TWO ASPECTS OF MEGILLAT ESTHER
The miracle that takes place in Megillat Esther is unique among all of the miracles found in Scripture, most notably because the name of Hashem does not appear at all in the book. As such, the miracles of this megilla are the epitome of "nissim nistarim" - hidden miracles. However, these miracles are unique not only for how they happened, but also for the type of salvation that resulted from them.
There are two incidents in Megillat Esther which precede the rise of Haman to power: Esther's assuming the throne of Vashti, and Mordechai's saving of the life of the king from the murderous plot of Bigtan and Teresh. However, at first glance it seems that these two events have very different levels of ultimate significance. Esther's rise to power serves as a direct cause of the salvation of the Jews. On the other hand, the saving of the life of the king results merely in Mordechai's receiving a momentary tribute of having a parade in his honor, after which he went back to sitting at the gate of the palace and Haman went to dine once again with the king and queen. As such, we will have to determine what the purpose of the story of Bigtan and Teresh and of Mordechai's parade have to do with the flow of the events in Megillat Esther. As we will see, Haman's leading Mordechai through the streets of Shushan proves to be no less significant event than the hanging of Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordechai.
To begin our explanation, we have to understand that there are two aspects of the miracle of Purim (Rav Breuer's general method relies on what is known as "shtei bechinot" - explaining parallels and doubles in Tanach and showing how each repetition has its own significance). On the one hand there is the salvation of the Jews from their enemies; on the other, there is the revenge of the Jews against those who sought to eliminate them. Viewed in this light, we can better understand the hanging of Haman. Note well that it took place well before Adar, which is when the actual miracles of salvation and revenge occurred. As such, the death of Haman was not in and of itself a miracle, but rather laid the groundwork for the miracles that were to come.
One should note that Esther enters the king's chamber to make a request three times (5:1-4, 8:3-6, 9:12-13). The first two times we are told that the king extended his scepter to her, while the third time this detail is curiously absent. However, we can explain this quirk by furthering our explanation of the miracles that occurred. The first time that Esther went in she invited the king and Haman to a feast, which ultimately led to the hanging of Haman. The second time that she went in she asked to issue new proclamations allowing the Jews to fight back against their enemies. Each of these requests made up its own mission, and thus each one mandating a new conference with the king. However, the third time that Esther spoke with the king she asked for the Jews of Shushan to have an extra day of fighting and for the ten sons of Haman to be hanged on a tree. Neither of these are new requests - in fact, they are merely continuations of the first two requests! Thus, there was no need for Esther to re-enter to speak to the king; she merely had to ask for the results of the first two meetings to be extended a bit.
Based on this foundation we can begin to investigate how the hanging of Haman fits into the salvation and the revenge connected with Purim. Haman's real issue was not with the Jews as a whole, but rather with Mordechai who refused to bow down to him. However, Haman became aware that Mordechai was a Jew, and he concluded that even if he were to kill the individual Mordechai, there would be others who would arise and perform similar acts of insubordination. As such, the only logical step to take, in Haman's eyes, would be to wipe out the entire nation.
However, there is another aspect to all of this. While Mordechai was a Jew, and while other Jews shared Mordechai's beliefs, they did not all practice what the believed in their hearts. Mordechai was the on person in Shushan who refused to bow to Haman, implying that there were Jews who were not as bold as Mordechai and who thus did bow to Haman. As such, Haman had to array his battle on two fronts - one against the nation of Mordechai, and one against Mordechai himself. Thus, we see that the first time that Haman sees Mordechai refusing to bow to him (3:5) he plots to kill all of the Jews, while the second time that he sees this (5:9) he builds the gallows on which to hang Mordechai and Mordechai alone.
Thus, Haman set up two battles at once. As with any battle, there was a battle between two nations and a battle between two kings or leaders. As with any war, the battle between the kings was to come first (such as the battle between David and Goliath which preceded the battle between the Jews and the Plishtim). Esther understood this dual battle as well, and she two give primacy to the one between Haman and Mordechai. When she came to the king after Haman had been killed, she first tended to the business of giving Haman's house (ministry) to Mordechai, and only afterward did she plead on behalf of all of the Jews. As such, we can better understand the parties given by Esther. As proved by the fact that the end result of the parties was the hanging of Haman and the giving of his house to Mordechai, we can see that what Esther really was doing was setting up the battleground between the two men.
There are two types of battles that take place between kings. One is the type of battle where the struggle between the kings is emblematic of the struggle between their nations, and the fall of the one of the kings results inevitably in the fall of his nation (such as when David defeated Goliath). On the other hand, there are battles that are strictly personal, where the fall of the king leaves his army and nation in tact (such as the war between the king of Aram and the king of Yisrael in Melachim I:22). This war between Haman and Mordechai embodies both of these aspects - the death of Haman signaled the end of the personal battle between the two men, but at the same time it paved the way for the victory of the entire Jewish people over their enemies.
As such, there is a certain degree of lack of information involved. When Esther invited Haman to the party, she intended to be fighting on the battleground of the war involving the entire Jewish people. However, due to the overlapping nature of the two wars, she unwittingly began the Haman/Mordechai war before Haman openly do so (he had already constructed the gallows privately) and without Mordechai realizing it.
We can now go back to the two stories that preceded Haman's rise to power. Both the rise of Esther and the saving of the king by Mordechai can now be seen as being the preludes to the two wars that occur in the book. Esther's becoming queen is a necessary element for the ultimate salvation of the Jews. Without her being in such a position, there would be no one influential to stand in the way of Haman. At the same time, Mordechai's heroic actions pave the way for his being able to defeat Haman in their personal battle. Even further, both wars end with both salvation and revenge - the Jews are saved from their enemies and are able to fight them in battle, while Mordechai is saved from Haman's plots and gets to see him both lead him through the street and ultimately get hanged.
However, not only do the two wars have parallel denouements, but they have nearly identical endings. In both cases, the war ends with Mordechai's victory of Haman. Mordechai takes two things that seem to belong to Haman - the ride on the king's horse and Haman's house. The first incident signal's Mordechai's victory of Haman as an individual (which concludes when Haman is hanged; the fact that this hanging relates to the war with Haman can be seen in the words of Charvona, who refers to Mordechai as the one who "spoke well of the king"), while the second is emblematic of the ultimate salvation of the entire Jewish people.
One curious point of the entire unfolding of the events here is that it is Haman himself who decides how his downfall will come about. It is Haman who builds the gallows upon which the loser of his battle with Mordechai will hang, and it is Haman who decides that the "man whom the king favors" should be paraded royally through the streets of the capital. In both cases, Haman received the raw end of the deal, receiving the punishment that he sought to give and giving the reward that he sought to receive.
This notion of the wicked preparing their own downfall is unique to Megillat Esther and deserves special attention. On a local level, it was necessary for Haman to prepare and suggest the rewards and punishments. Mordechai himself would never have come up with such machinations, and thus it was left to Haman to show the king how people should be rewarded and punished. However, this idea has meaning on a more global level. The entire purpose of mankind is to ensure that the world runs according to the will of Hashem and for the glory of Hashem. However, if the other nations of the world were to be aware of this mission they would undoubtedly do all that they could to avoid fulfilling this mission. Thus, Hashem allows them to attempt to discover that Hashem is not present in the world, only to show them in the end that the very things that they were doing actually prove Hashem's presence in the strongest ways possible. While the evil is stronger than the good, that which is good holds the ultimate weapon - it can allow the evil to spend all of its weapons on trying to defeat the good, and then show that in fact it was bolstering that which was good.
[Rav Breuer mentions in passing at this point that the entire project of Biblical criticism, while aimed at eliminating the divine aspect of the Bible, has in fact allowed Jews to view Tanach in new and different ways that have further allowed us to appreciate and understand the role of Hashem throughout Biblical history. Obviously, Rav Breuer's comments on this matter relate to the fact that his system is often based on the questions asked by Biblical critics, with the difference being that he uses these questions to uncover the fullest role of Hashem in Tanach.]
However, the changing of evil into good is not something that can be credited entirely to the forces of good in Megillat Esther. Rather, it must be seen as being directed by divine wisdom and guidance. This can be seen by noticing how the miracle of Purim is different from all other miracles. Whereas in most cases the miracle occurs only after danger is at hand, in this case the miracles happen long before any actual danger occurs or is about to occur. The fact that Esther was installed as queen and that Mordechai was given his place in the royal chronicles even before Haman appears in the megilla reveals to us that everything that Haman did was doomed to fail from the start. His battles could not succeed, since the seeds of his destruction and defeat were already sown. Thus, the salvation of the Jews was not merely a normal salvation, but rather it was a salvation that clearly demonstrated the principle that Hashem prepares the cure before he brings about the disease. All that was needed was for the proper details to fall into place in order to bring the cure from unknown potential to realized actuality.
It is at this point that we can learn the final element in how salvation works. Even after Hashem had prepared everything, it was still not so obvious that the Jews would be saved. This notion is highlighted by Esther's statement to Mordechai that she was unable to go to the king since she had not been called to him for a month. The implication of her statement is that the king had recently been ignoring her, and it was certainly likely that she had thus fallen out of favor with his majesty. Thus, Mordechai tells her that regardless of this fact, she had to go to the king, since the fate of the entire Jewish people rested in her hands. In this statement, Mordechai reveals to Esther the key to salvation - while Hashem may prepare all of the necessary components of the salvation, it is up to the Jews to risk their own lives in order to bring that salvation about. As such, the ultimate message of Megillat Esther, the miracle where Hashem hides his face, is not that Hashem is the redeemed of the Jews, but rather that ultimately, the redemption of the Jews rests in their own human hands. Just as the Reed Sea did not split until Nachshon ben Aminadav walked into the waters, putting his own life as peril, so too could the Jews of Shushan not be saved until Esther risked her life by approaching the king. Man alone holds the key to his own salvation.
Back toChabura-Net's Home Page