Search Me!

There is a curious passage in Talmud Chulin, 139b where the following question is posed, המן מן התורה מנין. Namely, how do we know that Haman is alluded to in the Torah? The Talmud answers bringing a “prooftext” from Bereishit 3:11 המן העץ. From this tree, (the tree of knowledge of good and bad) which God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat from… they ate.The three lettered word heh, mem, nun, meaning something else entirely is brought to make the case. A similar exercise is carried out to show that Esther and Mordechai are also alluded to in the texts of the Torah. What is the purpose of this esoteric endeavor?

Perhaps in seeking to clarify the status of the megillah, the Talmud is endorsing that in a sense this “new” addition to the Canon of the Tenakh is rooted in the Torah itself and thus its inclusion is sanctioned. I believe the discussion is seeking much more than that, the questions being asked are fundamental and resonate even more powerfully in the tragic circumstances in which we find ourselves celebrating Purim this year. In addition to wishing to clarify whether there are hints to Haman being referred to in the Torah, the dilemma is more about how is it conceivable that such abhorrent evil can be in the Torah, that this possibility is given credence and sanction. The excruciating question then becomes; is Haman to be found in the Torah or sanctioned by a loving and compassionate God? 

Purim is about searching, we seek to accomplish this through dressing up, where the real purpose is also hidden and needs to be sought after to reveal its true purpose. “Lehitchapes” to dress up is the reflexive form of “lechapes”, to search. The ritual is not so much the celebration rather the outcome of the events. We are searching for light in the tormenting dark, we are seeking truth, good when all appears to be evil. We are searching for God who is absent from the Megillah and perhaps too many events. Godless periods of indescribable horror and suffering. The “Purim Torah” in the tractate of Chulin is inviting us back to the very beginning, the Genesis or Bereishit of humankind, to try and figure out what else was planted in that universe, what else was part of God’s plan. There is a macabre playfulness in connecting Haman to the Tree… of Knowledge of good and bad, both of these aspects of the oft tragic human condition were seemingly exposed and became potent through the sin of Adam and Eve. A sin that no longer appears to be that original…

The quest to find Esther in the Torah reinforces these insights Chulin 139:b; 

…אסתר מן התורה מנין (דברים לא, יח) ואנכי הסתר אסתיר פני

From where in the Torah can one find an allusion to the events involving Esther? He replied to them that the verse states: “Then My anger shall be kindled against them on that day, and I will forsake them, and I will hide My face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall come upon them.

Purim evokes Yom That day too we are seeking God and in our efforts to find Him to return to Him, God makes that journey to find us too. The process of Teshuva which perhaps becomes incumbent on both us and God. Let us hope and pray that our (A)dressing of God will speedily enable us to find the good that will banish the evil, the love that must quash the senseless hatred. Perhaps God’s absence as in the moment of creation is allowing and mandating us to fill this void, the onus to generate an ethical and compassionate world is on us too.

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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