Many of you know the story by now about Persian anti-Semites wanting to kill all the Jews. And no I am not referring to present day Iran. I speak, of course, about Haman and his sons and the rest of the Jew haters from about 2,400 years ago. The more things change…
Queen Esther of the Persian Empire, at the urging of the righteous Mordechai, took action to thwart an evil decree against the Jewish people, “to destroy, kill, and cause to perish all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, on one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and their spoils to be taken as plunder (Esther 3:13).”
After asking the Jews to fast three days and nights, Esther saved the people by exposing Haman’s heinous plan at the second of two parties she held for King Achashverosh and the wicked viceroy.
The Rabbis in the Talmud (volumes of legal discussions and commentary dating back over 1500 years) in Megillah (15b), asked: “What was Esther’s reason for inviting Haman?”
Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the queen to go one on one with the king? Why take the chance of having Haman there to be able to defend himself?
The Rabbis gave a number of reasons. Continuing with the Talmud:
Rabbi Eleazar said, “She set a trap for him, as it says in Psalms (69:23), ‘Let their table before them become a trap.’”
She did indeed set a trap.
Rabbi Joshua said, “She learned at her father’s house from Proverbs (25:21), ‘If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,’” and further…
The “further…” is the next verse which clarifies Rabbi Joshua’s reasoning. Verse 22 says, ”For you will heap fiery coals on his head and the Lord will reward you.” That will do it. Interestingly, Rashi, the preeminent Jewish medieval commentator, says our Rabbis compared the “enemy” to the evil inclination, and if it tried to make you sin, go to the study hall to feed it the bread of Torah.
Rabbi Meir said, “So that Haman should not form a conspiracy and rebel.”
Perhaps an uninvited Haman, un-thrilled at the snub, would have plotted an overthrow.
Rabbi Yehudah said, “So that they should not discover that she was Jewish.”
Before her trap, by showing she was willing to sit and eat with the nasty Haman.
Rabbi Nechemiah said, “So that Israel (the people) should not say, ‘We have a sister in the palace, and so should neglect praying for mercy.’”
Why work at anything if someone else will carry the load?
Rabbi Yose said, “So that Haman should always be at hand for her.”
If and when she was ready to nail him. And so she did.
Rabbi Shimon the son of Menasiah said, “Esther was hoping that God would ‘feel’ what she was doing and perform a miracle for us.”
That God would understand her difficulty at entertaining Haman. What difficulty? Rashi says by Esther needing to get close to the wicked Haman, flattering him and by so doing, degrading her own honor.
Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Karcha said, “Esther thought, ‘I will seduce him so that he may be killed, both he and I.’”
Rashi explains the king could become suspicious of them and Esther was willing to die along with Haman to save her people. Rashi adds that the Talmud in Taanit (29a) says, there was a tradition among some rulers that when a decree is made and one of the related leaders dies, the decree becomes void. The death of the leader is a punishment because of the decree, and so the decree must die as well. Here, of course, the decree is the murder of the Jewish people.
Rabban Gamliel said, “The king was fickle.”
Rashi says, Esther thought, “I may be able to change this indecisive king’s mind about Haman and his evil desire. And with Haman present for my accusation and hopefully a quick royal decision, the king wouldn’t have time to change his mind yet again in Haman’s favor.”
Rabban Gamliel added, We still require ‘the Modean’s’ explanation (as to why, aside from the king, only Haman was invited to the feasts). As it was taught, Rabbi Eliezer of Modiim (the Modean) says, ‘She made the king jealous of him (Haman) and she made the princes jealous of him as well.’”
This would make the king suspicious and jealous of Haman which could cause big problems for the viceroy.
Rabbah said, “Before destruction comes pride.” (Pride goes before a fall.) (Proverbs 16:18.)
The verse continues, “And before stumbling comes a haughty spirit.” Esther thought Haman’s massive ego and conceit could bring him down at one of the feasts.
Abaye and Rava both said (from Jeremiah 51:39), “In their heat I will place their feasts, and further.”
The “further” is the rest of the verse which reads, “and I will make them drunk in order that they become joyful, and sleep a perpetual sleep and not awaken, says the Lord.” Rashi at the Jeremiah verse says, drinking when it is hot makes getting drunk easier. Rashi here in the Talmud says, Esther remembered that not too many years before, a tired, returning from war, King Belshatzar of Babylon, overindulged and was killed the very same day. Perhaps the same would happen to an overindulging Haman. (And perhaps then, the decree would become void.)
Rabbah the son of Abuha met the prophet Elijah and asked him, “Which of these reasons made Esther do as she did?” Elijah replied, “All the reasons given by the Mishnaic (the Mishna being the first edition of Oral Law) Rabbis and (the post-Mishnaic) Talmudic Rabbis (above).
Makes sense to me.
So there you have it. After Esther wined the king and gave Haman a false sense of security, when the king asked his queen what she wanted, Esther sprung her trap. She replied, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, give me my life at my petition, and my people at my request. For we are sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be slain, and to perish (Esther 7:3-4).”
Esther identified Haman as the prospective murderer, and the king was not at all happy to say the very least. Haman was hanged, the Jews were saved, a new and very joyous holiday (Purim) was created, and as we do on nearly all our holidays, we Jews, well, we eat.
Of course there is more. The reading of Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), prayers of thanksgiving, a special snack, a feast, gifts to friends, helping the needy. Yeah, we have all that too.
Happy Purim one and all!