Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Purim Megilla, Why is it Named After Esther?

Yesterday at the Megillat Ester course I'm taking at Matan, taught by Atara Snowbell, we asked just that question.  Who is the main character in the story which we celebrate on Purim?  Dry Bones has his own Megilla summary, which may be a bit too simplistic for our needs.

Now, who is the main character?  As we read/listen to the Megillah we stop and repeat the line introducing Mordechai in Chapter 2:
ה אִישׁ יְהוּדִי, הָיָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה; וּשְׁמוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי, בֶּן יָאִיר בֶּן-שִׁמְעִי בֶּן-קִישׁ--אִישׁ יְמִינִי. 5 There was a certain Jew in Shushan the castle, whose name was Mordecai the son of Jair the son of Shimei the son of Kish, a Benjamite,

And then at the end we also say the line about him Chapter 10:
ג כִּי מָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי, מִשְׁנֶה לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, וְגָדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים, וְרָצוּי לְרֹב אֶחָיו--דֹּרֵשׁ טוֹב לְעַמּוֹ, וְדֹבֵר שָׁלוֹם לְכָל-זַרְעוֹ. {ש} 3 For Mordecai the Jew was next unto king Ahasuerus, and great among the Jews, and accepted of the multitude of his brethren; seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his seed. {P}

Nu, so why isn't the Purim Scroll called Megillat Mordechai? 

After the Persian King Achashverosh woke up to the fact that Mordechai had saved him, he gave him great honors, to be second to the king himself.  It was Mordechai, and Mordechai alone of all the Jews in Persia, who was brave enough to defy Haman.  And without Modechai, how could Esther have gotten to her position as Queen of Persia and also known about Haman's government-sanctioned plans to destroy the entire Jewish People, from the elderly to infants?

Esther was just obeying Mordechai's instructions.  Wasn't she?  And for that, why does she deserve getting the Purim Scroll named after her?  Chapter 2:
כ אֵין אֶסְתֵּר, מַגֶּדֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ וְאֶת-עַמָּהּ, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה עָלֶיהָ, מָרְדֳּכָי; וְאֶת-מַאֲמַר מָרְדֳּכַי אֶסְתֵּר עֹשָׂה, כַּאֲשֶׁר הָיְתָה בְאָמְנָה אִתּוֹ. {ס} 20 Esther had not yet made known her kindred nor her people; as Mordecai had charged her; for Esther did the commandment of Mordecai, like as when she was brought up with him-- {S}
As we discussed it, from historical and literary perspectives, suddenly I remembered that decades ago I had learned that character development, change, determines who the main character is.  And when you look at the story carefully, you see that the other major characters in the narrative, Mordechai, King Achashverosh and Haman stay the same.  Only Esther grows greatly, finally giving orders to Mordechai and even King Achashverosh, Chapter 4:
טו וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר, לְהָשִׁיב אֶל-מָרְדֳּכָי. 15 Then Esther bade them return answer unto Mordecai:
טז לֵךְ כְּנוֹס אֶת-כָּל-הַיְּהוּדִים הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשָׁן, וְצוּמוּ עָלַי וְאַל-תֹּאכְלוּ וְאַל-תִּשְׁתּוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם--גַּם-אֲנִי וְנַעֲרֹתַי, אָצוּם כֵּן; וּבְכֵן אָבוֹא אֶל-הַמֶּלֶךְ, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-כַדָּת, וְכַאֲשֶׁר אָבַדְתִּי, אָבָדְתִּי. 16 'Go, gather together all the Jews that are present in Shushan, and fast ye for me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night or day; I also and my maidens will fast in like manner; and so will I go in unto the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.'
יז וַיַּעֲבֹר, מָרְדֳּכָי; וַיַּעַשׂ, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר-צִוְּתָה עָלָיו אֶסְתֵּר. 17 So Mordecai went his way, and did according to all that Esther had commanded him.

Chapter 9: יב וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה, בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה הָרְגוּ הַיְּהוּדִים וְאַבֵּד חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת אִישׁ וְאֵת עֲשֶׂרֶת בְּנֵי-הָמָן--בִּשְׁאָר מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ, מֶה עָשׂוּ; וּמַה-שְּׁאֵלָתֵךְ וְיִנָּתֵן לָךְ, וּמַה-בַּקָּשָׁתֵךְ עוֹד וְתֵעָשׂ. 12 And the king said unto Esther the queen: 'The Jews have slain and destroyed five hundred men in Shushan the castle, and the ten sons of Haman; what then have they done in the rest of the king's provinces! Now whatever thy petition, it shall be granted thee; and whatever thy request further, it shall be done.'
יג וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר, אִם-עַל-הַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב--יִנָּתֵן גַּם-מָחָר לַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר בְּשׁוּשָׁן, לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּדָת הַיּוֹם; וְאֵת עֲשֶׂרֶת בְּנֵי-הָמָן, יִתְלוּ עַל-הָעֵץ. 13 Then said Esther: 'If it please the king, let it be granted to the Jews that are in Shushan to do to-morrow also according unto this day's decree, and let Haman's ten sons be hanged upon the gallows.'
יד וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְהֵעָשׂוֹת כֵּן, וַתִּנָּתֵן דָּת בְּשׁוּשָׁן; וְאֵת עֲשֶׂרֶת בְּנֵי-הָמָן, תָּלוּ. 14 And the king commanded it so to be done; and a decree was given out in Shushan; and they hanged Haman's ten sons.
Esther developed from being the passive step-daughter cousin Mordechai sent into the palace to a true leader and queen.  There's a principle in Judaism that the "medicine/cure comes before the illness," and we see it in the Purim Story.

It seems so superficial, trivial and even unsuitable that this Jewish Hadassa, from the Jew Modechai's home entered the competition to be Queen of Persia.  Hadassa's Persian, Esther, name also has a Hebrew root, להסתר l'hastir, to hide, and that's the name that suits her.  Her talents are hidden behind her beauty, and although she was expected to be no more than one-time distraction of the king, she ended up the leader of his kingdom, pulling strings behind the scenes.

Tzom Kal, easy fast to those fasting.
Chag Purim Sameach
Have a Joyous Purim


Anonymous said...

Very nice explanation. Will try to convey under the influence of some mighty fine wine at next week's Purim Se'udah.

Hadassa (no relation) said...

I think that I learned that Esther was the one who convinced the Sages to included Megillat Esther in the Tanakh. Can anyone corroborate/refute?

Sefardi Gal said...

Very interesting! Thank you for sharing :)
I think this shows that usage of potential is ultimately what matters; many people have vast potential and can become great leaders...but it's ultimately up to them to move themselves from point A to B.

Shabbat Shaloma and Chag Purim Sameach!

Batya said...

Shy, thanks, I consider that a great compliment.
Hadassa, does that make sense time-wise?
Sefardi Gal, good point. May we all live up to our G-d given potential.

Hadassa (no relation) said...

I have found the source of which I was thinking. I was thinking of the following event: Esther, not Mordechai, was the one who requested of the
Sages that Purim be set as a permanent holiday. Tractate Megillah 7:a "אמר רב שמואל בר יהודה: שלחה להם אסתר לחכמים: קבעוני לדורות" " "Rav Shmuel bar Yehuda: Esther sent to them, the Sages: set my memory for future generations"

Batya said...

She really "grew."