Purim: Esther The Accountant
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Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
In this video, Rabbi Fohrman presents the first “Megillah Mystery” by carefully examining the various aspects of Esther’s first attempt to save her people from the imminent fate of annihilation.
Hi everybody, Rabbi David Fohrman here. Today I want to talk to you about some Megillah Mysteries.
The Mysteries Behind Esther's StoryThe word 'Megillah' often doesn't goes with a mystery. A Megillah is one of those parts of Tanach that we kind of know very well. Every since we've been 4 or 5 or 6 years old, we've been dressing up as Queen Esther and Mordecai and the story is very, very familiar to us. And it doesn't seem to be all that mysterious. I want to suggest to you today that there are some mysteries just underneath the surface of the text that if we look at them, will give us a very fascinating insight into kind of what's going on behind the scenes in this story.
So with no further ado, let me kind of take you into the world of a couple of these mysteries. They have to do with words and echos that you hear in the text if you listen closely. Let me take you right now to a very famous part of the Megillah and kind of read these words with me.
We're going to play a little game here, we're going to call it "If you were Esther".
Who Was Queen Esther?Okay. So you were Esther and you were going before the King to save the Jews. It's a dangerous kind of mission and the King doesn't really care much about the Jews; the Jews are not his favorite people in the world. What are you going to use? What's your secret weapon? The answer is "your secret weapon is you".
I mean, you are Esther and the King loves you, right? That's why he married you. You're pretty, you have chen, you have grace, the King just thinks your smile lights up the room; and, you know, you would use that if you want him to save your people. You would ask him as a personal favour, you know, "please do it for me. Please save my people." And in doing so, if you are thinking to yourself, gee, you know, how is it that I want the King to view himself? You know, how should the King in his own mind, as I am talking, how do I want him to think about himself? I think the answer would kind of be, 'that he is the Knight in shining armour, he can come and save me'. And to that end, you know, Esther would portray herself as the damsel in distress. Here is your chance to do something for me and to just be the winner in my book, to be the man who makes everything better for me. So that's kind of the strategy which I would take if I was Esther going before the King at that banquet where she confronts Haman; that's how she wants to portray things, that's the kind of language she should use that promotes this kind of way of viewing things.
So let's actually look at Esther's language with an eye towards it and kind of grade her, as it were, for how well she does this, okay. So here is actually here language. They are at the table, this is the second banquet, this is when Esther makes this request of the King and here is what she says vataan ester hamalkah vatomar im-matzati chen b'einecha hamelech – "If I have found favour in your eyes King" – okay, good start. We will give her a little check mark for this. Humility, you know, recognising that the King does love her v'im al hamelch tov – "and it's good before the King" tinaten li nafshi bishelati v'ami bevakashati – "give me my life as my petition, my people as my request" – ah! This is terrific! This is poetic! It's passionate! It portrays herself as in distress, the King is going to save her. This is his chance. The heights of poetry resonated through words and you can see the violent setting in the background and you can hear the gallops of the horse on his way to save Esther. This is really great. That's verse 3. Let's go on to verse 4.
ki nimkarnu ani v'ami, she says – "for me and my people have been sold" – one second! Cut! Hello! What do you mean "have been sold'? We've been sold? Just get to the point. What is her point? Lehashmid laharog uleabed – "to be destroyed, killed and utterly wiped out." I mean, that's good. I just don't know what this "sold" is doing here, but anyway keep on . And then she says something really strange v'ilu laavadim v'lishpachot nimkarnu – now she's going to start talking about something which is actually not happening; she is going to digress. Listen carefully. This is her moment in this and she is going to digress away from the threat, which is the threat that we are being killed and she is now going to take the King somewhere else and say "look, theoretically King, I just want you to know that if we had only been sold as slaves"; okay nimkarnu – there is that 'selling' again for some strange reason. Why is she so interested in this selling business? "sold to be killed; sold to be slave. If we had been sold as slaves, then" , hecherashti – " then I would have kept silent." Why?
Ki ein hatzar shoveh benezek hamelech – a strange phrase; the way many commentators translate it means " that the pain that we experienced as a result of servitude wouldn't outweigh the gain that would accrued to the King's treasury from the monetary proceeds of our slave labour." Now, if you are scratching your head because that seems kind of complicated; it is complicated. And that's why I think it is such a great question – why Esther is getting involved in this? Why is she making these complicated arguments?
She succeeds in painting this 'Knight in shining armour' picture in the beginning and now she is getting off into this very complicated profit-loss analysis. "The actuality is that we are going to be killed, so you don't make any profit King; your treasury doesn't make any profit out of our being killed and if we would annul the decree, it's not like you would lose any profit by annulling that decree; and plus, it's really, really bad for us that we are getting killed. So, it's really bad for us and you don't get anything out of it and that's why I am stepping forward.
On the other hand, theoretically, had we only been sold as slaves, then you would have gotten something out of it. The king's treasury would have been to the beneficiary of our slave labour , you would have had a little bit of profit, I wouldn't want to deny you that profit." Ein hatzar shoveh benezek hamelech – " the pain that we experience as a result of servitude is not as bad as death. The pain we experience, the little pain of servitude, wouldn't outweigh the loss to the King's treasury and I wouldn't have said anything to take away the benefits of our slave labour. But all that is theoretical", she says, " because we haven't really been sold as slaves; we've been sold to be killed and that's why I am stepping forward King."
What Is Esther Doing?I mean why is she talking about this? And again, if you have a hard time following this, the point is is that it is hard to follow. I mean, I don't know about you, but if I was the King, I would be like 'oh man! What's going on over here? I'm like confused. I am not an accountant; like go bring in my secretary of the treasury or something and escort this woman away." Why is she doing this? I would say she gets an 'effort' for this, you know, maybe a 'D–'; it completely destroys the romance of the situation which she has been building up so nicely over here. Why is she doing this? Why is she talking about selling? Why is she talking in accountant's terms? "If we're being sold as slaves, then I can really see myself keeping quiet. But, we're not being sold as slaves, we're actually going to be killed. That's why I am coming to you". Why does she do this?
This is mystery number one – why is Esther talking like an accountant? We are going to come back and see what we can make of that.