers not only to a discovery of lineage but to a realization about character. The king originally thinks his new queen a quiet beauty content to enjoy the privileges of monarchy. Esther’s initiative and boldness in trying to save her people reveals the truth about her noble temperament. Having internalized this realization, the king now addresses his wife directly. Esther is much more than a pretty face; she is a woman to be reckoned with.More
Achashverosh finds sleep elusive and calls for the book of records. What disturbs his slumber and how will reading this book resolve the dilemma? Rashi suggests that God providentially prevents the Persian king’s sleep. God arranged for a rough night so that Achashverosh would call for the book of records and discover his debt to Mordechai. Alternatively, Rashi says that the king was troubled and thought he needed to strengthen the loyalty of his allies by rewarding those that had helped him.
What troubles this monarch? We noted last week how Esther may have cunningly set up a situation in which her husband suspects that Haman has designs on the queen. The king lies in bed thinking of who he owes favors to and who might inform him of any plots against his kingship. If he suspects Haman designs, subsequent events powerfully confirms his suspicions. When Haman, clearly thinking about himself as the beneficiary, advises the king to dress another in the royal robe and saddle him on the royal horse, the king’s suspicions reach a boiling point.
Rashi notes that verse 5 mentions the royal horse, robes, and crown whereas the subsequent verse mentions the former pair while leaving out the crown. Haman’s enthusiasm gets the better of him until he sees the king’s angry reaction to the idea of placing the royal crown, the most potent symbol of monarchy, on another’s head and he abandons that aspect of the advice. However, his strategic shift arrives too late; the king is already out to get him.More
Mordechai told them to relay to Esther: ‘Do not think that you shall escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish; and who knows whether you came to royalty for such a time as this? (Esther 4:13-14)
In one of the most dramatic moments of the book of Esther, Mordechai convinces the queen to actively and heroically plan the rescue of the Jews. What does his closing line convey? Ibn Ezra explains that Esther should seriously consider the possibility that she entered the royal house solely for this moment of opportunity to save the Jewish people. Divine providence set up potential salvation and Esther’s human initiative will help finish it.
According to Rashi, the phrase “a time as this” actually refers to the following year. Perhaps Esther thinks the threat does not affect her personally since she sits safely ensconced on the queen’s throne. Mordechai tells her that Achashverosh may not want her as his wife in a year from now and she could suffer the same fate as her people. The king’s capricious character has already led him to send away Vashti and Esther has no reason to feel safe from her husband’s whimsical moods.
The previous interpretive question also impacts on why Mordechai raises the specter of Esther and her house perishing. For Rashi, Achashverosh’s angry fits threaten the queen and her relatives. How would Ibn Ezra explain the threat? Vilna Gaon says that those who can help save others and refrain from doing so receive a harsh punishment. If Esther passed up an opportunity to rescue her brothers and sisters from annihilation, thereby missing the entire point of her royal status, she would find herself subject to divine wrath.
Perhaps we can broaden Ibn Ezra’ point to encompass all life’s vicissitudes. Human experience includes peaks and valleys, each an opportunity for religious and moral growth. Success, in particular, challenges its beneficiaries to utilize those victories for positive goals. A woman who merits the wealth, authority, and influence of becoming queen must ask how these privileges enable a real contribution. Esther understands this point and responds with distinction.More
Why does Mordechai refuse to bow before Haman, a defiance endangering himself and all of his brethren? After all, Haman’s angry response leads to an edict threatening national annihilation. Mordechai had no apparent reason to refuse since bowing respectfully before another person violates no religious norms. Yosef’s brothers bow to him (Bereishit 42:6) and Natan haNavi bows before King David (Melachim I 1:23).
Several commentators explain that bowing to Haman involved an element of idolatrous worship, a transgression which Jews suffer martyrdom to avoid. Perhaps Haman wore some kind of idol (Ibn Ezra) or perhaps he considered himself a divinity (Rashi, Ralbag). Jews can respectfully bow before monarchs and officials; they cannot bow in a manner endorsing idolatry.
Akedat Yitzchak suggests that the king’s edict simply did not include Mordechai. The command to bow applied to lower level officials and to the proletariat but not to people of Mordechai’s status. Mordechai thought he was acting within his rights, not realizing there impact his decision would have. The difficulty with this interpretation is that it assumes the other servants of the king misunderstood the rules when they accused Mordechai of ignoring a royal edict.
In a very interesting collection of articles on Esther in memory of Dassi Rabinowitz entitled Hadasah hi Esther, R. Yaakov Medan offers a novel approach. He says that Yaakov lacked adequate national pride when he subjugated himself before Esau and called his brother master. This lack of pride proved dangerous when Yaakov responded passively to the rape of Dinah. When Mordechai sensed that his generation suffered from an analogous flaw, he felt the need to take a stand and refused to bow even though no idolatry was involved.
R. Medan’s builds his approach on many questionable assumptions. It is not obvious that Yaakov misbehaved in his approach to Esau. Whereas some midrashim fault Yaakov for repeatedly referring to himself as Esau’s servant, others view his interaction with his brother a s model for Jews dealing with foreign powers (Bereishit Rabba 78:15). Perhaps we can justifiably relinquish a bit of dignity in the interest of personal or communal preservation.More