Beit Midrash

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Asher Ishaayahu Ben Rivka

God's "Absence" from the Book of Ester

Achashverosh. Slightly less than two hundred times do we meet "the king" in the Book of Ester. A king of flesh and blood, one of "three who ruled with an iron hand" (Megillah 11:1) The King of the Universe, on the other hand, is not mentioned even once.


Rabbi Shimon Klein

Adar, 5754
1. "The King"
2. God's "Absence" in that Generation
3. Such is the Redemption of Israel

"The King"
Achashverosh. Slightly less than two hundred times do we meet "the king" in the Book of Ester. A king of flesh and blood, one of "three who ruled with an iron hand" (Megillah 11:1). The King of the Universe, on the other hand, is not mentioned even once. Perhaps it is this perplexing fact that allows the Talmud to even consider that so eminent a scholar as Rabbi Shemuel held that the Book of Ester was not written through the aid of prophetic inspiration.

At any rate, God's concealed nature in the Book of Ester would not present any real problem for us if we could find a precedent for it in the Scriptures. Yet, the opposite is true. Though one comes across numerous events in the Bible that could easily be written off as well within the laws of nature, the Torah goes out of its way to teach us a lesson in Divine Providence.
For example, Joseph descends to Egypt as a result of being sold by the brothers, yet he is wise enough to discern that "it was not you who sent me here, but God" (Genesis 45:8). In a similar vein, God promises to Joshua before his second attack upon HaAi that "I will give it into your hands." This is not such a difficult task considering that the Israelite army consisted of approximately 180,000 soldiers and they were laying siege on a city whose total population numbered about 12,000 people. This principle holds true in many places in the Scripture. We are taught to be sensitive to the hidden workings of the Almighty in the universe.

Not only does the Book of Ester abandon this approach altogether, but, as we have pointed out, it leaves out God's name completely - even in those places where it would seem most natural to have it appear. For example:
a. "All the king's servants at the King's Gate would kneel and prostrate themselves to Haman, for thus had the king ordered. But Mordecai would not kneel or prostrate himself…" (Ester 3:2). Why not?
b. "[Mordecai] went out in the middle of the city, and cried a loud and bitter cry" (Ibid. 4:1), and Ester requested, "Go and gather all the Jews in Shushan; and all of you fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, day and night" (Ibid. 4:16). To whom were they praying and fasting?
c. "The Jews established it and accepted it upon themselves" (Ibid. 9:27). What did they establish and what did they accept upon themselves?

God's Absence in that Generation
The Talmud informs us regarding the verse, "Drinking was from golden cups, and each cup was different" (Ibid. 1:7), which is read according to the somber intonation of the Book of Lamentations, that Achashverosh used the vessels of the Holy Temple for his grand banquet marking seventy years to the Temple's destruction. This was his way of announcing that all hope of Israel's salvation was lost (Megillah 19a).

The time had arrived for the Divine word to be fulfilled. But instead of returning to their land and rebuilding the Holy Temple, only 42,000 Jews went up to Zion. The rest of the people chose remain in exile and partake in the feast of Achashverosh, even though "the drinking was appropriate; no one was forced" (Ester1:8). It is possible, if one looks closely enough, to discern Divine rebuke of Israel for their tragic choice. This may even account for the Book of Ester's repeated mention of the king, his palace, and the great and Holy day. Instead of "I saw God sitting on His throne" (First Kings 22:19), Israel chose "The king sat on his royal throne..." (Ester 5:1).

The verse, "White, green and blue were hung on ropes of linen, and purple..." (Ibid. 1:6) recalls the materials of the Tabernacle. Instead of the Inner and Outer Courts of the Holy Temple, we are informed that "any man or woman who comes in to the king in the inner court without being summoned will be killed, without exception" (Ibid. 4:11) - curiously reminiscent of the Torah warning regarding the Sanctuary service, "The stranger who comes close will die."

The king calls for his "Book of Records," yet not on the Day of Judgment. The lottery that is cast before Haman reminds us of the lots on the Day of Atonement – one to God, and one to Azazel. Ester herself twice puts on royal garments and enters the inner court of the king (Ibid. 5:1,8:3). The Talmud tells us: Rabbi Yosi bar Chanina says that the verse, "He showed them the glorious wealth of his kingdom" teaches us that Achashverosh wore the vestments of the High Priest. Here (concerning Haman) it is written "...and the majesty of his royal greatness." And there (with reference to the High Priest) it is written "for majesty and glory" (Megillah 12a).

Achashverosh issues accusations against the settlers of Judeah and Jerusalem (see Ezra 4:6), and even attempts to create a spiritual substitute to the Holy Temple. Indeed, Achashverosh says to Ester, "What is it, Queen Ester? What do you want? Up to half the kingdom and it shall be given to you." - half, say our Sages, but not something which divides the kingdom in half, i.e., the Holy Temple. (Megillah 15b)

The Maharal of Prague explains: "For the Holy Temple's rebuilding spells the annulment of Achashverosh's kingdom; the entire banquet that Achashverosh held was only when he believed that Israel would no longer be redeemed, for their kingdom nullifies that of Achashverosh."
For a moment it appeared as if he had succeeded: The Jews forsook the Eternal City of Jerusalem in favor of the capitol of Shushan; they traded in their Inner Court of the Temple's Sanctuary for Achashverosh's royal court; and, perhaps, on a deeper level, they traded in the King of the Universe for a king of flesh and blood.
Hence the Talmud explains: Where does Queen Ester appear in the Five Books of Moses? Answer: As the verse states, "I will surely hide my face from them on that day."

Such is the Redemption of Israel
"To the conductor of 'Ayelet HaShachar'" (Psalm 22:1) – this is the song of Ester, the song of Israel who are so far removed that all hope of redemption seems to have vanished. Like the dawn, after the stars have disappeared, but before the light of day has arrived.

But "the glory of Israel will not fall," and via such hardship, having reached the furthest point in the cycle, with knife to neck, there was an awakening of understanding that the well of Shushan does not contain life-giving waters, and that it can be neither a staff nor a house for God's nation.
A difficult time for Jacob prepared the hearts for the day of salvation - the day on which the persecuted rose up to judge the persecutors, and the kingdom was God's. On Purim, the nation receives the Torah anew; the Tosafists teach us that on the Festival of Shavuot Israel received the Written Torah, while on Purim they received the Oral Torah.

On the festival of Shavuot, the time of the giving of our Torah, the Law descended to Israel from the Heavens, through an "awakening from above." On Purim, from amidst all of the complications and in the "absence" of God, the nation advances and ascends in an "awakening from below." Only at the end of the whole process are we able to look back and appreciate the King's constant presence and how, deep down, even happenstance and evil are His doing. Only then do we merit understanding that "the king" mentioned so many times in the Book of Ester is, indeed, the King of the Universe.

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