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The Hidden Story of Queen Esther
Video 5 of 6
He starts retelling to this high Egyptian official everything that happened back in Egypt. Vayomer avdecha avi elenu. He says “my father at that time, he didn’t want to send Benjamin. He told us atem yedatem, he says “ you know,” ki shenaim yaldah-li ishti, that my wife only gave birth to two children.” I want you to think about that for a moment - “you know that my wife only gave birth to two children”. How many children did Jacob have? Jacob had twelve children. What’s he only talking about two children now? The answer is “which wife is he talking about?” My wife. “My wife’” over here is Rachel, but it’s almost as if he’s not counting Leah at all.
A mean look how difficult it is for Yehudah, child of Leah to say this “ my wife only gave birth to two children” as if Leah hadn’t even existed. The sense that Leah’s children didn’t count might have been one of the reason why they were so willing to through Joseph in the pit years before and now he has to come face - to- face with that reality again. My father told us “ you know that I only had two children from my wife”. vayetze haechad meiti - I mean how difficult is this for him to say? “One left me and I don’t know what happened to him v’lo raitiv -I haven’t seen him since then but now you’re going to take this last child from me?”
“If that happens, if I go back to my father”, Yehudah says, “ hanaar einenu itanu - and this child is no longer with us v’nafsho keshurah benafsho - my father’s soul is bound up with the soul of Benjamin, he loves him more than anyone because he loves his mother more than anyone, more than my mother, and therefore he loves him more than me.” And therefore he has a bargin to make with him. v’hayah kiroto ki-ain hanaar vamet v’horidu avadeicha et-sevat avdecha avinu - “ I can’t let my father die after seeing Benjamin disappear from him again” ki avderach arav et-hanaar - “because I personally guarantee him saying im-lo avienu alecha v’chatati leavi kol hamayim- if I don’t bring him back I would have sinned before you all the days of my life and therefore yeshev-na avdecha tachat hanaar - I will be the slave, I will be the eved ladoni - and let him the thief, let Benjamin go back with my brothers because my father would want it that way, he would want him more than me. And even though there was a time when I allowed a brother, I didn’t kill him, but I allowed to languish as a slave”. Now look, Judah is facing that same position. He can do it again; but he is not going to do it again.
Once again, he has this situation where, okay, he is not going to die, this child of Rachel, but maybe he should just be a slave . Years before , Yehudah said “yes” to this; but now he is saying “no”. He says eich e’eleh el-avi - and now we get to the words that Esther mimics - ki eich e’eleh el-avi - “ because how could I possibly go back to my father” v’hanaar einenu iti - “without this child” pen ereh bara asher yimtza et-avi - “ lest I see the evil, the terrible things that will befall my father.” And, of course, these are the words that Esther mimics years later. And why is Esther mimicking that years later? Because remember how Esther remembered? Remembered very well the sale of Joseph. It poisoned her words to the king the first time she went to the king.
Now, the second time she goes to the king, she remembers the sale of Joseph one more; not just the beginning of the story, she remembers the end of the story, pen ereh vara asher yimtza et-avi. And hear Esther’s words eichachah uchal v’raiti. What is happening over here? Esther is the child of who? Esther is the child of Benjamin and it now falls to her to save the Yehudim - the child of Judah. And now you ask the question, when did Benjamin ever repaid Judah for what Yehudah had done for him; for saving him at that moment in Egypt? It took centuries, but the answer is right here in the Book of Esther.
When Esther goes to the king and mimics those words, she’s in exactly the same position Yehudah is; exactly the same position. And she says the same words that Yehudah says . She throws her lot in with the rest of the Jewish people, with the Yehudim and says “we’re all Yehudim now, we’re all from the tribe of Judah. How can I possibly go and see the evil that befalls my people?” It’s not just the words that she echos, it’s exactly the same situation. And what she does echos the acts of Yehudah centuries before.
Because look at what happen then and look at what happen now. Back then, right, Yehudah had pledge to save Benjamin and bring him back to his father . Yehudah made a reasonable effort to do that right? Then he could have gone back to his father and said he tried his best “look, you know, I tried to bring him back but nobody asked him to steal the cup. I did my best, you know; at least he is no dead, at least he's a slave.” Instead, he makes this daring appeal to the king, throwing his lot in with Benjamin and the same thing happens now.
Esther told Mordecai she would try to save Yehudim , and she tried; she made a reasonable effort to do that. The first time she went to the king, she could have gone back to Mordecai saying “ look, I tried, you know, he killed Haman but, you know, what can you do?” But instead, she makes a daring appeal to the king and in order to do that, throws her lot in with Yehudim and says “ you know, I would have to be destroyed along with them . How can I possibly go and stay alive while I watch them die?”
In the end, what I want to argue, what the Megillah is about, the heroism of Esther has to do very deeply with this notion of memory. Memory is very, very important in the Megillah. It’s very important in our confrontation with Amalek . We don't call it’s Parshat Zachor for nothing. The Parsha of Remembrance . Amalek and combating Amalek is to fuse with memory, with what does it mean to remember. And look at memory challenge as it is, that Esther faces.
There is a long and storied and very difficult history that lies behind everything Esther does. She from Benjamin, being called upon, to rescue Yehudah. Thinking back to the pain between these two sides of the family - Rachel on the one hand and Leah on the other hand . She begins by thinking back to the beginning of the story when Yehudah betray her side of the family and thinking of that poisons what she says to the king . When her first attempt to the king fails she gets another chance. And the second time, she remembers the end of the story -she remembered how Yehudah redeemed himself, how Yehudah pledged himself up as a slave so that Benjamin would not have to be captured. She remembers that moment of unity from the end of the story and centuries later, she, from Benjamin, repays that to Yehudah by not allowing herself to sit on the sidelines and by demanding that Yehudim be saved just as she would be eich ereh bara asher yimtza et ami; - “how can I possibly see the evil that befalls my people?”
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