The Mysterious Connection Between the Books of Leviticus & Esther
The Mysterious Connection Between the Books of Leviticus & Esther
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
The Book of Esther is filled with many biblical echoes that deepen and enrich our understanding of what really happened in Shushan. Join Rabbi David Fohrman and Rabbanit Shani Taragin as they trace the Book of Esther back to the dedication of the Tabernacle in the Book of Leviticus, and enter Purim with a new perspective.
Rabbi Fohrman: So Rabbanit Shani is a good friend, but also a remarkable scholar in her own right. I've gotten to know her through many journeys to Alon Shvut which is her home turf, but her influence is felt far and wide. She lectures internationally. She grew up actually right around here in the Five Towns, if I'm not mistaken. I've gotten a chance to know all the illustrious members of her family, her mom, her brothers, and she is truly a shining star.
She is involved in all sorts of programs involving Jewish education, as well as lecturing on her own. She is a star teacher in a number of seminaries, most prominently Migdal Oz, but I believe others as well. Women's programs run through Herzog at their new Jerusalem campus and is training a cohort of women to learn and to study and to contribute to the Torah world at the highest of levels.
So it's a real pleasure, Rabbanit Taragin, to have you today, and to be in conversation with you. It's a delight. Even if we had none of our several hundred people hanging out with us today, it'd be great just to talk to you. So thank you for (inaudible 00:01:41).
Rabbanit Taragin: That's exactly how I feel. Thank you for the pleasure and the privilege, Rabbi Fohrman.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, fantastic. So the way that this will work is it'll kind of be a conversation with me and Rabbanit Shani, but you guys are invited to jump in. We will invite you to jump in now and then. Again, you can do that by chat or you can grab the microphone. Just please be mindful that if you do unmute yourself and say something, which you can do judiciously, to just make sure to mute yourself afterwards so that we don't hear your wonderful, but crying kids in the background or something like that. And let's not broadcast to everybody here.
What we're going to do today, I hope, is some version of three things. The first of those things is, there's something which I discovered a bunch of years back and Rabbanit Shani independently discovered it a bunch of years back. We had a chance to meet at her mom's house a couple of years ago and to begin discussing it, and we never kind of finished that discussion. So I figured we would reprise that discussion today.
It's a mysterious series of parallels between the Megillah and a remarkable section of the Book of Exodus as well as the Book of Leviticus. We'll show you a little bit of that and sort of ponder a little bit about what its meaning might be.
Rabbanit Shani, among her other things, is an expert not just on close reading of Biblical texts, but also some of the history of the period and she'll be able to enlighten us a little bit about some of the background at the sociopolitical sphere and provide some, I think, fascinating context for the Megillah there.
So in a way, I would say that's sort of a something which we've already looked at together. And the second thing, Rabbanit Shani, I thought we would do, if we can find the time -- you know, we could talk for hours -- but would also be just to invite you, if there's anything new that you've stumbled across this year about the Megillah that you're sort of pondering and wanting to chat about, I would love to hear about it.
I've found some new stuff myself that I've been pondering and I'd love to chat with you about. So if we get a chance, we'll get a chance to do that too. But why don't we start with what it is that we talked about at your mom's house in the Five Towns not too long ago. Sound like a plan?
Rabbanit Taragin: Sounds like a great plan.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, sounds good. So basically, what happened is I remember journeying over to your mom's house and sitting down with you and I said, Rabbanit Shani, look at the all these cool things I found. And you said, we should write a book about this together because I've found, you know, most of those cool things and we kind of created a Venn diagram about what you found, what I found. I'm wondering if we can recreate a little bit of that.
Okay, so without any further ado, I guess, I think it might make sense to try to recreate this, Rabbanit Shani, with almost a recreation of how you found it and how I found it. I'm wondering -- I think I found it, I call this sort of when we do intertextual work, when we compare one section of Biblical text to another section of Biblical text. I often think of it as putting together a jigsaw puzzle. It's almost as if the Torah is inviting you to play a jigsaw puzzle with you.
That's kind of affected, speaking personally, the way I kind of keep my notes on this. If you look back years ago to the way I kept notes about this, and I look back now on those notes, it's almost unintelligible for me to be able to reconstruct what I found years and years ago. That's because I'd find all these dozens of connections between things. I'd put them all in a document, and then I look at it years later, and it just looks like an incomprehensible maze to me.
The reason is, is because not all connections between a text are created equal. What I mean by that, is that the same way that when you put together a jigsaw puzzle, there's actually a methodology to putting a jigsaw puzzle. Not all pieces are created equal, right? The first thing you do after you turn over all the pieces, is you look for the corner pieces. Those corner pieces is kind of where you start because it kind of lays a foundation. A corner piece is obvious, like you know what a corner piece is, .t looks like a corner piece. It's got two edges, and irrespective of any other piece on the board, you see a corner piece and you know where it goes and you don't have to know anything else about the puzzle, I know that these are four corner pieces.
Once you've got those corner pieces, the next most important piece is an edge piece. An edge piece, you know, you sort of know where it goes because it's got this edge that says, hi, I'm an edge piece, but you're not quite sure where it goes on the edge, but if it connects to that corner piece, once I see that corner piece, I have this piece that connects to it, so I can start building out the puzzle because I've got this edge and I know that it connects like a nice jigsaw to that corner piece.
Then once I've sort of filled out the border like that, the third kind of piece is sort of a middle piece. A middle piece is something which I wouldn't really know what to do with if I didn't have this border, but now that I've got this border, I see oh, this fits right over here. That's your sort of third part of the piece. But when you sort of look at something and you have corner pieces, edge pieces and middle pieces all mixed together, and you try to reconstruct that, it's really hard unless you've sort of labeled your pieces.
To me, it's almost as if the Torah is inviting you to play this game because if you think about it, you know, the kind of thing which you and I sort of discovered independently here, this link between Esther and the Book of Leviticus, who in a million years would think that Esther is connected to the Book of Leviticus? I don't know to look at the book of Leviticus to think that I'm going to find connections to the Megillah.
The way I know is because there's corner pieces, there are things that scream out to you. There's just something that as you're reading Leviticus, as you're reading the Megillah, there's this clarion call, where the Megillah is saying hello, look at the book of Leviticus, right? Which even alerts you that there might be something going on. And then you look there, and if you just look there, you know, you wouldn't necessarily realize that there -- you know, you'd say, well, maybe that's a coincidence, but then if you see another corner piece, and you see another one and you see some edge pieces, all of a sudden, this doesn't seem like a figment of your imagination anymore. It feels like something is really going on.
So maybe Shani, if I can, I could ask you, or Rabbanit Shani, I'm always going to kind of go back and forth here, I'm sorry about that. But what I would ask you is, in your mind, as you began to -- how did you first discover this? Or can you recreate this? Or of all the various links that you've seen between Esther and this piece of Leviticus, can you sort of identify in your mind a corner piece that for you screamed out and said hm, that word, that phrase, that's something I need to look into?
Rabbanit Taragin: So first, I'd like to comment on your methodology, albeit I'm not dismissing the jigsaw puzzle method, I tend to first look at the bigger picture. What I mean by that is for any sefer (book) in Tanach, to look at that sefer within its textual context, meaning within the tripartite division of Tanach, is it one of Chamishah Chumshei Torah, the Five Books of Moses. Is it one of the works of the Prophets, is it one of either earlier or later writings.
In order to help us appreciate those messages, not only to put each and every sefer of Tanach, each one of the Biblical books within its canon or the context of the canon, but also within history, and therefore particularly Megillat Esther, more than any other sefer in Tanach, more than any of the other books, albeit, you could look for the corner pieces. What happens is that for any other sefer one has to see if this book, for example, if there is a later prophet, then chances are in order to elucidate his message or to save himself even time, or as we do today in literature and song, we try to refer to many other ideas by mentioning common motifs, common words, and therefore they should scream out.
Especially if you're familiar with the works of Tanach, with the works of the scriptures. As such Megillat Esther, because it's written so late, I always say Esther has the greatest advantage, namely, that she and Mordecai have 23 other books, more or less, even the later works of Ezra, Nehemiah, Book of Chronicles. They're all written around the same time as Esther, which means that we're already putting ourselves into Esther's shoes knowing that she's going to be writing her book somewhat in code, not just as a puzzle that we have to seek. She basically is saying, well, you all know Tanach. She's addressing a population of Jews who are familiar with the basic canon, and therefore, we as readers should be trying to pick up on her cues. So any time there is any word that has some parallel to whether it's a book in the Torah, a book of Nevi'im (the Prophets), this really should shout out at us.
So I'm going to be honest with you that the first thing that shouted out is really the exposition of the book. That when Mordecai and Esther write, "Vayehi b'yemei Achashveirosh hu Achashveirosh," even the repetition is supposed to be very startling. We're supposed to realize, wait a second, I know this exposition, this is your standard historical exposition, whether it's the work of Ruth that begins with "Vayehi b'yemei shefot hashoftim," and in the days of judging the judges. Or take your standard Prophet, Isaiah, "Vayehi b'yemei Uziyahu Yotam Achaz Yechizkiyahu," in the time of the kings of Judah. Or even when you have a prophet in exile, such as Ezekiel, even he speaks about his time period in the context of the Judean king, who albeit is incarcerated at the time, Jehoiachin.
Therefore, what Mordecai and Esther are saying is, do you realize what's going on? This is the only book of Tanach, "Vayehi b'yemei Achashveirosh," where we're beginning in the context of a foreign king. So okay, that should bother us a little, recognizing that they're highlighting that the Jews are still in exile, albeit "Achashveirosh," according to everyone.
All Jewish and worldly historians corroborate that he lives after the Cyrus proclamation of 535 BCE, allowing Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild the Temple, rebuild the Beit Hamikdash. And therefore they're saying hm, there's a problem here. "Vayehi b'yemei Achashveirosh," you're living under Ahasuerus, who is a very strong king. He rules over 127 lands, and he sits in Shushan Habirah.
Now, we also know every ancient Near Eastern civilization had a capital city, whether it was Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, Tahpanhes, the capital of Egypt. Babel, the capital of Babel. Damasek (ph), the capital of Iran. And yet, this is the only city that is actually called birah. Now, I shouldn't say that because when you open up similar works, like Ezra, the Book of Chronicles, you see that they revisit the city of Jerusalem and call it habirah. So that's already a cue for us to realize, wait a second, Mordecai and Esther are talking in code, actually in a satirical manner. They're saying what are you doing under the realm of Ahasuerus, the king? What are you doing in the city of Shushan, instead of the elevated city of Jerusalem?
Rabbi Fohrman: So Rabbanit Shani, I'm just going to cut you off right there because I don't want to move quite yet to the theory of what this all means. Let's just stay at the level of clues for a moment. Just to summarize what you're finding at the level of clues, if I understand you correctly, you're saying there's two things that we should be noticing right at the outset of the Megillah.
The first thing we should be noticing is that although the Megillah uses the same sort of formulaic beginning, as many other sefarim, as many other books of Tanach, and it happened in the days of X King, all of the other kings are Jewish kings, kings of Israel in one form or another. This is the only other time that we have a book of Tanach that opens with reference to some sort of gentile king, and that itself is remarkable in and of itself.
Second of all, you pointed out that the word birah is an interesting kind of code word in the sense that even though historically, every empire had its birah, right, but the Tanach, usually doesn't refer to things as birah, with the exception occasionally of Jerusalem, and here we have birah used in this sort of non-Jerusalem kind of way. So these are two sort of striking things that immediately accost us.
Just to kind of fill out a little bit of what Rabbanit Shani is talking about over here, remember that in the general time period, there's two markers, at least two markers that you should be aware of, in the general time period of when the Megillah takes place.
The Megillah takes place, famously, the Gemara talks about it being towards the end of the 70 years of exile of the of the First Temple, the First Temple is destroyed and after the First Temple is destroyed, everyone is in exile, and thank you for this historical context, here you go, 597, 586, 585.
I can turn it over to you, but I'll just say it very briefly and you can get more of the background here, but what happens is that the exile has which has started under the king of Babylonia, under the king Nebuchadnezzar, things have changed. The sociopolitical situation has changed in the world, and the main reason the way it's changed is that the sort of Age of Empires has taken a number of turns.
The Age of Empires really begins with Assyria, not a very nice Empire at all. An empire that Israel clashes with early on that's responsible for exiling the 10 tribes. Assyria's sun sets and Babylonia's star rises. Babylonia becomes the empire which lays siege to Jerusalem, ultimately destroys the Temple, brings everyone into exile.
Yet while everyone is in exile, another empire, a third empire, an empire that in a way is greater than all of them, undertakes a kind of blitzkrieg, and it manages to really decimate the Babylonian Empire and destroy them, and that is the Persian and Median empire. The great conquer there is Cyrus the Great, interestingly, by the way. When we talk of God as the melech malchei hamelachim, the God who is the king of kings. The interesting thing is in his own time, Cyrus was known as the king of kings.
If you actually go to Cyrus's gravestone, written on Cyrus's gravestone to this day you'll find King of Kings, right? And what King of Kings means is really empire. What is an empire, but an empire is I'm not just a king over a land, but I'm king of kings, which is kings themselves of many lands, but the federation of lands are my subjects.
What's interesting is that, you know, I'm not really a historical expert, but just from glancing through Isaiah, you have Cyrus related to, really seemingly before Cyrus is ever there prophetically. In various strange words, here's the gentile king that's described as Mashiach Hashem, that's described as literally a Messiah-like figure, an anointed one of God, doing God's work in the world. Whereas Assyria is a pretty nasty empire, interested really in destroying and fragmenting all of the populations under its hoof and of course, Israel is no exception. They're exiled and dispersed throughout the land by Sennacherib.
When it comes years later to Cyrus, Cyrus has a little bit more of a benevolent view of empire. He has almost like the United States of America, some sort of federation of lands where the power of the states is preserved, and there's some sort of federal government, which is there to support the ideas of the states and in line with this, here comes Cyrus, and he's like, sure, build the Temple. And not only build the Temple, I allow you to do it, here's some funds to do it and go do it and all of a sudden, there's this possibility of Israel rebuilding some sort of independence in the land under Cyrus and its own worship, under Cyrus.
Shani, let me pass the microphone over to you and you can kind of take it from there, but in terms of the general -- well, I'll just finish up and if you have anything to add on that you can. But what happens at this point is that things start to get murky. And the book of Ezra and Nehemiah talks about some of that murkiness.
Maybe, Shani, why don't you take us through just a brief background of the murkiness that happens after Cyrus allows the Temple rebuilding to happen.
Rabbanit Taragin: One second, I just see I froze. Oh, defrosted, excellent. So just as Rabbi Fohrman said beautifully that right after Cyrus, together with Darius of (audio malfunction 00:20:49) --
Rabbi Fohrman: Shani, I don't know if we're losing you or we're losing me?
Rabbanit Taragin: -- the Babylonians, he establishes the Achaemenid Empire. Oh, no, I think it was me because everyone froze again.
Rabbi Fohrman: If you could just repeat your last two sentences, because your internet was going out a little bit.
Rabbanit Taragin: Okay, thank you. Sorry about that. So exactly as you said, recorded in the book of Ezra and the Book of Chronicles is Cyrus's very famous proclamation which is recorded actually on the Cyrus Cylinder, you can go to the British Museum and see this all over there. Where he allows not just the Jews, but all those who are exiled by the Babylonians to return to their respective lands and to rebuild their temples. He says, this way, their gods will be so happy with my god, Marduk, and they'll bless me to get there with my son, Cambyses.
Teaching us that yes, he had a son, Cambyses who we see also from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, what happens after Jews return. And unfortunately, Ezra records for us what happens after the Cyrus proclamation, which is you would think that all Jews, as soon as there is independence in the land of Israel, you would think that they would all return to the land. But only 42,360 returned, leaving a very small demographic in Israel, and majority of the Jews are still in the Achaemenid Empire. They're still in the Persian Empire, within the main city of Shushan.
Rabbi Fohrman: So one second, I'm just going to interrupt you here so we understand. So you're saying that Cyrus basically initiates the possibility of return, right? Basically, this is the equivalent of the 1948 mandate of the United Nations, right? Where all of a sudden --
Rabbanit Taragin: Yes.
Rabbi Fohrman: If you think about it, because Cyrus is the emperor of the world, he literally controls the world. So it's as if the world itself has given permission to the Jews to return and it's like everyone can return. But you say 42,000 do return, what percentage, Rabbanit Shani, would you say that more or less is of the population of Jews that are in exile?
Rabbanit Taragin: So a very interesting question because looking at the Book of Kings, and looking at the prophecies of Jeremiah, we see that there were thousands, hundreds of thousands that were exiled, both before the actual destruction of the Temple, meaning in 597 with the artisans, with the bourgeoisie of society. Then hundreds and thousands more during the time of the destruction of the Temple, leaving most anthropologists to believe that there were anywhere between half a million and 2 million Jews living in Babylonia. So we're talking about 5 to 8% of the Jewish population that returns, think about that.
That's really a drop in the bucket, and a little embarrassing, which we hear later on the Sages actually criticize such a small demographic returning. Which means that even if Cyrus allows for the Jews to return and he actually helps fund their return, and he gives them the keilim, the vessels of the Beit Hamikdash. He sends them, he says, everyone who's not returning, you have to help fund this return. But still there are going to be economic problems, social problems, as you mentioned.
Ezra talks about those who were still there after the Assyrian invasion, as you mentioned, there really is going to be an entire social friction that goes on between the 42,360 Judeans who return, and the Samaritans. These are original Israelites who were called back by Assyria to return. Once the Assyrian Empire fell, many of them, you know, we call them the Ten Lost Tribes, but some of them actually returned to the northern parts of Israel. But in the meantime, the Assyrians had transplanted Cuthites from the Mediterranean islands there.
So there was a tremendous amount of intermarriage going on over the course of 70 years between Samaritans and Cuthites which means that they are now the majority of those living in the land of Israel, causing a lot of problems for the Judeans who are going to attempt to rebuild the Temple, but they're not going to succeed. This is where we find --
Rabbi Fohrman: Hold on for one second, I just want to interrupt and provide a little color commentary here. Just to give a little bit of background to what Rabbanit Shani is talking about. If you get a chance later on, you might want to pick up right around your Purim seuda or something. Just read the first few verses of the book of Ezra, which is essentially contemporaneous with the Megillah, more or less.
You know, I'll just take the liberty of reading this. "U'vishnat achat l'Koresh melech Paras, lichlot devar Hashem mipi Yirmiya, hei'ir Hashem et ru'ach Koresh melech Paras." So in the beginning of Cyrus's reign, really at the beginning of Cyrus's reign. So there you have it right there, you can follow along. I'm highlighting the text, "Vaya'aver kol b'chol malchuto," he causes this voice, this proclamation to be heard in all corners of his empire. "Gam b'michtav," also by written letters, saying the following.
I mean, just listen to these words. It's so striking. "Koh amar Koresh melech Paras," thus says Cyrus, the king of Persia. "Kol mamlechot ha'aretz natan li Hashem Elokei hashamayim," all lands of the world, right? Realize this is really the first of the global empires. There is no global empire at this level before Persia. Persia is a first on the world stage. So all of the lands of the world "natan li Hashem Elokei ha'shamayim," God has given me, the God of all the heavens.
"V'hu pakad alai," and He has given a destiny to me. He has entrusted me with the following mission. "Livnot lo vayit b'Yerushalayim," to build a house in Jerusalem, "asher b'Yehuda," that's in Judea. "Mi bachem mikol amo," who is there among all His nation, "Yehi Elokav imo," let his God be with him, "vaya'al l'Yerushalaim," and go up to Jerusalem, "asher b'Yehuda, vayiven et Beit Hashem," and build the house of God, the God of Israel. "Hu ha'Elokim asher b'Yerushalayim," He is the God in Israel.
And if you can't go, "V'chol hanish'ar mikol hamekomot," anybody who wants to stay in exile, that wants to continue to sojourn there, you should at least give money. "Yenas'uhu anshei mekomo b'kesef u'vezahav u'v'rechush u've'beheimah," and see what you can do in order to support this incredible building effort. And it's just remarkable. I mean, it makes the partition declaration in 1948 pale by comparison, in terms of the enthusiasm that's coming from the emperor for this mission, at least as Ezra tells it to us.
Rabbanit Taragin: Excellent, and you would think that after 70 years from the prophecy of Jeremiah, who said that you're going to be in the state of lack of autonomy for 70 years, you would think then that as Ezra presents, you would think that people would flock. That they would, you know, pay ElAl prices that are skyrocketing, that they would come back to Israel to allow for the fulfillment of this prophecy.
That's why we see interestingly, this is where there are two different views amongst historians, both the majority of our Sages that's recorded in the first century CE in the famous work of Rabbi Yose ben Halafta called Seder Olam. He says, he adopts a more minimalistic approach to history.
He says okay, these are the Persian kings that we know of in Tanach. We know about a Cyrus, that Rabbi Fohrman just spoke about, we know about the story of Esther and Ahasuerus, and we know that Ezra talks about how he went to Israel in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, who came after Ahasuerus. We know about a Persian king Darius, Daryavesh, who allows ultimately for the rebuilding of the Second Temple in his time, and it must be that he's the son of Ahasuerus and Esther, because he must be a Jew if he's going to allow for this. And also, the reason why he writes that is because we know that Alexander the Great in 332 BCE conquers a Persian king named Darius.
So according to this approach, the story of Ahasuerus, the story of Megillat Esther, happens after Jews are allowed to return to Yerushalayim habirah (the capital of Jerusalem). and yet they choose to stay in Shushan. So albeit according to this approach --
Rabbi Fohrman: If I can just interrupt you for one second, Rabbanit Shani, I'm a little confused. I'm just going to channel the confusion of the audience over here.
Rabbanit Taragin: Excellent.
Rabbi Fohrman: Maybe you guys are confused, too. How could it be the Cyrus, this great empire back in 534, he declares that everybody can come back to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple, but then Darius has to redeclare the same thing generations later? Why does Darius come along and say, sure, rebuild the Temple, when Cyrus, a Persian king before him, already said he could do that?
Rabbanit Taragin: Excellent, so the answer is given by Ezra and Nehemiah, by the way, themselves as they look back from the time of Cyrus. They're not living until the time of Artaxerxes, and they were asking exactly your question, why did it take so long to rebuild the Temple? And therefore they note all the problems, the economic problems, the social problems with the Samaritans.
The Samaritans who wanted to rebuild the Temple, not in Jerusalem, but rather in Shechem. They wanted to be seen as literally the owners, the sovereign governors of the land, so what they wanted to establish the Temple in the northern part of Israel, not Judea. So they start rebellions, they tell the Persians that the Judeans are planning a mutiny against them, and this is all recorded in the Book of Ezra.
So that the Judeans, albeit they're trying, they're thinking to themselves, maybe it's not yet time to build the Temple. We're trying, there were two attempts, Ezra explains, to try to build the Temple and time and time again, the Samaritans who initially said we'll do this with you, we'll build it with you, but in Shechem, we're going to build it with you, but in our capital.
They end up thwarting the attempts time and time again, which as you can imagine, over the course of the 19 years that it took between the reestablishment of autonomy and what I like to call the reunification of Jerusalem, like in our time, taking 19 years. You can imagine the people became very disillusioned, very depressed, so much so that the prophet Haggai has to actually come on the scene and say, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking "lo et bo et Beit Hashem l'hibanot." You're thinking it's not yet time to rebuild the Temple, but I'm telling you, it really is and don't give up and now is the most opportune time.
So Darius --
Rabbi Fohrman: If I can just interrupt you one more time. If I'm not mistaken, Ezra tells us that in this confusing time period, because of this social pressure coming from the Samaritans and from others, Cyrus actually seems to rescind or back off of his decrees. So tell us about that a little bit.
Rabbanit Taragin: Exactly. So that's where Sanballat, the head of the Samaritans, basically sends messengers all the way to Cyrus and says, you think you did a good job sending these Judeans here? You know that they're planning to stop paying you taxes, you know that they really are not going to be praying for you. They're really planning a rebellion.
Now, if you were the king of Persia, and you're hearing that you just pardoned these Judeans and allowing them to return, and now they're starting a rebellion against you, they're not going to pay you taxes, that was part of the reason why you wanted them to go back and reinvest in their land. Now they're not going to pay you any credit or homage? Okay, I'll rescind my offer, and that's exactly what happens. There seems to be a lot of unrest during this time, a lot of miscommunication, which unfortunately is going to leave the Jews not only in a terrible economic state, but also a religious and social one.
Rabbi Fohrman: If you could just respond to Annette's question about Samaria. Annette's wondering, are Samarians Jews or not? Who are these Samarians?
Rabbanit Taragin: That's a great question. So that's the question, by the way, of Ezra. I would say, by the way, it's such a contemporary question. In the time of Ezra, or the time even of the story of Ahasuerus and on, from the time of hatzharat Koresh, the proclamation of Cyrus.
So the question was, who is an Israelite? Today we ask the question that's going on, as you know, in the government, who's a Jew? By the Law of Return, who do we consider Jewish? Well, then the question is, who's really an Israelite? Who is a proper descendant of the Israelite kingdom? So the northern Samaritans, who initially lived in the northern part of Israel, and as we know, adopted various foreign cultures, unfortunately, they're claiming, but we are the ones who were here.
We weren't exiled for 70 years. We stayed here. And yeah, we married the Cuthites, but the Cuthites are culturally, that's their argument, they're culturally very Jewish.
We taught them how to follow certain commandments. I'm sure they're following the Jewish holidays and Shabbat, and therefore it's okay we intermarried with them, but as long as they're living with us, they are considered Israelites.
Ezra comes along and says, no, they're not. He's the one who establishes various laws of conversions, the one that we find in Jewish law until today, and he says it's only matrilineal descent. I don't want you to go to their courthouses. These Samaritans, specifically he doesn't even want to call them Samaritans because that would imply that there's some Israelite heritage. He says, look at them as Cuthites. This, as we know, is really what our Sages say helped maintain and perpetuate the identity of the Jewish People throughout the generations.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, so there's a fair amount of strife going on. What I want to do now is if we can, just exit the historical background, and come back to the text.
So we've got some sense of the confusion that is described in the first chapters of the book of Ezra regarding this time period. Meanwhile, the vast bulk of Israel is back in the Persian Empire, under the rule of Persian kings. Ahasuerus, the king who we know so well from the Megillah, is actually mentioned in Ezra Chapter 4 as one of the kings in that time period.
So let's come back now into Ahasuerus's reign. So Rabbanit Shani said the first things that tipped her off that something was going on, was the two the things which we talked about before. This interesting beginning to the Book of Esther, "Vayehi b'yemei Achashveirosh, hu Achashveirosh," right, the counting of the years of a gentile king as a way of beginning a book of the Torah. That notion of birah, of this capital that has these echoes of Jerusalem.
So Rabbanit Shani, what tipped me off to the connections that we're going to talk about is actually something else. It's the words that describe one of the parties of the king.
If we go back to Verse 5 in the beginning of the Book of Esther, you'll find this. You find the king is making this incredible party. "Bishnat shalosh l'malko," in the third year of his reign, Verse 3 says, "asah mishteh," he made this incredible feast, "l'chol sarav va'avadav," for all of his officers, for all of his gentrified officers, for all of his servants. "Cheil Paras u'Madai," all of the military of Media and Persia. "Hapartemim v'sarei hamedinot lefanav," all of the governors of the local provinces.
What he did during that incredible feast is "B'har'oto et osher kevod malchuto v'et yekar tiferet gedulato," he wants to show off his riches and he wants to show off the honor of his kingdom. He wants to show off the glory of his greatness. He does this "yamim rabim shmonim u'me'at yom," so this is one heck of a feast. This is a feast that last for 180 days.
But for me, the thing that was my corner piece that got me looking, was it was right around this time of year we were just starting to read the book of Leviticus. The words that came to mind, which actually are in the book of Leviticus and also back in the book of Exodus, is "u'vimlot hayamim ha'eileh," and it happened at the conclusion of these days that the king decided he was going to make another feast.
"Asah hamelech l'chol ha'am hanimtza'im b'Shushan habirah," the king makes for everybody in Shushan the capital another feast. "Mishteh," a feast that lasts for only seven days, "b'chatzar ginat bitan hamelech," in the king's own courtyard. So here you've got this feast, this second feast, a feast that lasts for seven days and a feast that comes "bimlot hayamim ha'eileh," that comes at the conclusion of these days.
So Rabbanit Shani, If you are reading the end of Exodus, you're reading the beginning of Leviticus and you hear words like "u'bimlot hayamim ha'eileh," and at the end, at the conclusion -- literally bimlot, just so you understand, doesn't really mean at the end of. It's an interesting word. The shoresh, the root of it is the word malei, which really means to fulfill or to be filled.
So it really means at the fulfillment, which is a strange word, a strange way of discussing the end of. It doesn't say u'besof hayamim ha'eileh, at the end of these days. Rather, "U'bimlot hayamim ha'eileh,," at the fulfillment of these days. It's a remarkable turn of phrase. It's an unusual turn of phrase, and it's a turn of phrase that reminds us of something right? So what does that sort of remind you of, thinking about the end of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus?
Rabbanit Taragin: Beautiful. So speaking about the end of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus, your cue was a Verse 5. My cue was actually Verse 4, which is where we hear that the king is making his 180-day feast, and look at how it's described as he's showing off "osher kevod malchuto v'et yekar tiferet gedulato," he's showing off his honor and his glory.
There's only one other place in all of Tanach where you find such a juxtaposition between these words of honor and glory, and that's in the context of the clothing of the High Priest, which by the way, had it not been a leap year, we always read this parsha, Parshat Tetzaveh, at the end of the book of Exodus, as Shabbat Zachor.
So for me, that was oh my, I understand now why the Sages say oh, Ahasuerus is wearing the clothing of the High Priest. Not necessarily. Basically they're saying, oh my, do you see what's going on here? The people of Shushan are looking at Ahasuerus's wardrobe as if it's the wardrobe of the High Priest.
They're looking at it as kavod and tiferet, and wait a second. What else is she showing them? He's showing off again all of the zahav, the techeilet, the argaman, the tola'at shani, the sheish. The materials are exactly the same as what we find at the end of the book of Exodus and the beginning of Leviticus. We just read this last week as well. They're all about the materials that are used in the construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and later on the Beit Hamikdash.
Then comes the 180-day party, which Rabbi Fohrman, you're 100 percent correct. It's not just looking at words that shout out, but remembering that that's not the common form of a word. If you want to say the days were over, you would say vayechulu or vayehi bichlot hayamim. That's always how we talk about the conclusion of days. Bimlot, that's a very strange term that we really only hear in Exodus and Leviticus in regard to these yemei hamilu'im, the days that were filled up with inaugurating the Tabernacle.
So basically they're writing it as if the people are celebrating a seven-day yemei milu'im that they should be celebrating in Jerusalem, but instead they're celebrating here in the Tabernacle. We'll prove it, because the seven-day yemei milu'im follows 180 days, as you mentioned. 180 days that they're planning strategies, and they're drinking and then what's 180 days? It's really six months in our calendar, but also in all agriculturally oriented calendars, the Babylonian, the Persian calendar.
Until today, you have the spring equinox and the fall equinox. The spring equinox is what we call tekufat Nissan. The fall equinox is what we call tekufat Tishrei, which means that if they started the party in Nissan for 180 days, that means that they ended it in Tishrei. Do we all know of a seven-day party that's celebrated in Tishrei in -- take a look at the term that's used -- bachatzar ginat bitan hamelech, in the outer courtyard of the king. We would call that the chatzeir. We would call that the azarah in terms of the mishkan and the Beit Hamikdash, and that's exactly how they're called throughout Tanach, exactly the same terms. Bachatzeir of the melech. Take a look at Ezekiel, take a look at Exodus, take a look at Leviticus.
So we know of a seven-day party, you can argue. Either the seven days of Sukkot, or how about the seven days of milu'im? Of Solomon's Temple? Or let's say they started the 180 days in Tishrei. That means they ended it in Nissan. I know of a seven-day party that's celebrated in the courtyard of the palace of the king in Jerusalem in Nissan, and that's the seven-day holiday of Pesach, or the seven days of milu'im of the Mishkan.
So Esther is saying please tell me that you're seeing this. Recognize through these words. Yes, Rabbi Fohrman, this is a cue that we're all supposed to be picking up on.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. So let's just summarize. What Rabbanit Shani is talking about is a confluence of four clues. Almost like four corner pieces. The first one that stuck out for me, at least, is the words u'vimlot hayamim ha'eileh, these unusual words. So now just kind of show this on -- Shani, if you could un-share for a second, I'll show it on my screen and maybe we can kind of -- I put them side by side, and we can kind of fill this in a little bit. So let me see if I can screen share for you for a moment.
So here we have a screen here. Let me move my things around so that we can kind of see things. So if we talk about u'vimlot hayamim ha'eileh right here in Esther, it's just in Hebrew, but we'll kind of translate. Don't get too worried about it. That's going to be in Verse Five. So let's turn that light blue. We have it underlined right under here. U'vimlot hayamim ha'eileh, over there is in light blue. At the end of these days of the feast.
So the king made another feast, a feast that went for seven days. Let's take seven days and we'll turn that yellow right over here. So we've got u'vimlot hayamim ha'eileh, the seven-day feast after this 180-day feast, and we also have the king showing off, as you said, kavod and tiferet, his honor -- let's turn that sort of light red and et yakar tiferet gedulato, his glory. So that's going to be our third corner piece.
Our final corner piece is going to be the tapestries that the king's got hanging around. In particular, there are four, if I'm not mistaken, that are of particular note. Interestingly, the four in a particular order, and that's going to be -- let's put this in light green. That's going to be techeilet, which is sky blue, argaman, which is purple, and let's just put that in light green.
Then we've got sheish, if I'm not mistaken, which is some sort of fine wool in this context. Then we've got zahav, we've got gold. If you think about that as sort of -- all those greens as our fourth corner piece, as we go into the book of Exodus and the book of Leviticus, we're finding analogues to all of this stuff.
In particular, I would say the first corner piece that I would see is another feast. A feast that actually celebrates the inauguration of the very first Temple, the portable Tabernacle back in the desert. That's going to be in Leviticus Chapter 8. You'll see it right over here in Verse 33.
Look at these words over here. "Bimlot yemei hayamim ha'eileh," at the fulfillment of these days, these days of milu'im, as you have them over here -- what did we call this? Was this light blue? I think it was light blue. Yeah. So you see the light blue over there on the right-hand side of the screen corresponding to the light blue on the left-hand side of the screen, the yom la'ot yemei miulu'eichem. Wouldn't you know it?
Just like Ahasuerus's bimlot hayamim ha'eileh feast goes for seven days, his new feast, so too, we have seven days mentioned in connection with this other feast. With this feast having to do with the dedication of the Tabernacle. We're told that the kohanim that are being consecrated -- it wasn't just, by the way, the Tabernacle being consecrated. It was the kohanim, the priests that were consecrated, and it was also the clothes of the priest that were consecrated.
So the priests have to stay inside their houses for seven days until the days of the fulfillment of the conclusion, of the culmination of the dedication of the consecration of the Temple are completed. Here Ahasuerus has got this feast in his own private house, in his own private courtyard that goes for seven days. So the kohanim can't go out of their private house for seven days, and the king's got his feast in his private house.
Then you've got what Rabbanit Shani says are these two descriptors of the king's royalty, kavod and tiferet. As she points out kavod and tiferet actually appear in one place in the Torah only, and it's right over here. That is the description of the clothes of Aaron, the clothes of the high priest. "Asita bigdei kodesh l'Aharon achicha l'kavod ul'tifaret," the clothes are for glory, the clothes are for splendor. So the king is echoing the glory and splendor of those clothes.
Finally, the last thing are these green connections, techeilet, argaman, sheish and zahav in that order just so happen to appear first in the book of Exodus describing the implements that were used to craft the clothes of the kohen gadol. So if you look over here in Verse Five, Verse Five will mention techeilet. Let's put that in green. Then shortly after that, argaman, that's our Number Two. Let's put that in green. Shortly after that we have sheish. That's our Number Three. Then shortly after that we have zahav and that's our Number Four.
So not only is it techeilet, argaman, sheish and zahav, it's techeilet, argaman, sheish, and zahav in that exact same order in the book of Esther and in the book of Exodus. Now, if you take any one of those, Shani, you know you could say kavod and tiferet is a coincidence. Look, any phrase has to appear twice somewhere in Tanach. It could be a coincidence. Ubimlot yamim ha'eileh, unusual, but I don't know. Maybe that's a coincidence.
At a certain point in time, once you see all these things grouped together, you have to kind of -- it gets to the point where I call it it's a bet your house moment. It's a moment where if you die after 120 years and you go up to heaven and you could have the conversation with the authors of the megillah, and you could say guys, was this a coincidence, all these resonances from the book of Exodus and the book of Leviticus? Did we actually pick up on something?
At some point there's a bet your house moment, which is if you could prognosticate how that conversation went and you'd say Rabbanit Shani, would you bet your house -- at what point would you bet your house? You have a house that's worth some good money over there on Alon Shvut, and imagine someone gave you the option to double your money. You're going to have a conversation with the authors of the Megillah and you're going to say I'm willing to bet my house that this isn't a coincidence.
If they say by golly, you're right, you picked up on a pattern that we had that's supposed to intentionally bring you back to the book of Exodus or Leviticus, you double the money of your house and if they say wow, Rabbanit Shani, that's very creative, but in a million years we never would have thought of that. It's completely just a coincidence. You lose your money. Are you at the bet your house stage?
I would say for me, I'm kind of at the bet my house stage right now. Not necessarily any one of these, not even any two of these, but four of these with techeilet, argaman, sheish, and zahav all in order with the only other kavod and tiferet with this strange language ubimlot hayamim ha'eileh together with all of this happening in the capital the birah, here the Temple is supposed to be built. It's starting to smell real. Are you feeling the same way?
Rebbetzin Taragin: Not only am I smelling it real, I can visualize how Mordechai and Esther are trying to depict the perspective of the Jews in Shushan almost as if -- not almost as if -- very strongly criticizing them and saying why are you looking at Shushan as habirah instead of Jerusalem? Why are you looking at the king -- on the king's garments and foreign fashion as if it's the garments of the high priest? Why are you looking at the palace of the king and the White House and the Kremlin as if it's the Temple?
Just in case -- you said four markers? I think each one of these markers is strong in and of themselves, but just in case there's on other, and that is -- by the way, Chazal, our Sages are very sensitive to this. If you look in Verse Seven that they poured the wine.
Rabbi Fohrman: Rabbanit Shani, I'm actually going to share with you this Google Doc, just in case you want to log on and mark anything up yourself.
Rebbetzin Taragin: Excellent. Wonderful. Thank you.
Rabbi Fohrman: Give me your -- I think I have your email here. I'm just sending that to you. So if you want to log on you can, and you'll be able to mark up anything you like as well. Anyway, sorry to interrupt. Go ahead.
Rebbetzin Taragin: Thank you.
Rabbi Fohrman: Actually, now that I interrupted, let me just finish my interruption and then you can get back. Just to summarize what Rabbanit Shani is saying. So by way of the theory, beyond this evidence, and there's more evidence. We've just begun to show you the beginning of the evidence for the connections. The evidence is actually substantially greater than this, but at the beginning we're starting to see a theory come together.
The theory that Rabbanit Shani is suggesting is that there's an implied critique here of the people of the time, which is you didn't have to -- and this critique, by the way, is amplified by the Midrash and by the Gemara. This I think is what the Midrash means. Often, if you learn in a yeshiva, you've heard the sort of trope that the Jews at the time were being punished. The reason why they were being punished, the reason why Haman's degree could have been promulgated in the first place, is because the people made a terrible mistake.
The mistake is they participated in the feast of Ahasuerus. I don't know about you, Rabbanit Shani, but when I heard this in yeshiva, it never really rang true for me because --
Rebbetzin Taragin: Don't worry, Reb Shimon Bar Yochai doesn't like it either.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Because you think like, what's the big deal? So they came to a party. Like if you got invited to the White House, you'd go too. It seems a little disproportionate that this terrible thing would happen, that Haman would be able to promulgate this decree, what, because they showed up to this party and partied a little bit? Big deal.
We're starting to see where you see some of the sociopolitical history, when you see some of these connections, you begin to see what Chazal, what the rabbis actually meant. It wasn't just that they happened to show up to a party. There was an opportunity -- it's almost as if, and if we can, Rabbanit Shani, I'd like to play a little game with you here, the game I call cast of characters.
The cast of characters is if we would see these two stories as sort of overlying on one another, how would you fill up the cast of characters? In other words, who was playing who?
Rebbetzin Taragin: Okay.
Rabbi Fohrman: Like for example, we have a great king in the story of Esther. So if we would overlay that on the book of Exodus, we would say well do we have a king in the book of Exodus? If we have a king, who might that king be? So let's play cast of characters. Who would you surmise is the king?
Rebbetzin Taragin: Definitely there's only one king throughout the book, not just on Exodus, but throughout the other books of the Torah and the prophets, and that's obviously the King of Kings. So much so that the book of Exodus is really all about freeing us from being slaves to Pharoah the king, so that we'll accept the kingship of the Almighty. So yes, it's very clear that there's a distortion of who the Jews see as their king.
Rabbi Fohrman: Even think about this moniker which we give to God. We call God King of Kings because we're using the language of empire, which was coined during the Persian time to describe God, as if to say our King of Kings, our emperor is actually Almighty, is actually in heaven.
Here's Ahasuerus, who's sort of this earthly king of kings. So if God is the king and now we understand a little bit something which also shows up in Jewish tradition, which is this notion, this sort of mystical notion that whenever the word king is used in the book of Esther, it's as if it's a sly allusion to the King of Kings.
It's like each king has their house. Each king has their palace. So there's an earthly palace for an earthly king with all of its splendor and there's a heavenly palace for a heavenly king that's being built and by a couple of hard scrabble pioneers, 46,000 people who are eight percent of the population. Who are go and are battling and are trying to put things together and are wondering if it's the right time. But with the hindsight of history, and with the prophecies of people like Haggai, they're coming along and saying, no, this is the moment. You have the chance.
Cyrus, as Isaiah describes it, is Mashiach Hashem. Cyrus is not coming on his own, Cyrus is a covert messenger of God. It's almost like, Rabbanit Shani, I'm sure you're familiar with the helicopter story, right? It's the guy who's drowning. He's on his roof and he says no, I'm waiting for God to save me. Then the boat comes and he sends away the boat. Then the helicopter comes and he sends away the helicopter and he dies. He goes up to God and says, God, why didn't You save me? God says, who do you think sent the helicopter? So Cyrus is the helicopter. Cyrus is like, no, that was Mashiach Hashem, that was God talking and you're all supposed to go and you're supposed to make this happen and somehow there's this indictment.
I'll say one other thing along these lines. I was chatting with a colleague of both of ours who lives just around the block from you, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag. Menachem also has been keyed into all of these things. I remember hearing a talk from him years ago when he sort of elaborated almost on the cast of characters here. In a very chilling way, which is that if we continue playing cast of characters we might say, okay, so if the king is the King of Kings there's this moment where the king invites His queen to come to this party, The climax of the party, and she just won't come and he's really mad. So if we continue playing cast of characters --
Rabbanit Taragin: It gets even better, that's right.
Rabbi Fohrman: -- who's the queen?
Rabbanit Taragin: The queen, throughout the stories of Tanach, is the People of Israel. By the way, we always look at Vashti as if she's a feminist ahead of her time but actually that was the role of the queen. She was beautiful, and it says explicitly that she's being called into the inner chambers to show off her beauty in front of all the other nations. Well, Isaiah the Prophet says, that's exactly the point of the Jewish People, to be this light unto the nations. So when the queen is called into the king and the queen, for no good reason according to the verse, says no, she refuses to come. The king turns to his advisors and says, what should we do? The advisor, Memuchan, says well it's very clear, you have to replace her with a new queen.
Rabbi Fohrman: One second, so now the question is who in the story is the advisor? If we play cast of characters, if God is the king and Israel is the queen, along comes Memuchan and says, you know king? There's this nation -- later on will come along Haman who will argue -- there's this nation and they're not following the laws of the king. I don't know if it's worth the king keeping them around, maybe we should get rid of them. If you go back to that the Sages, back to that Midrash, that the people were involved in the king's feast and because of this the decree of Haman can come. It's almost as if the Midrash is playing cast of characters and is saying, who is Haman? Who is Memuchan?
Rabbanit Taragin: Excellent, and just in case you're not convinced, do you remember that same statement of Memuchan which is basically saying that this is a national crisis. You may have thought that it was a personal one but it's a national crisis. So national letters have to go out. Do you remember the term for the national letter? It says, "kol ish sorer b'beito u'medaber kilshano amo," that each man should be a master in his home and speak the language of the master. Our Sages even ask, well that's ridiculous because this is before Betty Friedan. Therefore, everyone knows that the man wore the pants in the house and everyone knows that if a Russian man married a Ukrainian woman, of course they would speak Russian. Actually, Chazal say Persian and Greek, but of course they would speak Persian.
This only comes to underscore the message that the authors are trying to give us. Namely a reminder to the Jewish People, what are you doing as third-class citizens in the Land of Persia when you're supposed to have autonomy and restore sovereignty to the Land of Israel. What are you doing speaking Persian, Russian, Yiddish, when you should be speaking the language of your nation? You should be speaking Hebrew.
Rabbi Fohrman: A little plug for the Ben Gurion dictionary there.
Rabbanit Taragin: Ani choshevet shenitzvare'ach l' -- nachon, natchil l'daber b'Ivrit.
Rabbi Fohrman: The emergence of Hebrew.
Rabbanit Taragin: Eliezer ben Yehudah, yeah.
Rabbi Fohrman: So this is kind of the theory. What I want to do in the balance of our time, we don't have too much time left, we've got maybe another 15 minutes or so. Although we can keep on going all night. We'll probably go a little beyond those 15 minutes. What I'd like to do is take this theory into new territory.
Frankly, I'll just put this out to everyone here. What I'm doing with you now is experimental. I want to suggest to you that I don't have a theory to explain what we're about to see. What I do suspect is that this series of connections between the Book of Esther and the Book of Exodus and the Book of Leviticus in discussing the consecration of the Temple is very elaborate. It is not just these four things that we've seen, there is much more. In my experience whenever you have a series of connections like this that you really hunt them down, the more you hunt them down the clearer the picture becomes and the more elegant and the more marvelous, and the more detailed the picture becomes.
Now, again, full disclosure, I've seen a lot of evidence here and I don't really have a complete theory of what it all looks like. But I did want to put some of this out, Rabbanit Shani for your consideration, maybe you do have a theory. Maybe we can up with a theory together. Or at least maybe we can put evidence out there for our listeners and it's something which they can puzzle over. Maybe, Yael, we can ask you to share the sheet with people and they can print it out and have it around their own Purim feast and share it with their company and see whether they can come up with and let me know.
Let me show you some more of this picture that seems utterly mysterious to me. Let's see what it might mean. I'll show you a little bit and you can play Call or Commentator and if you have more to see you can either log onto the document or direct me on what to add to this picture. So let's fill out this document just a little bit more.
So here is one of the things that I noticed. I noticed that as you begin to read Esther Chapter 1 and you get past these four things that we saw; the pink over here, the blue, the yellow and the green and you go a little bit more then you get to something remarkable. You get to these words which I'm going to put in grey. "V'hashti'ah chadat ein o'nes," so at this party there was all sorts of drink, "ki chein yisad hamelech," because the king demanded, there was like a law, "al kol rav beito," for everybody, "la'asot kirtzon ish va'ish," that all the sommeliers, all the wine stewards, were supposed to pour people as much wine as they wanted. That everybody could do whatever they wanted. It was almost this oxymoronic state of this rule of no rule. A rule of drunkenness.
If you think about the whole point of rules, rules are to establish order in society. A rule that everybody has to drink as much as you want. A rule that there are no rules. A rule that everybody can have what they want is the ultimate in this oxymoron, a rule to end all rules. This is somehow the topsy-turvy world of Ahasuerus, that "v'hashti'ah chadat," this is the first time we have da'at, the word for rules, appearing in the Megillah. This is the arch rule of rules, that everybody can drink however much they want.
Here's what interesting, Rabbanit Shani, if you begin to think of this in terms of Leviticus 8, in terms of the actual feast that actually emerges, and if I say to you, so Rabbanit Shani, as you're thinking about Leviticus 9, Leviticus 10 and as you're thinking about what actually happens in the seven days of the milu'im as we get to that eighth day and we think about wine. I said, well, could you just free associate a little bit? Does wine remind you of anything in the days of milu'im? What comes to mind?
Rabbanit Taragin: Well we know the story of Nadav and Avihu, the children of Aaron, who went in and I'm not clear exactly what they did wrong. As the Ibn Ezra says, they went inside, "asher lo tziva otam." What we know is that right afterwards God says, wait a second, time out, kohanim you cannot do whatever you want. As a matter of fact, I have to teach you the laws of "l'havdil bein hakodesh u'bein hachol," between sacred and neutral, not necessarily profane, and between tamei and tahor, between what's considered impure and pure. Right before that Hashem says, "ya'in b'sheichar al teisht," that you're not allowed to drink wine, you and your children. That's what is going to blur the lines of what you are allowed to do and not allowed to do. Which is exactly the opposite.
Rabbi Fohrman: Precisely. So what's remarkable is here you've got this wine in both stories but now you have a contrast. It's not like the same thing is happening. It's almost like two opposite things are happening. On the right-hand side of our screen, in Ahasuerus's feast there's a law that says there's no limit. Everyone can drink as much as they want. That's what the earthly king of king says. When it comes to the heavenly king of kings, talking about the consecration of His house after a terrible tragedy, which is after the death of Nadav and Avihu at the hands of God. So if God promulgates this decree that wine cannot be drunk in the Temple. There has to be these distinctions between that which is holy and that which is profane. There might be a place for wine but it's not in the Temple, it's not when you're approaching God.
I'm wondering, Rabbanit Shani, what you make of that? What you make of that distinction. If you were just to focus on this and say beyond everything else, beyond the implications of the critique of the feast and why they shouldn't have been in the Temple and all that. If you were just looking at the connection of wine in one story and the connection of wine in the other story, what would you make of that connection? What's the takeaway for you there?
Rabbanit Taragin: It's very clear that Mordechai and Esther are contrasting the cultures. The cultures of, literally, the Mikdash, the Temple of Shushan, slash Palace, and the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple in Shushan is a free for all, there are no lines. You can drink as much as you want. It literally is, "ish hayashar beinav ya'aseh," it's anarchy. This is the culture that you're a part of. As difficult as it is sometimes, the palace of God in Jerusalem is one in which there is a God mandated culture. A culture of sanctity. A culture of holiness. That goes hand in hand with being careful with when and where you drink your wine.
This is underscored, by the way, with the words, if you already mentioned this, it's a very strange word that you said. That this is a law because "chein yisad." Yisad is a verb that's never, never, employed in the context of a law. You would say, chatah, gazar, tikein, he enacted the law, he established the law, you don't say yisad, which literally means bounded. But what do you know? That word, yisad, is used over and over again in the time period of the Second Temple by the prophets of Chagai and Zechariah. Chagai says, you should all be in the Temple courtyard, "b'yom yesod heichal Hashem," on the day of the bounding of the Temple of God. Therefore, once again, Mordechai and Esther are saying, wow, look at what you're founding? You're founding a culture of inebriation instead of founding the real culture of the Temple which is a culture of being careful with when and what you drink.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, I just want to elaborate on what your point is a little bit on this distinction between the two cultures. A culture in which wine is celebrated. What's interesting is that's it's not just that in Persian culture wine is celebrated, it's celebrated specifically in the context of these feasts. One might argue, Rabbanit Shani, that if you think about the connections between these two stories, it's almost as if each story overlays on the other and can shed light on the other. The Megillah can help us understand Exodus, Exodus can help us understand the Megillah.
One of the things I think we see, perhaps, about the Megillah from its connection to Exodus and Leviticus, is that we understand something about the purpose of Achashverosh's feasts. They weren't just willy-nilly drunken feasts. Perhaps there was a purpose. Perhaps they were his version of the consecration of a Temple or of a house. It happens early on in his kingship; it happens in the third year of his kingship. Early on in his kingship the king invites everyone together. Why? He's trying to do something similar to the consecration of the Temple. He's trying to say, here is my house.
Now what's interesting is that if you think about consecration, consecration is a remarkable act. The notion of consecration isn't just dedication, it's something more than dedication. Even these words, "l'havdil bein hakodesh u'bein hachol," to distinguish between the holy and the profane. Consecration is to take something in this world and to elevate it into some sort of transcendent sphere. To make it literally holy.
Now here's the thing. If your mind doesn't quite go to transcendence, the closest you can get to transcendence as an emperor, the king of kings, the closest you can get to transcendence is this dizzying splendor of the palaces of the king. If you're one of the governors, you're one of these satraps from Uzbekistan and you've come on a junket for three days to be a part of this great feast, so you come back and tell everyone about the dizzying wealth and power that you saw. You use words like magical, and you use words like splendor, and words like transcendence, but it's not real in the sense of holiness. It's something earthly, it's not quite there. The analogue and the king of kings is like, no, no, this house in the world is actually holy.
It's actually a place of transcendence, a place where the true King of Kings, which doesn't belong in time and space actually comes into this world and makes this holy. This truly is dizzying. This is leagues beyond anything that a human emperor can do. It's the Master of the Universe, the master of the Andromeda Galaxy, literally elevating this house and saying this house is not really part of the world anymore. It's almost as if it's an embassy. So an embassy technically belongs to the country of its origin. So you can have in New York the British Embassy and it might look like New York, it might feel like New York, but it's not actually New York territory. It's not the United States territory, it's British territory. It's almost like God's Embassy, His dirah, is here and it's like this is part of another world. The consecration of the house takes something that is terrestrial and lifts it up into true transcendence and makes it other-worldly.
So it's interesting, the question is how do you do that? So God says, well, there's a formula about how you do this. There are these offerings that you bring. It's this stuff that's not easy to do. It's dangerous because real transcendence is literally playing with fire and if you don't do it right you die, as happened to Nadav and Avihu. The last thing you want in the world in which you understand that there's true transcendence, but then there's the world there has to be barriers. You have to understand the difference between them. The last thing you want is drink and wine that blurs the barriers, that can't happen.
It's almost as if why did Ahasuerus bring wine and drink into his, sort of, earthly consecration of the house? I'm wondering if it's because it creates the illusion of transcendence. In other words, if everybody gets drunk and everyone is hanging out there well what does it feel like when you're drunk? It feels like it's this mind-altering experience. It feels like, all of a sudden, I'm in touch with some other world, with something beyond my normal experience, but it's an illusion. What the king is doing is using the illusion of drunkenness so that all the governors from Uzbekistan go back home and say, wow, that was a wild feast. That was amazing. It feels like there was something transcendent going on but it's just tricks. It's just all sleight of hand, right?
In the real thing, the real thing is where real transcendence comes into the world. But we don't try to blur your vision with drink. The clarity of vision, of regular minds, can perceive something outrageously amazing.
Rabbanit Taragin: Interestingly that you should say this because these ideas, the "b'yom yesod heichal Hashem," of really comparing the Temple/palace of Ahasuerus with the Temple was mentioned by Rav Yoel Bin-Nun in a very similar way. Professor Yoni Grossman speaks about this also. He talks about the votive of the ten parties. He actually matches up the ten drinking experiences that so depict the culture of Persia as you were discussing. This almost physical ethereal experience. Interestingly he says, so what really is the opposite of a feast? What's the opposite of the drinking, of the inebriation? Exactly what Esther says. Esther tries to put it back in order. She says, I'm going to go literally into the inner chambers of the king. She tells Mordecai, you know that we're not allowed to go there.
She's from the Jewish perspective of sanctity. She says that everyone knows that if the king does not call you, you don't go. You don't do Nadav and Avihu. You don't go inside the king's chambers otherwise you may die. Therefore she says, how should I prepare for entering, literally, the kodesh kodashim, the holy of holies? She says, "tzumu eilai," I'm going to fast and everyone else is going to fast. We're going to do the opposite of drinking, the opposite of intoxication. We're going to draw those lines. We're going to stay away from anything inebriating for three days and that's how I'll go in front of the kodesh kodashim. "Vatilbash Esther malchut," and with that she wears her special garments. She, basically, ironically, becomes that high priest in the proper way.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Good. So we're both on the same page over here. Let me take you a little bit farther on in this document, to a few more pages down. I'm skipping over some of these parallels just in the interest of time, but I want to take you to what I wrote over here. I'll just kind of walk you through this because it's literally like, you know, you took the words right out of my mouth. Here's the idea.
Part 2. Part 2 is, do these parallels continue? Which is as you keep on reading the story of the Book of Esther can you keep on finding parallels that bring you to back to the story of Leviticus? So look at this here, the big idea.
Vashti is not the only queen in the story to face a momentous decision as to whether to go see the king. As Rabbanit Shani just said, Esther, too, faces such a moment later in the Book of Esther. She also has this momentous question, am I going to see the king?
Now, both queens, both Vashti and Esther, ultimately choose to disobey the king, but fascinatingly, they disobey in opposite ways. Vashti goes against the law by not coming to the king. Esther goes against the law by coming to him when she wasn't called. So is that a coincidence or not? Maybe we're meant to see somehow, as Rabbanit Shani just said, that the choice that faces Esther is actually a kind of Round 2, a kind of redoing of the Vashti story. It's as if the Vashti story is happening again, that Esther has her Vashti moment. What am I going to do? I don't know. Should I go to the king or not go to the king?
So it's a chance to redo the Vashti story and to perhaps somehow redeem it. To somehow make it better. To somehow bring nobility and purity to a choice to disobey the king.
In The Queen You Thought You Knew, the book I wrote about the Book of Esther, I kind of made such a claim, suggesting then that Vashti had a mother Persia issue. The king wanted her to sort of display the beauty that he felt was not her personal beauty, but the beauty that belonged to the nation itself. That Esther herself is haunted about that notion. The fears going to the king, as well, for similar reasons. Which is what if I go and I ask for my personal nation to be saved? Would that destroy the king's vision of me as Mother Persia? If I has the provincial allegiance to Israel and I'm not representing all of Persia.
Anyway, so if it isn't ‑‑ skipping now to the third paragraph. If it is in fact the case that Esther's going before the king is a kind of redoing of the Vashti story, maybe it follows that Esther's going before the king might just have intertextual parallels to the Nadav and Avihu story, just as Vashti story did. As it happens, as Rabbanit Shani's just been telling you, such parallels do exist in spades.
The parallels are especially remarkable here because not only do common themes and words appear in both stories, they appear in virtually identical consecutive sequence. So if you actually begin to look at these parallels, they're actually quite remarkable on how they play out. I'm actually going to switch, if I can, documents because we're sort of short on time here, to show you this is a document where nothing is filled in.
I'm just going to show you, Rabbanit Shani, my own personal notes on this where I actually kind of already filled in what I saw as the parallels. I just want to take you through this and see if it rings true to you or if this is just our imagination working. But going to these parallels over here, this is kind of a textual map of the parallels. Let's read this story on the left‑hand side of Esther going to the king.
It begins with "U'Mordechai yada et kol asher na'asah," Mordechai knew everything that happened. In red, "Va'yikra Mordechai et begadav," and Mordechai finds out about the terrible decree and he tears his clothes.
Now, going back to the Nadav and Avihu story, what is it that we hear? We hear a version of red. God says to Elazar and Itamar, the remaining children of Aaron who survive after the other two children of Aaron die, "Rasheichem al tifra'u u'bigdeichem lo tifromu," you can't rip your clothes. That no mourning is allowed. Here is Mordechai mourning by ripping his clothes. So that's sort of connection Number 1.
Connection Number 2, "Va'yavo ad lifnei" ‑‑ he lets out this great and bitter cry and he comes "ad lifnei sha'ar ha'melech ki ein lavo el sha'ar ha'melech bilvush sak." Mordechai can't go into the inner sanctum of the king wearing these clothes. By contrast, we're told that "Acheichem beit Yisrael yivku et ha'sereifah asher saraf Hashem." It's fine for everybody else to mourn. They can mourn the loss of Nadav and Avihu, but if it comes to the children of Aaron, they actually can't mourn because when you're in the king's inner sanctum you can't mourn.
Just like it is in the Book of Esther, you're not allowed to mourn in the king's inner sanctum, you can't mourn here. "U'mipetach ohel mo'ed lo teitzu," and you're not allowed to be out of the king's inner sanctum. They have to be there, and therefore, they can't rip their clothes.
Mordechai, on the left‑hand side of the screen, the Jews experience "eivel gadol la'Yehudim," terrible mourning, "tzom u'bechi u'misped sak va'eifer yutza la'rabbim." Again, there's mourning in this story. When Israel goes and they cry and they're decrying the loss of these children.
Then, if we continue, we get to what Rabbanit Shani was talking about, Esther. When Esther goes before the king, she says, "ani lo nikreiti lavo el ha'melech zeh sheloshim yom," I haven't been called to go to the king now for 30 days. Now, if you look at this word "lo nikreiti," I haven't been called, if we look after the story of Nadav and Avihu, we have a story of Aaron.
The story of Aaron is there's this sacrifice which he's supposed to eat the meat of, but he doesn't want to do it because he's in mourning. He explains why he can't do it because things are very difficult for him. He says, I'm supposed to eat ‑‑ "Hein ha'yom hikrivu et chatatam v'et olatam lifnei Hashem va'tikrena oti ka'eileh," and this is what has befallen me, "va'achalti chatat ha'yom ha'yitav b'einei Hashem," would it really be good in the eyes of God. See there's this reference to "ani lo nikreiti."
As Esther continues, she talks about not eating and not drinking. That reminds us of "Yayin va'sheichar al teisht atah u'banecha," you can't drink wine, right, when you go before the hole Temple. Esther can't drink wine before she goes in to the king's inner sanctum. "U'vechein avo el ha'melech," only by not drinking wine will I be able to go to the king. "Ka'asher avadti avadti," if I am to die, I am to die. Mirroring over here, don't drink die, "v'lo tamutu," and that way you will not die.
Esther, finally decides to go in. "Va'tilbash Esther malchut," she wears good clothes, not torn clothes. Where does she go in? She goes ‑‑ "Va'ta'amod ba'chatzar beit ha'melech ha'penimit," she goes into the inner sanctum.
If we go on the right‑hand side, in the story of Nadav and Avihu, the post‑story of Nadav and Avihu. Moses' critique of the children of Aaron for not eating the meat of the Chatat. "Hein lo hivu et damo la'kodesh penimah," you didn't bring the blood inside the inner sanctum. The words for inner sanctum is penimah, the same words for the inner sanctum over here, "chatzar beit ha'melech ha'penimit."
Finally, "Va'yoshet ha'melech l'Esther et sharvit ha'zahav," the king extends his scepter, "va'tikrav Esther," and Esther comes forward. Again, in this story in green, "Hein ha'yom hikrivu et chatatam." The word for bringing these offerings after the destruction of Nadav and Avihu, is the same word of coming close.
"Va'yomer lah ha'melech mah lach Esther ha'malkah," the king asks what can I do for you Esther? And Esther has a request. "Im al ha'melech tov," if it's good in your eyes, "yavo ha'melech v'Haman ha'yom el ha'misteh," could you and Haman please come to this feast. Come eat with me together.
Here, it comes Aaron, and saying "Achalti chatat ha'yom ha'yitav b'einei Hashem," will it really good in the eyes of God? I just want to make sure that my eating is good in the eyes of the king. The same way that Esther says, could you please come to this feast where we can eat together, and I just want it to be good in your eyes. Haman can come as well.
Finally, "Va'yishma Moshe va'yitav b'einav," it's good in his eyes. Just as, in this case, Moses, representing God, accedes the request and says, yes, it's good in my eyes. So too, the king accedes the request and says, "maharu et Haman la'asot et devar Esther," it's good in my eyes.
Over here, the parallel ‑‑ it's just the thematic parallels that we were just talking about, kind of one after another, come together.
So it seems kind of like ‑‑ it's just remarkable the replay of the story comes almost as if Esther got this second chance, the second crack of the bat. Redoing what Vashti did, but in a way that succeeds.
Does any of this ring true for you, Rabbani Shani?
Rabbanit Taragin: Not only does it ring true, Rabbi Fohrman, but we should really talk more often because I developed something very, very similar, but taking it in a slightly different direction. Because one of the main scenes that you didn't allude to yet, but I'm sure you have in mind, is the scene of Haman's goral. Do you remember he has a pur, he has a lottery.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's right. One second, hold on.
Rabbanit Taragin: That's the central aspect. I'm sure it's coming. Exactly. Numerous parallels. Exactly to what the Yom Kippur avodah. Excellent.
Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly.
Rabbanit Taragin: Now, what I really think is going on is ‑‑
Rabbi Fohrman: Just one second. Let's just slow down and just bring (inaudible 01:28:02) here because if we're not careful ‑‑
Rabbanit Taragin: Okay. I see that people are leaving and they shouldn't miss this part because I think that this is what brings everything together.
Rabbi Fohrman: This is really the climax, what Rabbanit Shani is describing. Rabbanit Shani is describing what I've described here, in this document, as Part 3. Esther's approach to the king and the Yom Kippur avodah. But as you begin to read the story of Esther's approach to the king, the connections to the book of Leviticus continue. Because after the story of Nadav and Avihu, the next great story is the story of Acharei Mot, the story of the Yom Kippur avodah.
Now, the Yom Kippur avodah is an attempt to redo the story of Nadav and Avihu successfully. It's an attempt to succeed where Nadav and Avihu failed. Nadav and Avihu tried to go to the inner sanctum much as Vashti did, and they fail. Now, here comes Esther, trying to make it work, trying to somehow succeed going into the king's inner sanctum. Here comes the Torah, in the book of Leviticus, saying there is a way to do what Nadav and Avihu do successfully. Here's how to do it.
What's remarkable is if you read the Yom Kippur avodah you begin to see parallels to Esther's approach to the king. Leading, as Rabbanit Shani I'm sure is about to tell you, to a deeper understanding of what our Sages tell us about Purim and Yom Kippurim.
Rabbanit Taragin: Excellent.
Rabbi Fohrman: A day that's just like Purim. Because if you think about these two days, Purim and You Kippurim, a day Yom Kippur that sounds suspiciously like Purim. That's not just crazy. That's not just Purim Torah, that's not just word play. Indeed, long before Purim the Torah speaks of a lottery. The only lottery we ever have in the Bible itself takes place on Yom Kippur, as you go to the inner sanctum.
To me, Shani, as I began to put those parallels ‑‑ I'm sorry.
Rabbanit Taragin: I'm bursting.
Rabbi Fohrman: Go ahead.
Rabbanit Taragin: I'm bursting. So firstly, again, something that I noticed this year. That was actually pointed out to me when I was delivering out this shiur was, if you notice, when does Esther make it into the palace? When does she come in? She comes in the seventh year, the 10th month.
Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, fascinating.
Rabbanit Taragin: When do we get to go in? The seventh month, the 10th day. No kidding.
Rabbi Fohrman: Isn't that remarkable. One second. No kidding about that. So just so we understand, when is Yom Kippur?
Rabbanit Taragin: But it gets better.
Rabbi Fohrman: One second. I understand, but you've just got to make sure everyone knows what's going on. When is Yom Kippur, boys and girls? Yom Kippur is in the seventh month. The seventh month is Tishrei. The seventh month after Nissan is Tishrei. And it's the 10th day of the month. That's how the Torah itself, in Leviticus 23, describes Yom Kippur; the 10th day of the seventh month. When does Esther go into the king, Rabbanit Shani?
Rabbanit Taragin: The seventh year, the 10th month.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. And it's a little bit of a "v'nahafoch hu." It's a little reverse. You get it? The seventh ‑‑
Rabbanit Taragin: But that's what's going on throughout the entire story. Meaning, the entire Esther story is really about the Yom Kippur avodah. Which, you yourself said beautifully, is really a tikkun for Nadav and Avihu.
But let's focus on the Yom Kippur avodah, just for a moment. What goes on there, within the story, are two ‑‑ and this is the central aspect of the entire service. There are two goats. One goats represents what technically should happen to the Jewish people. Which is any time you sin you should be thrown off a cliff. What's called the goat la'azazel. Literally, to death. That's a judgement, that's what should happen.
God says, but you have the power of changing lotteries. It's not about fate, it's about destiny. Therefore, you have the option of bringing the blood of another goat called the chatat l'Hashem, to bring it as close in as it will possibly come. Correctly, as you said, without wine, without the mistakes that Nadav and Avihu committed.
What's going on within the entire story of Esther is what really is your lot? Which goat are you going to be? Are you going to be the goat like Vashti, who says I refuse to go in. I'm not going to go in. I don't believe that we even deserve or should go in to this place, like you mention, of transcendence of God. Therefore, she's banished, like the Azazel, literally.
Then, just in case we didn't get this, Haman basically says there is a scattered people. Right before he's going to, basically, convict them for genocide, there is a goral which takes place, as we know, in the whole malchut. It's the entire kingdom that's going on there.
Then, this entire kingdom, again, he says, yes, that's what's supposed to happen. The Jews, like Vashti, who we said really is a microcosm of the Jewish People, they should be cast off as a se'ir la'azazel. To be honest, even Esther tells Mordechai, I think that's what's supposed to happen. I don't know what you want me to do. No one goes inside the king's palace. You can die. If you appear before God, who are we to appear before God and risk ourselves and be that chatat l'Hashem?
Mordechai says because there is a makom acher. You're not just supposed to stay outside. It's true that it can be dangerous on the outside, and I know that, especially after Nadav and Avihu, you're nervous to go inside. But you're supposed to go inside, but you're supposed to go inside properly with the fasting. You're supposed to go inside with contrition. You're supposed to go inside with special garments and with humility. If you go inside that way, then you will be the se'ir chatat l'Hashem. Then you can go into the inner chambers of God, and that's when salvation comes.
Interestingly, the Chassidic masters talk about this also in a beautiful way. When they say when Esther is finally there before God, before the Melech ‑‑ oh, by the way, it's described in such similar terminology of the "beit malchuto nochach petach ha'bayit," opposite the entrance of the palace. Like "nochach pnei Hashem," opposite God. Where's the king sitting? "V'ha'melech," and the king, "yoshev al kisei malchuto." Terminology that we know throughout the stories of Tanach. The king sitting on his royal thrown.
At the point then is that Esther says, can I have a mishteh, can I have a party? A private party with the king. The Chassidic masters talk about the intimacy with God at this moment. But one can definitely take it to once I enter correctly then we understand how to follow the mandates of God.
Rabbi Fohrman: Interestingly, along those lines, remember that Esther just happens to be fasting when she goes into the king. The Kohen Gadol, of course, it's Yom Kippur, so he's fasting too when he goes into the king.
Rabbanit Taragin: Isn't it amazing? Isn't it amazing how the Sages then said, even though the fast of Esther was on the 13th of Nissan, what you should do is fast on the 13th of Adar. That's already my time over here. Tomorrow, we're all going to be fasting. A fast before you feast. Exactly like Yom Kippur. We learn that you're supposed to fast ‑‑ the Torah says fast on the ninth and the tenth. The Sages say it can't be that we're supposed to fast for 48 hours. Rather, feast on the ninth so that it's considered as if you fasted on the ninth and the tenth.
So a real v'nahafoch hu, a real reversal. On Purim we fast and we feast. On Yom Kippur we feast and then we fast.
Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. "U'vechein avo el ha'melech asher ka'dat," Esther says, I will go to the king and I will literally risk my life because I'm breaking the rules. Well, "b'zot yavo Aharon el ha'kodesh," Aaron's going to go in and literally he's going to ‑‑ you know, if he doesn't do it right, it's death. It says, when you come close, that moment of contact between the cloud ‑‑ Aaron's cloud, and as he's contacting the Divine and he doesn't do it right, "v'lo yamut." Esther comes and has that moment of contact, when she touches the king's scepter. It's if that that's moment of contact.
You have all the language resonating. The language of ‑‑ the famous language of Mordechai, "u'mi yodei'a im la'eit kazot higat la'malchut," who knows ‑‑ in yellow ‑‑ if it was for this moment that you came to be queen. That language, again, resonates with the book of Leviticus. "Al yavo b'kol eit el ha'kodesh." Instead, "b'zot yavo Aharon el ha'kodesh." Don't come at just anytime, only at this time come. "U'mi yodei'a im la'eit kazot higat la'malchut."
I was wondering, also, Rabbanit Shani, if the ‑‑ I'm sorry. I don't (inaudible 01:37:18), but ‑‑
Rabbanit Taragin: Just Shani. Shani is fine.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. David is fine also. So "Al yavo b'chol eit el ha'kodesh." If you think about Esther's approach to the king, it's interesting. It always reminds me a little bit of Aaron's approach to God. Because if you think about Aaron's before he can approach God on behalf of the entire people, he actually has to bring a personal chatat. He actually has to expiate his own sins. He makes two approaches. First his own sins and then this request for God to forgive everyone.
It struck me. I wonder if Esther's doing the same thing. If at some level, Esther's not just going to the king and saying, hey, could you please forgive everyone, or could you please erase this decree, could you give us all a new lease in life, which is almost what we all ask for through the High Priest on Yom Kippur.
It's almost as if before that, if you think about it, the excruciating thing for Esther is that Esther, for one reason or another, never told the king that she was a Jewess. So if you imagine, Mordecai says, Esther, just go to the king and tell him to save your people. It's almost like Mordecai may not know -- the way I see it is that when Mordecai told her never to tell, that was back when she was in the harem. That was back when it was like, she was one of 10,000 girls. But to think that she's not going to tell the king, imagine how difficult that task is.
If we roleplayed it, if I was the king and you were Esther, if you imagine Esther going to the king, and what does she have to say now? It's like, king, do you remember on our second date when you met me and you asked me about my accent? You said gee, that's such a remarkable accent you have, it sounds Middle Eastern. Where are you from? And I said, well, let's not talk about the past, King, let's just talk about our future. Then do you remember on our fifth date when you said, no, really, where are you from? I just giggled and laughed and we changed the subject. Well, I'm really sorry about that, King. I forgot to even mention -- I really am Jewish, by the way. Not only am I Jewish, but there's also this terrible decree which is affecting all of us. I'm really sorry about not mentioning the Jewish thing, but trust me, it was just an oversight. Total apologies there. But could you also save everybody?
It's almost like she has to do what Aaron did. She first has to sort of come clean herself and make it okay with the king that hey, I realize I have an interest here, and I realize I'm telling you something about myself that you don't know, that I'm a Jew. And then say, and still, in all, despite the fact that you can look at me and say, if you want, off with your head, you're guilty. Please don't do that. Not only please don't do that, I am the messenger of a people, and please save everyone.
Much as Aaron, with his own sins, has to come before God and say, look, I know that I've sinned, but I'm still the messenger of all this people. Can you please not just forgive me, can you please forgive everyone? It feels to me like there's almost sort of that double angle.
Rabbanit Taragin: I'm sure you noticed this, and that is that Esther and Mordecai are parallels to Moses and Aaron. They even share the same initials, the Aleph-Mem and the Aleph-Mem. These are what I call parallel partners. Moses, like Mordecai, they're the ones who are going to work on the outside. Most of what Moses does, he's the Levite, he works on the outside like Mordecai, ad sha'ar hamelech. The High Priest, it's only Aaron and Esther who can actually go all the way on the inside.
Rabbi Fohrman: So Rabbanit Shani, I want to close out our session here with one last thing, and then maybe we'll have kind of final words here. If we bring this remarkable series of textual parallels to a close, the farthest that I can take them is into the story of Mordecai, Haman, and the horse. Because if you think of Mordecai, Haman, and the horse as in line with this line of parallels that we've been thinking, the next thing that happens in the Yom Kippur story is someone taking an animal off to never-never land, with something on its head, and being led through the streets, and being led out over a cliff and destroyed.
What's remarkable is that you've got another story in the Megillah about somebody leading an animal on a journey. I couldn't figure it out, because on the one hand, one journey ends with death in the desert. The other journey, Haman's leading Mordecai around on a horse, and when he's done he just comes back home, and Mordecai gets off the horse.
I'm wondering, but it's too coincidental. With all of these connections, it really feels like here's a guy leading this animal on a journey, and here's another person leading an animal on a journey. I'm thinking, like, there's got to be some connection. What do you make of the difference in the journeys?
It's almost as if the story of the Megillah is almost like two journeys in one. In other words --
Rabbanit Taragin: That's really it.
Rabbi Fohrman: In other words, remember there was that flip. There was the flip. Mordecai was supposed to be the one leading Haman on the horse, that's what Haman thought. Haman thought he was going to be the great guy on the horse. Well, in the end, Haman's the one who leads Mordecai on the horse. So it's almost as if, in my mind, there's two journeys, parallel journeys happening in the Megillah. It's almost like Mordecai and Haman are both on their journey, but they're going to different places. Mordecai is going to salvation, and Haman is going off the cliff.
It's almost like these are the two journeys. Maybe these are the two goats. There's one goat that goes back to master, and that's Mordecai that goes back el sha'ar hamelech, and goes to God, and God says, this is my goat. And there's this other goat that gets led on this journey from which there is no return. In a way, just as Haman's ride with Mordecai launches Mordecai back into the bosom of the king, it also is the first moment that Haman is launched off the cliff. It's the moment when we, the reader, knows that he's going down.
It's almost as if those two goats divide in the story of Leviticus, and become the goat that comes back to the king and the goat that goes off the cliff. If that's true, the only thing that I can -- no? Does that make any sense?
Rabbanit Taragin: I think that's exactly what's going on. That's how the story tells us. The question is, which goat are you going to be? Esther even says that they're choosing like Vashti to be the goat la'azazel. Esther says, "v'ka'asher avadeti, avadeti." Guys, I'll take my chance at being the other goat, and let's see what happens.
But just as you said, in the end, I noticed the terminology. After the story of the horse, what does Zeresh tell Haman? She uses also the double terminology, "nafol tipol lefanav." She doesn't just say, you're going to be gotten rid of. You're going to fall down, which is her way of saying, well, now I guess you're that se'ir la'azazel, and the Jews have become the se'ir chatat. We chose correctly.
Rabbi Fohrman: I think that's a great way for us to end this discussion. One of the, I think the largest of the themes that emerges here is a theme of fate and what do you do with fate. Are there things that you just can't control in life? If there are, what do you do with that. The Megillah feels like is this bold statement about that.
The Megillah seems to be saying that I have a nuanced theological message to tell you about fate. There are things you can't control. Fate is real. There are some things that are out of your control, much as you might like to control them. It's almost like when Esther says, I don't know, I can't go to the king. What am I going to do? Mordecai is like, yeah, I get it. It's really dangerous. Maybe you can't control that, and I get that, but what are you going to do with a situation you can't control?
Mordecai takes that idea and turns it on its head. He says, you know, Esther? There is something you can't control, but it's not the thing you think. You think it's all doom and dread, and that's what you can't control. It's actually the reverse. The truth is, here's what you can't control. This isn't really about you and about whether you go before the king. If you don't go before the king, "revach v'hatzalah ya'amod layehudim mimakom acher," the thing that you can't control is that we'll actually be just fine. We don't really need you. One way or the other, we'll be fine. That's immutable. God has seen it, that that's the way it's going to be. One way or the other, the Jewish nation is going to make it.
But here's the thing. That doesn't mean you're off the hook. Because you might say, well, if I can't control it, I'll just go home. He says, no, no, no, you don't get it. Just because you can't control something doesn't mean you don't have to act. "Im hachareish tacharishi ba'eit hazot," if you keep quiet at this moment, if you choose to follow the pretty rules and not go before the king because you don't think that's allowed, you have a moral obligation to scream. Genocide has been legislated against your people, and your husband did it, and you're not going to stand up and say this is impossible, I love my people? You have to do that. If you don't do that, your own legacy will be destroyed. You have to act here, even in the face of some fate. Even if we are going to be okay, you still have to act.
He says, "U'mi yodei'a im la'eit kazot higat lamalchut." You're going to act because you need to act. Who knows, maybe that'll help it be Megillat Esther and not the Megillah of someone else. You can control something in the face of fate. You might not be able to control the outcome. It might be signed, sealed, and delivered that one way or another, the Jews are going to survive. But you can control the role that you play and the drama. You can choose which goat you are. Are you the goat that goes off the cliff? Are you the goat that you and your father's house will be destroyed, that the moral legacy of you will go down in fire because you didn't stand up to this? Or are you going to be the one who will take the noble stand and go against the rules and do something dangerous, and go to the king when you shouldn't really be allowed to go to the king. Are you going to do that, because that's what love demands of you.
If you do that, who knows what'll happen? Maybe this is the moment for which you've become queen. The contrast to that is another woman's speech to her man, and it's Zeresh's speech. When Zeresh comes to realize there's something called fate, and when Zeresh says "Im mizera hayehudim Mordechai," if Mordecai is a Jew, I have news for you. Fate has determined that there's nothing you can do to him. No matter what you do to him, "nafol tipol lefanav," you are destined to fall. The only thing is, that's all Zeresh has to say to Haman, that there's fate. She doesn't say the next thing, the thing that Mordecai said to Esther. And therefore, don't worry about what you can do to change fate. Worry about what you can do to change you.
What are you going to do in a situation where there's fate? You don't have to be the bad guy. You don't have to be the guy that rails against fate. You can choose nobility, if you like. Even now, you could turn around. But that's not the argument she makes to him. The argument she makes to him is, fate is fate and there's nothing that can be done. No sooner does she finish talking than the stewards come to usher Haman to the feast that becomes his downfall.
To me, maybe the enduring message of the Megillah regarding Yom Kippur is that Yom Kippur is a moment where we look at fate and we say, we will not accept fate. We have our sins. Maybe our sins mean that we go off the cliff, and maybe that's how it should be. Maybe there's a God whose mind can't be changed. But you know what? We can talk to the king, and we can do it against the rules. There's something we can do, because love demands that we can do it. We can't do it in the Nadav and Avihu way. We can't do it against the rules. We can't do it with wine, but we can do it in a way that God Himself, ironically, allows him to do.
God says, there's a way you can break the rules. You can do what no human being has a right to do. You can have an audience with the transcendent Master of the Universe Himself. You can come into the Andromeda Galaxy without wine. You, too, can be a participant and transcendent. Do it this way, and I welcome you breaking the rules. When you do that, then you can be the goat that comes back to God.
So Shani, I know you've got to go, and it's midnight, probably, there, or past midnight. I'm going to thank you for a sleepless night spent with us on the edges of our seats. Thank you so much, this was a thrill. As you did say, we really should do this more often.
Rabbanit Taragin: Yes. I do want to give everyone some homework, based on what you said, if that's okay? That is that if we're comparing this story to Yom Hakippurim, that it's very clear that there are numerous parallels to this story. And, as you can imagine, to what I like to call "The Prophet and The Princess," the story of Jonah with the three days. Also how he relives the story of the goat being thrown off the ship, and then finally making it appearing before God, but ultimately disappearing. As opposed to Esther, who understands, just as you said, what it means to appear before God.
If we want to bring it back to the very beginning of our discussion, then many of the listeners are probably asking, why is this is such a disguise? Why don't they just explain what you're saying, the fate and the destiny and how we can change it, and how we do have an opportunity to appear before Hashem, and to change our roles, and not to be these passive figures who are victims of this fate.
I think that it goes back to Mordecai and Esther saying that you have an opportunity of seeing this in a much more manifest form when you're in the Temple of God, when you're in the Land of Israel. You really could have gotten these messages much clearer if you were in the palace of the Temple, as opposed to the palace of Ahasuerus. In the meantime, though, you're just going to have to deal with these messages in disguise that Esther and her antithetical character, and Haman, for now, they're going to represent these two goats. They're going to represent the lots that ultimately, we really could be experiencing ourselves in a much more clear, evident, even intimate fashion, if only we would have the Temple service once again.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, thank you. So with that, Rabbanit Taragin, I will allow you to get some well-deserved rest. I wish you a wonderful Purim. It's been a complete delight talking with you. I want to thank you and your mom, who, by the way, happens to be (inaudible 01:53:14) for having you. But thank you for spending the time and for your fascinating, illuminating commentary. It's remarkable how I think we both sort of independently saw strands of this, and in conversation, the chance to come together and share some meaning out of it is certainly very exciting to me. It's a very mysterious series of parallels, with all sorts of implications that we've probably, in a way, just scratched the surface of.