|Esther's Debate with the Rabbis
Published: Tuesday, May 24, 2011 08:18:39 PM
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When Esther sent the sages her request, "Write my story for future generations" (Megilla 6a), they responded, "You are arousing jealousy between us and the nations". Seemingly, their response is puzzling. Since when do we censor Scripture because of what the nations will say ? The Rambam in Igeret Teiman asks a similar question:
"What nation is so great that they have such righteous rules and laws?" (Deuteronomy 4:8). G-d's setting us apart through His laws and commandments, thus highlighting our superiority over the nations, made all the idolaters enormously jealous of us."
Would we ever consider erasing or hiding our Torah-based superiority so as not to arouse jealousy among the nations? What then was the argument between Esther and the sages?
We can understand the sages' response according to their times. When they lived, new works were still being added to Tanach, and Esther was asking the sages that her scroll, as well, should be included in the Bible. Our sages had their own yardstick for what should or should not be included in the Bible. As they said (Megillah 14a), "Many prophets arose in Israel , twice as many as the number of Jews who left Egypt . Yet, prophecies needed for future generations were included, and those not needed were excluded." The argument between Esther and the Sages was:Is or is not the content of Megillat Esther relevant to future generations ?
According to our sages (whose wisdom was based on past experience),Â the Purim story could not be classifedÂ as "needed for future generations", because until Haman's appearance, there was no precedent of genocide. Hence, the Purim story seemed to be a one-time event such that no one could ever imagine it recurring. It is true that the JewishÂ people had previosly know trials and tribulations, for example Esau and Laban, or Pharoah in Egypt , who decreed, "Every boy who is born must be cast into the Nile " (Exodus 1:22). After that there was Amalek in the desert, and all the other enemies of Israel from the period of the Judges and the Kings. Yet such an "insane" decree as this one , "to destroy, to stay, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day" (Esther 3:13), the Jews of Mordechai and Esther's day had never known. The Rabbi's based on their past experience, viewed this genocidal plot as an extraordinary, one-time event that would never repeat itself. They therefore concluded that the Bible should not include such a transient event. For them it was a prophecy irrelevant to future generations.
Esther, by contrast , was one of the seven prophetesses who prophesied to Israel .(Megillah 14) Prophecy is not the product of past experience. Rather, it looks forward, transcending the limits ofÂ time and place. Esther in her prophecy looked towards the futureof the Jewish People, and with her ruach hakodesh [spiritual holy intuition] she knew that the Purim story was not a one-time event, but rather, one that unfortunately& tragically would repeat itself many times throughout the future history of the Jewish People. Through her prophecy she knew that a prolonged & bitter exile awaited the Jewish People in the desert of nations, an exile whose end could not be seen on the horizon. It was an exile in which the Jewish People would face harsh & terrible trials. They would view themselves as a person drowning in an endless sea of sorrow & in desperate need of a life-raft.
Such a life-raft – in Esther's view – was Megillat Esther, for it taught the Jewish People that even ifÂ IsraelÂ in exile reached a situation of total annihilation, of a Holocaust, and even if the light could not be seen at the end of the dark tunnel, even then they should not despair, because a decree could sometimes be transformed overnight. Indeed, "venahafoch hu" [the overturning of expectations – Esther 9:1] was the lesson of the Megillah, and throughout Jewish history there was never a prophecy so needed for future generations as that ofÂ Megillat Esther, to inspire hope for a better future. The Rabbis ultimately conceded and accepted her view, and Megillat Esther was included in the Bible.