What Does The Induction Ceremony For The Priests Have To Do With... Purim?
What Does The Induction Ceremony For The Priests Have To Do With... Purim?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
We learn in Shemini about the induction of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood as part of the Tabernacle's consecration. Interestingly, there are bunch of similarities – in language, and in theme – between this story, and the story of King Ahasuerus in Megillat Esther. But what does the induction of the Tabernacle's priests have to do with Esther?? Join Rabbi Fohrman and Rivky as they examine this puzzle – and never think about the priesthood, or Megillat Esther the same way again.
Rabbi Fohrman Hi everybody. Welcome to Parsha Lab. This is Rabbi David Fohrman and I am here this week with Rivky Stern. Rivky actually filled in last week as I was not around and she's back this week. Imu Shalev is not around so Rivky, you are going to be a regular contributor here. How does it feel?
Rivky It's a little scary but I'm enjoying it actually. I like it.
Rabbi Fohrman Embrace the fear. That's what I always say. Today we'll be looking at Parshat Shemini together. You know, Shemini is one of those parshiyot which is in the thicket of Sefer Vayikra. Sefer Vayikra is one of those books that is difficult in a way for us to get our hands around, a lot of sacrificial law, a lot of focus on the Tabernacle. And the truth is the focus on mishkan, the Tabernacle, is really one of the main themes of this week's parsha.
Consecration of the Tabernacle and its PriestsRabbi Fohrman In this week's parsha you actually have the dedication ceremony for the Tabernacle, the seven day ceremony, the shiv'at y'mei milu'im, followed by the climactic eighth day moment, from which the parsha gets its name, u'bayom hashemini, the eighth day. And it's the story of the induction of the kohanim, the priests. And interestingly, if you look carefully at the text, it's not just the induction of the priests, it's the induction of the Tabernacle and strangely enough, another element which you wouldn't have even thought needed to be inducted, as it were, but it's actually about the consecration of the clothes of the priests also. The clothes of the priests are also inducted, as it were, and are consecrated as well. So there's a whole consecration process involving people, the priests, and involving instruments of the Tabernacle and involving the clothes of the Tabernacle.
So here's what I thought we would do, Rivky, by way of a game plan here. I thought what we could do, you and I, is I wanted to share with you some stuff that I had noticed, some very tantalizing hints of something going on underneath the surface here. I wanted to share with you some things that I found and kind of brain storm with you some possibilities of what this all might mean. So are you game?
Rivky Yeah. I'm excited to explore this together, very cool.
Rabbi Fohrman So Rivky, here's what happened. Essentially, I was kind of sitting in the pews, as it were, in the synagogue that I go to and I was listening to the Megillah that was being read. And there was a combination of words that just sort of jumped out at me. And when I came home, I just opened up my Tanach, my Bible, and I kind of found it. It was the beginning, almost corner piece a of a little bit of a jigsaw puzzle here. Here are the words that jumped out at me and I'm wondering if they mean anything to you in the context of the parsha that we are looking at. Okay.
Studying the Bible Stories of King Ahasuerus and the Tabernacle's ConsecrationSo just by background in the way of the Megillah, this is right in the beginning of the Megillah. We're introduced to Ahasuerus and he's this big emperor. And he's got this empire that stretches for 127 provinces.
Ahasuerus is really into parties. The first thing we know is he makes this huge party for all of his officers "Cheil Paras u'Madai, sarei ha'medinot l'fanav" all these officers and all these lieutenant governors. "B'har'oto et osher k'vod malchuto v'et y'kar tif'eret g'dulato." And he's showing off all of his riches and all of his glory of his kingship, a big boastful feast. But then when the feast is done, he makes this other feast "b'chatzar ginat bitan hamelech" in the inner sanctum of the king. And those words there in Chapter 1, Verse 5 of the Megillah are "U'bim'lot hayamim ha'eileh" and upon the conclusion of those, or literally upon the fulfilling of those days, the king makes this great feast for seven days.
Rivky, the question I have for you is what, if anything, in our parsha does this remind you of, the conclusion of these days or the fulfillment of these days? Great feast for seven days.
Rivky So, the seven days seems very reminiscent of our parsha because in our parsha we have the seven days of this milu'im, sanctification of the priests and as you mentioned, of their clothes.
Rabbi Fohrman And just to point to the word there, the seven day feast for the consecration of the Temple is not just described as the consecration feast, it's called the shiv'at y'mei milu'im, the seven days of fulfillment. And what struck me when I was in the pews listening to the Megillah, was how reminiscent that was of Ahasuerus' feast. Because, take a look at, let's look at it.
Rivky: U'bim'lot hayamim.
Rabbi Fohrman That's right. It would be "U'bim'lot hayamim ha'eilah" in Esther. At the fulfillment or the conclusion of those days, but listen to that in Hebrew, "U'bim'lot hayamim ha'eileh." Now just let me take you into, just before our parsha. Take a look at Chapter 8, Verse 33 for a second. Just read that out loud and listen to the resonance here.
Rivky "U'mipetach ohel mo'ed lo teitz'u." And you shouldn't go out of the door of the ohel mo'ed, the tent of meeting "shiv'at yamim", for seven days, "ad yom m'lot y'mei milu'eichem" until the days of the milu'im are finished.
Rabbi Fohrman Exactly. You see how close that resonance is. "Ad yom m'lot y'mei milu'eichem." And here you have " U'bim'lot hayamim ha'eilah." The Megillah seems to be going out if it's way to echo this. And then you throw in the fact that how long is each of these feasts.
Rivky Seven days, yeah.
Rabbi Fohrman Seven day in milu'im in the Tabernacle, seven days in milu'im for Ahasuerus. Sounds crazy, right? What does that have to do with anything? But let's go back also, Rivky, to what it was that the seven days of milu'im were all about. So as we just mentioned, it was about the consecration of the Tabernacle, but not just the Tabernacle, the consecration of the priests and the consecration of the priests' clothes, of all things. Right?
So let me take you back to one verse earlier in the Megillah, where we hear about the riches of Ahasuerus and what he's trying to do. Take a look at Esther 1, Verse 4. We hear of him showing off osher, the riches of k'vod malchuto, of the honor of his kingship "et y'kar tif'eret g'dulato" and how dear the glory of his greatness was. K'vod and tif'eret, there, right? What does k'vod and tif'eret remind you of, earlier on, in terms of these things that are being concentrated? And for this, I take you back to Exodus 28. What is the k'vod and tif'eret of Ahasuerus –
Rivky Oh, very cool. The verses are describing the clothing of the kohanim, of the priest. And the verse says very exclusively, "v'asita bigdei kodesh", and you will make holy clothing, "l'Aharon achicha", for Aaron, your brother l'kavod u'l'tif'eret. It's the exact same language, for this kavod, for splender and tif'eret, for beauty.
Rabbi Fohrman Exactly. So here is Ahasuerus showing off his kavod and tif'eret and it is just reminiscent of these clothes of the priests which just happen to get consecrated when?
Rivky At the end of these seven days.
Rabbi Fohrman At the end of these seven days. And these shivat y'mei milu'im. And just in case you thought that was a coincidence, take a look in Esther how that kavod and tif'eret expresses itself, that honor and glory expresses itself. "Chur, karpas u'techeilet," all these royal tapestries, "achuz b'chavlei butz v'argaman al gililei kesef, v'amudei sheish, mitot zahav vakesef." Among all of these royal implements, you have four that stand out, in a particular order. Listen to this order. T'cheilet, which is tapestries of a certain type of turquoise blue, argaman, tapestries of a purple related to that blue, amudei sheish, marble columns, mitot zahav vakesef, beds with inlay of gold. So if you look at those techeilet, argaman, sheish and zahav, in that order.
Now go out of Esther, back into Exodus 28, which we were talking about the clothes of the priests and then we're talking about all of the implements which were used to build the Tabernacle. Take a look at Verse 5. What raw materials were used?
Rivky "V'heim yikchu et hazahav v'et ha't'cheilet v'et ha'argaman v'et tola'at hashani v'et hasheish. V'asu et ha'eifod zahav t'cheilet v'argaman."
Rabbi Fohrman But just look at the order of those four implements, t'cheilet, argaman, sheish and zahav in the Tabernacle. T'cheilet, argaman, sheish and zahav in Ahasuerus' palace. The echo seems to be very unmistakable.
So the question is like, so what does that mean? Before we even get to what does that mean, let's just assemble the data and make sure we see as much data that we can here then maybe it will help us, what does it mean? But it sounds like there is some sort of crazy correlation.
Rivky Right. Let me give it a shot to sum it up here. It seems like, first of all, they both have these feasts. And both feasts happen sort of at the culmination after seven days. They're both celebrating and they're celebrating with this kavod and tif'eret. And they use these very particular types of materials or colors, the t'cheilet, argaman, the sheish and the gold, the zahav. And not only that, there's this very clear language of milu'im and milu'ot, through which there's this sort of sanctification or inauguration or something like that. Did I get them all, Rabbi Fohrman?
Rabbi Fohrman Right. And actually, I think maybe that last word that you used might actually be a key. In other words, if the purpose of the milu'im in the Tabernacle is sanctification and inauguration, is that also the purpose of the party at some level?
Connecting the Drunken Feast of King Ahasuerus... to the Tabernacle?Rivky So, I think that gets to my first question, which to me this feels a little bit almost troubling, right. We think of these seven days and the culmination of these seven days for our parsha for the sanctification of the Tabernacle, as this incredibly spiritual experience for the entire Israelite people and for the priests themselves and for Moses. We've gone through this entire process. We've put together, sort of, our new religious leadership for how we're going to have this intensely strong connection with God through the Tabernacle. And then we look at Ahasuerus' party, which is superficial and kind of gross, and it's intended to show his riches, and not intended to show anything really meaningful.
Rabbi Fohrman That's true. So it's at face value a troubling connection, right? You know, you should not be able to sleep at night. It's like, oh my gosh, what is happening in the Megillah? Are you telling me that Ahasuerus' feast is somehow, you know, this debased drunken kind of feast is connected to the Tabernacle? But let's follow the data a little bit more and maybe we'll get smarter. Let's actually focus on the debased drunkenness of this. Because if you go to Verse 8 in Esther what do we hear about wine during this feast? How much wine was there? "Ki chein yisad hamelech al kol rav beito la'asot kir'tzon ish va'ish."
Rivky It looks like the drinking was actually the wine.
Rabbi Fohrman That's right. By law everyone does whatever they want, which is an oxymoron, right? Because if you think about the whole nature of law, how would you define the institution of law?
Rivky The king sets the rules. You have to do what the king wants.
Rabbi Fohrman And the king's rules actually circumscribe what you want. That's the whole point. I can't do whatever I want because there's laws. No, not in Persia. In Persia the law was do whatever you want, and everyone should have as much as wine so that there are no inhibitions. That's the law. So this very oxymoronic law, but now relate that to the shiv'at y'mei milu'im. Think about wine during the shiv'at y'mei milu'im, especially the culmination of the shiv'at y'mei milu'im. Does that remind you of anything? What actually happened on the eighth day in our parsha, and how does wine relate to it?
Rivky So what I think what you're kind of going to be referring to is Nadav and Avihu. Basically what happens in this story, just to summarize, is that Nadav and Avihu, and the culmination of this which is supposed to be the most spiritual, holy part of this entire event. Nadav and Avihu, two of the sons of Aaron who are about to become priests, they kind of mess up. They do the wrong thing and our understanding is that there was alcohol involved here and God punishes them by killing.
Rabbi Fohrman So the understanding, which Rivky is referring to, is actually not explicit in the text. That's given to us by rabbis. What is explicit in the text and why it is seemingly that the rabbis come up with it is a law that comes right after this. So if you look at Chapter 10, Verse 8, Rivky, what's the law?
Rivky So God says to Aaron, "yayin v'sheichar al teisht atah u'vanecha itach b'vo'achem el ohel mo'ed lo tamutu." You are not allowed to drink any sort of wine or alcohol when you approach the Tabernacle so that you will not die.
Rabbi Fohrman You see we have a contrast now. By the way, this is sort of how biblical intertextuality works. What we're seeing here is an example of intertextuality, is an example of two texts that seem to be playing off of each other that the author of the Megillah seems to be purposely playing off the shiv'at y'mei milu'im. But if you stand back and ask, so what's the meaning of that. This I think, Rivky, gets to your point about how troubling the connection is. That one of the solutions to the connection is that the mere fact that there's all these resonances in the Megillah of the shiv'at y'mei milu'im in our parsha does not suggest that we are looking at a perfect replay of the shiv'at y'mei milu'im, right.
It's not just like oh the shiv'at y'mei milu'im are happening again, but I don't get it. It's Ahasuerus. That's so terrible. No, it's not necessarily the case that it's happening again. So the analogy that I often give to this – I have a big fancy word for it – so I'm going to intimidate you Rivky, with this –
Rivky I'm already nervous.
Rabbi Fohrman – anybody listening. My big fancy word is that this is my binary theory of biblical intertextuality. Basically the way it works is like this. If you know anything about computers, you know that computers work with binary languages. They're sort of the base two system. The only thing a computer really understands is zeros and ones, yeses and nos. So now, you can perhaps challenge me and say, one second. I don't get it. You're telling me the only thing the computer really knows are zeros and ones? That's the only thing that the computer knows? My computer looks like it knows a lot more than that. My computer can paint a picture of a Mona Lisa on the screen. A Mona Lisa is like this very subtle piece of art. It's not just like zeros and ones. How do you get a Mona Lisa out of zeros and ones?
So Rivky, if someone challenged you that, if you're on the plane, somebody sits to you and says, oh, you've done some computer science. Well tell me how you get a Mona Lisa out of zeros and ones. What would you say?
Rivky I would say that I know very little about computer science, but my general understanding is that you can turn those zeros and ones with strings of those zeros and ones into much more intricate creations. That's how you create something much bigger.
Rabbi Fohrman Exactly. The way you would just do it is you would say, okay. Let zero, one, one, zero, one code for a red dot, and let one, one, zero, one, zero code for a blue dot. You assign different combinations of zeros and ones to all these different colors and if you give me enough zeros and ones I can paint you a Mona Lisa with all the different dots. I can get the Mona Lisa out of zeros and ones.
Similarly, the Torah can paint Mona Lisas in binary ways as well. It's a very powerful system binary systems. The way intertextuality works, the way the Torah seems to use intertextuality is in a binary way.
For example, here you are. You're reading Story A, like the story of y'mei milu'im. You happen to start noticing these connections to some other story, in this case the story of Ahasuerus' feast. It doesn't just mean that what's happening at Ahasuerus' feast is, as we said before, is a replay of the first story. What you're getting is a whole bunch of zeros and ones. In other words, for every connection, for every point of connection between those stories there's two possibilities, zero and one, yes and no. Either the same thing is happening in say Ahasuerus' feast as happened in the shiv'at y'mei milu'im, or the opposite thing is happening.
If you can show me there's 27 connections between these stories and in 18 respects the stories are the same and in 9 respects the stories are the opposite, so you've started to paint a Mona Lisa. You've said, to understand Ahasuerus' feast you need to understand it with reference to the shiv'at y'mei milu'im, but it's very different, right. It's its own thing that is sort of emerging out of it.
Rivky It seems like what the Torah is trying to do is trying to get you to notice this giant sign that's saying, there's something here, there's something here. Then once you can see those similarities and you start to put that together, then you can notice the contrast, things you might not have noticed initially. Those contrasts are meant to point to you something underlying about both of those two stories that you might not have noticed earlier.
Rabbi Fohrman Sure. That's a nice way of thinking about. What you seem to be saying is that it's almost that all the similarities just deepen the contrasts. Which is like here oh my gosh this is so wonderful. Look this is great feast, but then bam, the wine. It's like what's the deal with all the wine? There's this the rule that you're all supposed to be drunk and it's like that changes the whole nature of the feast. Instead of something where I'm present consciously and, it also is interesting if you think about wine, Rivky, now that you sort of think about it. How does that have to do with the idea of consecration, kedushah?
If you think about the notion of what consecration is, consecration is where I take something that is mundane, of this world, and then I consecrate and all of a sudden, it's not of this world anymore. It is kadosh. It is separate. It is part of some other transcendent, ethereal world, God's world. That's what kedushah is, when I consecrate the Tabernacle, when I consecrate Aaron, when I consecrate his clothes.
Now if you think about wine's role in all of that, it's actually kind of interesting, isn't it? How do you say wine relates to that notion of consecration?
Rivky Well, it feels like wine goes through some sort of process that is similar to that. What is wine? Wine is fermented grape juice, right? Grape juice is something that seems pretty straightforward, pretty mundane, but then it goes through this sort of intricate process in which something entirely new and very different is created. That's why we use wine as part of our Kiddush, which is obviously the sanctification of Shabbat or of holidays. You're right that wine seems to be special here.
Rabbi Fohrman It is a drink which transforms itself. It's also a drink which transforms the consciousness of the drinker. It's literally a mind-altering drink. If you think about it, one of the reasons why people drink it as an escape from the reality of life, from mundane life as it is.
Rivky From chol.
Rabbi Fohrman From chol. If you think about it, wine is a cheap way of achieving transcendence. If I can get myself high, if I can get myself drunk, I can sort of escape this painful crowded difficult world beset by actual real life problems that I must solve and I escape into some sort of ethereal transcendence sphere. It's almost as if wine is a shortcut to a feeling of transcendence, but there's something that is a lie about it. And therefore the Torah says that on the shiv'at y'mei milu'im, which is about bringing transcendence into the world, which is about something actually getting to a transcendent phase, you need to do that with full non-diluted alcohol consciousness so that the process is real instead of sort of artificially motivated. And there is something about Ahasuerus that violates that.
Rivky I actually want to just read the next verse in our parsha. Right after the law that God gives to Aaron about not drinking wine it actually says that explicitly. "U'l'havdil bein hakodesh u'vein hachol u'vein hatamei u'vein hatahor" that you are supposed to make this distinction between kodesh and chol, between tamei and tahor as well, but specifically not with wine. Just as you were saying, Rabbi Fohrman, is that you could get to that point with wine. That could be a way in which I personally kind of get through that change or I could use that to consecrate, the same way we do with Kiddush. But in the Mikdash it's not appropriate to use alcohol or wine to make that transition. That's in the verse.
Rabbi Fohrman And if you think about that verse that you're citing, look at that verb. "U'l'havdil bein hakodesh u'vein hachol" and in order that you create a separation between that which is holy and that which is mundane and understand that separation. If you think about one of the principle effects of wine upon consciousness, what is that? The eraser of the ability to separate, the blurring of lines.
The blurring of lines between what's socially appropriate and socially inappropriate. So the drunk guy just talks in the middle of a speech and he doesn't really know what he's doing. The notion of everything goes and everything is blurred together. And yet the kind of approach to kedushah that you're supposed to have is this clear-minded approach which maintains distinctions and you understand that this is chol and this is kodesh and it's a different way of getting into the transcendence sphere.
Let's just sort of finish up and look at some of this data and then speculate as what it might mean.
We've taken a look at wine. So wine, as you mentioned, is something which seems connected to a sort of failure, a sort of sin that happens right at the climactic moment of the y'mei milu'im. On the eighth day, Nadav and Avihu, the sons of Aaron, they want to come close to God and what do they do? They bring this offering and they're not commanded to bring that offering. So in other words, they come to a place that they are not commanded to and because of that, they die and they kind of exit the scene.
Now, Rivky, for the $64,000 question. Does that remind you, or is that the inverse of anything that happens in the Ahasuerus story?
Deeper Links Between the Tabernacle's Dedication and King AhasuerusRivky I got this one. Yes, this sounds to us exactly like Esther who is terrified for her life when Mordecai commands her to go into the king's quarters and beg for the Jewish People. She says you don't understand. To go into the king's quarters when I haven't been commanded, I'm going to be killed. That seems exactly like what Nadav and Avihu do. They go into the king's quarters when they weren't commanded to and they were killed.
Rabbi Fohrman So it almost sounds like Esther's approach to the king might be a successful replay, as it were, of what Nadav and Avihu were trying to do. Entrance when you're not allowed. But now staying within Chapter 1, is there an inverse of this story? Think about the Nadav and Avihu story which is they came somewhere when they weren't commanded to come –
Rivky Yes. It seems like there is. It seems like the inverse would be Vashti. Ahasuerus commanded her to enter the party and she refused and she was killed.
Rabbi Fohrman Exactly. So Vashti is another inverse of this. Vashti is the equivalent of the inverse of the Nadav and Avihu sin. Nadav and Avihu enter when not commanded. Vashti refuses to enter when commanded. So you've got your Vashti tragic event and Vashti, of course, suffers banishment, or something like that. Now if you doubt this, take a look at the language.
Rivky Yeah, I was going to ask if there were also language parallels here.
Rabbi Fohrman So look at the language parallels. The language parallels are kind of stunning, by the way. If you look carefully, what I would argue is in the shiv'at y'mei milu'im there's actually three successive events that are sort of parallel to the Vashti-Esther kind of business we're seeing in the Megillah. What are the three events? Very quickly.
Take a look at Chapter 9, Verse 23. The height of the conclusion of the shiv'at y'mei milu'im, what's supposed to happen? The two second-in-charges to the King, Moses and Aaron, they come to the inner sanctum, to the Ohel Mo'ed and they bless the people. Immediately after they do that, "vayeira k'vod Hashem el kol ha'am" the glory of God is seen in this flash to all of the people. The glory of God is seen to all of the people. That's a successful entrance. They were commanded to enter and as they do, there's this climactic moment where the glory of God is seen to everyone.
Now, Rivky, take a look in the Megillah Chapter 1, Verse 11. What was the king's command? "L'havi et Vashti Hamalkah lif'nei hamelech b'cheter malchut" to bring Vashti, the second-in-charge, and then you would expect this climactic thing. What was going to be the climactic thing?
Rivky "L'har'ot ha'amim v'hasarim et yafyah ki tovat mareh hi" to show the people, the other nations and the officers, her beauty because she was beautiful to look at.
Rabbi Fohrman Now look at those words "l'har'ot ha'amim" to show off to the nations. And now compare that to the climactic moment that happens when Moses and Aaron in fact come into the Tabernacle. Can you find anything in our parsha that echoes "l'har'ot ha'amim" in that glorious, dazzling display of God's glory?
Rivky Can you give me a hint, Rabbi Fohrman?
Rabbi Fohrman I can. Look at the verb of l'har'ot. L'har'ot, what's the verb? To see or to make seen.
Rivky "Vayeira k'vod Hashem".
Rabbi Fohrman To where is "vayeira k'vod Hashem"?
Rivky "El kol ha'am."
Rabbi Fohrman "El kol ha'am" "l'har'ot ha'amim". It sounds like, if these parallels are correct, that the bringing of Vashti was sort of like bringing the Moses and Aaron. Afterwards there was this blaze of glory of kavod of the kingdom. Which by the way gets to a point that I made in a book that I wrote.
Rivky You wrote a book?
Rabbi Fohrman I wrote a book.
Rivky Oh my God. Good for you.
Rabbi Fohrman I know. It was very, very fun. "The Queen You Thought You Knew" –
Rivky Of course we'll put a link to that in the show notes, everyone.
Rabbi Fohrman By the way, we actually did do a video on this. But basically, and I think this actually made it into our video series in Aleph Beta on The Queen You Thought You Knew, which is a certain theory of why Ahasuerus would do such a crazy thing with Vashti. What's the deal with a man who tells his wife to stand up on a chair and have all the men ogle her? That's weird. What is he even doing? Yet we suggested that there is a certain kind of rationale, a drunken rationale, but a rationale nonetheless in this terrible objectification of Vashti. He wants something out of it, perhaps politically.
Basically, the theory I suggested, which I think these parallels are starting to corroborate, is that Ahasuerus had a problem. He's a new emperor over 127 provinces. You know, Rivky, if you were an emperor of 127 provinces in 500 BC when there's no fax machines, no spy satellites, no fighter planes and no communication; what's your problem now if you're the emperor over 127 provinces?
Rivky How do you keep control?
Rabbi Fohrman How do you keep control? So Persia, as opposed to other empires, this is the dawn of the age of empires. So Assyria is this really mean empire that just believes in crushing everybody underfoot. But Persia was a much more benevolent empire. Ahasuerus, following in the steps of Cyrus the Great, decides that what he's going to do is parties. Parties are going to be his solution. He's going to have these parties and get everybody together on these junkets to Persia and all these lieutenant governors from Turkmenistan and all these other places are going to come together and see the glory of Persia and come back and tell everybody boy are we lucky to be part of the Persian Empire.
Now at the climax of this, there's going to be this sort of feminine symbol of the empire. Vashti is going to be the Statue of Liberty, the picture of the queen. Then her beauty is like the beauty of Persia and in a way it's this debased version, a very debased version, an objectified – it's cruel, it's objectifying – but there is this political purpose which is a debased version of what was supposed to happen in the Tabernacle, which was the glory of the king becomes visible to everyone. For Ahasuerus, the glory of the king is his wife's beauty. She doesn't come. "Vayik'tzof hamelech m'od v'chamato ba'ara bo" he gets very angry and fire burns within him.
Okay, Rivky, fire burning from the king. What does that remind you of in our parsha?
Fiery Connections: King Ahaserus, Queen Vashti and the TabernacleRivky That's exactly like the Tabernacle. Part of the consecration, part of the seven day events is constant offerings that are going up to God.
Rabbi Fohrman And when someone didn't do what the king wanted in the consecration ceremony, like Vashti, who's the king's fire burned against, what happened to them?
Rivky Same thing Nadav and Avihu. "Vateitzei eish m'lif'nei Hashem" that a fire came out from before God "vatochal otam" and it ate them up "vayamutu lif'nei Hashem."
Rabbi Fohrman Exactly. That's right. So fire from the king in both stories when the right thing isn't done. And then "vayik'tzof hamelech m'od" the king becomes very angry and then there's one final replay. We talked about three replays. Replay Number 1, or actually foreshadow Number 1 of the Vashti and Esther story is the successful coming of Moses and Aaron into the Tent and the glory of God being seen.
Replay Number 2, the unsuccessful approach of Nadav and Avihu when they were not commanded and the fire burned them. And then unsuccessful or successful, depending on how you judge it, attempt Number 3.
Number 3 is there's somebody now who has to stay in the Tent of Meeting even though he doesn't want to be there and he has to – just like sort of Vashti. Vashti doesn't want to go and now there's somebody who has to be in front of the king in the inner sanctum who just doesn't want to be there, after the story of Nadav and Avihu. Who would that be?
Rivky That is Aaron who just lost his two sons and it's the other two brothers. Moses says to Aaron and to Elazar and Itamar that they have to stay at the Tent of Meeting. They are not allowed to leave or else they'll die. They do so.
Rabbi Fohrman Exactly. Now look at what he says and why he has to stay there. Read Verse 6 when Moses tells Aaron look, you can't afford to be the guy mourning over here. You just got to stay there. Read the end of Verse 6.
Rivky Moses warns Aaron and Elazar and Itamar, they can't mourn the way they would expect to, the way normally we would, but instead they have to do all of this and why. It kind of explains "yivku et hasreifah asher saraf Hashem."
Rabbi Fohrman The rest of Israel needs to mourn the burning that God has burned over here which is the destruction of these children. But take a look at where it says you can't be there "v'lo tamutu v'al kol ha'eidah yiktzof." We don't want God to become angry at the entire nation. So look at yiktzof, becoming angry, paired with the notion of "hasreifah asher saraf Hashem" the burning of God's fire. Now go back to the Megillah in Verse 12.
Rivky Right. "Vayiktzof hamelech m'od v'chamato ba'ara bo."
Rabbi Fohrman There you have it. And the king becomes very angry, with the word katzaf, and chamato ba'ara and his anger burns inside him. So here's the third replay. Aaron, like Vashti, needs to be in front of the king, desperately doesn't want to be there and then one thing goes wrong.
There's this offering, this chatat, which Aaron is supposed to eat. Remember that? And he just doesn't do it. "V'et sir hachatat darosh darash Moshe" and Moses investigates and sees there is this chatat and Aaron actually didn't eat it, instead he burned it. Look at that language. "V'hinei saraf va'yik'tzof al Elazar v'Itamar." We're getting again this replay, or this foreshadow of the Esther language, which is the offering was burned and now Moses becomes angry at Elazar and Itamar and then Aaron comes and defends them. What does Aaron say?
Look we did everything else. We offered this offering "vatikrenah oti ka'eileh" and these terrible things have befallen me "va'achalti chatat hayom" and you still want me to eat the chatat? I know that's the law, but you really think on a day that I lost my sons, I should eat the chatat? Read the next words.
Rivky "Hayitav b'einei Hashem" it really would have been pleasing in the eyes of God. He's almost incredulous.
Rabbi Fohrman It's really a question. Would that have been – it's incredulous as you say – would that have been pleasing in the eyes of God? And what does Moses do? "Vayishma Moshe vayitav b'einav" and it was good in his eyes. So Aaron's defended and Aaron defends himself by saying "hayitav b'einei Hashem." Now go back to the Megillah.
Rivky Oh my gosh. That's exactly the Megillah. I got it. "Vayitav hadavar b'einei hamelech." That's the language when as soon as Vashti is sent away, is killed and then this king's decree goes out – Memuchan's advice is to send this decree out to all of the different people across the nations...
Rabbi Fohrman And look at Memuchan's advice in Verse 19. How did Memuchan ask the king?
Rivky "Im al hamelech tov" if it pleases the king.
Rabbi Fohrman So there's this question about tov, "im al hamelech tov" if it pleases the king, let's get rid of Vashti. And the answer is yes, let's get rid of Vashti. Here too, in our parsha a question about tov and an answer about tov, but very different. Who's the Vashti character in our story in Shemini?
Rivky Aaron's two sons.
Rabbi Fohrman And the implicit idea is their tenure lies in the balance. Will they be banished for this sin? Vashti was, but they survive. Aaron defends them unlike in the Megillah when no one comes to Vashti's defense. Aaron says "hayitav b'einei Hashem." It's almost like you could imagine Vashti would have said something like that if Vashti was only given the chance, but poor Vashti never gets it.
Rivky Right. Am I really supposed to do this? Am I really supposed to come out and debase myself? Am I really supposed to be seen by the entire nation, all of your officers?
Rabbi Fohrman Hayitav b'einecha would that really be good in your eyes? I stand up on the chair. You'd really like me to do that?
Rivky At this point, Rabbi Fohrman, I think I'm going to play the Imu character a little bit and I'm going to ask this is incredible. We see all of these connections between the story of the consecration of the Tabernacle and Ahasuerus' sort of disgusting, degrading party. We see language parallels. We see theme parallels, but at this point I'm burning, Rabbi Fohrman. What does it mean? How am I, Rivky, reading this today, how am I supposed to sort of make sense of why these connections are here and sort of what's the next step here?
What Do We Learn From the Persian King Ahaseurus?Rabbi Fohrman So I don't know, but I have a theory. I'll kind of tease you with the theory and then we can leave everybody to think about it and you can think about it and we can talk about next week instead of Tazri'a and Metzora, if you want. But basically my theory is this. In certain times in history things are in the air. Newton and Leibnitz both discover the calculus independently. The work that we're doing here at Aleph Beta in Tanach, there's other people across the globe that are doing similar kinds of work. Some focus in the Gush in Machon Herzog are, but not just in the Gush. I just had a chareidi fellow over here in Jerusalem giving talks to Chevron and to Ponevezh and he stumbled upon this himself. It's in the air. People are going to find it because the age is right for it.
What was in the air at the time of Ahasuerus? Empire was in the air. It was the dawn of age of empires. First it was Assyria. They were the first great empire that came and crushed Hezekiah and Hezekiah repels them and they survive. But then they're taken over by Babylonia and now Persia is the next empire. And every empire has its own thing. Ahasuerus is consolidating his empire with these parties. It's like the inauguration of his empire, which suggests that in a certain way the shiv'at y'mei milu'im were also an inauguration, in a way, for the empire. What does it mean? The king is coming in his palace. Who is the king in our story in Shemini?
Rabbi Fohrman God is like the emperor. What's an emperor? An emperor is a new thing in history. Until then you had kings. Kings had provincial reign. I am a king over a certain province or over a certain state. An empire has international significance. That is what God's kingship is. God's kingship as expressed by Him coming to be in the palace is not an issue for Jews; it's an issue for humanity. The Temple is not meant as a parochial thing for Jews only. It's actually meant as something for everyone. It has international significance.
If you look at King Solomon at the speech he gives in the Book of Kings at the inauguration of the Temple, he talks about the international significance, that people from far and wide can come and encounter God here. It's not just about the Jews.
It's almost as if God is the divine emperor coming into the world. Now, Rivky, I ask you this. Chazal, our sages, say a very strange thing. They say that you know why the Jews were subject perhaps – why there was a heavenly decree that Haman could force genocide upon them? Why were they vulnerable to that heavenly decree? And every kid learns it in school, in cheder, or in Bais Yaakov or in Frisch or wherever it is that they went to school. What is it they learn about these parties that the Jews did wrong that made them subject to Haman's later decree?
Rivky There are a bunch of different things I remember learning, but I think one of them is that they were using the vessels from the Temple.
Rabbi Fohrman So first of all, you have those things where Chazal talk about Ahasuerus was using the vessels from the Temple or that he was dressed in the clothes of the high priest. Now again, with Midrash you always have to be careful because these things are not necessarily meant literally. But if there is an allegory there and Ahasuerus wasn't literally wearing the clothes of the high priest, what does it mean that it was like he was wearing the clothing of the high priest? It was like he was eating the food of the Temple? What does it mean also when the sages tell us that the people were being punished for being neheneh mise'udas Achashveirosh, from eating, from participating in the feast? You get invited to the White House that's such a crime? It was a state dinner. What do you have against me? A genocide because I went?
Now, in light of all these parallels, what was happening in Israel at the time? This is Persia. We are at the end of the 70 years of exile right now. Ezra and Nechemia and Chagai and Zecharia are in the Land of Israel and what are they doing?
Rivky They are trying to get us to come back. They're trying to get us to reclaim our nation. Go back to our own King, our own Emperor.
Rabbi Fohrman That's right. And what are they building?
Rivky The next temple.
Rabbi Fohrman That's right. They are building the second temple. At this point, the second temple is built. There was another party that was happening contemporaneously. The shiv'at y'mei milu'im of the second temple. The Emperor was coming into the world. The Tabernacle was just the run-up to that. The Tabernacle was just provincial. It was just for Jews in the desert. But the second temple? It was supposed to be for everybody. What are the Jews doing? They could go back. Cyrus lets them go back. Instead they're satiating themselves with the feast of Ahasuerus.
It's almost like if empire is in the air, part of the reason empire is in the air is because you can grab whatever is in the air and use it spiritually. There was a something that was happening, some awakening that was happening in humanity that I want to be part of something international.
If you satiate that feeling inside of you by joining Ahasuerus' drunken wine feast to help consecrate, so to speak, the empire of Persia, you're missing the opportunity of another feast around the corner. You could be part of the pioneers, Ezra and Nechemia. You could be joining in a feast of inaugurating the true transcendent empire. The one where you don't have fake wine bringing you to a feeling of transcendence, but you have real transcendence and you don't need the wine. Somehow, we lost out on that.
Rivky That's really powerful, Rabbi Fohrman. I feel like there are so many things that relate to that today. You mentioned this invitation to the White House and I think that feels very real to us today. It is a big honor to be invited to the White House Hanukkah party and that is something that I think people take very seriously. Not to say that that's something we should be ashamed of, but I think it's something that we sometimes forget to think about the context of something bigger than that. The bigger message should not be lost in the splendor of look at me, I'm in the White House and I'm meeting the president and I'm speaking to all these important officials. There is a bigger Ruler, kingdom.
Rabbi Fohrman That's right. Maybe there is that. In other words, when things are in the air, when science has gotten to a certain place, when knowledge has gotten to a certain place, when political events have gotten to a certain place, maybe there is a kind of in the airness which has spiritual ramifications for us too. Maybe that awareness to kind of think okay what's happening that's kind of in the air in the world and how can I take some of that and instead of participating in it in a mundane way, participate in it in a consecrated way, is not such a bad question to ask.
Rivky That's really interesting, Rabbi Fohrman. There's a lot to think about there. I certainly want to keep thinking about it and I would love for our listeners to also not only think about it, but send us emails and be in touch with us because this conversation is absolutely not over at this point. Let's keep this going.
Rabbi Fohrman Even though, Rivky, you and I or Imu or whoever it is, will be going on to Tazri'a and Metzora next week.
Rabbi Fohrman But thank you very much. Rivky, it's been a pleasure hanging out with you.
Rivky Yeah, I really enjoyed this.
Rabbi Fohrman Thanks for letting me share with you this. I think it's very exciting. Really I've just discovered it and could be entirely wrong, but I think the evidence is there and what it means, I think, is a great Sherlock Holmes mystery. Here are some ideas and I do invite our readers and listeners to kind of write in with their thoughts also. But until then, Rivky, it's been a pleasure doing this with you.