Posts Tagged 'Megillah'

Purim Today: Xenophobia, Sexism, and Violence

At a town hall meeting last Wednesday night, Senator Marco Rubio was grilled over gun control by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people. On Comedy Central’s Daily Show, Trevor Noah argued that Rubio was “totally out of sync with the entire room,” also pointing out the clip about assault-rifle loopholes. “That was such an epic fail. Rubio said the solution like it was the problem.”

Then Noah related the moment to the “Me Too” movement: “It reminded me of the reaction that a lot of men had to  the ‘Me Too’ movement, you know, when people were like, ‘If we carry on like this, we’re going to live in a world where men can’t even hit on their female staff. Oh, that is what we want? Okay. OK, fair enough, I misunderstood.'”

I was thinking of this when reading Megilat Esther. At the start of the story Achashverosh is having a series of parties. Amidst the revelry the king instructs his wife Vashti the Queen to show up to his party to display her beauty. She refuses and a crisis ensues. The king has no idea what to do when she refuses to obey him and calls on his advisers. Memuchan steps forward and advises that the king.  He warns: “Queen Vashti has committed an offense not only against Your Majesty but also against all the officials and against all the peoples in all the provinces of King Achashverosh. For the queen’s behavior will make all wives despise their husbands…“( Esther 1:20). The fear is that the Queens sleight of her husband’s unreasonable request will have implications all over the kingdom that women will not obey men.

This in turn becomes interesting in that one of the critical moments of the Megilah is when Mordecai beseeches Esther to proactively meet with the king without being asked and reveal her hidden identity to save her people. After the whole Vashti affair Esther knows that it is risky but relents on the condition that the people fast with her in solidarity. There we read:

“Go, assemble all the Jews who live in Shushan, and fast in my behalf; do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maidens will observe the same fast. Then I shall go to the king, though it is contrary to the law; and if I am to perish, I shall perish!” So Mordecai went about [the city] and did just as Esther had commanded him. (Esther 4:16-17)

Esther is courageous and as we know the whole plan comes together and the people are saved. The story turns on Esther’s leaning in and also Mordecai doing what he was commanded to do. At the start of the story the fear was that women would not obey men, and here in the end we see that we were saved because a man obeyed a woman. Like Rubio and Trevor Noah’s making fun of Rubio, the perceived problem is actually the solution. Throughout history  xenophobia, sexism, and violence are mixed together to distract people from the real problems facing their lives. The more things change the more they stay the same. These forces of division are just out of sync.


A Matter of Perspective

Yesterday we celebrated Yadid’s Bar Mitzvah. For the occasion he prepared a Shiur. He allowed me to post he class here. It was a true pleasure celebrating the extraordinary person he is becoming. So here is what he said:

To quote from a book that my family enjoyed reading together “If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary – the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.” Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

In preparation for today I wanted ( or at least my Abba wanted me to) do a siyum. Over the last year I have learned Masechet Megillah as part of my Bar Mitzvah Bucket list. I wanted to share a short shiur– lesson as a completion of what my father and I learned.  

My favorite sugya in the Gemara was Megillah 16a which tells a crazy story:

When Haman goes to get Mordechai to dress him in the king’s clothes and parade him around town,  he finds Mordechai himself giving a shiur to the  Sages on the halakhot – laws of kamitzah. What you say is the kamitzah?

Image result for ‫קמיצה‬‎

Good question self. Well the kamitzah was the three finger measurement of fine flour used in the meal offering in the Temple in Jerusalem. When Mordechai sees Haman he tells the Sages to leave so they don’t get burned by his coals.

Which is interesting in that part of the meal offering itself, but back to the story in the Gemara.

Mordechai bravely stands alone before Haman, puts on his tallis and starts davening. We are left with a bizarre image of Haman patiently waiting for his mortal enemy to finish his prayers while Mordechai thinks he is about to be killed. After Mordechai finishes, Haman tells him that the king has commanded him to clothe Mordechai in the king’s clothes and parade him around town on the king’s horse. Mordechai says that he can’t do that because he is dirty and needs a haircut.

Why is he dirty and need a haircut? Excellent question self.

Seeing that his fortune has changed from nearly being killed to being paraded around town by his enemy – Mordechai leaves his state of mourning  and starts to toy with his adversary.

While that occurs Esther closes all the barbershops and bathhouses. She is mean that Esther.

In order to obey the king’s decree Haman had no choice but to cut Mordechai’s hair and bathe him. Haman then dresses him in the king’s clothes and bends down so that Mordechai can climb onto the king’s horse. As Mordechai is climbing on to the horse he kicks Haman. Haman responds quoting Proverbs (24:17) and says “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls.”

While doing so Haman’s daughter, lets call her Antikke is standing on a roof and sees Haman walking and Mordechai on the horse. Antikke thinks that the person being lead around in the King’s clothes is Haman her father and the person leading him around is Mordechai. Thinking it is Mordechai from that distance she throws a chamber pot full of poop onto her father’s head.

When I think about this story in the context of the entirety of Megillat Esther I think we can learn some important lessons but I will let you be the judge of that:

1) There are many perspectives in this story that are alternating between comedy and tragedy. In the beginning of the story Mordechai’s perspective is that he is about to be killed. Antikke’s perspective is that she thinks she will punish her father’s enemy but instead punishes her father. Throughout the Megillah it seems that  G-d isn’t actually present, especially in this story we, with the reader’s perspective  see a majestic plan unfolding.


2) I as a reader find it problematical that the so called victims of the story are mistreating people. For example Esther’s effort to close the barber shops and showers just seems cruel in that it is engineered to shame Haman. Similarly when Mordechai kicks Haman. He didn’t just kick him, he responds to a Torah quoting Haman by  dismissing him outright, being mean spirited and being dismissive of non- Jews. This is resonant with what we see at the end of the eighth perek when the Megillah. There we read “Moreover many from among the people of the land declared themselves Jews, for the fear of the Jews had fallen upon them.”( Esther 8: 17)  I appreciate that they were feeling oppressed, but why do they need to make others feel oppressed?  

This is especially troubling because of current events where groups are being persecuted as in the Megillah. I hope that we come together as a nation to end persecution of anyone. The root of hatred is fear, we cannot fight it with more hatred, only with more love. This can only happen when we don’t tolerate bad behavior but also don’t behave badly ourselves. We have to strive to keep the highest standard of conduct.

I wanted to summarize what I have learned in light of my becoming a Bar Mitzvah.  There seems to be two main ideas here:

1) In this sugya as in life the line between comedy and tragedy is perspective. As Abraham Lincoln said- We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. In becoming a Bar Mitzvah I think about this quote whenever something goes wrong or someone does something wrong. I remind myself to regain the right perspective so that I can bring my best self. I try to do this because, lets say if, not that this ever happens, but imagine that Shama and Emi are fighting, and no one was around. They both tell my mom what happened individually and no matter how hard they try, they will tell the story slanted towards themselves. So in order to hear what really happened you have to see the situation from both perspectives. In any conflict there are always three perspectives: his side, her side and the truth.  I think this is why my family liked Wonder so much, because every chapter was told was a different perspective.

2) The other big idea is that we have to be just in our ends and our means. As we saw in this sugya even Mordechai himself might confuse the blessed Mordechai with cursed Haman in being unnecessarily cruel to his adversary. It is a hard lesson to learn for myself or even for our people but I realize that being the victim is never an excuse for behaving poorly.

Thank you friends and family for helping me get through this journey of sorts. Thank you all who came from out of town, from Canada to Argentina. Thank you Abba for learning Masechet Megillah with me and helping me with this speech, thank you Mami for teaching me troupe and the Mincha service, thank you both of you for helping me navigate through this strange world and thank you Shama, Emi and Libi for cheering me up when I was down, and making me feel proud of who I was, from any perspective.

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