Lively Megillah Overview
The Book of Esther, based on the Talmud, Midrash and commentary of the Malbim.
"I Haman, the son of Hamdassa, descended from Agog, king of Amalek, the prime minister of the entire kingdom of Persia and Media, do hereby implore Your Majesty the King to allow me to implement the 'final solution' of the Jewish problem!"
With these words, Haman downed his glass of wine and drank to the future of the kingdom. "My faithful Haman," replied the king, "can you substantiate your claim that my Jewish subjects are not loyal to the kingdom?"
At this challenge, Haman displayed his wide knowledge of "Jewish affairs." "Of course, Your Highness," he replied. "Once a week is the Sabbath when they perform no labor. Every other week is a Jewish 'holiday.' They say: 'Today is Passover and I must take off a week from work… today is Rosh Hashanah…' and then comes Yom Kippur, then Sukkot and finally Simchat Torah! This is very detrimental to the economic health of our nation.
"In addition, the Jews disdain our monarchs and religion. If a fly falls into their cup of wine they merely remove it and continue to drink the wine. However, if the king would touch their wine, they would immediately dispose of it. There is only One nation dispersed and spread throughout your kingdom, and what is unique about them? They proclaim God is One!" (based on the Midrash and Talmud, Megillah 13b)
Our enemies recognized our loyalty to God and his Torah; on the other hand, it was the Jewish prophets who gave constructive criticism! (Rabbi Avigdor Miller)
Esther is the only book in the Bible that does not mention the name of God even once. There are no open miracles described. Every event could be explained in terms of natural cause and effect.
Only when one sees the entire story (which is why we unroll the entire scroll before we begin the reading), does one realize it was the hand of God all along. The Creator is hidden in the Book of Esther, which is the reason for the custom to dress up and don masks on Purim. Look beneath the surface and perceive the hand of the Almighty!
Chapter One: The Party
The invitation was embossed in gold and posted on every lamppost in the Jewish Quarter of Shushan:
His Royal Highness King Achashverosh (the First) invites his loyal Jewish subjects to participate in the king's victory banquet. The food served will be strictly kosher, supervised by Chief Rabbi Mordechai the Jew, former member of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court).
King Achashverosh, a former stable attendant of the previous Babylonian monarchs, had staged a coup d'etat and won the war. After three years of consolidating his kingdom, he was ready to wine and dine his allies and officers, and in return retain their loyalty. Achashverosh, not unlike despots throughout history, had an ever-mounting fear of assassination plots. His primary concern was to be popular among the population, particularly those who could inform him of any impending conspiracies.
For six full months, a party roared throughout the kingdom where the people would get drunk nightly. When that was over, Achashverosh staged a seven-day party in his royal garden for the citizens of Shushan.
Yet in the Jewish Quarter, a new poster proclaimed in Hebrew: "In the name of the holy Torah, it is forbidden for any Jew to attend the banquet of the king, which although technically kosher, will be totally foreign to the 'spirit of the law'." The notice was signed by none other then Rabbi Mordechai the Jew.
The Jews were adamant: "How can Mordechai forbid a party that he himself has certified kosher?! And besides, to be absent would leave the impression that Jews are not loyal to the king. Is there any shortage of anti-Semites to point this fact out? It seems that these rabbis are out of touch with the 'real world.' Rather we must all attend!"
The party was elegant; Achashverosh presented an impressive display of massive wealth – not the "Crown Jewels of Persia," but rather his private wealth. He wanted to be an absolute monarch, unconstrained by the whims of advisory boards such as former kings had been subjected to. Drinks were plentiful, and the participants were no longer forced to toast the health of the king and drink it all down, as in the past. King Achashverosh wanted the people to like him.
Why a party now? Achashverosh had made a calculation of 70 years since the exile of the Jews. The prophet Jeremiah had predicted a short 70-year exile followed by the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple. According to Achashverosh, the 70 years had passed, indicating that the Jews would remain permanently in exile (God forbid), abandoned by the God.
The monarch of Babylon, Balshatzer, had also made this calculation and missed the mark. Since the Jewish exile occurred in various stages, they did not know from which point to begin the 70 years. Balshatzer had celebrated the occasion by donning the garments of the High Priest, and on the same night he was assassinated.
King Achashverosh made the same mistake. He poured wine in the Temple vessels and donned the priestly garments for his personal amusement. Needless to say, the Jewish guests were very upset, but powerless to protest. It seems like Rabbi Mordechai's warning had a strong basis.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the garden there was a "women's party" presided by Queen Vashti, the only surviving member of the Babylonian monarch. Achashverosh had married her for prestige, but she still felt the glory of being the granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar who had destroyed the First Temple.
When construction begun to rebuild the Temple, Vashti convinced Achashverosh to scrap the plan, and the project was abandoned halfway through. Vashti was a vicious, wicked person, especially when it came to Jews. She particularly enjoyed stripping Jewish women and making them work on Shabbat.
From over the garden walls, the chatter of the women resembled the sound of flocking birds. Achashverosh, in his drunken stupor, arose and proclaimed to the other men, "You fools don't know anything about beauty. The most beautiful women are Babylonian and the most beautiful of them all is my wife, Vashti. And if you don't believe me, I will show her off right now!"
At that, the king had his servants order Vashti to present herself wearing nothing but the royal crown. Although Achashverosh was drunk, the commentaries explain he had another intention here. He desperately wanted to be an absolute monarch, not merely king on account of marrying the royal heir. He wanted to demonstrate that Vashti was queen only by virtue of the king's choice, and the crown upon her head was in his merit alone.
Vashti's reply: "That stable boy! How dare he insult me so vulgarly!" Don't think that Vashti was acting out of modesty. Rather, she was embarrassed to appear; the Talmud says her body was covered with a rash and she grew a tail!
Vashti was also upset that Achashverosh had sent mere servants to summon her instead of honorable officials. "Tell that stable boy that my father could drink him under the table!"
When the queen's message was made public, the king became outraged. His plan had backfired. Not only did the queen refuse to obey his summons, but by insulting him she was putting across the opposite message: He was king precisely because she was queen. Now drastic measures had to be taken.
The Advisory Board
"The meeting of the king's advisory committee will officially commence." By law, every important decision the king made had to be approved by this committee. At this point, while still very drunk, the king was feeling soft toward his queen and was even hinting to his "yes-men" to officially pardon her. "After all, gentlemen, she is of royal blood, and not to be judged as a commoner. My request was indeed improper and immodest. Vashti should therefore be publicly rebuked, and let's forget the whole thing."
At this point, Memuchan (also known as Haman), the least prominent member of the committee, jumped up to address the committee. Haman, a proud descendent of Amalek, also had domestic problems. His wife Zeresh, a Persian, was much brighter than him and refused to follow his demands. She even refused to speak his Amalekite language and insisted that Persian be spoken in their home. Haman had been looking for the right occasion to get even with her. Now came his chance.
"Your Highness, and honorable committee members: We must show national responsibility in our decision. The respect and honor of all the citizens is at stake. The women who heard the queen's despicable reply are not keen to the nuances involved. They don't understand whether he is king because she is queen, or she is queen because he is king. They only know one thing: The queen refused to come to the king. So why should any wife obey her husband? We will have the world's first women's liberation movement upon us! My advice therefore is that the queen be executed for her crime, and an edict be proclaimed that every man officially wear the pants in the family!"
This pleased the king, and the committee, out of fear of insulting the king, also agreed. The commentaries also read between the lines, that Haman suggested that the king assume the role of absolute monarch, meaning that from now on, he would make his own decisions. The committee, in effect, voted themselves out of a job.
The act was done and the edict issued. The people were amazed at the naivety of the king. "You cannot prescribe domestic tranquility! If a wife doesn't respect her husband, no decree will change that. What a foolish king we have!"
Chapter Two: The Beauty Contest
"Vashti! Where's my coffee? Vashti!" exclaimed the king as he woke up with a hangover. "Where is Vashti?" Slowly he recalled the events of the previous evening "Oh no! I had her beheaded! Now who will prepare my morning coffee?"
The servants were very nervous. Now that the advisory committee was dissolved and the king was free to make his own decisions, anyone incurring the king's wrath could summarily be executed. Thus all the former advisors were keeping their distance from the king. Only the servant boys, the ones who had to feed and dress him, had no other option. They tried their best to calm the king down, just to save their own skins.
"Why is Your Highness so upset? True, Vashti was very beautiful, but in your vast kingdom there must be many beautiful women available. Let's organize a beauty contest, and the winner will become the next queen!"
The king immediately agreed. Women were gathered throughout the kingdom (many against their will) and sent to the king's palace, where they were required to soak in perfume and remain under medical surveillance for an entire year, to ensure that they were healthy and beautiful. They would then come to the king in the evening and return the following morning to the house of concubines, forbidden to ever marry, and unable to even see the king again unless he summoned her by name.
In order to induce them women to come willingly (instead of kicking and screaming), they were given as much money and clothes as they desired, and a 10-piece band would accompany them en route to the king.
We are now introduced to the brilliant, pious Chief Rabbi Mordechai the Jew. Although the term "Jew" denotes the tribe of Judah, Mordechai was actually from the tribe of Benjamin. After the death of Solomon, a rebellion occurred in which 10 tribes broke off and were eventually exiled and became lost. They renamed themselves the Kingdom of Israel. The original kingdom of David was now known as the Kingdom of Judah, although it also consisted of the tribes of Benjamin and Levi. This is the etymology of the name "Jew."
Mordechai was a member of the Sanhedrin. He was exiled by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, and now resided in the city of Shushan with his adopted cousin Hadassah (also known as Esther). The Sages inform us they were really married, but the Megillah, which was originally a letter sent to the Jews during the king's reign, could not divulge this fact for obvious reasons.
Mordechai and Esther were descendents of King Saul, whose error in keeping the Amalekite king Agog (Haman's grandfather) alive for one night caused great suffering to the Jewish people. Therefore, Mordechai and Esther had to rectify this mistake of their ancestor.
Esther, who in spite of her green complexion was very beautiful, as well as extremely pious, was forced to participate in the "beauty contest." To her dismay, she was chosen as the new queen. Mordechai saw this as a Divine act and advised her not to divulge her nationality, as it may serve a useful purpose in the future.
Remedy Before Illness
"My dear Bigtan," proclaimed Seresh in his native tongue of Tarshish, "don't you think it's quite a nerve on the part of our obese monarch that that Jew is allowed to sit in the palace gates, just because he was the guardian of the new Queen Esther – while we loyal guards are required to remain standing all day long?"
"You know, Seresh" replied Bigtan, "why don't we just poison the old dog and be done with it?" So, speaking openly in their native tongue, they plotted the details of poisoning the king's wine.
Mordechai, as a member of the Sanhedrin, knew all 70 world languages, and understood exactly what was said. He immediately reported to Esther, who, in turn informed the king, in the name of Mordechai. The erstwhile assassinators were arrested, and when offered, refused to drink the wine they had prepared for the king. When some of the wine was given to a dog, it immediately dropped dead. The conspirators were promptly hung on the gallows, and the event was recorded in the king's chronicles.
The Sages tell us that at that moment, God had planted the seeds of a future miracle. Before an operation, one wants to make sure everything is prepared in advance (bandages, syringes, etc.). Here also, "the remedy was provided before the illness." That is God's way of watching over His people.
Chapter Three: Enter Haman
At this point, Achashverosh appointed Haman as prime minister, a position above all the other officers. In fact, the king even decreed that everyone in the palace gates must bow down before Haman.
Question: Why did Achashverosh suddenly elevate Haman?
Answer: The king was obsessed with discovering the secret nationality of the queen, who stubbornly refused to reveal her origins. Since Haman was the one who had ordered Vashti hung, he was thus instrumental in Esther becoming queen. Maybe, reasoned the king, Esther will feel good if I elevate Haman in her honor, and she will finally reveal her history to me.
The commentaries suggest another approach. Haman had erased Mordechai's name from the book of chronicles that were in the public archives. He had written "Haman" instead, and had somehow convinced the king that he was the only loyal subject responsible for saving his life. Thus Achashverosh gave Haman a promotion to prime minister.
(Unfortunately for Haman, there was another copy "before the king," in his inner bedroom chamber, and out-of-bounds for everyone else. That document disclosed that it was really Mordechai who had saved the king.)
Dateline: Years earlier.
"My dear friend, Mordechai, could you please spare me some of your rations so I won't starve to death," pleaded Corporal Haman, who was on the battlefield with Sergeant Mordechai.
"You rotten bum, Haman. I really should do the world a favor and let you starve. But if you will be my servant, from now on, we can arrange something." Corporal Haman immediately agreed, but they couldn't find a parchment upon which to record the agreement. Mordechai then removed his shoe and the document was written on his shoe: "I, Haman the son of Hamdassah, am the servant of Rabbi Mordechai the Jew."
When Haman would walk through the palace gates, everyone would bow down. Only Mordechai remained sitting, and for good reason. Haman had a signet ring with an idol engraved on it, which he displayed when everyone was on their knees. Mordechai refused to bow down before this low-life and his idol. Indeed, Mordechai would lift his shoe to remind Haman of their signed agreement. This enraged Haman to the utmost degree.
The Jews, also, were upset, feeling that Mordechai's refusal to bow to the idol endangered them. Although such bowing is forbidden by the Torah, the people still blamed Mordechai.
Lottery and Decree
Since it was beneath Prime Minister Haman's dignity to be upset over a little old rabbi who refused to bow down, Haman had a problem. He was thoroughly outraged, yet he could not have Mordechai executed. Yet as a card-carrying Amalekite, Haman had no qualms about killing Jews. This led Haman to the only possible conclusion: He would simply wipe out all the Jews through genocide.
Being superstitious, Haman conducted a lottery (hence the name Purim, which means "lottery") to determine which day was the most ominous. The lot fell on the 13th of Adar, almost a year later. Haman now needed the king's permission to carry out his wicked plan.
After convincing the king just how evil the Jews were (see intro), Haman offered a bribe of 10,000 bricks of silver for their destruction. The king removed the signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman, thereby conferring upon him the king's consent to whatever Haman should decree.
Our Sages point out that this handing over the ring caused more Jews to repent than the efforts of all our prophets combined!
Haman was worried that the Jews would have a year to plan and protect themselves. So he decided to declare two separate decrees. The first decree stated that the Persian people should prepare themselves for the 13th of Adar: Drill the militia, sharpen the swords and prepare ammunition – because they will be ordered to liquidate an unspecified nation. The second decree was sealed, to be opened only on the 13th of Adar. In it the Jews were identified as the intended victims. In this way, no one would know about the wicked plan until it was too late.
Achashverosh and Haman drank a toast over their diabolical scheme, and the city of Shushan was "perplexed," as no one could guess the identity of the nation to be liquidated.
Chapter Four: Mordechai Spills the Beans
"What a racket!" said Esther. "What's all the screaming about?" From her penthouse on the top floor of the palace, she could make out a man standing outside the gates, dressed in a burlap sack, his head covered with ashes, wailing at the top of his lungs. "Who could that be?" wondered Esther.
Her maids made out the form of Rabbi Mordechai. Esther sent for her liaison Hasoch (according to tradition, Daniel), with instructions to contact Mordechai. God had informed Mordechai that the nation slated for destruction was the Jews, as punishment for enjoying the king's party. Mordechai promptly let the cat out of the bag and word spread throughout the kingdom.
Esther requested that Mordechai remove his sackcloth so he could brief her directly, yet he refused to interrupt his prayers even for a moment. Mordechai sent Esther a copy of Haman's decree and instructed her to immediately ask the king to abolish the decree.
Esther replied, "All the king's subjects are aware of his fear of assassination plots. Anyone who dares enter his inner chamber uninvited will lose his head, unless the king extends his golden scepter. Achashverosh hasn't summoned me for a month, and will surely call for me soon. Since we have a year to act anyway, why risk my life now, when even if he spares me, I will not be in a position to request another favor. Why not wait until he calls me?" Impeccable logic, right?
Mordechai replied: "Don't think that when the S.S. thugs round up all the Juden you will be safe in the palace. They will find out your background and haul you off to the Gulag as well. The Jewish people are not dependent upon you or your logic. The Almighty can save us in myriad ways, but right now the opportunity is upon you. This is the reason you became queen!"
When Esther heard that the Jews would survive in any case, she was ready to risk her life, but had one request. "Let all the Jews of Shushan fast for three days, and I will fast with my maids as well, and then I will go to the king to try to save my people." (Today we fast before Purim, in part to commemorate that fast.)
Chapter Five: Esther's Plan
After three days of fasting, Esther was weak, gaunt and could barely move. Two angels had to support her. She donned "royalty," which reflects a higher state of mind and manner of acting, rather than just a crown, and made her appearance in the king's inner chamber.
The king sat facing the entrance (not his usual custom). When he recognized Esther, he was overcome by her beauty and held out his scepter. (According to tradition it stretched all the way until it reached her.) "What is your request, dear Esther (either for yourself or for another)? Up until half my kingdom I will gladly grant your wish!"
The Sages explain that Achashverosh placed one limitation to his generosity, which pertained to the half-constructed Holy Temple in Jerusalem, located in the middle of his kingdom; permission to rebuild it would be impossible!
"If it is good in the eyes of the king, I request that His Highness come with Haman to my party today." Esther wasn't ready to make her real request yet; she was waiting for a sign from Heaven that the time was ripe.
Question: Why did Esther also invite Haman to her party?
Answer: She wanted: 1) to arouse the jealousy of the king, 2) to show she had nothing against Haman personally, and 3) to catch Haman off guard, as he was feeling on the top of the world – only to have him immediately executed without having to go and arrest him.
The king exclaimed, "Have Haman hurry, as his attendance at this party is an order" (not "we request the honor of your presence!").
At the party, the king reiterated his offer, saying "up until half my kingdom," but not the Temple. Again, Esther felt that she needed a sign from Heaven, so she requested one more day. "Tomorrow, please come to my second party, and then will I fulfill the king's wish." At that time she promised to inform him of her long-secret nationality.
For the first time in his life, Haman felt happy and good-hearted. He had reached the zenith of his career, and he held the highest rank in the king's court. "Even the queen needs me at her party, so I'll convince the king to grant her request, whatever that may be!"
But Haman's euphoria didn't last long. As soon as he walked past Mordechai, Mordechai flashed his shoe, and Haman got depressed again. He had to literally hold himself back from attacking Mordechai on the spot.
When Haman returned home he summoned his advisory board (his wife Zeresh and his friends). "I feel so frustrated. I am so great, even in the eyes of the queen, and yet I cannot rid myself of Mordechai the Jew, as it is beneath my dignity to acknowledge that my feelings were hurt."
The advisory board told Haman to build a gallows 50 cubits (almost 100 feet) high, so that it's top would be visible from Esther's penthouse. "That way you can hang Mordechai as a lesson to all subjects who refuse to obey the king's law. Then, attend the queen's party and watch Mordechai dangle from the noose!"
Haman immediately took a beam from his house (or according to tradition sent to Mount Ararat for a beam from Noah's ark).
All night long, Haman built his gallows, and at daybreak he tried on the noose. A voice came down from Heaven and pronounced it a "perfect fit!"
Chapter Six: The King's Insomnia
That night the king couldn't sleep. His mind was working overtime. "Why did Esther invite Haman to our party? Doesn't she realize that two's company and three's a crowd? Maybe it's an assassination plot? Perhaps they are really lovers and want to get me out of the way? Why doesn't anyone inform me? Don't my subjects love me anymore?
"Wait, I vaguely remember some time ago that they tried to assassinate me, and someone uncovered the plot. I can't remember who informed me. Was he rewarded properly? Maybe not, and that's why no one has an incentive to inform me of this current plot!"
At this point the king requested that the book of chronicles (the copy in his private quarters that no one could have doctored) be read to him.
Achashverosh's attendants were none other than the sons of Haman. The book supernaturally opened itself to the assassination plot thwarted by Mordechai. The sons of Haman quickly turned the page, but it kept coming back to that page and the king was getting restless. Finally the pages themselves actually read aloud the story of Mordechai saving the king's life.
"Was Mordechai ever rewarded for saving my life?" asked the king. When the reply was negative, the king began to understand the turn of events.
"That bum Haman! He told me that he was the one who saved my life! Now I get it: Mordechai was Esther's guardian, so she will probably ask a large sum for his reward after all this time. If I could only reward Mordechai in some cheaper manner before tonight's party!"
Suddenly, there was a noise heard in the courtyard. Haman had come at the crack of dawn to be first in line to request the execution of Mordechai. "Guards! Who is outside? Is this another attempted coup?"
Upon hearing that it was none other than Haman, the king smiled craftily and ordered him to enter. Before Haman had a chance to explain the purpose of his visit, the king declared: "My dear, loyal Haman. I'm so happy to see you. I have a big problem that I need your help to resolve."
At this, Haman felt very relieved. "At your service, my lord!"
Who the King Desires to Honor
King Achashverosh explained, "There is someone deserving of my special honor. Can you suggest a fitting manner to do so?"
Haman thought in his heart, "Who could the king desire to honor more than me?!" With much pomp and ado, Haman cleared his throat and began: "The man whom the king desires to honor, can there be any greater honor than the mere fact that the king desires to honor him? All that is necessary is to announce that in public. Let the man be dressed in the king's robes, ride the king's horse, and wear the king's crown (after receiving a "dirty look" from the king, Haman deleted the crown), and be led around the city by an important minister who will shout: 'So shall be done to the man whom the king desires to honor!'"
Haman was glowingly imagining himself on the royal horse, when the king interrupted his fantasy. "Perfect idea! Hurry up and do all that to Mordechai."
"Mordechai? Which Mordechai do you mean? I know many Mordechais!"
"Mordechai the Jew!"
"I know many Mordechai the Jews. Could you please be more specific?"
"The one sitting in the king's courtyard right there!"
"Oh no, he's my worst foe! Listen, King, I've changed my mind. A better honor would be to make him governor of a province and give him a million dinars."
"Wonderful idea! Do that as well! And don't omit anything you said."
At this, a guard was dispatched to accompany Haman and insure that he fulfilled his mission satisfactorily.
Three Finger-Widths of Grain
Meanwhile, Mordechai was with his students, fasting, praying and studying Torah. They were in the middle of the topic called "Kometz," the three finger-widths of grain burnt on the altar whenever a flour offering was brought in the Temple.
When Mordechai watched Haman approach, he was certain that he'd come to hang him.
"My dear Mordechai," began Haman, "what are you studying?"
"When our Temple will be rebuilt, we will bring an offering to the Almighty."
"It must be a pretty expensive offering you bring to your Lord," surmised Haman.
"No, only three finger-widths of grain."
Said Haman despondently: "Your three finger-widths of grain has outweighed my 10,000 bricks of silver."
Esther had anticipated the coming event and had granted all bath attendants and barbers a day off. As Haman was about to dress Mordechai, he refused to wear the king's garments without having a haircut and bath. (He was, after all, fasting for three days upon Esther's request.)
Since the attendants were off work, Haman had to bathe Mordechai himself and to be his barber as well (Haman's former profession). This was a humiliation for the prime minister, but the guard had his sword drawn to ensure that Haman performed everything the king had instructed.
When mounting the king's horse, Mordechai had to stand on Haman's back (and conveniently gave him a nice kick in the behind!).
"So shall be done to the man the king desires to honor!" began Haman feebly as they started the parade.
"Louder!' ordered the guard.
"So shall be done," Haman said a bit louder.
When he could feel the blade of the guard's sword at his back, Haman began shouting at the top of his lungs: "So shall be done to the man the king desires to honor!'
The crowd at the palace gate looked in bewilderment. "What's going on here?" At the sight of Haman they started to bow down, but when they realized who he was leading they all burst out in laughter.
As the procession approached Haman's own house, his daughter heard the commotion from the balcony high above. "What's happening over there?" She strained to see. At last she was able to discern a man dressed in white, being led on a white horse through the streets of Shushan. "I get it, my father must be humiliating Mordechai before he hangs him. It must be Mordechai leading my father on the horse. I have a brainstorm worthy of Haman's daughter…"
And with that she proceeded to the outhouse. As the procession passed below, she emptied the contents of the toilet on the head of the one leading the horse. Haman, showered with excrement, looked up and screamed, "Who did this??"
Haman's daughter, recognizing her father's voice, was despondent and humiliated, and reasoned it was better to jump off the balcony in suicide than to face her angry father.
Finally Mordechai returned to his sackcloth and fasting, while Haman returned home "mourning" (for his daughter) "and covered" (in excrement).
Sand and Stars
Haman gathered his advisors and explained, "Don't think for a minute that the king refused my request. I simply didn't have a chance to ask him. It seems that Mordechai did the king a favor and he wanted to pay him back before Esther shakes him up. When things cool off, I will try again."
Haman's wife and admirers warned him against this move. "The Jews are compared to the sand and the stars. When they fall, it's a long way down, but when they rise, they go all the way up. Now that Mordechai is ascending, give up your plans and befriend him."
"Never!" replied Haman, a true son of Amalek. "On this gallows will hang Mordechai the Jew."
At that instant, there was a knock on the door. The court officials had arrived to accompany Haman to Esther's party. "Oh no!" cried Haman. "I stink!" He begged them to allow him to first wash off the excrement. However, the hour was late, and everyone held their noses as Haman made his entrance to the queen's lavish party.
Chapter Seven: The Last Party
Again the king asked Esther for her request, and this time she gave an answer. "I request that my life and the life of my people be spared," declared Esther. "We have been sold to the slaughter and it doesn't even pay financially for the king."
Achashverosh was shocked. "Who possibly has the nerve to plot the murder of my beloved queen?"
"A wicked foe," Esther said as her finger actually pointed at Achashverosh – but the angel turned it in the direction of Haman. "This evil Haman!"
"And Haman was in shock before the king and queen." Although he was a fast thinker and quick talker, Haman was in a terrible bind. If the king would have been alone he could have apologized, explaining that he had the best interests of the country in mind, because the Jews are detrimental. However, this could not be said in the presence of the queen.
To the queen alone he could have promised to revoke his decree and from that moment onward befriend the Jews, but before the king, whom he had convinced that they were disloyal, he could not revoke his decree!
The Rose Garden
Achashverosh was extremely upset. Yet as angry as he was with Haman, deep down he still wanted to kill the Jews and refused to kill Haman. So he retired to the rose garden to calm his nerves. Gabriel the angel appeared in human form and was chopping down all the trees.
"Stop! cried Achashverosh. "Why are you chopping down all my expensive trees?"
"Haman told me to do it!"
"Haman, that bum!" screamed the king. "It's one thing to commit genocide – but my trees!"
The king returned to his chambers, where Haman was on his knees begging the queen for forgiveness. The angel Gabriel gave Haman a kick and he sprawled over the queen. "Are you trying to capture the queen in my presence?" cried Achashverosh.
At this point they covered the face of the doomed man. However, Achashverosh still could not bring himself to condemn his beloved Haman.
Just then, one of the servants named Charvona attracted the king's attention to the window. "Does Your Highness notice that in front of Haman's house is a gallows 50 cubits high? Do you know who is meant to hang upon it? The only friend of the king, Mordechai the Jew, who saved the king's life." (Some say that Charvona was the servant who had brought Haman to the party and overheard him vow to hang Mordechai on the tree. Others say he was a former servant of Haman trying to save his own skin!)
At this point the king could no longer control himself. "Hang him upon it!" he roared.
They hung Haman on the spot (no advisory board necessary) and the king's blood pressure subsided.
First the king eliminated his wife because of his advisors; now he eliminates his advisor because of his wife. This is pure Divine providence!
Chapter Eight: The Revised Decree
Haman's house and possessions (that would normally revert to the king) were awarded to Mordechai as a public display of favor to the Jews. Mordechai became the new prime minister, and Esther begged the king to rescind the evil decree of Haman. "At least the sealed message that wasn't even read yet, you can recall," argued Esther.
"My dearest queen," replied the king, "are you not aware that to revoke a royal decree implies that kings are mortal and make mistakes? That is out of the question. Kings are infallible!" (No erasers on their pencils!)
The king then offered a novel solution. "Write about the Jews as is good in your eyes" – i.e. explain the word "Jews" in a positive way. The purpose of the second letter will be to explain the obscurities of the first. When the letter instructs to kill and loot the Jews, the word "Jews" is not the object of the sentence, but rather the subject. Not kill and loot the Jews, but the Jews shall be the ones to kill and loot their enemies. Mordechai also subtly changed the wording of the first decree to allow looting only on that day, when he knew the Jews would have no time. It would be better for P.R. if the others would take the loot instead.
They waited until the original messengers returned, and sent the second letter along with them, which proved the message to be authentic.
The verse says: "The Jews had light, happiness, joy and honor." Upon witnessing this miracle, how their fate had seen an about-face, the Jews rejoiced and appreciated the mitzvot that connect them to the Almighty. They saw the light that was in Torah, the happiness of the festivals, the joy of performing circumcision, and the honor of wearing tefillin.
Chapter Nine: The Big Day Arrives
It was finally the 13th of Adar, the day the enemies of the Jews had anticipated. Now the situation was reversed. Only a few Persians actually attempted to fight, and the Jews defeated them with the active or passive assistance of the locals. This spelled the end for the KKK of that era.
Esther requested that an additional day (14th of Adar) be allowed for the city of Shushan to finish off the local anti-Semites, and to hang the 10 sons of Haman (already killed) on the 50-cubit gallows with their infamous father. This was granted, and subsequently Shushan and all cities with walls around them from the times of Joshua (particularly Jerusalem) celebrate Purim on the next day, the 15th of Adar, while all other cities celebrate on the 14th.
These days shall remain for all generations and we are required to think of our fellow man as well. We give presents to our friends (at least two different forms of edibles to one friend), and gifts to the poor (at least one present each to two poor people).
Reacceptance of Torah
Now that the Jews came to the conclusion that "you can trust the Sages" (after all, the miracles obviously came in the merit of the pious Mordechai and Esther), the Jews accepted upon themselves, and all future generations, not only the festival of Purim, but the entire Oral Law out of love.
Mordechai was correct in forbidding attendance at Achashverosh's original party and refusing to bow to Haman. Mordechai acted out of a motivation to prevent assimilation, and the Sages with their interpretations and decrees have assured Jewish survival.
Chapter Ten: Epilogue
King Achashverosh now increased taxes on his provinces, apparently to make up for the losses of his previous generous reductions. (Vilna Gaon)
At this point the Book of Esther ends. Achashverosh died a short time later, and his son, Darius II (the son of Esther, so he is technically Jewish!) gave permission to rebuild the Second Temple at the exact end of the 70 years.
The story of Purim is the story of Jewish survival against all odds. When Frederick the Great asked for a concrete proof of the existence of God, the reply he received was, "The Jews, Your Highness. The Jews!" The survival of one lamb in the center of 70 wolves is the greatest tribute to the Shepherd. This is a lesson for all times – in those days and in our own. Amen!