Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Purim Story 2.0: the First Jewish Defense Outside of Israel

The Scriptural story how Queen Esther saved the Jews of the Persian Empire is one of the greatest and most exciting stories ever told. Jews worldwide celebrate the festival of Purim due to Esther’s heroism, leading to God’s intervention to save the Jewish people. Esther’s plan came to fruition at her second banquet, and Haman, the story’s villain, is sentenced by a furious King Achashverosh, to hang on the same gallows that Haman had built to murder his nemesis, Mordechai. One would think that Megillat Esther, the scroll of Esther, authored by Esther and Mordechai, which dramatically tells the story of the miracle, would end with the death of Haman. Isn’t the demise of the villain supposed to cue the heroes riding into the sunset?

Yet Megillat Esther does not end there. Haman’s death is recorded at the end of chapter 7; but Megillat Esther continues through chapter 10. It turns out, there’s a whole other story to tell.

Chapter 8 of the Megillah begins with King Achashverosh bequeathing Haman’s house to Queen Esther and giving his royal ring to Mordechai, who succeeded Haman as Prime Minister. Queen Esther then falls before her husband, the King, pleading with him to recall Haman’s edict to destroy all the Jews of Persia and Media, which bore the impression of the king’s ring, which Achashverosh had “given” to Haman for a fee. The King explained to Esther and Mordechai that “the decrees which are issued in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, no man can revoke” (Esther 8:8). He does allow Mordechai and Esther to send any message they desired to the citizenry of the empire, which would be accompanied by the king’s seal.

What did they do? Megillat Esther records that, “the king’s scribes were called at that time in the third month, that is, the month of Sivan, on its twenty-third day” (Ibid. verse 9) that the king had authorized the Jews the option to defend themselves and kill any army poised to destroy them nine months hence, on the 13th of Adar, the date Haman selected through lots to destroy the Jews. As Megillat Esther describes immediately afterwards (Ibid verses 15-16), granting the Jews carte blanche permission to defend themselves from those bent on harming them, led to great joy among the Jews. Upon receiving this royal edict, the Jews celebrated with feasts. At the same time, the Megillah reports that members of Achashverosh’s kingdom opted to convert to Judaism, due to their fear of the impending defensive war the Jews would wage. The Megillah further relates (Esther 9:3) that all the administrators, governors, and officials of the 127 provinces aided the Jews, due to their great respect for Mordechai, who had become very powerful in the kingdom (Ibid. verse 3-4). The Megillah reports that on the 13th and 14th of Adar, 800 men plus Haman’s ten sons were killed in the capital city of Shushan. Outside of Shushan, the Jews killed 75,000 enemies.

Today is the 23rd day of Sivan.

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