Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Mrs. Shira Smiles
The Megilah begins with a lengthy description of the wealth and opulence of Achashverosh’s palace. The Persian exile was meant to rid us of the illusion of hedonism. We were destined to discover that our true selves are our souls and not our bodies. In many ways, this was the hardest of all exiles for we only have so much emotional capacity and time and if our empty space is filled with materialism it will not be filled with meaning.
The Jewish people’s participation in Achashveirosh’s feast was disastrous. They sinned because they had taken on the mentality of the Persians, who viewed life as nothing but material pleasure. Our Sages say that when our emotions are devoted to physical desire, when materialism captures our passion, then something is terribly wrong. The Jews had become so callous that they participated in a party celebrating their own spiritual defeat.
Vashti threw a feast of her own for the women. The Maharal explains that the word ‘Vashti’ means ‘and two.’ She saw Hashem in heaven and man on earth and they were not to meet. When she refused to come to her husband, he had her killed. He woke up the next day, realized what he did, and was at a loss. The Midrash calls this stupidity. Letting your emotions rule over your intellect without considering the consequence is foolishness of the highest order. This is idealized in today’s society where self-expression, independence, and heart over mind reign supreme.
Esther, an orphan at birth, filled her empty spaces with the joy of building a bond with Hashem. Esther means hidden. Although she was born into a time when Hashem’s face was concealed, she made the right choices and became a prophetess. She was taken by force to the palace and Achashveirosh married her. He did not marry her because she was beautiful, but, because she radiated a spirit of goodness and he was drawn to it. All of Esther’s seven maids converted because she brought out their inherent goodness. For nine years, Esther maintained a pact of silence and would not reveal her ancestry. The Maharal notes that the more world-oriented a person is, the more he talks about himself. Esther’s rich inner life enabled her to keep her promise of secrecy to Mordechai.
Mordechai, a descendant of Binyamin and Yehuda, was a natural hero. The Sages tell us that evil will be eradicated at the end of time by an offspring of Binyamin, the only tribe who did not bow to Esav. Yehuda’s names contains Hashem’s name and comes from the root word l’hodot, to thank and to confess. Mordechai had a sense of Hashem’s presence that was so real that when he was wrong he had to confess. The Megilah tells us, “Ish yehudi haya.” The Gemara writes, “Do not read it yehudi, rather yechidi, unique.” Mordechai took a brave, lone stand and did not prostrate himself to Haman.
Infuriated by Mordechai’s refusal to bow, Haman offered the king 10,000 silver pieces to kill the Jews. This equaled the exact sum the Jews had contributed to build the Mishkan. Our Sages tell us, “Charity saves from death.” We may not necessarily see results immediately but the merit of the deed protects us. Why is tzedakah different than other mitzvot? People have an emotional attachment to money. It takes on symbolic value. If you earn a lot you are worth a lot. In fact money is really from Hashem. Donating to charity is surrendering control to Hashem which earns us enormous merit.
Haman knew a great deal about spirituality. He built a wooden gallows fifty amot high to hang Mordechai. Wood signifies the tree of knowledge. Fifty symbolizes all the possibilities of human choice making. There are seven ways in which we resemble Hashem. Seven multiplied by seven equals forty nine. When the seven middot interact as a whole they become one entity greater than themselves totaling fifty gates. Haman wanted to show Mordechai that his insistence on morality had caused his death. In the end he was proven wrong. Haman led Mordechai on a horse as a physical expression of something spiritual. Mordechai, whose name means pure, had overcome Haman at his evil core. This was the beginning of his downfall.
The Purim story concludes with, “Layehudim hoyta orah v’simcha v’sasson v’kar.” The Jews gained a new relationship to Torah. They saw Torah as light, instead of hedonism. They saw simcha as something not attained through materialism, but through the resolution of doubt and closeness to Hashem. Sasson, joy, could be acquired not by indulging in physicality but rather uplifting it. They saw brit milah as definitive and beautiful. And they saw that what makes us a serious presence in the world is not what we own but rather our ability to bring Hashem into our lives. This is symbolized by tefilin where Hashem’s name is carved into animal skin.
On Purim, Hashem gives us an opportunity to define who we are. Purim will remain even in the Messianic era. This is because all the other yamim tovim are emanations from Hashem, while on Purim we opened ourselves to Hashem. It is a holiday of transcendence, a day akin to Yom Kippur when we can reach unimaginable heights through simcha. May this Purim bring us true joy.