Coming soon to your synagogue…
Megillat Esther, a satirical work "laced with allusions to the fact that Am Yisroel does not answer the Divine call during the Persian time period" to return to their Homeland after the 70-year exile predicted by the prophet Jeremiah and the resultant Divine punishment for their apathy. [Rabbi Menachem Leibtag ]
Don't miss this popular story of life in the Persian Court of Shushan in the fourth (or fifth) century BCE!
Ponder the deeper meaning of this satirical tale filled with greed, emotion, irony, comedy and tragedy. It's a story as relevant today as it was when it happened.
Come to the Megillat Esther readings for excitement, noise and fun. An event voted by Jews 'round the world as the place to be on Purim eve and Purim morn.
Meet the cast of characters as they come to life:
KING ACHASHVEROSH (“IT’S GOOD TO BE KING") the seemingly foolish ruler of Persia who in fact is an anti-Semite. Fearing the Jews, their God and public opinion (how would it look for the King to order the murder of a significant portion of his citizens?), his Royal Majesty devises a clever strategy that employs Haman to execute (pun intended) his dastardly plot. And, of course, it is ultimately Haman the Evil One that is hanged (alongside his 10 sons) and the King who comes out looking like the Good Guy.
HAMAN (a Persian name meaning “illustrious”) of Amalek (he wasn't even Persian but still went to the top) — the man who had it all but still wanted more! He was Chief Advisor to the King. He had wealth, honor, a good job and nachas from his ten kindah. But was that enough? Noooooo! He couldn't take it that one Jew (Mordechai) refused to bow down to, or even acknowledge, his presence. And, in the tradition of all anti-Semites, he decided on a punishment that "fit the crime" — killing every Jew because of his irritation with the one.
VASHTI the queen reputed to be of royal blood (unlike her husband the King who possibly was not) who both strikes a blow for Women's Rights and manages to embarrass the King when she refuses the King's request to appear at the Royal Palace stag party wearing her crown (and nothing else). Her independence backfires, she pays for it with her life and the King issues a Royal Proclamation making every husband King of his home.
MORDECHAI a good human being ("Ish Yehudi") who was also pious, scholarly and a member of the Sanhedrin (High Court). Though a man of few words, he finds the right ones to catalyze Queen Esther into action to save the Jews.
ESTHER the unassuming Jewish maiden destined to become Queen of an essentially pagan empire. In a dangerous and stressful situation (remember what happened to the King's first wife who spoke up?) she still manages to rise to the occasion and parties her way to save the Jews.
CHARVONA is the opportunistic leech who just happens to be present at Esther's party when the King finds Haman sprawled on Esther's bed and just happens to remind the King of a Hanging Tree that was originally meant for Mordechai that just happens to be available.
GOD appears nowhere but in fact is "Here, There, and Everywhere"(in the famous words of Uncle Moishy) as alluded to by the word Hamelech (The King) at the beginning of each column in the Megillah scroll.
Perspectives on the Megillah
Many think that King Achashverosh is King Xerxes I of Persia and that the Purim story occurred in about 474 BCE. (For historical perspective, the Second Temple was built about 516 BCE, some 42 years earlier.) Other scholars suggest that Achashverosh ruled immediately after King Koresh (Cyrus the Great) who allowed and encouraged the Jews of Persia to return to Yerushalayim and rebuild the Second Temple. This view places events in the Megillah in or about 519 BCE.
Uncertainty surrounds the questions of when the Megillah was written, and who its author is. Some opine that Mordechai and Esther are the authors. Others claim that the Megillah was written well after the actual events occurred, at a time when the holiday of Purim already was widely observed. The author certainly was someone familiar with the language, culture and court intrigue of Persia. Although the Talmud states that the Megillah was written by the Anshei Knesset HaG'dolah (supreme council during the Second Temple), their influence lasted for many years, making it difficult to pinpoint an exact year.
The Megillah plays out like the plot of a comic opera…
Parties and partying take up much of the story line—and are the cause of, and resolution of, the Jewish crisis. Coincidences abound. Characters make their entry as if on cue. The author seems to go out of his way to mock the King, his royal court and their declaration of national policy immediately after a drunken stupor. Legislating male kingship over one's home is deemed a pressing issue, necessitating immediate action. Even clearly identified secondary characters in the drama have their role to play.
"Ish Yehudi haya b'Shushan habira u'shmo Mordechai..." ("In the capital city of Shushan, there was a Jewish man whose name was Mordechai..."). What kind of name is Mordechai for a good Jewish boy in Persia? Would any self-respecting Jew name a child after a Babylonian deity, Marduk? The name Esther comes from the Hebrew word, le’haster, to hide. Also, the word Habira is interesting: it is mentioned in only one other place in Tanach and there it refers to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem!
The Megillah provides interesting detail on life in the Royal Palace. Materials described and vessels used in the Royal Hall -- where the King threw his wild parties--sound remarkably like the vessels of the Temple. Indeed, the Talmud claims that King Achashverosh donned the High Priest’s garments at his party. The six-month party followed by a seven-day special celebration harkens back to the time it took to build the Mishkan and the seven day milu’im ceremony that followed. The layout of the Palace and its environs closely resemble the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and its surrounding areas. The King's Palace consisted of different sections:
• Chatzar P'nimit, the inner chamber--like the Kodesh Kedoshim (Holy of Holies) in the Holy Temple
• Chatzer Chitzona, the waiting area outside the inner chamber--Kodesh (holy) in the Holy Temple
• Sha'ar Bait HaMelech, where citizens congregate, sounds like the Azara
• Rechov Ha'Ir Shushan, the city streets in Shushan, are similar to the streets of Jerusalem
Partly drawing on these observations, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag concludes that the Megillah was written as a critical satire on the behavior of the Jewish people during this most important time in their history. In the Torah, God had warned that should the Israelites betray Him and His covenant, He would “hide His face” (“hester panim”) and punish them in a hidden manner [but also ultimately redeem them]. The Megillah events actually occurred. The story is true and based on historic facts but the message is communicated using satire and irony, often a more effective and poignant literary tool for criticism. Allusions and “hiddenness” are employed rather than explicit message.
God had communicated (via the prophet Yermiyahu) that after the seventy years of Exile in Babylonia, He would keep his promise and return the nation to its Homeland. Despite this opportunity to return and rebuild their Homeland, relatively few went. Instead, they…
• Stayed in Persia
• Replaced God with King Achashverosh
• Made Shushan into their own "Bira" (i.e., Holy Temple)
• Preferred the Holy Temple-substitute (the Royal Palace) to the real thing in Jerusalem
• Chose the partying (“service”) of King Achashverosh in his Royal Palace over the true service of God in the Temple in Jerusalem.
The near-destruction of our people at the hands of evil Haman as portrayed in the Megillah may be understood as a planned Divine punishment for the sin of apathy toward their Homeland. Jews became too comfortable in their surroundings in Persia. Perhaps it took the threat of the anti-Semites to get us to achieve our true destiny.
Rabbi H.L. Berenholz
Purim Guide for the Perplexed
Ambassador Yoram Ettinger (ret.)
Purim’s historical background:
The 586 BCE destruction of the First Temple (on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount), by the Babylonian Emperor, Nebuchadnezzar, triggered a wave of Jewish emigration to Babylon and to Persia, which replaced Babylon as the leading regional power. 70 years later, Xerxes the Great, Persian King Ahasuerus, succeeded Darius the Great and proclaimed his support for rebuilding the Temple and resurrecting Jewish life in the Land of Israel. Following a series of victories over attempted rebellions, Ahasuerus established a coalition of countries under his rule, which created a military power that challenged Greece and attempted to expand the Persian Empire westward. However, Persia was resoundingly defeated, which led to an attempted coup - by Bigtan and Teresh - against Ahasuerus. The coup was thwarted by Mordechai, a retired military commander, who relayed critical intelligence to Queen Esther, his cousin (or niece). Just like Joseph, who adopted an Egyptian name (Zaphnat Paa’ne’ach), so did Mordechai adopt a Persian name (derived from Marduk, a Mesopotampian god). Both Joseph and Mordechai reasserted their roots in the face of a clear and present danger to the existence of the Jewish people.
Purim is the holiday that foiled an ancient 9/11. The numerical value (e.g., a would be 1, b=2, etc.) of the Hebrew spelling of King (מלך=90) Ahasuerus (אחשורוש=821) – who ordered the annihilation of Jews - is 911…., just like the dates of Kristallnacht (9.11.1938) and the destruction of the First and Second Temples (9.11 – the ninth day of the eleventh Jewish month).
a. Purim's Scroll of Esther represents fundamental tenets of Judaism:
v In God We Trust - in contrast to idolatry, hedonism, cynicism and insecurity – can catapult human-beings to unexpected heights;
v Faith in mankind's capabilities, as long as faith in God is sustained;
v Value/principle-driven realism, in contrast to opportunism and wishful-thinking;
v Attachment to religious, cultural and historical Jewish roots, in contrast to detachment and assimilation;
v Liberty – the core of personal/national existence (just like Sukkot/Tabernacles, Chanukah and Passover);
v Community/national-driven responsibility, in contrast to selfishness as demonstrated by Mordechai and Queen Esther, who switched from assimilation to national-Jewish responsibility, while risking their lives;
v The centrality of the Land of Israel, and the ingathering of Jews to their Homeland;
v Optimism, confidence and courage, in contrast to pessimism, despair and fear;
v Tenacious defiance of enormous adversity, in contrast to defeatism, submission and accommodation. Problems are considered opportunities in disguise.
b. “Purimfest 1946” yelled Julius Streicher, the Nazi propaganda chief, as he approached the hanging gallows (Newsweek, October 28, 1946, page 46). On October 16, 1946 (in the Jewish year 5707), ten convicted Nazi war criminals were hanged in Nuremberg. An 11th Nazi criminal, Hermann Goering, committed suicide in his cell. Julius Streicher’s library, in his ranch, documented his interest in Purim and its relevance to the enemies of the Jewish people.
According to the Scroll of Esther, King Ahasuerus allowed the Jews to defend themselves and hang Haman and his ten sons. The Talmud (Megillah tractate, 16a) claims that Haman had an 11th child, a daughter, who committed suicide following her father’s demise.
c. Purim's Clash of Civilizations – between Mordechai and Haman - exemplifies an early edition of the war between right and wrong, liberty and tyranny, justice and evil, truth and lies, as were/are Adam/Eve VS. the Snake, Abel VS. Cain, Abraham VS. Sodom & Gomorrah, Jacob VS. Esau (grandfather of Amalek), the Maccabees VS. the Assyrians, the Allies VS. the Nazis, the West VS. the Communist Bloc and the Free World VS. Islamic terrorist regimes and organizations. The numerical value of the Hebrew spelling of “blessed Mordechai” (ברוך מרדכי) and “cursed Haman” (ארור המן) is identical, 502, cautioning people that blessing must be carefully safeguarded, since it may be transformed, abruptly, into a curse. 502 is also the numerical value of the Hebrew word for “rift” (which exists between blessing and curse).
d. Purim is celebrated on the 14th/15th days of the Jewish month of Adar. Adar (אדר) is the root of the Hebrew adjective Adir (- (אדיר glorious, awesome, exalted, magnificent. It is, also, a derivative of the Akkadian word Adura (heroism). In Jewish tradition (Babylonian Talmud), Adar is featured as a month of happiness, singing and dancing. The zodiac of Adar is Pisces (fish), which is a symbol of demographic multiplication. Hence, Adar is the only Jewish month, which doubles itself during the 7 leap years, in each 19-year cycle. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day in non-walled towns and in Jerusalem on the 15th day of Adar, commemorating the deliverance of the Jewish People from the jaws of a holocaust in Persia. It also commemorates the 161 BC victory of Judah the Maccabee over Nikanor, the Assyrian commander. Moses - who delivered the Jewish People from a holocaust in Egypt and whose burial site is unknown - was born and died (1273 BC) on the 7th day of Adar, which is Israel's Memorial Day for soldiers, whose burial sites are unknown.
e. Purim's (פורים) Hebrew root is fate/destiny (פור), as well as "lottery" (commemorating Haman's lottery which determined the designated day for the planned annihilation of the Jewish People), “to frustrate,” “to annul” (להפר), “to crumble” and “to shutter” (לפורר), reflecting the demise of Haman.
f. Mordechai, the hero of Purim and one of the deputies of Ezra the Scribe – who led a wave of Jewish ingathering from Babylon - was a role model of principle-driven optimism in defiance of colossal odds, in the face of a super power and in defiance of the Jewish establishment. He fought Jewish assimilation and urged Jews to sustain their roots and return to their Homeland. Mordechai was a politically-incorrect, out-of-the-box thinking leader and a retired military commander, who preferred a disproportionate pre-emptive offensive to retaliation, appeasement and defense. The first three Hebrew letters of Mordechai (מרדכי) spell the Hebrew word “rebellion” (מרד). Mordechai did not bow to Haman, the second most powerful person in the Persian Empire. He was a member of the tribe of Benjamin, the only son of Jacob who did not bow to Esau.
g. Mordechai was a descendant of King Saul, who defied a clear commandment to eradicate the Amalekites, sparing the life of Agag, the Amalekite king, thus precipitating further calamities upon the Jewish People. Consequently, Saul lost his royal position and his life. Mordechai learned from Saul’s error and eliminated Haman, a descendant of Agag the Amalekite, thus sparing the Jewish People a major disaster.
h. The Persian King appointed Mordechai to be his top advisor, overruling Haman's intent to prevent the resettling of Jews in Zion, the reconstruction of the Temple and the restoration of the wall around Jerusalem. The king prospered as a result of his change of heart and escaped assassination. That was also the case with Pharaoh, who escaped national collapse and starvation and rose in global prominence after he appointed Joseph to be his deputy.
i. Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim’s Scroll of Esther, was Mordechai's niece (or cousin). Esther demonstrated the centrality of women in Judaism, shaping the future of the Jewish People, as did Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Leah, Miriam, Batyah, Deborah, Hannah and Yael. Sarah was the first - and Esther the last - Jewish woman mentioned in the Bible. Sarah lived 127 years and Esther ruled over 127 countries. The name Esther (אסתר) is a derivative of the Hebrew word הסתר , "to conceal" - reflective of her initial concealment of her Jewish identity, while the Hebrew word for “scroll,” מגילה, derives from מגלה – “to reveal.” God is concealed in the scroll of Esther, which is the only Biblical book that does not mention God. The Purim custom of wearing costumes highlights the transition from concealment to revelation of identity.
j. The name Esther (pronounced Ester in Hebrew) is also a derivative of Ishtar - a Mesopotamian goddess and Astarte, “star” - a Phoenician goddess. In fact, the one day pre-Purim Fast of Esther (commemorating the three day fast declared by Esther in order to expedite deliverance), was cherished by the Maranos in Spain, who performed Judaism in a concealed manner. While God's name is hidden/absent in Esther’s Scroll, Michael Bernstein suggests that there are 182 references to "King," corresponding to 26 (the numerical value of Jehovah) times 7 (days of creation).
k. Esther’s second name was Hadassah, whose root is Hadass (myrtle tree in Hebrew) - whose leaves are shaped like an eye. The name Esther is identified with the planet Venus. Hence, Esther’s other Hebrew name is Noga - just like my oldest granddaughter – which means a shining divine light in Hebrew. In Gimatriya, Esther (אסתר) and Noga (נגה) equal 661 and 58 respectively, and the sum of 6+6+1 and 5+8 is 13 (the number of God's virtues). In "small Gimatriya," both Esther (1+6+4+2) and Noga (5+3+5) equal 13, which is also the total sum of “one” in Hebrew (אחד), which represents the oneness of God, monotheism, as well as the total sum of love in Hebrew (אהבה).
l. Purim's four statutes:
v Reading/studying the Scroll of Esther (מגילה) within the family, emphasizes the centrality of the family, education, memory and youth as the foundation of a solid future.
v Gifts (מתנות) to relatives, friends and strangers emphasize the importance of family, community and collective responsibility.
v Charity (at least the value of a mealמשלוח מנות - ) reflects compassion and communal responsibility. According to Maimonides, "there is no greater or more glorious joy than bringing joy to the poor." Purim is celebrated when Jews study the portion of the Torah, תרומה (charity, donation in Hebrew), which highlights giving and contributing to others as a means of enhancing solidarity and reducing egotism. According to the Torah, contributions benefit the contributor more than the recipient.
v Celebration and Happiness (משתה) sustain optimism and faith - the backbone of individuals and nations.
The Hebrew spelling of each statute starts with the letter מ, which is the first letter in the Hebrew spelling of Mordechai (מרדכי), as well as Moses (משה), who was born and died, a week before the Hebrew date of Purim. In addition, the numerical value of מ is 40, representing the 40 days of prayers, before Purim, aimed at the final elimination of the Amalekite enemies of the Jewish people.
Thoughts to RejectPurim
Serious Reflections on the Alcohol of
George Berkeley and Immanuel Kant
By Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo
This will come as a great shock to all of you; but I can no longer remain silent. No doubt, it will cause cardiac arrest in several of my readers and severe trauma to others, but how long can one continue to live a lie? Most of my readers believe that I’m a rabbi. Not true. However painful it is, the truth must prevail. I’m sorry to say, I am not a rabbi; I am a committed Purim alcoholic with a long talmudic history. The reason I haven’t spoken about it until now is because, like most men, I love truth. So much so, that I was afraid it would be corrupted by overexposure.
Even as a young child, I had a strong inclination to take a nip, along with my milk and oats, at breakfast. (In fact, it started with my brit milah when the mohel wanted to keep me quiet after removing part of my personality. He compensated with some wine, which he served me immediately after the surgery so as to teach me that a drink can cover up any deficiency.) Over the years, this habit expanded to include the other meals, until I reached a level of intoxication that only few have achieved. In fact, I have a great disdain for camels and other creatures that can go without a drink for weeks.
Last year, I won the International UACA (Ultimate Alcohol Consumption Award), which until now was won only by gentiles, such as Bill Whiskey and Norman Schnapps. But in recent years, when we Jews have been trying to outdo the gentiles, I felt the need to prove that we could drink more than they do, and I started to work at it. The truth is I really don’t like to drink. In fact, I abhor it, as do most of my fellow Jews. But my teachers used to say that if we Jews really want to become part of Western civilization, we must join their ranks. We have no choice but to make this sacrifice and start drinking. This is called emancipation.
Today I work for the police, since I have developed such expertise that I’m able to detect the type of alcohol people drank by the way they walk. In fact, lately, I can even give accurate information about what year the wine was bottled and whether it came from the south or the north of France. But I can only do so when I myself am drunk, which is one of the world’s most famous paradoxes. Most important, I am convinced that alcohol consumption is not habit-forming. I should know because I’ve been drinking for years. So you see I’m no lightweight!
Many may wonder why I continue writing Thoughts to Ponder, which include my serious observations about Judaism. They ask what an alcoholic of my caliber has to do with the Jewish Tradition. Well, first of all, you can only be a philosopher if you drink. The main reason for this has been well stated by the famous philosopher George Berkeley [Ireland, 1685-1753] who used to say that reality is an illusion created by a lack of alcohol. (A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, X. 235)
This is no doubt true. Immanuel Kant [Germany, 1724-1804] expanded on this theme when he said that das ding an sich (the thing in itself) is unknowable, and everything is abstinence imposed (Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, ll, 436). Moreover, it cannot be denied that the greatest problem for most people who don’t drink is that they are hopelessly sober. Indeed, philosophy is the art of methodically bewildering oneself.
But there is much more to my “Thoughts.”
While many people take me seriously and read my “Thoughts” very carefully because they presumably see in them profoundly philosophical ideas, my close friends know that these “Thoughts” have actually nothing to do with philosophy, but are in fact coded messages — a new kind of gematria — about the latest discoveries I have made in the field of proper drink. I will give only two examples and no more, since I am afraid that my enemies will try to break the code, which would force me out of business.
Take the following statement:
“Civilization occupies international notions, though rabbinical education advances universality.” This obviously alludes to the increased availability of Cointreau.
Or, take the following: “What Heisenberg illustrated simultaneously kindled effective yperite” — an allusion to whiskey.
So, my dear friends, you now know the truth: It is not the word that is written but the drink behind it. The next time you read my Thoughts to Ponder, take note that there is more to a rabbi than you may think. And remember: Hearing a rabbi’s confession is like being stoned with popcorn.
May you have a great Purim!
P.S. Reproduction of this essay is permitted only when totally inebriated.
Questions to Ponder
We in the Think Tank were shocked by Rabbi Cardozo’s… er… shocking revelations. But we consoled ourselves with the fact that in divulging the (long suspected by us) gematria secrets hidden in past Thoughts to Ponder, Rabbi Cardozo has opened up shining new vistas for Jewish scholarship. Indeed, his hint has allowed us to finally crack the code, which involves the Fibonacci sequence, Planck’s constant, and an architectural schematic of the Tel-Aviv Central Bus Station—and we have already said too much, ve’idach zil gmor.
Purimic whimsy and humor aside, we present the following ponderous, sober questions for your serious consideration:
1. The medieval Spanish commentator Al-Kohol ruled that wine on Purim may be served in any kind of bottle. He based this on the Talmudic dictum, “Al tistakel b’kankan, elah b’ma sheyesh bo” (Don’t look at the bottle, but rather at what’s inside it). However, his rival, the Marbe beShtiya took issue with him on the basis of Rabban Gamliel’s rejection of inconsistencies between outer appearance and inner makeup (Ein tocho k’baro).
In your opinion, would requiring that wine only be served in Klein Bottles help in reconciling these two opinions?
Figure 1. A Klein Bottle
2. “A person should drink on Purim until he does not know…” However, this seems to contradict the well-known saying: “In vino veritas” (In wine is truth). How would you reconcile these two statements? (Note also that Rabbi Mastoul used to say: “‘Sof ma’a’seh b’machshavah techilla’— do not read ‘techilla’, but rather ‘tequila’.”)
3. Levity is required on Purim, but this can present serious difficulties in small, demographically challenged Jewish communities. For example, what does one do if there are no Levites present?
4. The Glenfiddicher Rebbe was known for his quirky and roundabout stories, which to this day are told and retold as people try to figure out what the point of them is. The following question is attributed to him: Does drinking on Purim turn us into someone else, or does it just makes us forget who we are?
5. Charles Baudelaire wrote: “Be always drunken. … If you would not feel the horrible burden of Time weighing on your shoulders and crushing you to the earth, be drunken continually. Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken.”
Ben Shikora explained: “Always” refers to the days; ‘continually’ refers to the nights.” However, could we interpret it thusly: “‘Always’ refers to this world; ‘continually’ indicates the time of the Messiah”? (See also: Purim: The Call for Eternity