Accusing Achashverosh and the Nature of the Purim Salvation

  • Rav Yitzchak Blau
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Understanding Aggada
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #19b: Accusing Achashverosh and the Nature of

the Purim Salvation

By Rav Yitzchak Blau

And Esther said: "The adversary and the enemy is this wicked Haman (Esther 7:6)." R. Elazar said: "This teaches us that she was pointing toward Achashverosh and an angel came and moved her hand towards Haman." (Megilla 16a)

Two questions emerge from R. Elazar's statement. On what textual grounds does he argue that Esther first pointed to Achashverosh? Furthermore, why would Esther do such a thing when her clear target is the wicked Haman? R. Baruch Esptein offers two answers to the first question in his Torah Temima. The original Hebrew reads "ish tzar ve-oyev Haman ha-ra ha-zeh." According to Rav Epstein, the pronoun "ha-zeh" renders the mention of Haman's name superfluous as Esther clearly points to the culprit. He also argues that the proper noun, "Haman" should not appear in the middle of a series of negative adjectives describing Haman. Apparently, Esther began talking about someone else and only switched to Haman in the middle.

Assuming we have textual grounds for this homily, what idea lies implicit within? R. Epstein argues that Esther was furious with Achashverosh for the capriciousness and hatred he exhibited when consenting to the decrees of Haman. She truly wanted to verbalize her disgust with her beast of a husband. However, the angel reminded her that even though Achashverosh deserved censure, it was currently far more important to deal with Haman and find a way to overcome the decree against the Jews.

The Vilna Ga'on takes Esther's accusation in a different direction in his commentary on Megillat Esther. He points out that the images running through our mind often impacts on the words that escape from our mouths. At times, we want to call Shimon and call Reuven because we were thinking about Reuven. Apparently, people before Freud understood the phenomenon of the "Freudian slip." Esther was beseeching God to deal with Achashverosh. That thought lurking in the back of her mind led her finger to initially point at the king until the angel straightened the matter out.

The Torah Temima understands that Esther consciously wanted to accuse the king while the Gaon thinks that her subconscious pushed her in that direction. Both agree that she harbored justified resentment toward the Persian monarch. This highlights the heroism of Esther and helps us appreciate another gemara about the holiday of Purim. Esther bravely enters a contest that leads her to marry a man capable of terrible things. Even when the Jews emerge victorious, she must go on living with him. The story ends on a high note for the Jewish people but the heroism of Esther does not come to an end.

The gemara (Megilla 14a) questions the absence of Hallel on Purim and provides three explanations. Perhaps we do not say Hallel on a miracle that occurred in the diaspora. Perhaps the recital of the Megilla functions as the Hallel. Finally, the joy of the story remains incomplete as the Jews still find themselves "servants of Achashverosh." The Pesach story reflects total salvation, but the Purim story represents a reprieve of great significance that does not yet permit a sense of complete redemption. Esther's desire to point a finger at the Persian monarch gives us a sense of the ongoing problem at the story's end.

As a final point, let us note that the absence of Hallel does not mean an absence of celebration. We do make Purim a holiday and a quite joyous one at that. R. Tzadok Hakohen of Lublin (Divrei Soferim 32) sees Pesach and Purim as two important paradigms. As mentioned, Pesach represents leaving the darkness. Purim, on the other hand, serves a model for finding the ability to cope with remaining in the darkness. Even if both do not merit Hallel, both are worthy of celebration. It behooves us to remember this, as instances of complete salvation are few and far between. We must take joy in and show gratitude for the ability to make it through difficult times, even when our problems do not depart entirely.