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Purim: Why Name A Holiday After the Enemy?
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What’s the word for husband in those passages? The word is ishah. Now you may think that the word ishah means “woman”; it usually does mean woman. But with the dot in the hey takes on a different meaning and instead means ‘her - possessive - ‘her each her husband’. So the word ishah can really mean two things - with a dot it means “her husband”, without the dot it means “woman”.
As the verse is written in the Book of Numbers, it ‘s written with the dot . Ishah yekimenu v’ishah yeferenu - “her husband confirms the vow; her husband can annul it.” Mordecai says “ Esther, what if we read those words without the dot, guess what, then they are talking about you. Ishah yekimenu v’ishah yeferenu - “ a woman - a woman can affirm, a woman can annul”.
Hundreds of years after these words were written , Mordecai is telling Esther that in effect, those words are speaking to you. It’s as if there is a secondary, almost prophetic meaning of the text, as if the Torah is looking in advance and seeing your situation. There will come a time when come a time when a woman will be in a position to annul her spouses impetuous words; a king’s impetuous words, a declaration that would cause extreme hardship to an entire nation “and that moment”, Mordecai tells Esther “ is right now.” By removing that one dot, here is how Mordecai would read the words. Kol-neder uchol-shevuat isar leanot nafesh -”any vow, any restricting oath that would cause excruciating hardship,” Ishah yekimenu v’ishah yeferenu - “the woman can affirm or the woman can annul.” The King, he’s made the declaration; it’ going to cause terrible pain, but the ink is not yet dry on that decree Esther, you can protest it. And in protesting it Esther, you can annul it.
But the Torah continues “ remember, if she is silent, yes silent, from day to day,then she would have affirmed those vows or restrictions.” Mordecai is telling Esther “ you know, you have to act! You know why? Not for our sake Esther, we’re going to be okay one way or another, but for your sake . You can’t remain deaf to what’s going on. You have only two choices in front of you; not a third one. If you try by your silence to sit this crisis out, to make yourself deaf to what the King has said, to put your finger in your ears and say you really didn’t hear anything, you know what you’re doing? Affirming his vows! You’re tacitly going along with it. And if you do that, you will share responsibility for that evil. You will become an unwitting partner with Haman himself. As Rashi says “ the person who stands silently by is responsible for the tragedy.” Yes, we Jews will be fine one way or the other. God will see to us that salvation will come from some other place. But that’s not important important for you. The choice that’s confronts Esther is not what God’s going to do about Jewish history, it’s about her own destiny is going to be. Will she speak up? Will she go down in history as the one who tried to annul that decree? Or will she through her silence become a partner in upholding that decree? If she does that, well we all know Haman is going down, but when he goes down, you’ll go down too; you and your father’s house will be destroyed” How did this holiday get it’s name? Why is it called Purim? We are now in a position to understand.
We looked earlier at those verses at the end of chapter 9, the verses that seems to say the reason why the holiday was called Purim was not necessarily for the lots that Haman cast, but for something that Esther did. What did she do might explain why the holiday was called Purim. What does her action has to do with this name Purim? Seemingly nothing, but that’s only if we translate Purim as lots. But there is another possible translation for Purim and that translation comes straight from the Book of Numbers, straight from the Laws of the Annulment of Vows. Remember those words about annulling vows? Ishah yekimenu v’ishah yeferenu - “the ishah can affirm it, the ishah can annul it.” The word for annul, yeferenu, just happens to have a root of pe, vav, resh. it turns out that pur, the word that in ancient Persian or Aramaic means lot in Hebrew has a different meaning; it means annulment.
So in the context of the Megillah, the term pur doesn’t only refers to Haman’s lots; it also refers to what Esther did about those lots, to what she did to his whole plan. She found a way to destroy it by not remaining silent, by not being deaf, by standing up to that decree and going to the King. In the end, the passage is telling us about the greatest irony of all - Haman thought that the day would be known as Purim forever - the great Holocaust, brought about by fate, brought about by lots, his great instrument of chance. “But”, the Megillah says “ that’ not the whole story.That’ not how in the end the holiday came to bear this name.”
In the end, Esther made a heroic choice and by speaking up, she managed to annul Haman’s plots and so, the Megillah concludes, “that’s why they call these days Purim because of the pur, because of the annulment”. It’s all deliciously ironic! Haman thought it would become Purim because of his lots. It would be called Purim! But not because of his lots! Because of Esther’s actions; not his. The fate of the Jews was not determined by lot,it was determined by a brave woman standing up and refusing to remain silent. It’s called Purim because of her pur, not his.
When we think of Esther, we often think of a princess that's two dimensional, that’s we can play dress up and pretend to be like; but what does it really mean to be like Esther? It means not to accept fate. It means understanding that even though God runs the world, we make choices too. There may be a great plan in disguise, but we can choose what role we play in his play, and when we are called upon to choose, we must choose. We cannot pretend that the choice is not in front of us. We cannot stay deaf when there is pain and suffering all around . Im hacharesh tacharishi baet hazot -”if you keep silent, you become a partner in crime” and it may well be that v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimkom acher, “ that salvation will come to the Jews from some other place”.
We can always say God has his plans but the fact that God has it plans, does not release us from responsibility to take a heroic role in effectuating them. Umi yodea im-liet kazot higaat lamalchut, “ Who knows if it was for this moment that you’ve arrived here?” When we cease the moment to choose what role we will play in God’s cosmic drama. When we turn our back to false neutrality, when we understand that silence and complicity that comes with it is not the path that we will take; it is then that we’ve made a choice to become a hero and that is what Esther teaches us for all time.
Hi, it’s Rabbi David Fohrman. I hope you enjoyed these videos . I just want to let you know the ideas here came from a book I wrote on the Megillah entitled “The Queen You Thought You Knew”. Some of the ideas from that book were portrayed in this series. If you’re interested in more, I encourage you to pick up the book and check it out.
If you enjoyed these videos and would like to get unlimited access to all of them that we create here subscribe with us at alephbeta.org and become our partner in helping to get this kind of Torah out so that you, your friends and others around the world can part - take, enjoy it and and really be a part of the discussion. Wishing you a really happy Purim, David Fohrman.
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