Monday, March 21, 2011

Megillah Notes 5771 (part 1)

This is the first of several posts on Megillas Esther, I hope.

Who was Ahashverosh (Ahasuerus)?
  • LXX, Josephus and Midrashim identify him as Artaxerxes II (ruled 405 - 359 B.C.)
  • The name Ahasuerus is more likely derived from Xerxes, and some identify Ahashverosh as Xerxes I (ruled 486 - 465 B.C.).
  • Another view is that he was Artaxerxes I (ruled 465 - 424 B.C.) This is based on the fact that Artaxerxes I had a son named Darius via a Babylonian concubine named Kosmartydene. In Jewish tradition Ahashverosh is Darius's father.
  • Still others say Ahasuerus was Cambyses II (ruled 559–530 B.C.), the son of Cyrus the Great (the biblical Koresh) and father in law of Darius I aka the Great (ruled 550 — 486 BCE)
  • The midrash sees the King as a reference to God reading Ahashverosh as acharit ve reshis shelo, ie "the end and the beginning are His.
Instances of Parody
  • The only timse the phrase ish yehudi appears in Tanach is Zecharya 8:23 where it describes a Jew who had successfuly led all of the nations into the service of the one God, and Esther 2:5 where it is used to refer to Mordecai. Aside from the Megillah, the only times the word bira appears in Tanach it specifically refers to the Temple. With this in mind, the verse Ish yehudi hoya b'Shushan haBira uShmo Mordecai / A Jewish man was in Shusan the capital and his name was Mordecai " might mean "Instead of being in the Jewish bira where he belongs, your ish yehudi is in a foreign bira, with a foreign name." (Menachem Leibtag)
  • When Vashti won't come at the King's command it may be a reference to those Jews who remained in the Persian diaspora following the shivas tzion 
  • The author of the Megillah doesn't think very much of Ahashverosh; this king is easily manipulated by his advisors, and by his queen who succeeds in making the king think she and Haman are in cahoots together. Silly Ahashverosh is also depicted as considering the affairs of state a suitable cure for his insomnia
  • Rav says Hodu and Kush were on opposite sides of the world; Shmuel says they were neighboring lands (BT Megillah 11a)

Yitzchak Etsholom and others (going back, at least to Rav Benjamin ben Levi) have identified a network of parallels between the Mordecai and Joseph. A partial list:
  • "Hashem made a master get angry at his servants (Pharaoh at the butler and baker) so as to perform a miracle for a righteous individual (freeing Yoseif from jail), and He made servants get angry at their master (Bigtan and Teresh at Achashveirosh) so as to perform a miracle for a righteous individual (Mordecai) [BT Megillah 13:b]
  • The butler forgets Joseph (lo Zachar); what Mordecai does is recorded in the royal chronicle (sefer ha Zichronot)
  • The kings courtiers speak daily to Mordecai but he will not listen (E 3:4) Potiphar's wife speaks daily to Joseph, who also does not listen (the words "yom [v]yom" and "lo shama" appear in both places)
  • Pharaoh/Ahashverosh removes a ring and gives it to Joseph/Mordecai
  • Joseph/Mordecai are both falsely accused, vindicated and promoted.
  • Joseph/Mordecai are dressed in special clothing and paraded through town while someone walked ahead, crying something out.
  • Pharoh's dream leads to Joseph's elevation; Mordecai is honored due to the king's insomnia
  • In the LXX and Vulgate versions of Esther, the book opens with Mordecai having just awoken from a dream. At the end of the book, he remarks on how his dream has come to fruition. Joseph, of course, is the dreamer par excellence, and his story is centered on the fulfillment of a dream.
  • A thematic parallel is also present: In both stories divine providence is revealed.
Other parallels:
  • Jacob uses a doublet to express resignation about the loss of a son (כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר שָׁכֹ֖לְתִּי שָׁכָֽלְתִּי) Esther uses similar language to express resignation about the loss of her life (וְכַאֲשֶׁ֥ר אָבַ֖דְתִּי אָבָֽדְתִּי)
  • Jacob and Mordecai both mourn by tearing their clothing and wearing sackcloth
  • When Joseph tells Pharaoh to appoint wheat-collecting officers he says וְיַפְקֵ֥ד פְּקִדִ֖ים; when Ahashverosh's advisors suggest appointing women-collecting officers they say וְיַפְקֵ֨ד הַמֶּ֣לֶךְ פְּקִידִים֮
  • The words Haman uses to introduce Mordecai as one leads the other down the street, are similar to the way we're told to dismiss a man who refuses to enact a Leverite marriage. (Kacha Ye'aseh L'ish)
  • Esther who has no children and gives her husband advice only with great difficulty is a negative-parallel of Zeresh who has many children, and is frequently asked by her husband to offer an opinion.
  • Esther and Vashti both refuse opportunities to dress royally and to be displayed.
  • Memuchan and Haman both turn a personal slight into a state crisis, and in each case a sole act of disobedience is used as basis for a new edict against a whole class of people. 
  • Esther and Joseph (and for that matter Rachel) are described as yefeh to'ar v'yefeh mar'eh
  • At the beginning of the story, the king's curtains are blue and white; at the end, Mordecai is dressed in blue and white.
  • The Jews of Persia deserved destruction not for attending Ahashverosh's feast, but because they enjoyed it. The decree of destruction was not a punishment, but a natural consequence of their having placed their faith in the gentile king (LR)
  • When Vashti refuses to come to the king, the author of the Megillah may be referring to the Jewish people who stayed behind in Persia after the God called them back to Jerusalem. When the king, in the next set of verses, worries that all women will follow Vashti's example and disobey their husbands, the author is suggesting that nothing can be expected from other nations if even Israel won't obey God. (Menachem Leibtag)
To be continued.

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