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Megillat Esther: Letting Text Tell the Story
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Rav Yaakov Medan in his article on Megillat Esther suggests that Mordechai must have known what we find out soon enough; namely Haman was incredibly evil. He represents Amalek. Rav Medan based on that assumption suggests that Mordechai said, somebody needs to stand up against evil. Everybody is just bowing down and they're doing what the king says, no, somebody needs to stand up there and say, this man is evil. Mordechai was willing to risk his life in order to do that. That seems to be what's going on at the surface level of the Megillah, the conflict between Mordechai and Haman.
But if we look at the story through Rabbi Henshke's lens, that it's really about a conflict between G-d and Achashveirosh, we understand that this is what Mordechai was addressing as well. He was protesting against the rule of Achashveirosh - Achashveirosh after all had ordered that everybody should bow to Haman. Do we see a hint to this in the text? The answer is yes, Megillah Esther says in Chapter 3, that Mordechai would not bow even though this was the king's decree. People asked, why are you defying the king's decree? Mordechai refuses because he wants to defy Haman at the level of he's defying Amalek - evil, and he's defying Achashveirosh at the level of amorality.
Megillah 15A of the Talmud discusses both of these levels brilliantly. Now when Mordechai knew all that was done, what was his cry? Rav said he said, Haman has raised himself above Achashveirosh. Oh no, according to Rav, Haman has defeated Achashveirosh, he has the ring now, he's the one who is running the empire, this is terrible. That's the surface level of the Megillah, where it becomes a conflict between Mordechai and Esther versus Haman.
Shmuel said, the upper king has prevailed over the lower king. Literally that means that G-d has prevailed over Achashveirosh, but Rashi quickly explains to us that's a euphemism, meaning the opposite. What Mordechai was saying according to Shmuel, is oh no, Achashveirosh has defeated G-d. This is the conflict which Mordechai is attacking beneath the surface of the Megillah, and getting to the heart of what the Megillah is all about. Mordechai is battling on both fronts simultaneously. He's battling against the evil world of Haman and the amoral world of Achashveirosh.
Megillat Esther, rather than just mocking Achashveirosh and showing Mordechai's heroic battle against Haman and against Achashveirosh, it offers an alternative lifestyle. Haman himself says that the Jews are living a distinctive life. It seems like they're faithful to the Torah. The Jews are united in the Megillah. You're listening to Mordechai and Esther fasting together and later on establishing the Holiday. The Megillah is telling us that Jewish laws and practices and the morality which applies to the entire world, are an admirable and necessary alternative to the terrible and decrepit values represented by Achashveirosh's personality and society. G-d's world is purposeful and just, represented by the Beit Hamikdash, exactly the opposite of the whimsical, amoral Achashveirosh. G-d works behind the scenes to help the good characters.
The Megillah also teaches the supreme morality of the Torah for both the Jewish people and for all of humanity, and it dreams for G-d's glory to be recognized by the world, and the world harmony that would emerge from the fulfillment of the prophetic vision that we saw in Yeshayahu's vision in the previous segment.
However, that doesn't happen in our Megillah, and that's why our Holiday of Purim is actually crippled. It doesn't end with the celebration of Purim in Chapter 9, but it ends with [this taxes 3:56] and power of Achashveirosh in Chapter 10. The reason for this is that he is in charge, he's just as powerful as he was at the beginning. In fact, the Jews are no better off at the end of the Megillah than they were at the beginning of the Megillah. They're no worse off, thank G-d, we're not exterminated by Haman and his forces, but we're no better off.
This is why Rava says, there's actually Halachic consequence - why don't we read Hallel on Purim? After all it's a Holiday, we do it on Chanukah and other Rabbinic Holidays, why can't we just read Hallel also and praise G-d for this celebration? Rava says in Megillah 14A, there is a good reason in that case of the exodus from Egypt because it says in the Hallel, praise o servants of the L-rd who are no longer servants of Paraoh. When G-d redeemed us from Egypt, we stopped being slaves to Paraoh and started being servants of G-d, we can say Hallel for that. But can we say in this case, praise o servants of the L-rd and not servants of Achashveirosh? We are still servants of Achashveirosh.
How poignant that he puts it in the present tense. Rava realizes we're still in Achashveirosh's world. Yes, we defeated this Haman, but as long as Achashveirosh is, people who are self-serving, who are amoral, who ultimately allow their power and glory and ego and self-interests to take precedence over morality and order, well then new Hamans can always rise, G-d's world will always be eclipsed. The world will not flock to the Beit Hamikdash to celebrate G-d's glory and morality, they will flock to an Achashveirosh-type palace to celebrate drunkenness and glory and wealth.
So Megillat Esther is teaching that Purim is a Holiday; we celebrate the fact that we're not dead, that Haman did not exterminate us. But we cannot say Hallel because we're still under Achashveirosh's dominion. The victory is incomplete.
Megillat Esther teaches that although Achashveirosh remains in power, G-d works behind the scenes, and the heroes of the Megillah: Mordechai, Esther and the entire Jewish people, are heroes for standing up against the king and against all that he stands for, promoting the alternative lifestyle that the Torah stands for. This is what we are called upon to do in every world. To model a Torah lifestyle and its absolute morality, which we want all of humanity to accept, in a world that does not always share our deepest values and concerns. We continue to pray for the day when people stop glorifying the self-serving power and wealth of the Achashveiroshes of the world, that comes with no morality, and for people instead to glorify and G-d and Godliness. So that one day the world will be a moral place and everyone will come flocking to the Temple in Jerusalem in order to learn the Torah and its values, to celebrate G-d's glory.
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