Esther’s Royal Purim Payback

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04 Mar 2020

At first blush, Megilas Esther reads deceptively simply, but on further scrutiny many of the pesukim are actually quite hard to translate in a way that ‘makes sense’ in English, without being repetitive and cumbersome. In fact, much of the Megilah—in line with the theme of the entire yom tov –is loaded with hidden irony.

For instance, when Memuchan (AKA Haman) suggests to Achashveirosh that he ‘terminate’ Vashti’s reign after her insulting behavior to His Highness, Haman pontificates the following pompous-sounding but fateful line:

יט אִם-עַל-הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב יֵצֵא דְבַר-מַלְכוּת מִלְּפָנָיו וְיִכָּתֵב בְּדָתֵי פָרַס-וּמָדַי וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תָבוֹא וַשְׁתִּי לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ וּמַלְכוּתָהּ יִתֵּן הַמֶּלֶךְ לִרְעוּתָהּ הַטּוֹבָה מִמֶּנָּה:  1:19))

“If it be seemly to the King, let the word of the Kingship go forth from before him, and let there be written into the laws of Persia and Media not to be transgressed, on account of the matter that Vashti did not come before the King Achasveirosh [at his ‘request’], that therefore the King should give her dominion to her neighbor who is better than her!

The end of that line just might sound hauntingly familiar—in fact, we have all heard it less than a scant seven days before (or in the case of this year, 5780, only three days before) —on Shabbos Zachor. Since the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek is a Torah commandment, almost every God-fearing Jew should have been in shul that Shabbos to hear the Maftir Torah reading—and odds are he hung around to hear the Haftorah, taken from Sefer Shmuel. Not surprisingly, the Navi recounts the story of a ‘missed’ opportunity in our national history, when we came agonizingly close to totally eradicating Amalek. As king and representative of the entire Nation, the responsibility for that task fell to Shaul. Sadly, he was remiss in carrying it out with alacrity; he delayed by a single day the execution of Agag, the king and last remaining member of the Amaleki nation. Per the Midrash, that one extra night of life was enough to allow Agag to begin repopulation of his decimated nation. Hence Haman is known throughout the Megilah as Haman Ha’Agagi, rather than Haman Ha’Amaleki; indeed, he owed his very life to Shaul’s fateful error.

That grievous mistake was the last straw in a deficient pattern of Shaul’s behavior as king, and God kavyochol reconsidered his royal appointment. As Shmuel carries out Hashem’s orders to strip Shaul of his kingship and turns to leave, the stricken leader grabs at the prophet’s cloak in desperation, ripping it. Shmuel turns back and utters portentously:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלָיו֙ שְׁמוּאֵ֔ל קָרַ֨ע יְהוָ֜ה אֶֽת־מַמְלְכ֧וּת יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל מֵעָלֶ֖יךָ הַיּ֑וֹם וּנְתָנָ֕הּ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ הַטּ֥וֹב מִמֶּֽךָּ׃  (שמואל א ט”ו: כ”ח)

“And Sh’muel said to him [just as you have ripped my cloak], today HaShem has ripped the dominion of Israel from upon you and given it to your neighbor who is better than you [thus removing the kingship from the tribe of Binyamin and transferring it to Yehudah, establishing Malchus Beis Dovid]”

Clearly, Haman’s own words in deposing Vashti are ‘borrowed’ from this episode regarding his several-generation ancestor, taken nearly verbatim from an episode in which Shaul was similarly deposed.

What connection between the two parshios are Chazal (or Hashem) hinting at?

Very simply, it’s just another manifestation of “v’nahapoch hu” (9: 1)! Haman’s own words will ironically become the vehicle of his own undoing, since they set the stage for Esther to ascend to the Queenship four years later!

But that is only the very tip of the ironical iceberg…

The Gemara in Megilah 16a informs us that Esther herself came from a royal lineage—Beis Shaul. Shaul had the responsibility of kingship, of Malchus Yisrael, but lost it by not faithfully carrying out the war against Amalek—a commandment that Rambam implies specifically devolves upon him as king (Hilchos M’lachim 1:2). He lost the malchus when he wrongfully spared Agag’s life. Therefore it remained for Esther—Shaul’s offspring—to perform a ‘tikun’ for him, when SHE was elevated to the malchus in Vashti’s place [and in Shaul’s place!], by rightfully executing Agag’s offspring, and doing her utmost to wipe them completely out—not just Haman, but also his ten sons, as well as the 300 Agagite sympathizers still at large in Shushan, Haman’s headquarters, after the fighting of Adar 13! In fact, it may have been the very public and humiliating display of hanging Haman’s dead offspring that flushed the rest of Haman’s sympathizers in Shushan out of hiding. Perhaps that explains why the names of the ten sons of Haman are writ SO LARGE in the scroll of the Megilah, when they are mentioned no-where else and seem almost peripheral to the main story. Esther understood the critical importance of her relentless pursuit of all remaining Agagi, in order to correct her forebear’s tragic error.

Likewise Mordechai was well aware of her potential to perform this ‘tikun’ for Sha’ul when he warned her: “if you will be silent at this time…you and your father’s house [i.e. Beis Shaul!] will be lost, and who knows if you attained sovereignty for just such a time as this” (4:14) (See Alshich on this posuk, cited in the Shoshanas Ha’Amakim-Megilas S’tarim[1]!

Thus by successfully accomplishing what Shaul failed, Esther set the stage for the last mitzvah in the Rambam’s set of three commandments to K’lal Yisrael as communal, national mitzvos: (1) Appoint a king (uhhh—queen!); (2) Cut off the seed of Amalek; and (3) Build a Beis Hamikdash as a dwelling place for Hashem (in fact, authorized by Daryaveish, her son. One imagines that she also worked very diligently but subtly to bring up the young Prince appropriately, when he quite easily could have turned out to be just a chip off the old Achashveirosh)!

Bimheirah B’yameinu!

(ד: י”ד) ואת ובית אביך תאבדו- והטעם היות כי המן נצמח על ידי חטא של שאול באגג אשר הניחו חי ומזה יצא המן. והוצרח שתהיה הצלה על ידי אסתר שהיא מזרע שאול ולזה אמר מרדכי שבאם ההצלה יעמוד ליהודים ממקום אחר ממילה היא ובית אביה יאבדו בחטא שאול שלא יתכפר לו (אלשיך):