03 Mar Timeless Purim Thoughts
The Gemora tells us, “Esther b’ruach hakodesh nemra;” that the Book of Esther was divinely inspired. As the last of the twenty-four Scriptures, it shares with its predecessors a timeless nature. Its lessons, too, are for all time. As such, the sophisticated student will mine many contemporary values from this all-important Megilah.
As a preface to elaborating upon Achashveirosh’s one hundred and eighty day royal banquet, the Megilah informs us what his motivation was for such an extravagance. “B’haroso es osher kavod malchuso – To show the wealth of his glorious kingdom.” In a similar vein, the Megilah informs us that his desire to produce Vashti in an immodest fashion was, “L’haros ha-amim v’hasorim es yafyah – To show the people and the officials her beauty.” Thus, the Megilah clearly portrays Achashveirosh as a royal showoff, and it was this that contributed to his ruination.
When a person flaunts the extras that G-d gave to him, he makes himself vulnerable to the ayin hara, the evil eye, and he risks losing his extra privileges. Thus, Achashveirosh’s excesses generated the loss of his royal and fabulously beautiful bride, Vashti. In a similar vein, the Gemora tells us, in Berachos [31b], that Chanah prayed to Hashem, “V’nasata l’amosecha zera anoshim – Grant to your maidservant the seed of men,” which the Gemora homiletically explains to mean, ‘Give a child to me that blends in with other people;’ a child that is not foolish nor too wise. This sounds like a strange request. What’s wrong with having a brilliant son? Rashi explains that Chanah’s wish was that her son should not stand out and be the cause of people’s wonder, for then, says Rashi, he would be targeted by the evil eye.
All the way at the end of Shas, in the final dafim of Masechtas Niddah, the Gemora relates an interesting question that came before the great Talmudic sage Rebbi Yochanan. A woman was having a distressing problem. After going to the mikvah, she would become disqualified to her husband even before arriving home. Rebbi Yochanan said to her that she was, perhaps, showing too much public affection to her husband. This public affection was thereby causing the envy of others and activating the evil eye. Rebbi Yochanan advised her to publicize her plight instead, and, as a result that would reverse the jealousy of others into pity, thereby removing any ayin hara.
From this very contemporary lesson, we should adopt a posture of modesty. Let’s be careful not to show off our new car to our neighbor who is out of work. Let’s be weary of passing around our children’s report cards to friends who can’t get their children into a yeshiva. Let’s be circumspect about talking about our mate’s kindness before a person who has marital woes. While we live in a society where people gauge success by possessions, we need to realize that flaunting our successes puts us in grave danger.
Another modern day lesson can be found by studying the incredible description of Achashveirosh’s palace floor. The Megilah tells us, “Ritzpas bahat v’sheish v’dar v’sochores;” it was a floor of precious gems and marble, rows and rows of jewels going round about. Who ever heard of a floor studded with gems? What was the palace architect thinking? On one level we must know that the Gemora teaches us about Achashveirosh and Vashti that “Shneihem l’dvar aveira niskavnu,” both of them intended to get the Jews to sin with immorality at the banquet. The only reason that Vashti declined to come in an obscene manner was that the angel Gavriel pinned a tail on her (she was the original pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey). Otherwise, she would have liked nothing better than to enflame the passions of the Jews with an obscene entrance. Bearing this in mind, this perhaps is why it was a jeweled studded floor – for having jewels on the floor trains the men’s eyes downward tempting them to sin.
I would like to suggest another reason. I can just hear Achashveirosh telling the palace planners, ‘I want the palace to be different. I desire that it should be unique.’ The architect catching the drift of this egomaniac suggested, ‘Why not put diamonds on the floor? No one’s ever had that before!’ While this might sound babyish, think about how contemporary it really is. How many people go to the printer to order invitations saying that they want something very different, perhaps with a mirror or that glows in the dark or maybe one that talks to you? How many women go to a dressmaker and insist on a fabric that no one has ever worn before? How many people go to the caterer and want a one-in-a kind menu? This attitude of needing to be different was the foolish way of Achashveirosh who was screaming for attention – and the Megilah is teaching us that this is the antithesis of the ways of Torah.
In the merit of our Megilah studies, may we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.