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The Hidden Story of Queen Esther
Video 6 of 6
There is a fellow by the name of Daniel Gilbert who wrote a book called ‘Stumbling on Happiness’, and in that book he argues that every good psychologist has to try to end a sentence that begins “A human being is the only animal that...”, you know, what’s the end to that sentence? So Daniel Gilbert takes a stab at it and his answer is “ that a human being is the only animal that anticipates the future, that really cognitively thinks about the future and their thoughts about the future affect how it is that they live in the present; the anxiety which they experience when looking towards the future and seeing something not clear and being nervous about it, the happiness and the elation and the joy that they think about when looking towards happy things in the future”. If I would give my answer to Gilbert’s question, I would just kind of add to the idea that “human being is the only animal that anticipates the future” and “looks back towards the past”.
What I would argue that a human being is really that being that lives simultaneously in past, present and future, that on one level, yes, we do live ‘one day at a time’. But, as we live that ‘one day at a time’, we live it suffused with memories of the past; that the past influences how it is that we act today and our looking towards the future influences how it is that we live today.
The Rambam actually, Maimonides, when defining how it is that you do Teshuva, I think relates to this thing that the human being is that kind of creature that lives in past, present and future all together, all wrapped up into one. And in a certain perhaps, we’re like God in that kind of way. God too is that. If you think about God’s name, yud-key-vav-key, it’s actually an overlay of three different kind of existences. In Hebrew, how do you say ‘past’? How do you say ‘to exist in the past’? You say hayah. How do you say ‘to exist in the future’? You say yiheyeh. What does it mean to ‘exist in the present’? It’s hoveh. Well if you take hayah, hoveh, yiheyeh, and you just overlay those words, hey-yud-hey spells hayah, overlay that with hoveh, to exist in the present, hey-vav-hey, and what do you get? Well the yud in the middle there becomes longer and becomes hey-vav-hey and overlay that with yiheyeh and what does it spell if you just over lay one on top of the other on top of the other? It spells yud and hey and vav and hey, which is God’s name. It’s a kind of existence in past,present and future all wrapped up into one. And if God is the ultimate being that exists that way, he exists because he is outside of time, we travel through time; God wraps up all that kind of existence into one because he is the being outside of time.
But we, human beings, exists kind of in the image of God and we too, in a certain kind of way, exists that way too. Because as we travel through this tunnel of time, we too exists in all three phases at once in the sense that the present affects our future through anticipation and the past affects our present through either regret or through the warm memories of happiness which we take with us as we go on through life.
I mentioned the Rambam before, the Maimonides actually defines Teshuva - the process of repentance, the process of change in these kind of terms. How is it that we change? Rambam actually says that there are three components; four actually. The fourth is Vidui confession, it’s different than all the rest. An apology in an interpersonal aspect of repentance. But there is an intra-personal aspect of repentance, the process of change which I myself change regardless of what it is that I do with you, even before I apologize to you;I go through a process of change. And what happens in that process? The Rambam says there are three parts:
I have to stop doing that which is wrong,
I have to commit myself not to do it again in the future, and
Regret. I have to regret having done it in the past.
If we think about those three things, in a certain kind of deep way, they are really all the same thing. It’s about stopping to do the thing that’s wrong. But there is three aspects to ‘stopping to doing the thing that’s wrong’.
There is a present aspect to it - stopping to do the things that’s wrong now.
There is a future aspect to it, which is -anticipating in the future that I am not going to do it again, and
There is a past aspect to it which is regretting now what it is that I’ve done in the past.
And in order as a human being to really let go of something that I’ve done wrong, I really need to do all those things;and that’s why memory is so important. Memory is not just about the past, it’s not about this cute thing that we take along with us. It’s about something that affects us every single day. It’s about things in the past we carry them with us and they change our present and they change our future as well. And that’s why memory is so important.
The Megillah is telling us about how to deal with memory and it’s telling us something very, very profound. You know, it’s all very fine when you have wonderful memories. But what about when you have painful memories? How do you deal with those painful memories? That’s what the Megillah is all about. It’s the challenge the Yehudah faces looking toward the children of Rachel; it’ s the challenge that the children of Rachel face, looking towards the children of Leah. How is it that Esther dealt with those painful memories?
You know, there is a temptation. The temptation is to turn your back on memory, to say memory doesn’t matter, to take the painful times and say “ the painful times don’t matter I do not need to remember them. All I need to do is remember the happy times.” Isn’t that the easiest way to go forward? I think the Megillah teaches you it might be the easiest way but it doesn’t work.
Esther remembers the painful part of Benjamin’s relationship to Judah - they are very much there. They are so much there that they poison, as we talked about before, her first audience with the king. But maybe that’s necessary. Maybe you have to go through it. You have to really remember the bad things and you have to remember the good things. And then you have to tell yourself a story. Memory is that choice.You have to remember the bad and you have to remember the good. But how do you string them together? What story do you tell?
Do you tell a story to yourself in which the bad occupies front and center and the good is just a footnote. Or do you tell a story in which the good is a climatic moment and the bad just lead up to that? The later is the story that Esther chose to tell. She made a choice about how to deal with the bad and the good memories; about how to tell herself that story. And I think that’s what we can take from her. That idea that to be faithful to memory means to remember everything. We have the choice as to how we tell that story. We can colour our stories and we have the power to make a good out of them.
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