By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
I have three questions regarding Purim:
I know that we physically feast on Purim because we survived the attempt of physical bodily destruction (as opposed to spiritual celebration from survival of Torah observance), but why is our celebration of Purim a feast and drunken party? Is it perhaps a resemblance to King Ahashverosh’s party, for which the Jews were decreed complete annihilation due to their enjoyment of the feast?
And why was it encouraged by Mordecai, the greatest sage and religious leader of the generation, for Esther to either have relations with Ahashverosh with no marriage and/or no Jewish marriage, especially with the Talmud explaining that Mordecai and Esther were married, when it is a clear violation of one of the Ten Commandments? Perhaps this was because Mordecai knew her role would be in a position to save the entirety of the Jewish people? But is this OK if it is through the foundation of Torah transgressions?
Why was a decree needed for the Jews to fight back? They were still under attack. Couldn’t they defend themselves without a decree allowing them to do so? It would seem the accomplishment of Esther and Mordecai would have been removal of the decree directing annihilation of the Jews.
Three great questions!
You may have heard the aish.com one-line summary of all Jewish holidays: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!
You are correct that on Purim we have a mitzvah to eat a joyous meal, which is our way of celebrating the miraculous rescue from the first attempt at the “final solution,” first suggested by Haman, a member of Amalek, (the progenitors of the Germans/Nazis). We celebrate our physical rescue in a physical way, as opposed to Chanukah when we celebrate in a spiritual way, (lighting candles), as that was a spiritual, ideological battle.
The drinking a bit more than one is accustomed to (to say the least), is to fulfill the Talmudic injunction to “eat and drink until one doesn’t know the difference between the curses of Haman and the blessings of Mordechai.” On one level, this is to come to the realization that even when things seem to be going badly, ultimately it is for the good. Even when G-d seems to have forsaken us completely, He is always still there behind the scenes to protect us from complete annihilation. G-d’s love for us, although at times is hidden, is always present. There are even deeper meanings of this, beyond the scope of this column.
You are correct about the permissibility of Mordechai sending Esther to be married to the king despite her being married to Mordechai (according to one opinion in the Talmud). The commentaries explain, as you surmise, that although relations with a married woman is something that one needs to forfeit his life for rather than transgress, (as this is one of the three cardinal sins), nevertheless when it involves the rescue of a multitude of Jews, and certainly the entire Jewish people, it is allowed.
The Megillah relates that, when asked to rescind his decree, King Ahashverosh replied that a Royal Decree cannot be retracted. Mordechai and Esther knew that if the decree was still in full force, this may cause the Jews to cower at an attempt to fight an enemy given the full license and strength of the King’s forces. So they sought to at least have royal permission granted to fight back, to give the Jews the confidence that they could just focus upon their enemies, the Amalekites, who were a small portion of the kingdom, and not have to worry about retribution from the King. This, coupled with their renewed trust in G-d, gave the Jews the confidence to overcome their enemies.
May we continue to renew that trust in G-d and overcome the hardships of exile and all our enemies that seek to destroy us; whether in Iran, Gaza, Lebanon or throughout Europe. A joyous Purim to you and all the readers! L’chaim!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.