Purim, what a day! And the megillah, what a story! The only book in the Tanach where G-d’s name is not mentioned, or is it? There’s an idea that wherever in the Scroll of Esther it says, hamelech, The king, the text actually means “The King” as in G-d almighty, as opposed to where it says “king achashverosh”, who’s just the local king. This is but one small example of the layers and nuances of the megillah, a story that at first seems like a version of Aladdin and other stories. Indeed, just from its name we learn that Megillat Esther has an aspect which is revealed (megillah related to leglaot, to uncover) and another that is totally concealed (Esther relating to hester, hidden).
A short line in The Bnai Yisaschar (Chasidic commentary written by Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapira 1783-1841 which offers Kabalistic insights into the Jewish year) opened my mind to a new idea and helped see yet another possibility to the story and its background. The Bnai Yisaschar points out that the numerical value of the word Hamelech and Haman – are identical, each 95, and both together equal to 10 times chai (18), another megillah coincidence?
Either way, both names do equal the same numerical value, as if Hamelech and Haman are just the same. But, how can that be? Surely, G-d is all good, while Haman is all bad!
That is some of what Zoroastrianism (or Mazdayasna), one of the world’s oldest continuously practiced religions, taught. Per Wikipedia, Zoroastrianism “is a multi-tendency faith centered on a dualistic cosmology of good and evil and an eschatology… it is ascribed to the teachings of the Iranian-speaking spiritual leader Zoroaster (also known as Zarathushtra)…. and although considered ancient, it enters recorded history in the 5th century BCE”, right around the time the Jews find themselves under the Persian rule.
If so, is the megillah (also) a treaty against this newly found religious ideology teaching of the constant fight between “good” and “evil”, by telling a story where good and evil get all mixed up and one can’t tell “who’s Mordechai and who’s Haman”? Mordechai, by the way, is possibly based on – or related to – the local god’s name, Marduch, as is Esther – Ishtar.
Top that with the fact that Purim suffers from other dualities and multiplicities. The Talmudic tractate that deals with Purim opens with the words:
“The Megillah is read on the 11th, on the 12th, on the 13th, on the 14th or on the 15th of the month of Adar…” Who can imagine such an instruction given with regards to Shabbat? Or the Pesach Haggadah?? ‘Sure, read it anytime during any these days’… ? The holiday has a name that is a plural: “therefore these days were named Purim after the pur”… (chapter 9:26), but, if we name it after the pur (cast lots), shouldn’t we name it… well, “Pur”?? Instead, we name it after, not one but “many lots”. And then the megillah ends with …”to observe these two days…. at their proper times… (chapter 9:27-31), again, indicating duality but one that unites under the One.
The prophet Isaiah says in this seemingly outrageous verse: יוֹצֵ֥ר אוֹר֙ וּבוֹרֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁל֖וֹם וּב֣וֹרֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י ה’ עֹשֶׂ֥ה כָל־אֵֽלֶּה —- I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil— I the LORD do all these things (45:7). There is no one else; Haman, no Haman – it’s all part of the same One power. According to some (Kdushat Levi), this is also why we drink on Purim, to get a glimpse of a reminder of this Oneness, above all, where there’s no distinction between good and bad.
For us, who are faced with the ups and downs of life, this is not easy. We judge things by how they meet us. There is also a danger in the “oneness” of becoming fatalistic all the way to the, ‘eh, who cares if anyone is suffering; didn’t we just learn it’s all good anyway’. This, I believe, is wrong and dangerous and nothing more than an excuse for us to not act, reach out, and do our best to make the world better where we can, as if it all depends on us.
But once a year, at least, we remember that there is and must be a silver-lining in a bad situation; that there’s a risk for bad in the seeming good. We mishmash everything and admit we really don’t know which way is up because it’s all part of the One. This is todays…
Happy Purim & Shushan Purim!