Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Megilat Esther
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Hana Bat Haim

Ester and the Dawn

Purim serves as an example of what things will be like in the Messianic Age, for, in the time of Purim, the Jews merited seeing the light amidst the darkness, a situation which recalls the verse, “Though I sit in darkness, God is a light for me.”


Rabbi David Dov Levanon

1. An End of All Miracles
2. "I Will Surely Hide"
3. Seeing Light Amidst Darkness

An End of All Miracles
The twenty-second chapter of the Book of Psalms opens:
"To the chief musician of ‘Ayelet HaShachar’ (lit. ‘the doe of the dawn.’ Understood to mean ‘the first rays of dawn’), a Psalm of David. My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from helping me, from the words of my loud complaint? O, my God, I cry in the daytime, but You hear me not, and in the night, and I have no rest."

It would appear that this particular psalm is the supplication of an individual who finds himself in a very difficult situation. And the worst of all his difficulties is that it appears to him that despite his shouting out to God, he is receiving no answer: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?" Yet, later in the psalm, he becomes so convinced that God will answer has prayer, that he considers himself already redeemed: "For You have answered me from the horns of the wild oxen." In other words, he is certain that his prayer will be answered.

The sages attribute this supplication to Ester who is likened to "Ayelet HaShachar." Hence, we find in the Talmudic tract of Yoma:
"R. Yose says, ‘Why is Ester likened to the dawn? This is done in order to teach us that just as dawn arrives at the end of every night, so, the miracle of the Book of Ester comes at the end of all miracles.’
‘And what about Hanukah?’
‘The intention is that the miracle of the Book of Ester comes at the end of all miracles that were recorded in the Holy Scriptures.’"

Why is the miracle of Purim considered the "end of all miracles?"
A possible explanation is that the miracle of Purim is different from all previous miracles which are commemorated as full holidays, like Passover. These holidays were marked by supernatural miracles, while the miracle of Purim happened within nature. It is therefore seen as having happened at the end of the night, after all of the miracles have passed, amidst complete darkness.

"The sages thus teach: ‘To the chief musician of the one who jumps like a doe and illuminates the world when it is dark.’ When does he illuminate? At night? Even though it is night, there is light - moon, stars, and the constellations. When is it really dark? Just before the dawn. The moon sets, and the stars disappear, and the constellations go away. At that time the darkness is on unmatched, and it is then that the Almighty brings the dawn out of the darkness and illuminates the world."

The Talmud relates a wonderful description of two Jewish sages as they walked together not far from the Kinneret Lake and were awed by the gradual breaking of the dawn:
"R. Chiyyah bar Abba and R. Shimon ben Chalaftah were walking in the Arbel Valley when they the breaking of the dawn. R. Chiyyah said, ‘Such is the redemptions of Israel....At first is gives off only a small amount of light, and then it gradually breaks through, and then it comes forth mightily. This whole process is not unlike what happened to Mordecai [in the Book of Ester]. Initially, "And Mordecai sat at the gate of the palace"; then, "And it came to pass that when the King saw Ester the Queen..."; and then, "And Haman took the clothing and the horse..."; then, "And they hung Haman..."; next, "Now write for the Jews..."; then, "And Mordecai went out before the king"; and finally, "For the Jews there was light and joy..."

"I Will Surely Hide"
In other words, Purim was a case of "Hester Panim." This means that God’s providence was hidden at that time - there was extreme darkness, and God revealed himself from within this darkness. The Sages ask, "And what about Hanukah?" which also involved a miracle which played itself out within nature, and the answer provided is that Purim occurred at the close of the era of the Prophets, and the Bible was sealed with the Book of Ester. Hanukah occurred too late to be recorded in the Holy Scriptures. It took place after prophecy had ceased to thrive. For this reason, the miracle of Chanukah, which was also a "natural" miracle - i.e., the few defeated the many - and did not openly defy the laws of nature (for there was already a precedent for such things in the miracle of Purim) does not receive the title, "the end of all miracles." Therefore, of Purim it is written, "...nor shall their memory die out among their children," for all of the miracles which would follow in Jewish history were already embodied in the miracle of Purim.

What’s more, even in the future Messianic Era, the Purim festival will continue to be observed, and will receive preference over other holidays. The Midrash explains this:
"‘...Queen Ester, in Israel’s hour of desperation, arranged a feast for Achashverosh and Haman the Wicked, and caused Haman to become extremely intoxicated from wine. Haman was under the impression that she was honoring him, but what he did not realize was that she had in fact set up a trap for him. For, because she intoxicated him with wine, she received eternal possession of her nation. She even arranged a table for herself in both this world and the World to Come. Which? A good name which she received, that all of the holidays will be discontinued, while the days of Purim will never be discontinued" (Yalkut Shimoni on the Book of Proverbs).

What is meant by the expression "...she arranged a feast for Achashverosh and Haman the Wicked." It would appear that Ester’s preparing a feast for Achashverosh and Haman the Wicked reflected the idea that "If your enemy is hungry, feed him bread." This symbolizes her control over the evil forces, and it was by doing this that she managed to bring about salvation through them.

By "arranging a table for herself in both this world and the World to Come" the sages mean to tell us that Ester, through her faith, revealed that the Divine Presence accompanies her and is playing a kind of game with and through King Achashverosh. In the words of the sages (Megilah 15b): "‘On that night, the king’s sleep was disturbed’ (Ester 6:1) - i.e., the King of the Universe’s sleep was disturbed."

The sages even teach that everywhere in the Book of Ester that it is written "the King" the intention is to the King of the Universe. Even the name Achashverosh is interpreted as hinting at "Rishon VeAcharon," i.e., the "First and the Last" - God.

Even in the midst of Ester’s feast do we find an allusion to God’s hidden presence, as the verse states: "The king and Haman came to drink with Ester." The acronym formed by the Hebrew letters of the first three words of this verse form God’s ineffable name, "YHVH."

Ester’s name, too, testifies to the nature of the Jews’ miraculous salvation. The sages, in the Talmudic tract of Chullin, ask, "Where do we find mention made of Ester in the Five Books of Moses? Indeed, it is written, ‘I will surely hide My face.’" In Hebrew "I will surely hide" is "Haster Astir" a doubled manipulation of the same Hebrew root that makes up Ester’s name.
At any rate, the sages teach us that Ester arranged a table for herself even in the World to Come, i.e., in the Days of the Messiah. In Ester’s day, events unfolded within the boundaries of nature. The question is, will this be the case in the Messianic Era?

Seeing Light Amidst Darkness
Perhaps it is this very matter that will make the Days of the Messiah unique. God’s providence will be discernable within nature, for people will be able to grasp the depths of His ways to the point where they will possess no doubts in their hearts that it is God Who is truly pulling all of the strings.
Let us consider this idea in light of the words of the sages, when they tell us that God’s various names teach us about the nature of His providence (Shemot Rabbah 3):
"I am called according to My actions. Sometimes I am referred to as ‘El Shaddai,’ sometimes ‘Tzevaot,’ sometimes ‘Elohim,’ sometimes ‘HaShem.’ When I render judgment over my creatures, My name is ‘Elohim.’ When I wage war against the wicked I am called ‘Tzevaot.’ When I take the sins of an individual into consideration I am called ‘El Shaddai.’ When I show merciful compassion upon My world, I am called ‘HaShem.,’ for ‘HaShem’ indicates the trait of mercy, as the verse states (Exodus 34): ‘HaShem, HaShem, compassionate and merciful God...’"

"‘And God will be king over the entire world. On that day, God will be one, and His name one.’ At present is He not one? R. Acha bar Chanina says: This world is unlike the World to Come. In this world, when receiving good news one recites the blessing ‘Barukh HaTov VeHaMetiv’ (‘Blessed is the Good and Benevolent’), while when one receives bad news one recites ‘Barukh Dayan HaEmet’ (‘Blessed is the True Judge’). In the World to Come, over both one recites ‘Barukh HaTov VeHaMetiv.’
"‘...and His name one.’ Is His name not one at present? R. Nachman bar Yitzchak says: ‘This world of ours is unlike that of the World to Come. In this world, it (God’s name) is written with ‘Yod’ and a ‘Heh’ but read as if [written] ‘Alef,’ ‘Dalet.’ But, in the world to Come, they will be united: It will be read with ‘Yod’ and ‘Heh,’ and written with ‘Yod,’ ‘Heh.’

These two excerpts are compatible, for the names of God teach us about the manner in which God runs His world. In this world we are unaware of the God’s deep hidden providence. It is therefore impossible to read God’s name as it is written, but, in the future, the inwardness of His direction will be revealed, and then God will be One, and His Name One. Therefore, in this world of ours, there appears to be bad news sometimes, and it should be blesses upon accordingly. Yet, in the Days of the Messiah, when the inwardness of God’s providence is revealed to all, the blessing "HaTov VeHaMeitiv" ("the Good and Benevolent") will be pronounced over everything.

Based upon this, we may conclude that in the Days to Come there will continue to exist the kind of tidings that today appear to us to be undesirable. The difference will be that humankind will have attained a level whereupon people will be able to see the positive aspect which results from such instances. (The sages of the Talmud explain that in this world we are so shortsighted that even when we know that something good is bound to result from an undesirable situation, we nonetheless bless "the True Judge"). Hence, we may conclude that the nature of the world today is not essentially different than what can be expected in the future. Things being so, the lesson that we learn from the miracle of Purim serves as an example of what things will be like in the future Messianic Age, for, in the time of Purim, the Jews merited seeing the light amidst the darkness, a situation which recalls the verse, "Though I sit in darkness, God is a light for me."

The sages therefore teach, regarding the Days to Come, that "In the future, the righteous will be named after God." In other words, life will not take on a supernatural character, rather, through the behavior of the righteous, the name of Heaven will be revealed in nature.
The Mishnah teaches (Avot 6:6) that there are forty-eight measures by virtue of which one succeeds in internalizing the Torah. The final measure brought by the Mishnah is "bringing a statement in the name of he who authored it. From here we learn that whoever brings a statement in the name of its originator brings redemption to the world, as the verse states (Ester 2:22): ‘Ester informed the king in Mordecai’s name.’" Ostensibly, the final measure brought by the Mishnah is not meant to be included in the forty-eight mentioned above. It would seem that the intention, rather, is to hint at the forty-eight prophets of Israel who guided the Jewish people so that they internalize the Torah. After internalizing the Torah, responsibility devolves upon the individual Jew to arrive at profound insights independently and to attribute them to their author, i.e., the Torah. This is what Ester did with Mordecai, and the Sages of that generation arrived independently at their own profound conclusion: the revelation of Divine providence within nature and within themselves.

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