What Does The Megillah Have To Do With The Deception Of Isaac?
Purim And Genesis: How The Beginning Of The Bible Connects To The End
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
Rabbi Fohrman taught this Premium webinar before Purim of 2018. Come watch, and explore the connections between the story of Purim and the story of Rebecca and her sons.
Watch more – Mishloach Manot: A Purim Story Hiding in Plain Sight
So with no further ado, let me, sort of, jump in and tell you guys about what I have found over here. One of the things that I often talk to you about or sometimes talk to you about, in Aleph Beta videos, is that there are, sort of, two ways to begin. You can either begin with a close reading of Biblical text and, if you start that way, as you begin to uncover layers of meaning and as you begin to see more and more of kind of the puzzle in the text, the sort of hidden layers of meaning in the text.
Studying Purim's Background in the Torah and MidrashEvery once in a while if you just sort of stop and you pull out a Bereishit Rabba or a Midrash Rabba and you look at what the Sages say, in the text, you will -- you'll be astounded and you'll read something and it's like oh, my gosh, I can't believe it. Somebody saw this long before me and what I've taken a year to uncover and say in, you know, two hours or three hours the Sages were saying in three lines and it's right over here.
So what happens is you could start with text and you can end up with Rabbinic commentary, with these commentaries of the Sages. But in Rabbinic commentary, I'm not really talking about the Acharonim, I'm not talking about the Rishonim, we're not talking about the Middle Ages, I'm not talking about the classical commentators I'm talking about earlier commentators before that, notably the Midrash.
So you could start with the text and you can end up with the Midrash. You can also do it the other way. The second way to do it is you scan through Midrash and you find something and you say that is really strange. That's really odd. I wonder where the Rabbis got that from and then you go back and you look at the text closely and you can sort of piece together where they got it from as like, okay, that's where they got it from.
So I want to show you a little bit of that dynamic and sort of keep the following in mind. That the Sages when they wrote the Midrash were not writing a methodology textbook. Which is to say that they would tell you things, but they wouldn't always tell you where they saw it or how they found it. So when you read Midrash they will often tell you stuff, but the backstory is not always there.
The analogy I give sometimes; I took my car into the mechanic today to get fixed. So this is an apt mechanic analogy. You know, the guy tells me your power steering fluid pump is gone and here's what I got to do to fix it. Now, he doesn't tell me how he knows that. Well, I can quiz him about that. I say well, how do you know that the power steering fluid pump is gone? He could start telling me about it, but he's more likely than not to say, you know what if you really want to know the answer on that I'll tell you a little bit of it. If you want to know the answer to that you can go to mechanic school and you could study it, but that's not my job right now. My job is just to figure out what's going on with your car and to fix it.
Similarly, with the Rabbis. When they wrote their book, which is to say the Midrash, they weren't giving you the handbook on how to become a mechanic. They weren't telling you how to discover what they discovered, they were just telling you what they discovered.
What we're kind of doing in Aleph Beta is kind of the backstory to that. Looking at the patterns underneath the text which, I think, the Rabbis were looking at too. So what they'll sometimes tell you also is the tip of the iceberg stuff. They'll occasionally make this comment and the comment isn't everything, but if you're a perceptive reader you can look at that comment and you could say huh, that looks like the tip of an iceberg and you could discover the rest of the iceberg.
That's precisely what I want to do with you today. I want to share with you my screen, I want to show you what I'm looking at in the Megillah and I want to suggest to you that there's kind of one of these tip of the iceberg things going on. So with no further ado, let me share a screen with you and see what I can show you. I'm going to move over some of this Facebook stuff over here and we will try and share the following screen. Where is it? Okay. Right over here.
Okay, so hopefully by now, you guys should be able to see this screen. I am going to make this screen bigger because I like you guys, that's why. I like you so much. I'm actually going to make this screen bigger just for you, so you guys can see this. Okay. So now, it is bigger and don't worry about all that Hebrew text. If you do not understand Hebrew, that's fine. I will translate for you.
I just want to show you what it is that you're looking at it. What you're looking at is -- the right-hand side of the screen is talking about Genesis, the left-hand side of the screen is talking about Esther. Now, why do we have Genesis on the right-hand side of the screen is a very good question. We will get to that, okay, but for now, just kind of stick with me and let's look at the left-hand side of the screen.
(Irrelevant 00:05:45 - 00:07:21)
Anyway, here we are and let me show you what I'm talking about over here in this screen share. So take a long over here, with me, at the fourth chapter of the Book of Esther and you will find something interesting. I'm just going to highlight it here so you can see. Right over here, we are going to turn this a color. What color are we going to turn this? Let me see, I have another document here where we can sort of look in it. Let's turn it yellow. Okay.
Here we are in Chapter 4. Here's what's happened. Things are going badly for the Jews in Shushan. Haman has just initiated this terrible decree and as a result of it, Mordecai is in mourning; not only Mordecai, but everybody else. Let's read the beginning of Chapter 4. Genocide is coming. "U'Mordechai yada et kol asher na'asah," Mordecai knows everything that's happening, "vayikra Mordechai et begadav," he tears his clothes, "vayilbash sak va'eifer," and he puts on sackcloth and ashes, "vayeitzei b'toch ha'ir," and he goes out inside the city, "vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah." You see over here, in the yellow, I have outlined "vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah," and he lets out this great and bitter cry.
Now, the reason I have that in yellow is because the Midrash, in Bereishit Rabba, actually picks up on that and the Midrash says the following. It says that, that text of "vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah," in Hebrew, and he let out a great and bitter cry, that resonates with the text somewhere else in the Bible. Because as it happens, those words "vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah," are actually quoted from somewhere. The author of the Book of Esther seems to be almost incontrovertibly quoting from the Book of Genesis.
Biblical Connections to PurimWhat he's saying in the Book of Genesis, I'm going to show you the place where you can find that, is right down over here. Right there. We're going to highlight that in yellow also. So over there, on the right-hand side of the screen, here's what happens. This story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob deceives Isaac, Yitzchak, and his brother Esau, takes the blessing and when he does that and when Esau finds out what happened, "vatyitz'ak tze'akah gedolah u'marah." Now, Esau lets out this great and bitter cry.
Now, that language is almost exactly the same as the language of Mordecai. If you want to come up and see that yellow over there with Mordecai. See how close that is, right. "Vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah." The only difference really is the Zayin and the Tzaddi.
In Esau's case, "vayitz'ak tze'akah gedolah u'marah." In Jacob's case, "vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah." But that is a trivial difference between them. Seen in the large picture there is no doubt that Esther 4 is evoking Genesis 27, the story of Jacob and Esau. However, you might say why? Why is that the case? The Rabbis had a theory and they shared that theory. I'm just going to tell you what that theory is.
The theory quoted by the Rabbis, in Bereishit Rabba is this. Anyone, the Rabbis say, who thinks that God is a vatran, "yivatru chayav." Anybody who thinks that God just, kind of, let's things slide, that there is no justice in the great heavenly court for things that happen, doesn't know what's going on. His life should be -- they should let his life slide, so to speak, because God just bides His time. It may take centuries, but there is always justice.
The proof that the Rabbis have for this is this text comparison that we're just talking over here. The text says because of the bitter tears that Jacob once caused Esau to shed, when Jacob deceived him and got the blessing from his father, because that happened it took centuries, but there would come a time when the descendant of Esau would provoke payback tears, so to speak, on the part of a descendant of Jacob. That is what takes place in the Purim story when as a result of Haman's genocidal decree "vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah," Mordecai lets out a great and bitter cry. So this is what the Sages say.
What I want to suggest here -- and again, the Sages are making a remarkable claim now. What they're saying is, is that if you really want to understand the Book of Esther you have to look back at Genesis 27 because the story of Esther is just what goes around comes around. There is a story of unfinished business over here. There's unfinished business, as my father, the psychiatrist, used to say -- alav hashalom -- in Genesis 27, Jacob runs away after tricking Esau, after tricking his father and there is an epilogue to that story and the epilogue to the story is here.
Now, what's interesting about this, to sort of begin to fill in the pictures that the Sages are saying, like do the Sages have any further evidence for this? What were they thinking? What I want to suggest to you and really the purpose of this webinar over these next couple of sessions is to point this out and maybe one of these days we'll create an Aleph Beta, fully-featured animated class on this. In a way, what I'm about to share with you is a kind of epilogue to the Purim series which we just released. If you haven't seen it yet, go check out our site and right there in the front center of Aleph Beta is our new Purim course which is fantastic, if I may say so. I really enjoyed putting it together. I think we called it "Mishloach Manot, a Secret Purim Story Hiding in Plain Sight."
What this is, I think, is an epilogue, in a way, to that story. So you'll understand what we're doing here even more deeply, if you take a look at our animated course on Aleph Beta. But I'm going to kind of just jump in and show this to you. But I want to suggest to you is what the Sages are talking about over here with "vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah," is one of those tip of the iceberg moments. Which is to say, there is a lot going on beneath the scenes that the Sages see and I want to begin to unearth some of the rest of the iceberg.
Studying the Background to Purim in the BibleLet's go back to what it was that happened after Jacob tricked Esau and we have that first "vayitz'ak tze'akah gedolah u'marah ad me'od," when Esau lets out a great and bitter cry. He says, "baracheini gam ani avi," please could you also give me a blessing, my father? And father basically says no, "ba achicha b'mirmah vayikach birchatecha," your brother came in stealth and took your blessing. To which Esau says, "hachi kara shemo Yaakov," that's why they called him Jacob, "vaya'akveini zeh pa'amayim," he tricked me or he heeled me twice, "et b'chorati lakach v'hinei atah lakach birchati," once he took my firstborn, now he's taking my blessing and he begs his father, "vayomar halo atzalt li brachah," didn't you save me a blessing.
To which Isaac, then gives Esau sort of this consolation prize blessing and Esau weeps and says, "vayisa Eisav kolo vayeiv'k," he lifts up his voice and he cries. By the way, let's actually put that in yellow, as well. At that point, "vayis'tom Eisav et Yaakov al habrachah asher beiracho aviv," Esau hates Jacob because of this blessing that his father gave him. Now, vayis'tom doesn't just mean hate. Vayis'tom is a deep and abiding hatred. It is a sense of a deep abiding grudge, a seething grudge. "Vayomer Eisav b'libo," and Esau then says in his heart -- by the way, actually while we're at it let's put that in some color over here. Let's turn that red -- "Vayomer Eisav b'libo," and Esau says in his heart, "yikrivu yemei eivel avi v'ahargah et Yaakov achi," soon my father will die and I'm going to kill my brother Jacob.
This is this threat, but this threat never actually gets out of Esau's heart. In other words, Esau has this in his heart that he's going to kill his brother Jacob. But if you actually play it out in the Book of Genesis that never happens. Right? So there's this implied threat. He's so angry he could kill his brother. He pledges to himself, he swears to himself that he's going to kill his brother once his father dies, but interestingly it never happens. There is sort of a quasi-reconciliation story between Jacob and Esau. There's that moment, 21 years later, where Esau comes to Jacob with 400 men. He looks like he's going to kill him, but there's this moment that they reconcile.
However, there is a descendent of Esau that doesn't seem to buy the reconciliation story, a grandson, a grandson of Esau, a child of Eliphaz, the child of Esau, by the name of Amalek. And Amalek doesn't seem to get the hint. He doesn't seem to believe in the reconciliation. Amalek argues that the rift between Jacob and Esau will live to fight another day, so to speak and Amalek shows up. After the Jews leave Egypt, Amalek shows up. Amalek will eventually show up again in the Purim story, in the form of Haman, who is ascribed by the text to be a descendent of Agag. Agag, of course, was a king of Amalek described in the Book of Samuel, in Samuel 1. So there's this sort of cascade down into history from Amalek to Agag to Haman.
I want to sort of meditate upon that with you for a moment. If it's true that there's this moment that Esau pledges that he's going to kill Jacob, but he never really does it, what were the Sages really saying when they said that the heavenly court abides justice over a course of centuries and there would be a time when a descendent of Esau, namely Haman, would cause a descendent of Jacob to let out a great and bitter cry? It's not just the great and bitter cry, of course, what does Haman try to do? He's trying to kill everyone; every man, woman and child. In essence, he's trying to kill Jacob in his generation because in Esau's generation killing Jacob meant killing one person. In Haman's generation it doesn't mean killing a person anymore. It means killing every last man, woman and child; every last person. That's the only way you kill Jacob.
So it sounds like there's this descendent of Amalek, this descendent of Agag that wants to make good on this ancient vow, so to speak, by Esau. Which is to completely wipe out Jacob.
Let me just show you a couple of pieces here, again, in the text. Remember "vayitz'ak tze'akah gedolah u'marah," and over here also "vayisa Eisav kolo vayeiv'k." Esau really has two responses. One is he lets out this great and bitter cry. The other is "vayisa Eisav kolo vayeiv'k," he raises up his voice and he cries. You're actually going to find both of those things generations later with Jacob because look at what Jacob does.
"Vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah," over here, he lets out this great and bitter cry, but just like Esau, where we had crying after the great and bitter cry we have it with Jacob, so to speak, or Mordecai in the times of Haman, as well. Right over here. We have both of them; the great and bitter cry followed by "eivel gadol laYehudim tzom u'bechi u'mispeid," this mourning to everybody and then everyone is fasting and they're crying and they are involved in hesped, they're involved in eulogizing.
So you have both of those things and just to point out something else. Well, "vayomer Eisav b'libo" let's wait for that because we're actually going to see that same language in the Megillah. But let's begin to actually precipitate some of the other pieces of this. Maybe, precipitation is a good word because look at this. One of the issues that the blessing -- like, what was that blessing about, that blessing that was stolen? The blessing was actually about this.
You see these words over here? Let's put these in a color. Let's put this in light green, for the time being. "Mishmanei ha'aretz yihiyeh moshavecha u'mital hashamayim mei'al," the dew of the heaven. Right, similarly, that's what Esau -- this blessing that Esau should have gotten and, of course, the blessing that Jacob, in fact, gets is this. "Vayitein l'cha Hashem Elokim mital hashamayim," let God give you mital hashamayim.
Let me ask you, when did that actually happen? When in Jewish history, did that blessing happen when the recipient of the blessing here, in this case Jacob, the stolen heirloom blessing, gets "vayitein l'cha Elokim," gets this Divine gift, "mital hashamayim," from the dew of the heavens, "rov dagan v'tirosh," all grain and oil.
If you think about that, I want to suggest that that actually happens in the desert after the Jews, after the Israelites come out of Egypt. Because you're actually going to find this language. I don't have it up on the screen right now, but it's a little bit of a pain in the neck to show you, but if you open up in Parashat Beshalach, which we just read a couple of weeks ago, in synagogue. But if you open up in Parashat Beshalach and you actually follow what happens there, when the manna comes to Israel, is described in these terms. Because the manna sits on this bed of dew that comes "mital hashamayim." There's this dew that comes from heaven and when the people ask what it it? Moses says, "hu halechem asher natan l'cha Hashem," it's the bread that God Himself gave you.
It evokes that language over here. "Yitein l'cha," God's going to give you, "mital hashamayim," from the heavens and God once did that. He gave us from the heavens this bread, this sustenance. That's really what the blessing was about. God giving sustenance to you and ultimately it's in the Land of Israel, but before that it's this manna which evokes this sort of sense of the blessings.
You see it also here, in the beginning of the blessing. "R'ei rei'ach b'ni k'rei'ach sadeh asher beiracho Hashem," the blessing is, Isaac says, that you smell like the field that God has blessed. Lo and behold, when the Jews, when the Israelites get the manna in the desert, even though they're in a desert it's described as the manna on the face of the field and it's evoking this imagery. There's this stuff that comes from the dew of heavens and it's bread that came from God and it's rei'ach hasadeh and it's this smell of the field and it seems like it's a precursor to this manna.
However, now, think of the word manna, how do you say it in Hebrew? What's the Hebrew word for manna, everybody? Unfortunately, I think, my comments froze over, I don't think I can see my comments, but if I could see my comments -- let's see while I speak -- can I see my comments? Let's see. Yeah. All right, so tell me, how do you say manna in Hebrew? You say it's the mahn. Spell it, Mem-Nun, the mahn.
What does that remind you of in the Megillah? Isn't it curious the name of our nemesis, Haman, spell it in Hebrew. Ha-man, the mahn. I mean, it's kind of crazy, but it's almost like what was stolen? If you were Esau, what would you be so mad about? With the hindsight of generations, that tal hashamayim, on the face of the field, that dew of the heavens on the face of the field that becomes the manna and it's like, I don't know, I'm upset, I'm angry. Right?
So it's almost like what goes around comes around. Here's this guy whose name is manna, this thing that he thought was stolen from him, right and all of a sudden he's plotting this genocide and sort of what goes around comes around.
Now, let me begin to, again, tease out a little bit of the rest of the iceberg. The Rabbis, when they began to focus on this, were focused on these words right over here, "vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah," and he let out a great and bitter cry. What I want to show you is the textual support for what they're saying is very, very there.
Let me begin to show it to you. Look at this. Let's put this in orange. Here it is. The descendant of Jacob, Mordecai, let's out this great and bitter cry and immediately after that what do we hear? We hear, "Vayavo ad lifnei sha'ar hamelech ki ein lavo el sha'ar hamelech bil'vush sak," he gets as far as what? The gates of the palace because you can't come into the gates of the palace wearing sack clothes and ashes. "U'v'chol medinah u'medinah mekom asher d'var hamelech v'dato magi'a eivel gadol layehudim," we hear that in all the places and in all of the provinces of the palace, wherever the kings word went, "eivel gadol layehudim," there was great mourning among the Jews.
Now, let's go back to the Jacob and Esau story and ask ourselves, after Esau's great and bitter cry, do we have anything that reminds us of this, "eivel gadol layehudim," great mourning? Was there great mourning after "vayitz'ak tze'akah gedolah u'marah?" Well, it turns out that there is. Let's just color it. Let's go back onto the right side of our text and look at this. Right after "vayitz'ak tze'akah gedolah u'marah," right after Esau lets out his great and bitter cry what happens?
What happens is, after he cries, "vayomer Eisav b'libo," Esau says in his heart, "yikrivu yemei eivel avi," -- there's that same word -- soon the mourning for my father will come, i.e. my father will die and then I will kill Jacob, my brother. It's fascinating.
So in both cases you have a great and bitter cry followed by mourning. By the way, it's not just any old kind of mourning. Look over here on the left-hand side of the page and I want to show you something kind of interesting about this mourning, which Mordecai and his countrymen have experienced, in the times of the Megillah.
It's a very weird kind of mourning because normally when you mourn for somebody or when you mourn for something, what happens or what has happened? Someone has died, somebody has already died. Well, there's something weird about the mourning in the case of the Megillah. Which is that nobody has already died. The threat of death is not in the past as it normally is for mourning, it's actually in the future. Right? "Eivel gadol layehudim," they are preemptively mourning. They are worried that they are going to die in the future and now they're mourning.
Almost as if because maybe if we're all going to die, there's going to be like no one left to mourn us so we may as well start mourning now. But whatever the reason is, it's strange, it's strange, wouldn't you say, to mourn before the fact and to mourn a future event. But isn't it fascinating that if you go to our Jacob and Esau story, lo and behold, you have like almost exactly the same thing; mourning in the future.
Look at what Esau says, the anticipation of death, "yikrivu yemei eivel avi." In the future father is going to die and we're going to mourn him and then I'm going to kill my brother, Jacob.
So in both of these cases you have this, sort of, preemptive mourning which is really, really kind of odd. Again, this sort of buttresses the connection. It's like this isn't just a weird -- this isn't just like a one-time thing. It's not like the Sages just picked a certain piece of language out of the hat. "Vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah." There's another connection here. There's this "eivel gadol layehudim" connection. There's this mourning connection.
Now, let's begin to fill in a little bit of the rest of the picture and I want to sort of do two things at once with you, to deepen or actually widen the connections textually, to show you that there are more connections and then begin to explore what the meaning of these connections might be. The Sages are talking about tit for tat, is there anything more that we can say about the meaning? Is there any way that we can sharpen the understanding that the Sages are trying to give us here?
Let me begin by widening the connections before deepening them. Widening them, I mean, in the sense of showing you more of them to sort of buttress the fact that this is real and then we're going to try and figure out what it might mean.
Let me show you something. Let's look at some verbs over here. We're going to put this in, let's call it, purple, a purple highlight. What happens? "Vatavonah na'arot Esther v'sarisehah vayagidu lah," here's Mordecai, he's outside this wrought iron gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, right, and he is in mourning and he's feeling terrible. So Esther hears about this, "vayagidu lah." So what happens is that the ladies in waiting for Esther come, "vayagidu lah," and they tell her about it. That's verb number one.
The next thing that happens is "vatit'chalchal hamalkah me'od," she trembles greatly. Let's put this in light red. And now, the next great verb is "vatishlach." Let's put that in purple, as well.
So the ladies in waiting tell her about Mordecai's misfortune, she then sends clothes. "Vatishlach begadim l'halbish et Mordechai," she sends clothes to Mordecai and then after that, the next great verb after "u'l'hasir sako mei'alav v'lo kibel," she's trying to get him to take off his sack clothes and he won't do it, but after she sends these clothes the next thing she does is this. Put this in purple, too.
"Vatikra Esther laHatach," Esther goes and she calls Hatach, one of her servants and instructs Hatach to do something and when she instructs Hatach to do something, what does she do? Here's our next verb, "vat'tzaveihu," she commands him. She commands him to find out about Mordecai. What it is, that Mordecai is up to. Why is he not wearing these clothes?
Now, let's just look at this for a moment. Let me just make sure I've got them all. Yeah. So you have a series of four verbs. Verb number one, "vayagidu," and they told her what was happening with Mordecai; verb number two, "vatishlach," and she goes and sends; verb number three, "vatikra," and she goes and calls; verb number four, and she issues this command.
So here's my question for you, can we see these verbs in the Jacob and Esau story and would they appear not just in the Jacob and Esau story, but would they appear in order and would they appear in order right after the yellow and the orange? So in other words, right after Esau lets out his great and bitter cry, right after "eivel gadol layehudim," right after the mourning in that story, might we have these verbs?
The crazy thing is we do. Let me show. This is crazy, just absolutely crazy. Let me show you what I'm talking about over here. I'm sorry, I think I left out one actually, hold on. Okay. So let me take you down over here. Here's our yellow, "vayitz'ak tze'akah gedolah u'marah," Esau lets out this great and bitter cry. Here is our other yellow, "vayeiv'k," he cries. Here is "yikrivu yemei eivel avi," that the mourning of my father is going to come. So after that, oh, fascinating, look at that. "Vayugad" -- let's put that in purple -- "vayugad l'Rivkah," and it was told to Rebecca what it was that Esau was up to. So put that in purple. "Vayugad l'Rivkah et divrei Eisav b'nah hagadol," she was told what was in Esau's heart and immediately after that, look at our next verb, "vatishlach," the same verb, in order.
So she sent and what does she do? "Vatikra," and she calls. The same verb, in order. She goes and she sends for Jacob and what does she do? She tells him Esau is trying to kill you and now, listen to me and then she issues a command. In Hebrew, there are verbs that can take the form of commands. "B'rach l'cha" is a command form of I'm commanding you to run away.
So what do you have? A, vayugad; B, vatishlach; C, vatikra and then a command following exactly the same thing over here, after our yellow, after our orange. Vayagidu, verb one; verb two, vatishlach; vatikra, following that a command. Okay, that's crazy. It's just crazy. It's there. Right? It's literally the same text happening.
So if we take all of that and we say so what does it mean, why? What's the meaning of that? So let's begin to read this through and begin to sort of understand this meaning. We're going to read through these five verses and see what it is the Sages suggest to us. What I want to do and sort of ask you to think about -- I wish I could see your comments.
(Irrelevant 00:35:51 - 00:37:23)
So back to this text. So what does this mean? So let's read through this again and let's see if we can understand what it might mean. Okay, let's go through this and see what we can find.
"U'Mordechai yada et kol asher na'asah," and Mordecai knew everything that happened, okay, "vayikra Mordechai et b'gadav," and he rips his clothes, "vayilbash sak va'eifer." Now, let's just understand, there is this genocidal decree that has just befallen Mordecai. Why is it that Mordecai does not mourn where everyone else mourns? After he lets out this great and bitter cry, what does he do? He's going to go and he's going to set himself up "ad lifnei sha'ar hamelech," he's going to come right up to the gates, "ki ein lavo el sha'ar hamelech bilevush sak," because he can't go into the "sha'ar hamelech bilevush sak," he can't actually go into the gates.
Now, think about what is his goal? His goal is actually to get word to Esther. Esther is his ace in the hole. If he could just let Esther know what's going on, he thinks, we can be saved, right. But the problem is he can't because he's wearing these clothes of mourning and you can't get all the way into the palace gates because they don't let you do that. You can't walk into the White House wearing rags. You have to be wearing a three-piece suit. So Mordecai leaves central Shushan where all the Jews are ensconced in their Jewish quarter wearing their rags and he actually comes right outside the wrought iron gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He's the one guy in sack clothes and ashes.
Why's he doing that? He's sort of trying to get Esther's attention. Now, you might say, well, you know, what he couldn't do is -- there is an alternative, right? Dress up in a three-piece suit, pretend everything is okay and pretend that nothing has gone wrong. You're going to be the Jew who doesn't mourn and you're going to walk right into the palace and somehow get to try to encounter Esther and then sort of take here aside and tell her what's going on.
However, he does not do that. Instead, he stays in clothes that force him to remain outside the palace gates, which is risky. Because how is he even going to know Esther's going to see him. Esther does see him and sends clothes to him, but you don't even know that's going to happen.
Now, what does that remind you of in the Esau story? In the Jacob and Esau story, if you imagine Mordecai playing Jacob, Jacob also had a sort of challenge. He also wanted to get to a powerful person. The powerful person, in his case, wasn't a queen. The powerful person, in his case, was a father. A father who could bless him, who could make everything good. The same way that Esther can make everything good. But he has a challenge, right?
Which is, what clothes do I wear? There are clothes that'll get me into father and there are clothes that won't. The problem is the clothes that are going to get me into father are not truth telling clothes. Will I wear my brother's clothes, Esau's clothes and dress up like someone that I'm not? It's almost like that's Mordecai's challenge. Like, right now I'm in mourning and it's fascinating in a way. It's almost like there's an inverse story of Jacob and Esau happening here.
Which is to say, in the Jacob and Esau story, Jacob had this challenge how am I going to get into my father's place? The only way I can get into my father's place is to wear clothes that are better, nicer than my regular clothes and he does put them on.
In Mordecai's case it's the exact reverse. Mordecai has regular clothes and what does he wear? He actually wears worse clothes because the worse clothes reflect the truth of the situation. So it's almost like there's a kind of tikkun (rectification) going on here. That it's almost like the story is being redeemed on some level.
There is this threat -- this threat leftover from the Jacob and Esau story. How is Mordecai dealing with this threat centuries later? In a way, he has the same challenge as Jacob did, but he begins by doing the opposite thing. Rather than donning the beautiful, deceptive clothes that might get him into the palace, into the inner sanctum of his father, what is he doing instead? He is putting worse clothes on that don't even have a chance and kind of taking a risk and staying out and truth telling. Like, this is who I am, I am in mourning now. Can you see that mourning? What kind of mourning? The mourning that Esau once felt, I'm feeling that now.
Let's keep on reading.
Steven Geller, over here is posting on Facebook, a very interesting point which we should actually talk about. We are going to talk about it. The question is whether we'll have time to talk about it tonight. We have about 15 more minutes tonight. I think I'm going to go until about 8:10 Eastern Time or so. Steven wants to know, what was the transgression that led the Jews to deserve to be killed by Haman? Was it participating in the feast with the vessels from the Temple? If so, that connects to the feast made by Isaac by Jacob pretending to be Esau.
So Steven is wondering, isn't it interesting if we actually go and predict why it was that the Jews got into this story in the first place and talking about what the Sages say about that. So Steven we will get to your point. If you don't understand what Steven's talking about I'll get to it, but let's just wait for a second. I want to finish looking at this and then we'll actually back up towards the beginning of the Megillah and try to address Steven's issue of what happened, like, how come this happened, exactly, centuries later? What was going on in the times of the Megillah that made this sort of happen. So Steven we will get there.
Anyway, let's continue. So here is Mordecai and it seems like he's on this sort of redemptive path. After he lets out this great and bitter cry, he comes right up to the palace gates of the king and everyone's feeling "eivel gadol layehudim," this great terrible -- this great sense of mourning, "tzom u'bechi u'mispeid" and what happens next?
"Vatavonah na'arot Esther v'sarisehah vayagidu lah," so along comes the "na'arot Esther," and they tell Esther what's been happening. If you think about that, what does that remind you of in the Jacob and Esau story? Telling a woman what's been happening regarding eivel, regarding mourning. Telling a woman what's been happening regarding mourning.
Well, let's go back over here in our Jacob and Esau story. Here is the mourning, "yikrivu yemei eivel avi." This is Esau speaking in his heart and saying the time will soon come when my father will die and I'm going to kill Jacob and all of a sudden, "vayugad l'Rivkah," a woman is told, right. In this case it's the mother. Here another woman is told, told about the mourning thing, but this time told that Jacob is in mourning. And what happens? "Vatitchalchal hamalkah me'od."
Now, this is fascinating. What does that remind you of? Who trembles greatly in the Jacob and Esau story? What does Esther's trembling remind you of? Come on boys and girls. Who trembles greatly in the Jacob and Esau story, you know. Facebook comments, talk to me. Who trembles greatly in the Jacob and Esau story? Esther trembles greatly. Who is she evoking? What trembling is she evoking?
Let's see if we can find it. Right over here. That is correct, Eitan Zerykier and Josh Shpayer and Eugene. Right, it is Yitzchak, it is Isaac and it's right over here. "Vayecherad Yitzchak charadah gedolah ad me'od." Let's turn that into red. Isaac trembles greatly when what happens? When he realizes he's been deceived. But here's the fascinating thing. What about Esther. Esther trembles greatly; the same -- well, not quite the same language, the me'od, the vatitchalchal is slightly different, but it's the same idea. She's trembling greatly, but fascinatingly Isaac trembled greatly when he realized he was deceived. Esther trembles greatly, but she's not deceived.
In a way, Mordecai had a chance to deceive here, didn't he? Had Mordecai worn beautiful clothes, had he not acknowledged the mourning that he was in fact in, he would have deceived her and then maybe if she'd been trembling like she would have realized that she was deceived, but in fact what is happening is a kind of redemptive kind of trembling. Rather than the first time around, in the Book of Genesis, where the protagonist trembles because they've been deceived, here the protagonist trembles because she's confronted with the terrible truth. Here is the person that she cares about that's in terrible mourning and she doesn't even know why and she's got to figure it out. So Esther's forced to figure out a terrible truth, rather than Isaac being forced to grapple with a terrible lie.
"Vatitchalchal hamalkah me'od," and now, what does she do? It's fascinating. "Vatishlach begadim l'halbish et Mordechai." Now, what, boys and girls, does that remind you of? A woman sends clothes to dress up Mordecai in better clothes. When else does a woman send clothes l'halbish. Let's actually just look at this. Let's turn this into a color. We'll turn this in text into purple. Look at that language, "vatishlach begadim l'halbish et Mordechai." When does a woman send clothes to dress up somebody that she loves, in the Jacob and Esau story? That too resonates, of course, but interestingly that resonates earlier in the story, right. Because all of this stuff, all of our resonance is now, look, they're all towards the end of the story.
Now, we're going back to the beginning of the story, almost as if Mordecai and Esther are buying themselves a chance to replay the beginning of the story. Look at the very beginning of the story. Rebecca, the girl, the woman, what did she do? She didn't know how her son is going to be able to get this blessing, so she gives him these beautiful clothes. Let's see if we could find it. Where is it? Where is it? Where is it? Here.
"Vatikach Rivkah et bigdei Eisav b'nah hagadol," she takes the beautiful clothes of Esau and now, look at this language over here, "vatalbeish et Yaakov b'nah hakatan." Let's just put this in our right color. You see how close that is. "Vatishlach begadim l'halbish et Mordechai." Esther is sending these clothes so that Mordecai can get dressed up in nice clothes, just like, once upon a time, Rebecca sent clothes to dress up Jacob and fatefully Jacob had a choice; do I accept those clothes or not?
Now, that choice ultimately becomes a choice about deception or not deception. Fascinatingly, Mordecai has the same choice also and to this I refer you back to our course on Aleph Beta, on Mishloach Manot Would You Confine. We just released it yesterday. What I argued is that right at this moment when Esther sent clothes to Mordecai, Mordecai has a choice; will he deceive or will he not deceive.
You see, because if he takes the clothes, what is he really saying? Esther doesn't know the truth. Esther's off in the palace. She's unaware. She doesn't see everyone mourning out there in Shushan.
That's a good point, Daniel Rice. We'll get to you in one second on your Facebook comments.
So Esther doesn't know what's happening in Shushan, she's ensconced in the palace. She doesn't even know there's a genocidal decree. All she sees is this one guy mourning and she doesn't even know that she's mourning. Why is she sending clothes to him? She's sending clothes to him because she's unaware. If he's mourning, you don't go in a mourner's house and send somebody clothes. That's not a nice thing. They want to be in mourning. Why is she sending clothes?
She's sending clothes because she thinks that he is poor. She thinks that he is destitute so she's sending clothes. She's trying to get him to dress up nicely. She doesn't understand and now, Mordecai has a choice because he has to choose; do I accept those clothes or not accept the clothes. He's trying to provoke a conversation with her; a conversation in which he comes to understand the truth about him not wearing clothes because he's poor, but wearing clothes because I'm in mourning.
He needs to somehow communicate through his actions what has actually befallen the Jews. He need to get the word through to the palace so it is crucial for him not to accept those clothes. Because if he accepts the clothes, what is he saying? Thank you, Esther, I was poor very much. Thank you, I appreciate that I was local tragedy. He has to basically say, I'm taking your clothes, I'm throwing them in the dumpster, I am not poor, guess again. Which is exactly what he does.
He makes a fateful choice. A choice that is different than Jacob's choice. Jacob takes the clothes from his mother; Mordecai doesn't take the clothes from Esther. "V'lo kibel," he doesn't take the clothes and that changes everything. That sets the story on an arc in which, I believe, they have another chance to play the story. All of these resonances which we've seen; yellow, orange, red, purple -- right -- going to the end of the story; yellow, orange, red, purple all those things which take us to the end of the story. All of a sudden, we've reached the end of the story and now we have an act, a fateful act of Mordecai not accepting clothes.
What I want to suggest that's going to do is that's going to throw us back to the beginning of the story, to this moment in the story, to the moment when Rebecca sends clothes and now, what I'm going to show you next week is that as we continue to read this story of Esther 4, you are going to continue to see the resonances of the Jacob and Esau story. But it's almost like they've bought the chance, Jacob and Esau, to do this again.
I want to argue to you that there are four -- at least four acts in the Megillah and fascinatingly each of these four acts is a replay of the Jacob and Esau story. It's like the movie, Groundhog Day. It keeps on happening and until you can get it in exactly right. There are these four redemptive acts. You can read the entire -- what I want to suggest is the Sages weren't talking about one line, when they talk about "vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah." They were talking about the entire book. The whole book. You can read it with reference to the Jacob and Esau story. The whole thing, in four acts. It's Groundhog Day.
What we've just seen, this stuff right over here, is act three, I want to show you. There's an act four, a final redemptive act. Maybe even an act five, we'll discuss that next week; acts four and five.
What I want to do now is take you into acts one and two for our -- well, we really, we don't have much time. We have five minutes left. Let me see if I can at least tease act one and it goes back to Steven Geller's question over here. Which is, what precipitated this? Why was it that the hatred of Esau lay dormant until the times of Mordecai and Esther specifically? What was happening in the times of Mordecai and Esther which all of a sudden precipitates this Divine decree that no, now is the moment where the cry, the great and bitter cry of Esau is going to be echoed by Jacob? What happened?
So Steven suggests, back in this comment over here, he says, what was the transgression that led the Jews to deserve to be killed by Haman, was it perhaps participating in the feast with the vessels of the Temple? Was it perhaps -- and this is what the Sages say.
Understanding the Midrashic Commentary on PurimThe Sages say that it all started with the feast. That in the beginning of the story, Ahasuerus makes this huge party and everyone comes and it seems like the Sages argue that the vessels from the looted Temple, the First Temple, were actually used in that feast. It's not explicit in the text, but it's somewhat implied in the text and the Sages say that that was the case. So the Sages view, in the Midrash is that the participation in that feast was problematic.
Now, it's kind of interesting because there's a problematic feast in the Jacob and Esau story and that is the food which is coming to -- the food that is coming to Isaac via Jacob. So I want to kind of elaborate on this for a moment and see what we can find. Let me just take a quick look at your comments and see if there's anything that I can respond to in my last minutes, as I kind of take you back into the beginning of act one.
Yes, Eugene Nakdimon is correct. It's not peshuto shel mikra, even according to Rashi. That's true, it's not the simple meaning of the text, it's Midrash. What we would sort of want to find, if we can, really is the simple meaning of the text. In other words, that if the Sages are right about "vayiz'ak ze'akah gedolah u'marah" over here echoing this event, what was there in the simple meaning of the text, in Esther, which is provoking this sort of din in Shamayim, this sort of Heavenly calculus. What is making this happen? So it could be the vessels of the Temple, but the problem is that's not there in the text.
What is there in the text that seems to be provoking it? I'll put you that challenge on Facebook. What do you think is in the text that sort of provokes it? Let's see what we can find.
Yeah, Josh, I have to tell you the truth. Josh says as always I'm astonished at both the matanot connection -- and I think he's referring there to the videos that we had in Aleph Beta -- as well as the four verbs from tonight. Crazy, right? Those four verbs are crazy. Every time I think I've heard about it in the Megillah, there's a whole new angle. I have to tell you, I feel exactly the same way. It's like -- I want to tell you a quick story.
I was teaching the Megillah, recently. I was in Israel, I was teaching it at an advanced group of teachers and principal and one of the principals raises her hand and says didn't you write a book on the Megillah, The Queen You Thought You Knew, and I said, yeah. She said is this in the book, what you're teaching? I said no, no, no, this is all new stuff. I just came up with this last year and the book was written like three years ago, four years ago.
She says but you're saying that it's not in the book. So like why did you go -- you wrote a book on the Book of Esther, why did you go back to Esther after you wrote the book? I kind of laughed to myself. It's like just because you write a book on something it doesn't mean you understand the whole thing, right.
That's the nature of Biblical text. It is so fascinating that you could go back to it and back to it and you could write five books on the Book of Esther. This is just mind-boggling what's there that you discover year after year after year that you wouldn't have even imagined.
So let me see what else you guys are saying. Eugene Nakdimon and I suggest the opposite. That the Jews participated in the feast of Ahasuerus was the equivalent of utilizing the vessels of the Temple. That's what the Sages meant.
Aha, interesting, okay. That eating in the feast was like they're eating the vessels of the Temple. Okay, kind of interesting.
So let's take a look at what Cath Darnell says. One Jew, Mordecai, disses Haman, so it’s the ultimate revenge to punish all Jews for the transgression of one. Yes, that's true, Cath, but I would ask you to wonder exactly what was it that was a method of dissing Haman? Do you find that interesting? What was it that one Jew did to dis Haman that sort of propelled all of this? Come on, boys and girls, what did he do? What did that one Jew do and what resonance does that hold to you from the Jacob and Esau story? What does it remind you of in the Jacob and Esau story that great offense that Mordecai did?
I'm waiting to see if anybody hits it on the comments. I'll give you five more seconds, guys, because I think I've got a bit of a delay with you. What was the thing that Mordecai didn't do that reminds you of something in the text of Genesis 27? That is correct, Seth Kosowsky (ph) and Eitan Zerykier. Mordecai doesn't bow. Why would that be such a big deal?
Well, boys and girls, let's take a look at Genesis 27. What was the blessing? What's the whole fight about? It's not just about sustenance, the manna or the mahn. What's supposed to happen to the manna? Look at this, "ya'avducha amim," let nations serve you, "v'yishtachavu l'cha l'umim," and let nations bow to you. That was the blessing. Nations would bow to you. "Hevei g'vir l'achecha," you're going to be above your brother, "v'yishtachavu l'cha bnei imecha," and your mother's children are going to bow to you. Your brother is going to bow to you.
Now, if there's a descendent of Esau, generations later, that thinks that that blessing was stolen and thinks that Esau was the legitimate recipient of that blessing and thinks that Esau should have been the one to whom this blessing went -- the blessing that your mother's children, your brother, will bow to you, then what happens when a child of Jacob, called Mordecai, doesn't bow? He's violating the terms. He's violating the blessing. All of a sudden, the anger of Haman, the anger of Amalek, the smoldering rage like an ember bursts into flame. It's like I've got to kill everybody.
So that's one piece of the puzzle, but that's not the whole piece of the puzzle. There's other stuff going on in the Megillah that actually reminds us of events that took place back in Genesis 27; a whole kaleidoscope of events. So let me give you a challenge. The challenge I want to give you is for next week. We're going to come back for webinar number two next week and I've shown you act three, in the story. There's an act one and there's an act two before this, earlier in the Megillah. Can you figure out what some of the elements of act one and act two are? What are the events that precipitate this? What was happening in Shushan? What's happening with Mordecai? What's happening with Esther? What happened between them?
By the way, with respect to this, watch the Aleph Beta presentation which we've put together. It's a lot of fun. Our presentation on Mishloach Manot, the animated series. We just put it up last week, take a look at it, tell your friends about it, send out word.
Look at that, what was happening that Mishloach Manot over there that Mordecai sent to Esther which is in the beauty contest, in the palace, in the king's harem. That's a piece of the story too. How does that relate to the story of Jacob and Esau?
Read through the beginning of the Megillah with the story of Jacob and Esau in mind and ask yourself what is happening in the times of the Megillah that precipitates all this? See if you can gather the threads, see if you can pull them together and I'll come back with you next week.
We're going to close the official part of the webinar here. What I am going to do is spend just a moment scrolling through these questions and see if I can answer any of them.
Daniel Reit (ph) says can you please post this document with the color coding for us to use in the meantime when we prepare for next week? Absolutely, Daniel. So I am going to post that for you. I've actually conveniently put together act one, act two, act three just the text without the outlines, but you can at least see what we've done over here, so we will post that and we will hopefully get that out to you -- hopefully tomorrow, we're going to have our people at Aleph Beta try to put that up for you. So Daniel, we will do that.
Let me see what else we've got over here. Okay, so Daniel, you're actually anticipating part of this. I wouldn't begin to give away the store. Look at this comment by Daniel, that not only does Rebecca give clothes to Jacob, back in Genesis 27, she also gives food to him; think about that going back in the text and see if we can find anything there.
Any other comments from you guys? Okay, I think that's pretty good. All right boys and girls, so I'm going to bow out now.
Come back next week, look at your homework, see what you can find and watch our Aleph Beta video on Purim. In the meantime, we will post this. This is recorded. Tell your friends you can hear this recorded. Come back and see us next week. We will see you then.
Thanks very much and until then have a good week, to the rest of you. This is David Fohrman signing out.