Purim is a very strange holiday. Most Yomim Tovim have a fairly similar structure – a particular historical narrative is highlighted to serve as the springboard for us to focus on a specific area of Judaism and grow in that area. On the whole, the historical narratives contain out-of-the-ordinary and supernatural occurrences, if only because they reveal a higher reality which we subsequently try to incorporate into our own reality. That is to say, the miraculous plagues in Egypt enable us to recognize Hashem’s mastery over nature on Pesach, while the Revelation at Har Sinai creates a yearly renewal of the covenant with the Jewish people on Shavuos. We live in a sukkah for one week every year in an effort to incorporate the lessons of the Clouds of Glory in which G-d housed us and we light the menorah to instill within ourselves the eternal message of the miracle of Chanukah.
Purim, however, stands out in that it is the only celebratory holiday on which there are no supernatural events commemorated. That is because there were no supernatural events in the Purim story. While as Jews we believe that all of the events were orchestrated by Hashem, one who wants to could chalk the Purim story up to sinister schemes, clever political machinations, and a hefty dose of good luck.
All other holidays recall incontrovertible evidence of G-d’s hand. Thus, it is beneficial to publicize the miracle. But if His hand is hidden here, then what can be gained by re-telling the story?
Before attempting to answer this question, let’s take a detour. A large portion of the Megillah centers on Haman Ha’Agagi. This Persian prime minister was not your run-of-the-mill Jew-hater. Haman was a member of the nation of Amalek, a people who the Torah labels as our worst enemy. Not only that, the Torah commands us to wipe Amalek off the face of the earth, leaving no remnant behind. Why is this so? Over the centuries, many nations have tried to do away with us, but there isn’t a mitzvah to eradicate the Egyptians, Babylonians, or Greeks. What is it about Amalek that is so intolerable?
Let’s add one more question. The mazal of Adar is dagim, which is literally translated as fish but is more commonly known as Pisces. What is the relationship between Purim and Pisces? In what way is Purim related to fish?
I think the first step in answering these questions would be to analyze the timeline of the Megillah. The entire sefer takes only 45 minutes to read, and all the events are listed in very close proximity. This may lead one to believe that the story took place over a short period of time, but that is not true. The events of the Megillah are spread out over a span of close to ten years, with the feast occurring in the third year of Achashverosh’s reign and Esther’s appointment taking place in the seventh. Mordechai foiled the assassination plot only some time after Esther settled in the palace, while Haman’s plot to kill the Jews took place in the 12th year of Achashverosh’s reign! Why is the Megillah written in a way that gives off the impression that the events happened in quick succession when in reality that’s not true?
What makes this question even more stark is the wording of the first verse in the 3rd perek of the Megillah. “Achar ha’devarim ha’eileh – After these events occurred Achashverosh [proceeded] to elevate Haman.” In the Holy Tongue there are no synonyms. Each word has a precise connotation. The words “achar” and “acharei” both mean “after.” However, achar means “after a short period of time” while acharei means “after a long period of time.” Why are we given the impression that the events in this perek took place shortly after the events of the previous perek, when in reality they took place a few years later?
About the Author: Shaya Winiarz is a student of the Rabbinical Seminary of America (a.k.a Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim). He is also a columnist, freelance writer, and public speaker. He can be reached for questions, speaking engagements, or freelance writing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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