What Does The Law Of Yibum Have To Do With Haman?
Purim: How Thin Is The Line Between Esther And Haman?
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
How do we come to grips with a command to utterly destroy Amalek? How thin is the line between the great heroism of Esther and the great evil of Haman? The two may not be as far apart as they might seem. Check it out – and please feel free to write back with feedback!
Dive deeper into the meaning of Purim in Rabbi Fohrman's book: "The Queen You Thought You Knew"
Right here up on the screen you have Esther's first approach to the king. This approach to the king, we often think of when we are looking at the Megillah as a success, but in fact I think its a failure.
The Story of Esther and HamanThis is the moment where she succeeds in convincing the king to get Haman hanged. She points him out, "This is the guy; ki nimkarnu ani v’ami lehashmid laharog ulabed." She dramatically comes to the king and says, "We're all going to die. This is the fellow." The king is angry and he kills Haman immediately, or suggests that he be killed. The reason why this is a failure is because you will notice that the Megillah extends – and I talk about this in my book, 'The Queen You Thought You Knew' – that the Megillah extends for good three chapters beyond that, because the threat to the Jews has not yet abated. Because, where Haman is dead, but his decree lives on posthumously and is going to kill everybody because the king refuses to undo it. The king actually just forgets about it. Haman is killed, and really that's all he cares about. He is the immediate threat, and Esther has sort of been banking on killing Haman and annulling the decree at same time; but basically, he just takes care of the immediate threat of killing Haman.
The decree stays there. Because it stays there in a certain way, Esther's in – almost in – a worse position than she was before this banquet. Because before this banquet, at least she had Haman as a foil. At least, Haman is this guy who she's portraying to the king. There might be some romantic involvement here, she's inviting him to this banquet, the king is a little jealous; she can use Haman and use him as a convenient poster boy for the pogrom and hopefully, kill him, kill the pogrom, he's the face of evil. But now, with Haman gone, the king basically is in a position to say, "Look, I did what you wanted; I killed the guy. What do you really care for the Jews for? Aren't you a Persian princess anyway? What do you have these allegiance for? What do you have these allegiances for towards these other people?"
I discussed this at length in the book. The point is that, even though it looks like a great success, it's not as much as a success as it looks like. Now, if we would re-roll the tape, and listen to the language that Esther uses right now, it actually is – we would sort of play this game and the game is, 'You are Esther; what is your strategy now?'
How Should Esther Have Dealt with Haman?If we were off in the side room here, and we were plotting strategy, what would you say your strategy is? You would go to the king, this is the moment where you are going to try save the Jews. Let's just ask this: what is the one thing that you have going for you? The one thing that you have going for you, frankly, is the king kind of likes you. The king loves you and you are threatened, and what you want the king to do is basically see himself as the knight in shining armour and you are the damsel-in-distress. That's basically the game that we want to play. She's going to try and portray herself as dramatically as possible as the damsel-in-distress, and give the king the ability to play the knight-in-shining-armour.
Okay, so if that's the strategy, let's grade Esther on how well she plays out the strategy in this little conversation she has with the king. So here's what she says, "vataan Ester hamalkah vatomar im matzati chen be’einecha hamelech v’im al hamelech tov tinaten li nafshi bishelati v’ami bevakashti.” Okay? She says, "If the king wants to do as I please, please give me my life as my request and my people's life as my pleading," or whatever you want to say. It comes up much better in Hebrew. "Tinaten li nafshi bishelati v’ami bevakashti"
Now if we stopped right there and I said, "Okay, how well is Esther doing?" I will give her high marks. This is very good; it's poetic, it's short, it's concise, gets the point across. It's dramatic; here they are, there's wine, feast; all of a sudden, the queen comes and says, "My life is in danger! All I am asking for is my life," and she throws herself at him and says, "Please save me!" This is very good; this is excellent. So, so far, it's an A+. Let's continue.
"Ki nimkarnu ani v’ami” – because me and my people have been sold. Lehashmid laharog ulabed. Okay, stop right there! Esther's getting a little more wordy, right? I mean, she could have just cut to the chase; she could have just said, "Look!" She could have gotten into the 'Lehashmid laharog ulabed' part: "We are going to be utterly destroyed." What's the 'we have been sold' to be utterly destroyed? Actually, it's not clear that they've been actually sold, but they've been sold to be destroyed – that makes it more complicated. It only goes downhill from here. Because she then says the following, very complicated idea: "V’ilu laavadim v’lishfachot nimkarnu' – and King, I just wanted you to know, that had we in fact been sold as slaves, and not been sold to be killed; so, 'hecherashti' – I probably would have kept silent and not bothered you; 'ki ein hatzar shoveh benezek hamelech'.
How very difficult to translate this phrase! Very obscure. But according to commentators means, it seems to mean that, "I would have kept silent rather than bother you, had we been sold as slaves. Instead of being sold to be killed because if we've been sold as slaves, 'ein hatzar shoveh benezek hamelech' – the benefit, rather the pain, that we get as a result of having been sold as slaves, the 'ein hatzar shoveh' doesn't counterbalance the damage to the king's treasury by our loss."
Now, it's very complicated what she's saying here. She's basically making a complicated accountant's argument here with debit-credit analysis. It basically goes like this. There's two possibilities, One possibility is that we're going to get killed. Well, that's the actual possibility; but as Esther is asking the king to also consider the alternative, that perhaps the decree might not have theoretically been to kill us, but let's say that the decree had theoretically been just to sell us to slaves.
So the queen says, "Look! If the decree had been justice; the reason that I am coming to you, king, it's because the decree is to kill us." Now, the decree to kill us, if we just play it out is really bad for us, right?
Our scale from zero to ten in terms of badness, that's a ten. Getting killed, all of us, in a single day, that's a ten; that's really bad. Okay, now let's look at you King, what are you getting out of this? From zero to ten, are you getting any money out of this? No, you are not getting anything out of the fact. So, basically, this is a lose-lose situation, King. It is a loss for us, it is bad as bad it can get; that is a lose for you, because you are not getting anything out of that.
Now let's consider the alternative. Imagine, that instead, we have been sold as slaves. If we were sold as slaves, how bad is that for us? It is pretty bad, right? But it is not like getting killed. It is a seven, not a ten. So, it is less bad for us. Now, King, let's talk about you. If we've been sold as slaves, and you have all these great slave laborers from your Jews, so how good is it for you? So, it's not zero anymore; you are getting something out of it. It is a three, it is a four. So look, it is not as bad for us; we have gotten from ten to seven for us. Little bit better for you, you have gotten from zero to up to three or four for you. So, I wouldn't have come to you in that case. But that's not actually the case, King. In fact, the case is, we are going to die, so we are back to ten on the scale of badness, and you are back to zero on the scale of goodness for you. That's why I am coming to you, King.
Now at this point, the King is thoroughly befuddled. Remember, it is a wine feast, the guy is kind of drunk at this point. And he can't even follow the argument and you could just imagine that he is just lost; he is like, "Bring me Haman over here. Explain this to me, Haman."
Why is she doing this? This is very bad. It started off so well. She had been short, concise, damsel-in-distress; the King is the knight-in-shining-armor. And then she ruins everything by putting on her accountant hat and making this complicated theoretical debit-credit analysis which doesn't even matter because as a matter of fact, we are being sold as being killed, we are not being sold to be slaves. So, why is she bringing this theoretical possibility that has no meaning and just thoroughly befuddles the case? Why is she doing this? And by the way, remember, this fails. Right? The King is lost, the King just gets rid of Haman. She basically fails, requiring her to go to the King a second time.
So, why is she doing this? So, that is question number one.
Questions About Esther and Mordechai's StoryQuestion number two in Esther – for those of you who came late – this, by the way, has something to do with the Yaakov's Story. This is the Yaakov's perspective; this is an advantage point on Esther that comes from the life of Yaakov.
Okay, the next piece that is strange is the turning point of the Megillah. And the turning point of the Megillah, basically, is 'balaylah hahu naddah shenat hamelech'. But what brings us to that turning point is, the speech that Mordecai makes to Esther right over here. Right over where? Right over here. Now, again put yourself in Mordecai's shoes, what's the strategy?
Okay, you have just found out that, there is this pogrom decreed in which all of the Jews are going to be killed, lock-stock-and-barrel at the single day. You put on sack cloth and ashes; the Queen sees you, inquires what's gone wrong and now you are going to tell her and you know you need to inspire her to act. You know that the Jews have a ace in their hole, there is a hidden Jew in the palace, it's Esther. And if you could just inspire Esther to act, maybe you have got a shot right?
So, you tell Esther that you've got to do it. Esther sends back, where you have to go to the King, you have to get him save your people. Esther sends back word and says: "Mordecai, I would really love to help. I totally would, but it is really a bad time, okay? I haven't been called to the King for thirty days. Everybody knows that if you show up at King's private chambers and you haven't been called, it's off with your head. I could die if I go before the King. I really would love to help but unfortunately it is just not the best time right now."
Okay, now here Mordecai, you have got one last chance. You have one last word to the queen; what would you say? What would you say? I will tell you, what I would say. I would say, "Esther, this is no time to be thinking about your own personal life, right? What's the worst thing that will happen? Your people's lives, your entire nation is on the hook right now. You must summon the courage to somehow go to the King and if, in the worst case scenario, the King should kill you then you would have died in the service of your people. So, we will name the high schools after you. What is going to happen already? You will die. But, that's what you should be doing; there is no time to think about yourself. Esther, if need be, sacrifice yourself, for the good of the people. We need you Esther." This is what he should say.
What does he in fact say? What he, in fact, says is, "im hacharesh tacharishi baet hazo – Esther, I just need to tell you one thing. Do you think we need you? We don't need you. We are doing just fine without you. As a matter of fact, 'im hacharesh tacharishi baet hazo’, if you should keep quiet right now, 'revach v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher' – we will be totally fine. Because we are going to be saved one way. In some way, without you. 'V’at uveit avich tovedu' – actually, you are the one who is in trouble. Because, if you don't act, you are the one who is going doing in flames. You and your father's house is going down the flames. And therefore, 'u’mi yodea im let kazot higaat lamalchut' – who knows if it was for this moment that you have become Queen." This is what he tells her.
Okay, this is a very dramatic case of reverse psychology. It doesn't seem to be true, it seems to be winder. He really thinks that everything is going to be fine. And that he doesn't need her. Why is he telling her this?
But, let's even say he believes it. Let's say Mordecai actually believes this is true. 'Im hacharesh tacharishi baet hazo revach v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher v’at uveit avich tovedu' – that if you keep quiet right now, we will be fine." If I stopped you right there and asked you, does Mordecai consider Esther significant or insignificant in the larger scheme of things? Insignificant, you would say, because one way or the other, the Jews are doing to be saved.
So, the answer to the question is Esther significant or insignificant, is insignificant. Right? Now let's listen to the last words Mordecai says. After he tells her the speech, "If you keep silent, we are going to be fine," the next thing he tells her that, ‘u’mi yodea im let kazot higaat lamalchut’ – and who knows, Esther, if it was for this moment, that you became Queen." Now is she significant or insignificant? Now she is significant. Do you see? There seems to be this contradiction at the heart of Mordecai's word. What does he really mean? Does he mean she makes a difference, or does he mean she doesn't make a difference? If she makes a difference, so she makes a difference. If she doesn't, so, which is it? How can you, at the same time, tell her both things? How can you say that, one way or the other, we'll be fine, you don't matter and then come and tell her, "By the way, you really matter because this is the moment that you've been chosen to become Queen." So, if I don't matter, I don't matter. It's a very confusing message. what really is he telling her? What does he mean?
Moreover, again, it doesn't seem to be good strategy. In other words, if I am Esther – if you think about it – Mordecai is giving me the perfect out, hasn't he? If I'm worried about my life, so the one vulnerability I have, if I don't want to go to the King, is that Mordecai can always come back to me and tell me, "Esther, we need you. The whole people need you. Everyone need you; so, you have to sacrifice your life." Once Mordecai comes and says, "We're all going to be okay without you. This is really important for you, but we'll be fine." If I'm Esther, what am I going to say? "Look, Mordecai. If you really believe that you are totally going to be fine without me, I think I'll take my chances on this one. I think I'll just sit it out." You know what I mean? "You know, it's fine! If you really needed me, come back to me when you need me, Mordecai. If you don't really need me so much, I think I'll just sit it out."
What's happening here? Why is he saying this? Why is he so confident?
What About Haman and the King?Here's another strange piece of the pie. 'Balaylah hahu naddah shenat hamelech' – at night, the king can't sleep. Who shows up at his door, throwing pebbles at his window – but Haman? Haman has come to ask for Mordecai to be killed. 'Vayavo Haman vayomer lo hamelech mah laasot baish asher hamelech chafetz bikaro' – so, Haman says, "What are we going to do with the man that the king wants to honor?" I'm sorry, one second here. 'Vayavo Haman vayomer lo hamelech mah laasot' – the King says, what are we going to do with the man, 'asher hamelech chafetz bikaro,' the man that the king wants to honor? 'Vayomer Haman belibo lemi yachpotz hamelech laasot yekar yoter mimeni' – who would the king want to honor more than me?" 'Vayomer Haman el hamelech ish asher hamelech chafetz bikaro' – the man that the king wants to honor, 'yaviu levush malchut asher lavash bo halmelech v’sus asher rachav alav hamelech,' let's dress him in these fine clothes; 'asher nitan keter malchut berosho' – the crown has been placed on the horse's head; 'v’naton halevush v’hasus al yad ish misarei hamelech v’hilvishu et haish' – you dress up the guy; 'asher hamelech chafetz bikaro' – and then you ride him through the streets and finally you say these words: 'kachah yeaseh laish asher hamelech chafetz bikaro' – thus should be done that the king wants to honor."
Indeed, when they actually do this and it turns out that Haman is the one who actually had to lead Mordecai through the streets, that's what he says, ‘vayikra lefanav kachah yeaseh laish asher hamelech chafetz bikaro.’ Now, if we play our little game, and I ask you, "How many times in Tanach, do you think, you have the language, ‘kachah yeaseh laish'? How many 'kachah yeaseh laish’s? So, right here up on the screen, I actually happen to have a handy-dandy search program so we can search this right now, and see how many times in Tanach. But does this phrase ever appear anywhere else in Tanach? 'Kachah yeaseh laish'? It turns out, it does. Anyone know where?
[Audience speaks, 00:19:02]
That's right. So, if you notice, here's 'kacha yeaseh laish' here in Esther; this is 'kachah yeaseh iyav' that doesn't count. 'Kachah yeaseh Hashem' that doesn't count; 'kacha yeaseh lashor' that doesn't count. The only other 'kachah yeaseh laish' is right here; it's in Devarim. There is another 'kachah yeaseh laish', it's in the Parshah of yibum and it is how the Torah explains the idea of chalitzah.
The idea of Yibum is when a man and woman are married and the man dies childless and there's a brother, there's a mitzvah upon the brother to marry the widow and perpetuate the name of the deceased by having a child. Now, if he doesn't want to, here's what happens: V’im lo yachpotz haish lakachat et-yevimto – And he says, he doesn't want to do it. 'Lo yachpotz'. By the way, does 'lo yachpotz haish' remind you of anything in the Megillah story? 'Chafetz', anyone? Ah! 'Hamelech chafetz bikaro' – the king wants to honor him. Here, again. But now we have a man who is not 'chafetz' to take his 'yivamah'. So, what happens? At that point, the yivamah goes to the zekenim, goes to the court and pleads with them, and says, me’en yevami lehakim le’achiv shem beYisrael - my yavam has withheld himself from performing yibum. Lo avah yabmi. He doesn't want to do it." At that point, the zekenim – the elders – plead with him. V’dibru elav, and they say, v’amad v’amar, he insists; he says, lo chafatzti lekachtah – I do not want to take her. V’nigshah yevimto elav le’einei hazekenim v’chaltzah naalo meal raglo. What happens? She then takes off her shoe and v’yarkah bepanav – the yarkah bepanav? Go back to the Megillah.
The yarkah bepanav right before kachah yeaseh laish. Does this remind you of anything? Let's go back to Esther. I'm sorry, that's the wrong piece. Oh! Yeah, here it is. Yes, so what happens when – here, watch this! You got that?
In Devarim the language is v’yarkah bepanav – she spits in front of him and says, kachah yeaseh laish asher lo yivneh et beit achiv. And she says, "Thus should be done to the man who will not build up the house of his brother." Okay, so in Devarim, it's v’yarkah bepanav – she spits in his face and says, kachah." Look at the language here, "V’karu lepanav." Do you see v’karu lepanav? V’karu lepanav is a play on words of what? V’yarkah bepanav. V’yarkah bepanav, in Deuteronomy, spitting in his face now becomes, what Haman says, "Let everyone call before him and say, kachah yeaseh laish asher hamelech chafetz bikaro. Of course, bikaro, right? It sounds a lot like yarkah also. It's also a playoff of that. Yikaro of course now means honor.
Now what's interesting is that yikaro means honor, but if it's a playoff of Devarim’s yarkah, which is 'spit' – what's the connection between spit and honor? They're opposites, right? Something strange is going on here – the declaration which Haman is using to describe the most honored moment in a man's life when this guy is being led through the streets, vikare lefanav, chafetz bikaro, and all of that is taken from the moment of greatest degradation in the Torah. The degrading of the – what's his name? – of the potential yavam, of the chaletz. And by the way, even in the laws of chalitzah, what does chalitzah mean? Chalitzah means to – lachalotz means to remove; to remove an article of clothing. What article of clothing is removed? The shoe is removed.
Think about what Haman said. Should we be removing clothing? What's Haman's whole idea? Take a guy and clothe him, dress him up; and put the crown on his head. So, it's exactly the opposite. Instead of dressing someone up and putting on this great prestigious thing on the top of a person – that's playing-off of in Devarim the unclothing of someone by taking the least prestigious thing off of them, which is the shoe. So, it seems like there is this inverse relationship – language and ideas – between chalitzah. It seems like what Haman is talking about is the chalitzah in it's inverse. Why is the author of the Megillah doing that? What sort of connection does he want us to see between this?
Questions About the Story of Esther and HamanOkay, so we got a number of questions: a) why is the Queen talking about being sold as slaves? She really shouldn't be mentioning this; b) why is Mordecai delivering such a counter-intuitive speech, telling Esther – confusing Esther – whether she is really significant, not significant? And c) why is all of this – the Haman is talking about – playing-off of chalitzah?
So, I would like to offer an answer based upon some ground work which we did here about two months ago, at the early part of the series. I want to take you back to some ideas that we talked about there and really show you how Chazal seemed to have anticipated some remarkable answers to these questions.
Chazal in midrash – again, learning midrash is a tough thing to do. But one of the things that I find, personally, in Midrash is that usually there is more to the picture that the midrash says. The midrash is a 'tip of the iceberg' kind of thing. You see the tip of the iceberg but when you dig a little bit deeper, you will see the rest of the iceberg. I think that is the case here as well.
I want to bring you back to the two Chazal that talk about the tears of Mordecai. Again, I began – it was one of the first couple of sessions – I began by mentioning to you that, when.. I think I could draw this for you. Let me see if I can do this in Powerpoint. The French thing, cause I was in France. Let's just go to the non-French thing. Okay, if I start a new slide, could I actually insert a triangle shape? I could, but I don't need that kind of a triangle; I need a right triangle. There's a right triangle. Excellent! All right, here's our right triangle.
Okay, so envision that right triangle for a moment. Now let's take this bottommost piece over here. Right? Just my cursor is there; you can see what I am talking about – that bottom-most piece. Vayisa et kolo vayevech – that piece, the piece of a right triangle, let that piece represent Mordecai's tears when – I'm sorry! Let that piece represent Jacob’s tears upon meeting Rachel for the first time. As we talked about before, vayisa et kolo vayevech, he lifts up his voice and he cries when he sees her. It seems strange but here's the woman of his dreams and here he is, crying.
Chazal tell us that – I'm sorry. I messed this up. The piece that I'm talking about here is the horizontal extension, right? Chazal tell us that if you want to understand this horizontal extension, why is Jacob crying here? You have to go back early in Jacob's life, all the way to the base of the triangle, to the vayisa kol vayevech – which is earlier; which is, Esau’s tears. Jacob provoked tears on the parts of Esau, and now, what's going to happen is that, later on in Jacob's life – all the way over here, in the horizontal extension of the triangle, Jacob is going to cry. And later on, in Jacob's life in that generation, there's going to be ramifications that the vayisa kol vayevech of Esau is going to beget the vayisa et kolo vayevech of Jacob. Jacob is going to cry because he provoked those kind of tears on the part of Esau. And we talked about the similarity between the situations, that he deceived his own father over the loss of – his father Isaac loved one child more than another child; and along comes Jacob and deceives him. He doesn't allow father to have the right child; the father can't see, the father's blind. So now, Jacob is blind–- there's a veil, he can't see through the veil and he is deceived. He loves one of two children and father deceives him and says, lo yeaseh chen bimkomenu latet hatzirah lifnei habechirah – but here, we don't do it this way. In our place, where we come from, to give the younger before the older." Maybe where you come from - you deceived your father and got the younger before the older. But we don't do that way. So, it's payback. Okay, so that's the first Chazal.
The second Chazal is the vertical extension from this base of the triangle. If the base of the triangle is the tears that Esau cries – not only do the tears that Esau cry have a sort of horizontal extension – ramifications within the same, in other words, the arrow over here is going to be the time, the vertical arrow is time. So, not only in the same generation as Jacob, do the tears of Esau have ramifications for Esau's life, but if we follow their time of centuries, there is ramification much later on in history. That is, it turns out that there are two different phrases that the Torah uses to describe Esau's tears. One is vayisa kol vayevech and the other is vayitzak tzakah gedolah umarah – Esau lets out a great and bitter cry. Here's what they said, they said, "Anybody who says that a HaKadosh Baruch Hu, that the Master of the Universe just lets things slide, doesn't know what he's talking about." God just bides His time, but eventually, there's a din in shamayim; eventually, the din in shamayim will come back to haunt us, and so it was.
Vayitzak tzakah gedolah umarah – Jacob provoked, on Esau's part – a great and bitter cry. There would come a time in history, God decreed, when the children of Esau would provoke on the part of the children of Jacob. a great and bitter cry. Because the only other time that language vayitzak tzakah gedolah umarah is used, apart from Bereshit is in the Megillah, and it's when Mordecai finds out about the pogrom so, vayitzak tzakah gedolah umarah. Right? You with me? Okay.
Audience: What justifies that?
What justifies that is, that in the heavenly calculus of things, basically – the Chazal are telling us something kind of earth-shattering. They're saying that Haman doesn't get to make a pogrom on his own. That, Haman got as far he got because he had a certain moral right to get that far. That, the moral right comes from - he has the scion of Esau. Because remember, he sees himself as the scion of Esau, who does Haman comes from? Haman comes from Agag. Who does Agag come from? Agag comes from Amalek. Who does Amalek come from? Amalek comes from Eliphaz. Who does Eliphaz come from? Eliphaz comes from Esau. So, the great-great-great-great grandfather of Haman is, in fact, Esau. Basically, it's 'what goes around, comes around'. So, Haman has the right, in shamayim, so to speak, to provoke tears on the part of Jacob's children. And the pogrom', at some level, is a response, generations later, is the ability to get as far as he does because of this.
Now here's the problem. The problem is that, if we take Chazal seriously – so, in other words, what we have here is a horizontal extension. There's ramification from Esau's tears in Jacob's own life; there's ramification in Jacob's tears, vertically, much later on, in history. Let's just look at the vertical extension for a moment.
What Is Chazal Saying About Haman, Esther and Mordechai?Let's say we take that seriously; let's say we buy what Chazal is telling us, that Haman has some sort of Cosmic right to inflict this pain upon the Jews in retribution for the tears that Jacob provoked on the part of Esau. If we buy that, it makes Mordecai's speech all the stranger, doesn't it? Because, along comes Mordecai, and says, "Esther, there's one thing that I'm going to tell you for sure. And the one thing that I'm going to tell you for sure is, im hacharesh tacharishi baet hazo – if you keep silent right now, the one thing I know is, revach v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher – that we are going to be absolutely fine. V’at uveit avich tovedu – as a matter of fact, you're the only one who is in any kind of danger here, but we are totally fine."
Now, let's plug in Chazal. If we believe Chazal, that Haman has some sort of moral right to provoke these tears on the part of Mordecai, all these descendants of Jacob – that's really true, then how is Mordecai so sure that they're going to be saved because God is going to come to the rescue at the last minute? There is a din in shamayim, there is a heavenly decree – if Chazal is right – there's this heavenly decree against the Jews. How does Mordecai know for sure that heaven is going to save the Jews? All you know for sure is that there's this heavenly decree against the Jews. How do you know that the Jews are going to be saved? Right? This is the further question on Mordecai's words.
Okay. However, we are now in a position to see the answer. The answer is: Chazal have drawn for us a horizontal extension from this point at the base of the triangle. They've drawn a vertical extension for this point at the base of the triangle. They've said that these tears at the part of Esau had ramifications horizontally; they've had ramifications vertically. They seemed to be drawing a triangle, but the only two lines that they've drawn are the base of the triangle and the vertical extension of the triangle. There's one line they didn't draw; what line is that? The hypotenuse; they didn't draw the slanty line that connects these two points. So, the question is: if there's two lines here, is there a third line?
Now, let's just say what we mean by that. What would the third line mean? The third line would mean that if this point of the base of the triangle represents Esau's tears, and this point at the horizontal extension represents Jacob's tears at the loss of Rachel – you with me? And the vertical extension brings you to this point which represents Mordecai's tears – because of the tears of Esau. So, that means: this top point over here is Mordecai's tears and this part over here is Jacob's tears at the potential loss of Rachel. Is there a line that connects those? Which is, in other words, is there a moment, in Tanakh, when those two ideas converge? Those two ideas being, a) the potential loss of Rachel and b) the tears of Mordecai. Is there any moment in Tanakh, when those two things come together in the same verse? One more time: a) the tears of Mordecai; b) the potential loss of Rachel.
If you could find that, you would have found my hypotenuse. That's the line that connects this point, up here, which is the tears of Mordecai to this point over here, the potential loss of Rachel. What is that line? What is that moment? It turns out, there is a verse. The verse is, the verse that we've just actually been talking about. It's the verse of Mordecai's speech to Esther, because think about who Esther is. Who is Esther? Esther comes from who? Esther comes from the tribe of Benjamin, she is the feminine scion of Benjamin. Who does Benjamin come from? Benjamin comes from Rachel. What is Mordecai telling her? "We'll be fine!" Who's in danger? "You! You, the child of Rachel, the feminine child of Rachel – you're the Rachel in the new generation, you are endangered." I am sitting here crying. You asked me why am I crying. I'm crying because of the pogrom. But the one thing that you need to know is that we'll be fine. There's only one person in danger here; it's you – the child of Rachel. That's the hypotenuse.
Fascinating! Now, if that's the hypotenuse, it turns out that we can now understand why Mordecai is so confident that they'd be saved. Listen to his words carefully. Let's come back to Mordecai; Mordecai speaking to Esther, says, im hacharesh tacharishi baet hazo, If you keep silent now," – this is the hypothesis in this moment – revach v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher." The description that he uses for the salvation is that revach v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher – that space and salvation will come to the Jews from another place. Now if you think about that, that language is a little stilted. Hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher I would understand; but revach v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher? Space and salvation will come to us! 'Space' seem to be in the sense that we have elbow room, we have room to maneuver. We have room and space, but it's still a strange kind of language. It turns out that if you do a search for this, you will find that the word revach appears only twice in all of Tanakh. Well, the Torah mentions this. This is the second revach in Tanakh. Where’s the first revach in Tanakh.
The first and only other revach in Tanakh is Jacob and Esau, when Jacob appeases Esau. When Jacob comes 20 years later to Esau and gives him those gifts; when he gives him the gifts, he specifically tells his people, revach tasimu bein eder uvein eder' – place a space between each one of the gifts, each one of the flocks. And he prays to God; what does he say? hatzileni na miyad achiv miyad Esav – please save me from Esau. Now, Mordecai, generations later, revach v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher – space and salvation will come from another place. Mordecai knows they're going to be saved. Why are they going to be saved? Because if the reason we're going to be killed is because of the tears that Jacob provoked on the part of Esau, is because of the vayitzak tzakah gedolah umarah – if that's why we might be killed, I know something. And the one thing I know is that moment, when Jacob provoked tears on the part of Esau, when he deceived Esau – that wasn't the end of the story. There was a different end of the story. 20 years later, they reconciled. 20 years later, Jacob sought out Esau, vayishlach Yaakov malachim lefanav el Esav achiv – he sought out Esau and he redeemed that; he redeemed it by giving these gifts. Revach v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher – "We're going to survive because of those gifts. We're going to survive because Jacob redeemed that story. Because of the revach and the hatzileni na, there will be a revach and hatzalah for us – this much I know." What's that?
Well, there's two stages. Okay, let's hold on to that for a moment. In other words, isn't it remarkable, if you think about it, that the abiding hatred that amalek has towards us, if not shared by Esau, it's just on Amalek. That the perpetual war that the jews have is a war with Amalek, but not a war with Esau. The war comes from memories that Amalek has about our conflict with Esau. But they're skewed memories. They're memories that focus on the beginning of the story, but not the end of the story. There's an Achilles' heel in Amalek's memory. We've gotten along more or less with Esau, right? Who is Esau? Esau is Rome, it's the church, it's whatever. Yeah, there've been pogroms; it hasn't been, it's a cold piece. It's a détente, but basically, there has not been an attempt to, the genocidal attempt of history, to get rid of the Jews, our function in particular, about Amalek. Amalek is the fragment of Esau that only remembers one part of the story. The part of the story they remember is the beginning; they remember the tears and they have a certain foothold because the tears are true – the tears that Jacob provoked on the part of Esau. But they are not the whole story.
It's interesting that our battle with Amalek is phrased as a battle over – what? Timcha et. What do we wipe out? Isn't that interesting? Wipe out the memory of Amalek. Our battle is not just with Amalek, with the memory of Amalek. Amalek's memory is what's poisonous. The memory is to know – the only thing I care about is the beginning of the story. I don't care about the end of the story. The battle that Mordecai wins, ultimately, is, Mordecai says, "We're going to win because I know of the truth." The truth is that there was an end to the story. The end of the story is: revach v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher – the end of the story comes from the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau, and because of that, that's why they're going to be saved and that's what Amalek doesn't remember, that we will be saved.
Now, the interesting question is: why doesn't Mordecai conclude that by saying, "But I do need to tell you something, Esther. Even though we are going to be saved, you might not be saved. If you don't act, at uveit avich tovedu – Rachel may be destroyed." Why might Rachael be destroyed? Why might you – the feminine scion of Rachel – still be destroyed? If it's really true, that there's a second half of the story; if it's really true that Jacob reconciled with Esau, why are you going to be threatened? In the real story, Jacob was worried about Rachel, when he confronted Esau; but he managed to suave Esau's anger and Rachel was saved. Why is it that Mordecai is saying, "If you don't act, you are going to be the one who's going down in flames."
So, I want to suggest what I think is an interesting thought on this. It comes down to a fundamental choice that Esther needs to make. What is the choice that she needs to make? Let's go back to nimkarnu ani v’ami – the question I asked you about her strange speech to the king. What is she saying? Let me find that for you again.
Esther's ChoiceKi nimkarnu ani v’ami lehashmid laharog ulabed. She says, "King, we've been sold to be killed. Have we only been sold as slaves?" I think I could have kept quiet, hecherashti. The language of hecherashti – and this is a point I make in my book, 'The Queen You Thought You Knew' – is a language that smacks on a subtle way on a kind of passive-aggressive malevolence. Lehacharish is the Hebrew word for 'keeping silent', which is not lishtok. But lehacharish really means to make yourself deaf; it's like to put your fingers in your ears and say, "I'm not listening!" Mordecai has actually told her she can't do that. Mordecai had said, im hacharesh tacharishi baet hazo – if you keep silent, at this point, if you pretend you haven't heard anything, if you just think that life is normal, you could say, 'Look, the king did what he did. It's none of my business. I'm deaf to what's happening' – you can't do that. That's a no-no."
There's a subtle kind of malevolence in making yourself deaf. Its kind of a passive-aggressive way of not relating to something. What's interesting is that she actually brings up that same word here with the king. This was what Mordecai told her not to do. Mordecai said, "You must not keep silent in this way. You can't be macharesh." And now, along she comes to the king and says, "You know what? I'm asking you to save the Jews, but I just wanted you to know – had things been a little bit different, had we not been sold to be killed, had we only been sold to be slaves, then I would have been macharesh." What is she talking about?
Okay, now here's a little game to play. The game is: see that word, nimkarnu? That strange word she's talking about? Me and my people have been sold, we've been sold to be killed but if we'd only be sold to be slaves. Nun-mem-chaf-resh-nun-vav. How many times in the Tanakh do you have that word? Now, nun-mem-chaf-resh-nun-vav you've got to play anagrams with it. It's the same word with different vowelization. So, if you just change the vowelization but keep nun-mem-chaf-resh-nun-vav, you'll get the other time these letters appear in Tanakh.
No! Close. It's not when Esav sold the birthright, it’s another sale. Anyone know the only other nun-mem-chaf-resh-nun-vav in Tanakh?
It's when Joseph is in the pit and they lift up their eye – vayisu eineihem vayiru – they lift up their eyes and they see vehineh orchat yismelim baah migilad; they see the Ishmaelite caravan and they say lechu venimkerenu layishmelim – "Let us go and sell him". The language or the plot to sell Joseph, the operative verb in the plot to sell Joseph is nimkerenu – nun-mem-chaf-resh-nun-vav – it's the only other one. Why would Esther be quoting that?
Let's remember who she is. Who does she come from? She comes from Rachel, she comes from Benjamin. Right? Who is Benjamin? Think about who Benjamin is. Benjamin was, if you are Benjamin, what's your perspective on machirat Joseph? You know what I mean? Who's Benjamin? Benjamin is the guy who sees it all, unfolds this ghastly thing that all the other brothers are ganging up on the child of my mother, and doing away with him. If you think about Benyamin's perspective, think about the brachah that Benjamin gets, what's Jacob's blessing to Benjamin? Benjamin is ze’ev yitraf; Benjamin is a wolf that tears apart it's prey. But baboker ochal ad v’laerev yechalek shalal – the morning, it devours and then in the evening, it divides up the spoils. That's a pretty violent picture of Benjamin, isn't it? Benjamin is like a wolf that devours its prey. But even if you think about it, Binyamin ze’ev yitraf.
That's right! What does that remind you of the sale of Joseph? When Joseph's cloak – the bloody cloak – was brought before Jacob, what did Jacob say? Tarof toraf Yosef – he has been torn up!" Joseph has been torn up. Who is Benjamin? Benjamin is ze’ev yitraf – he's someone who tears up. Right? What does that seem to suggest, using that language borrowed from mechirat Joseph? If anything is going to propel Benjamin to violence, what will propel Benjamin to violence? The memories of mechirat Joseph. If you bring up mechirat Joseph to Benjamin, who is Benjamin going to be? Benjamin is going to be ze’ev yitraf. By the way, if you think about that, historically, did it ever happen? When did it happen?
That Benjamin did become ze’ev yitraf, which means 'like a rabid wolf', an out-of-control wolf, a suicidal wolf who would go and kill and who will destroy without any thought or any logic, what-so-ever. Pilegesh B’givah – in the story of Pilegesh B’givah, in – now,what was that story? That story was actually a replay of another story. That story was when everyone was ganging up on Benjamin; Benjamin was kind of getting framed by the other side of the family, by this ish Levi that wasn't quite telling the story quite the way it was. And, the great Kingmaker, the person in the room who could have made a difference, was Judah, the tribe of Judah. And Judah's position in Pilegesh B’givah is that, "No! We have to charge you. We have a search warrant; we're going to find the perpetrators of this dastardly rape and dastardly crime."
Benjamin asserts territorial sovereignty and will not extradite. Right? When else, in Jewish history, could Benjamin have asserted territorial sovereignty, not extradite it, and launched a civil war over that issue. When else was Benjamin being forced to be searched? When else was Judah standing by? And the question is: how will Judah act? And the answer is in the original story in Mitzrayim: All Pilegesh B’givah is, is a replay of the original Benjamin and Judah story. Benjamin originally got framed, right? And the question is: how is Judah going to act? How will Judah act? Now, we know how Judah acted. Judah came to the aid of Benjamin and would not stand by. It allowed Benjamin to be strip-searched and sold off. Right?
That's right. Well, in a way. Now, what happens is that, in the Pilegesh B’givah story, is the original Benjamin-Judah story gone bad? In other words, imagine what would have happened in the original Mitzrayim story. What would have happened, do you think? If you are Benjamin, you're the only one in the room who knows you are framed. You know you didn't take the cup; but nobody else does. So now, Judah doesn't know what's going on. Judah has a choice to make: am I going to stand by this guy, or not? Now, Judah does stand by his side. Imagine Judah didn't stand by his side. Imagine he says, "Look! I guess he took the cup. I suppose you could take him. Whatever! Guys, come on and strip and search him. If you find it, just haul him away."
And now, here you are; you're Benjamin. You know that Judah promised your father that he would bring you back alive. You know that; you know you didn't put the cup there. You remember mechirat Joseph Joseph when Judah was the one who sold your brother. You know you are being framed now; you know everyone's calling you a thief and here you are, being caught it off. What are you going to do? Binyamin ze’ev yitraf. What would he have done? With the memories of mechirat Joseph fresh in his mind, happening again, he would have just exploded. He would have just gone in a suicidal rage and fought to the death and be killed in the process, which is actually what happened later on in history in Pilegesh B’givah in the same case. Right? So, this is Benjamin.
Who is Esther? Esther is the scion of Benjamin, the memory of mechirat Joseph that never dies for Benjamin. Along comes Esther; she comes to the King. Mordecai says to her, "Esther, you have to save us." Now the question is, who's us, Tanto? Right? In the words of the Lone Ranger, "Who's we, Kemo Sabe?" So, here is - who is threatened? And I get into this in 'The Queen You Thought You Knew', in the third part of it. Who is threatened? Threatened are the Yehudim. Now, we think Yehudim' means the Jews; but Yehudim aren't the Jews. Yehudim are, historically, the remnants of malchut Yehudah. That's what it means historically, the remnants of malchut Yehudah - that's who was exiled. The 10 tribes were gone. The remnants of malchut Yehudah - who's that? That's the tribe of Judah with a few stragglers of Benjamin. That's all that's left.
Now, Haman and Ahasuerus and the Persians called them Judah; that's not a religious designation of Jews. It's a national designation. It's what your passport says. Your passport is Yehudi; I'm from malchut Yehudah. Now what the Persians don't know or don't care about is, that there are different tribal affiliations within malchut Yehudah. You can either be a true Judahite or you might just be one of the few Benjamites there. But you're still called a Yehudi because you're part of malchut Yehudah. That's as far as the goyim are concerned. It's as far as the gentiles are concerned. As far as the Jews are concerned, they knew their tribal affiliations.
Along comes Mordecai and says, "You know, Esther? You really have to act. The Yehudim are in trouble. You can't keep silent." And now, here comes Esther, going to the king, to save who? The other side of the family. That's what she is saying, "You want me to risk my - I'm from Benjamin. You want me to risk my life to save them?" Remember, this is after Pilegesh B’givah. So, "You want me to risk my life to save them? To save Yehudim?" So she does. But even as she does, it's almost like she can't even help herself,saying these words. Or at least, the Megillah puts these words into her mouth to clue to you in, what is in her thinking, almost subconsciously. At one level, she's saying to the king, "Look, we're all going to be saved, King. Please save us." But she can't help herself from saying, "By the way, just wanted you to know. I'm asking you to save us because we're going to get killed. But, if we are being sold as slaves, I think I could see myself keeping quiet."
"Oh! If you're being sold as slaves, you can see me keeping quiet. Why? Because, it happened once. That, their side of the family sold our side of the family as slaves. And by the way, when they sold them as slaves, they made the same royal calculus as I am about to make to you, King." Because, what did Judah say? Remember Judah's words: Mah betza ki naharog et achinu v’chisinu et damo - Guys! I just want you to know that we have a choice here. Should we kill him, or should we sell him off as a slave? Well, let's do a little debit-credit analysis. Let's say we kill him. Mah betza - What profit will we get out of killing him? Zero to Ten? It's a zero! We get nothing out of killing him. Now, how bad is it for him if we kill him? It's really bad; it's a 10. Lechu v’nimkerenu layishmelim - I've got a better idea. How about we get a little profit out of it. Not a zero for us, it's 3 for us. And he's only going to sold as a slave; it's not a 10 'bad' for him, it's down to a 7. It's a lot better; let's just sell him."
When else do we hear that kind of a bargaining? Esther! Esther says, "Let's just play it out, King. The reason I am coming to you is because they weren't willing to kill Joseph. Well, I can't be willing to allow them to be killed, but they sure as heck are willing to sell him. You know what, if you are only selling them as slaves, totally! King, you can just count on me to keep silent. I'd be totally fine with that." Now, did she say that? I don't even know if she said that. But the Bal HaMegillah is putting those words in her mouth as a way of clueing you into what it is that she's thinking and why it is that she fails. That even as she goes knowing to the King that the bitterness, the memory of mechirat Joseph for Benjamin is such that she just can't get it out of her head, and it's causing her to fail.
But she is going to go to the King one more time. And when she goes to the King one more time, at the second suddah, she does so unreservedly, and with a merged change of perspective. Here's what she says, eichachah uchal v’raiti baraah asher yimtza et ami - You know King, I don't want to be the only one that survives this holocaust. How could I stand by and watch the destruction that would befall my people?" Well, who said those words? Eich erei baraah asher yimtza et ami - finds his echo; in eich erei baraah asher yimtza et avi - someone said those words with one syllable changing. And that person was Judah, at the end of the story.
What is she doing? She's quoting from Judah; something that Judah said about Benjamin. At the very end of the story, when Judah didn't abandon Benjamin, when Judah heroically stepped up to the plate and said, "Take me as a slave instead of Benjamin; I don't care if he was framed, I don't care if it was real. Take me instead." He says, "Take me instead because how can I possibly see the evil that befalls my father in losing Benjamin. He loves Benjamin more than he loves me; he loves the woman from the other side of the family and there was a time when I sold a child of Rachael to slavery because I couldn't deal with the fact that Father loved that woman more than he loved my mother. But I'm not going to make that mistake twice. I'm not going to let him go into slavery again. Take me instead. Eich erei baraah asher yimtza et avi - How can I possibly see the evil that befalls my people?" That's what Judah did for Benjamin at the end of the Joseph story.
When does Benjamin pay Judah back for that? Benjamin pays Judah back for that centuries later; Benjamin pays Judah back for that right now. When Esther says, eichachah uchal v’raiti baraah asher yimtza et ami, she from Benjamin, is extending herself, is risking her life for the people of Judah, unreservedly. And when she does, she wins the King's favor, and the Jews survived. Now, think about what's happening here. If you think about her two audiences with the king, the first time around, the Queen remembers the beginning of the story. She remembers machirat Joseph. The second time around, she also remembers the end of the story, because the story didn't end with mechirat Joseph. Judah betrayed Joseph by selling him, but came to the aid of the children of Rachel in saving Benjamin. I believe – and with this, I will close – that this is what Mordecai is telling Esther.
Mordecai is telling Esther this, "Esther, guess what? Amalek is trying to kill us. Do you know why he's trying to kill us? They're trying to kill us because they remember what happened to their great-great grandfather, with Esau. They remember a story involving goats and coats; where there was a child, a deceived father who was a bechor. They remember all of that. And they remember the deception but it's the only thing they remember. They don't remember the rest of the story, they don't remember the reconciliation. Was the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau perfect? It wasn't perfect. We all know about the dots above vayishakehu – the dots above the kiss – which Chazal say that there was a subconscious bite hidden in the kiss. It was a reconciliation; was it a perfect reconciliation? No! But they won't even focus on the reconciliation; its as if it didn't happen. And because of that, we will survive. Because, in fact, there was a reconciliation. There was a revach and there was a hatzalah and therefore, revach v’hatzalah yaamod layehudim mimakom acher – we will survive.
"Esther, the only one who is threatened here, is you. Because the tears that Jacob provoked on the parts of Esau do threaten Rachel. And you're the child of Rachel. And you, right now, have a choice. Because it wasn't just one 'goats and coats' story, there were two of them. It happened, again, in the next generation. And that, when it happened the second time, is your story. That was mechirat Joseph. There was a second time when brothers deceived a father with 'goats and coats'. There was a second time that there was a beginning of a story and an end of the story. There was a beginning of the story with Jacob and Joseph, and that's Amalek story. But, in your life, Esther, there was a beginning of the Joseph story and the end of an Joseph story. You have a choice; you can't keep silent. If you keep silent at the plight of the Yehudim, it means that what part of the story you’re remembering - the first part of the story. You can't keep silent; you have to remember the second part of the story. If you can remember successfully the second part of the story, it wasn't perfect - the reconciliation between Benjamin and Judah. It was a bit hard; there was more or less reconciliation, didn't patch everything up, but it was a reconciliation. If you can remember that, then you change everything.
If you don't remember that, if all you can remember is the first side of the story – if all you can remember is the first side of mechirat Joseph story, then what does that mean? You're saying, at least for yourself, that only the first part of the story counts. If you say that it's only the first part of the story that counts, then that's why don't come to the Jews' aid, because you remember mechirat Joseph'? If that's the position you want to take, that only the first part of the story counts, then what do you believe about the Jacob and Esau story? You have to believe the same thing about that story. If you believe that about that story, then who's going to be doomed? You are! Because the tears that come from the first part of the story will always doom Rachel. The only way that it won't doom Rachel if there was a second part of the story. We will be fine, because we know there is a second part of the story, and God knows there is a second part of the story. The question is: do you know that there is a second part of the story? If you can't, for yourself, acknowledge the second part of mechirat Joseph, then the second part of Jacob and Esau doesn't matter for you either. And then, you're doomed. We're going to be fine. The only question is you.
I didn't get back to the chalitzah piece, but I'm going to leave you to think about that, for next week. But I'll leave you then. Wish you guys a happy Rosh Chodesh Adar; I'll see you next week, 7:45.