Maury Grebenau

The Megilla of Gaza

Our rabbis share many interesting ideas about the Purim story we read in Megillat Esther each year. One interesting point is that the Gemara tells us that some of the minor characters are actually people we know from other important events in TaNaCh. Hasach, who in the Megilla shuttles messages between Esther and Mordechai, is in fact Daniel (Megilla 15a). Charvona, who makes the well-timed point that Haman has gallows built in his home when Achashveriosh is fuming about his plot to kill the Jews, is really Eliyahu HaNavi (Esther Rabbah 10:9).

In general, we do find an approach to understanding TaNaCh called closed canon which always tries to assign minor characters names of people we know[1]. However, I believe there is a deeper message here since these are characters who are not mentioned at all in this narrative. What is the message our rabbis are trying to send us?

Perhaps this is another nod to the idea that Hashem is very present in the Megilla if we look a little deeper. As we know, Hashem’s name does not appear in the Megilla but there is a custom to write the Megilla with the word HaMelech – “the king” at the beginning of every paragraph to point to the fact that Hashem, the King, really is a major part of the story. The Megilla I use each year is organized this way and every time I move to a new section of the scroll the word HaMelech is there again. It gives the feeling of great consistency despite the twists and turns the Megilla story takes.

Perhaps in a similar way these personalities who are known for outright miracles are seen in the Megilla in a much more muted role. Daniel is best known for being miraculously saved when he is thrown into a den of lions. Eliyahu, on Mt. Carmel, brings down a Heavenly fire. In the Purim story they are minor characters, in the background. The same characters are there. The same powerful messengers of Hashem are present. But we must work harder to find them.

When we read the Megilla, it is somewhat misleading. The events of the Megilla seem to be happening right after each other but really they happen over almost a decade. One meaning of the word ‘Megilla’ is revealed, the Megilla is megaleh (reveals) that the force of Hashem is working behind the scenes during the entire narrative. This is much clearer when you focus on just the key events in the Megilla and look at them right next to each other – the hand of Hashem in the story emerges.

There are so many striking parallels between the events of the Megilla and the war against Hamas. A group of citizens plan a slaughter of the Jews[2], sponsored by a state representative (Haman & Achashveirosh). Thankfully in the Megilla they are not successful as they were on October 7th but in the aftermath Esther asks for permission to continue fighting so that they can insure that these same enemies that are hoping for the annihilation of the Jews are rooted out and killed. The current situation in Gaza is quite similar. We ask for understanding from the world community to allow the IDF to make sure that the terrorists who were responsible for such atrocities are not left to plot another day, G-d forbid.

I imagine that living through the events of the Megilla was quite different than reading the story at the end. After the Jews fasted and Esther went to the king it was 11 months until the battle. These months must have been anxiety provoking. The Jews had been given permission to fight back on this day of state-sponsored Jew killing but what would actually transpire? Would the Jews be victorious? Would they really get the support of the local government or at least not have them interfere or fight against the Jews? The Jews needed to have faith in Hashem and no doubt there weas plenty of tearful prayer.

We have the benefit of hindsight in the Purim story but not in our own harrowing time. We are in the months of challenge and difficulty as we watch Israel try to ensure the safety of its people and the return of the hostages. We engage in tearful prayer and feel the anxiety of the uncertainty. We wish desperately for a resolution that matches the Purim story – one we will be able to celebrate in the future. We must draw strength from the Purim story and recognize what the Megilla teaches us. The same Heavenly messengers are there. The same G-d who miraculously saved us is here and in our corner. There is nothing Hashem can’t do. May it be His will that we are able to celebrate the miraculous freeing of the hostages and the safety of the Jewish people in Israel and abroad.


Am Yisrael Chai!

[1] Think of Rashi’s comments that Shifra and Puah are Yocheved and Miriam, the interpreter between Yosef and the brothers is Menashe etc.

[2] According to the Malbim the letters that were sent out did not inform the general public of the fact that the Jews were the target and only select letters to leaders revealed this fact. The image of secret letters that depict a slaughter of Jews is an even more chilling parallel.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Maury Grebenau has worked in Jewish day school for 20 years, including leading two Jewish schools for a decade. Rabbi Grebenau has written a number of articles on educational leadership and current issues including teen health and school technology use. His articles have been published in Phi Delta Kappan, Principal Leadership and Hayidion, among others. He currently co-leads a program that supports administrators in Jewish day schools.
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