Entertainment Hidden in Plain Sight
BY LISA BARATZ
Hard as it may be for us to believe, since we take our Bible very seriously (which is a good thing!), there are aspects of Megillat Esther that are exaggerated for comedic or for dramatic purposes. These details are a deliberate and intentional caricature of reality, though that doesn’t mean they did not happen. Here are some examples:
The Megillah describes Achashverosh’s lavish feast that lasted for 180 days – a full half a year. This isn’t a feasible way to run a kingdom. But because we are used to the story we do not ask what the real-life implications of this were.
Haman pays Achashverosh 10,000 kikar kesef, bars of silver. Not shekels or coins, but bars. Nowhere else in Tanach do we find kings who possessed such an enormous amount of silver. None even come close to that! When Avraham purchased the Me’arat HaMachpelah, he paid 400 shekels of silver for a cave and a field (Bereishit 23:15). Later, David paid 50 shekels of silver to Aravna the Yevusi for a goren (threshing floor) and a pair of oxen (Shmuel II 24:24). These amounts are nowhere close to the amount of money Haman pays Achashverosh. It seems to be an exaggeration. Haman is just a government minister; how could he have amassed so much wealth? The Megillah appears to be emphasizing how far Haman was willing to go to achieve his evil goals.
Esther instructs Mordechai to command all the Jews in Shushan, including Esther herself and her maidservants, to fast for 3 days. She does not leave room for any loopholes and is specific in the requirements: “do not eat nor drink for three whole days, day and night” (Esther 4:16). 72 hours without eating a thing? Could the people really have kept such a command?
Later we learn that Haman built a post “50 cubits (amot) high” upon which he planned to hang Mordechai (Esther 5:14). In ancient times, building such an edifice (overnight, in his backyard no less) would have been quite an engineering feat. Whether you follow the Chazon Ish or Rav Chaim Naeh’s view on the size of an amah, this post would have been roughly 75 feet tall – taller than an eight-story building. This is almost certainly an exaggeration to show how badly Haman wanted to kill Mordechai.
The Megillah itself is wearing a costume; it is an entertaining story dressed up as a history book. Its authors wanted us to be entertained and enthralled. It wants to make our jaws drop. But all too often, we are so distant from the ancient past that we miss the point. It is a different genre.
This year, don’t just study the Megillah. Don’t be hostage to preconceived notions. Enjoy it as its authors wished you would; they went to great lengths to make it entertaining..
● Based on a conversation with Dr. Leeor Gottlieb of Bar-Ilan University.
Lisa Baratz is a criminal defense attorney with a passion for Jewish education. She lives in Hollywood, Florida where she chairs the adult education committee for the Young Israel of Hollywood and teaches a popular weekly Nach shiur.