Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Esther and the Jews

I noticed an interesting comment in the Shelah yesterday. The Shelah writes that Esther purposely misled the Jews into thinking that she was on Haman's side. This way they wouldn't think to rely on her, but rather they would daven to Hashem. The Shelah's m'kor for this is the gemara in Megilah that asks why did Esther invite Haman to a party. One answer given is so that people would think she was on Haman's side.

I then started wondering, did the Jewish people know that Esther was Jewish. I always assumed they did, for after all Esther was part of the community and people knew what she looked like. Presumably, everyone either saw the queen or a picture of the queen and knew what the queen looked like. So it stands to reason that those in the Jewish community knew who the queen really was. Also, even if someone wasn't 100% sure, Mordechai was hanging out by the palace every day. What was his connection to the queen? If you put two and two together it s not a big jump to realize the queen was Jewish.

However, if that is true and every Jew knew thequeen was Jewish, how did she keep it a secret? There must have been someone out there who would spill the beans (even though this was before the days of blogs). I guess you could say that since everyone thought she came from them, noone would have believed a Jew that said the queen was Jewish. The idea was so far fetched and preposterous that it wouldn't really be believable. If this is correct, then this adds to the Shelah's comment. The Jews thought they had an ace in the hole because the queen was Jewish. Therefore, Esther had to pretend she had turned to the "dark side" in order to get the Jews to put their faith in the one who really counts-HKBH.

There is of course the possibility that the Jews didn't know Esther was Jewish. The reason Mordechai hung out at the palace was because he had taken up the well known art of shtadlanus in order to help his people. From an outsiders perspective he had done a pretty good job and managed to create a close friendship with the queen. The Jews might have thought that with Mordechai as the queen's confidant they had a good chance of defeating Haman. Esther was worried they would place to much trust in this so she created the impression taht she was friendly with Haman. Now the Jews had to turn to HKBH to help them.

I am not sure which scenario is correct. It could be I am missing an obvious proof to either side. However, anyway you slice it I find the dynamics that were going on at the time very fascinating. We tend to focus on Purim as a story of a nes nistar and Hashem saving us (as well as we should as that is our job as Ovdei Hashem) but I also find it interesting viewing Purim through the eyes of someone living through the events as they happened, someone who doesn't realize how the story will eventually unfold and what meaning it will have to the Jewish nation.

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