Words of Peace and Truth

BY RABBANIT SHANI TARAGIN

Mordechai and Esther, the authors of Megillat Esther, place the story in the historical context of Persian King Achashverosh – as opposed to the Jewish community of “Shivat Tzion,” the returnees to Yerushalayim. In doing so, they highlight the disconnect between Persian Jewry and their brethren in Israel. They describe the Persian capital as “Shushan HaBira, Shushan the Capital,” a highly charged term – for the only other city in Tanach referred to as “HaBira” is Yerushalayim in David’s prayer for his son Shlomo to build the Beit HaMikdash! (Divrei HaYamim I 29:1,19). This is one of many allusions in Megillat Esther to Yerushalayim and the Beit HaMikdash, intended to subtly criticize the Jews of that era for remaining in Persia after Cyrus’s proclamation in 538 BCE allowing exiled nations to return to their homelands and rebuild their temples. Only 42,360 Jews returned to Yerushalayim (Ezra 2:64), while the multitudes remained comfortably settled in their Diaspora communities. When writing and editing the megillah, Mordechai, Esther and the Anshei Knesset HaGedola used satire to expose and criticize the Jews for their loss of direction, identity and values. Through humor, irony, and exaggeration, they mock the Jews for not answering the Divine call of Shivat Tzion.

In addition to repetitive stark parallels and literary connections between the palace of Achashverosh and the Mikdash, the entire storyline is laden with implicit criticism of the Jews for their preference of Shushan over Yerushalayim. This year, as we read the megillah on Motzaei Shabbat, well-rested and fed, we have an opportunity to pay close attention to the satirical messages at the conclusion of the megillah, when we would expect a mass “Aliyah” movement following the rise of Persian antisemitism and threats of Jewish genocide. 

Mordechai instituted special enactments (Esther 9:20–22) reflecting the prophet Zechariah’s message of helping the needy and establishing unity (through mishloach manot) to assure successful long-term settlement in Israel and the establishment of the Beit HaMikdash in Yerushalayim. The closing verses tell us that “The Jews undertook and irrevocably obligated themselves and their descendants, and all who might join them, to observe these two days in the manner prescribed and at the proper time each year” (9:27). Instead of obligating themselves to move to Israel, they left the responsibility to make Aliyah for their children, instead celebrating a two-day Diaspora holiday to commemorate the message “and the memory of them shall never perish among their descendants.”

Frustrated by the passivity of her fellow Jews, Esther “wrote a second letter of Purim for the purpose of confirming with full authority the aforementioned one of Mordechai the Jew” (9:29). What did she write in this second letter? One short phrase – “Divrei shalom ve’emet, words of peace and truth” (9:30). This phrase is first found in the prophecies of Zechariah when he responded to a delegation of Jews visiting Israel while the second Beit HaMikdash was under construction. The Diaspora Jews wondered whether they must continue fasting on the ninth of Av if redemption is clearly underway. Zechariah explained that the long-term success of rebuilding is not up to G-d, but rather to them – if they settle in the land espousing values of “peace and truth” (Zechariah 8:18–19). If the nation builds a community in the Land with “shalom” and “emet”, not only will they cease fasting on the ninth of Av, but all the fast days of destruction will be transformed to holidays! 

Unfortunately, the megillah ends on a sour note. Instead of returning to Israel to build a value-based society and celebrate more holidays together, the Jews remain in the Diaspora. “Just as they have assumed for themselves and their descendants the obligation of the fasts with their lamentations,” they continued to observe the fast days in commemoration of national calamities (Ibn Ezra, Esther 9:30) – and they’re taxed! This second letter explains the reason for the long-term establishment of Purim. It is an annual reminder of the prophecies of Zechariah which remain unfulfilled! 

Why didn’t Diaspora Jewry immediately complete their Nefesh B’Nefesh applications and prepare for Aliyah? Perhaps a mass return to Yerushalayim was not realistic given Samaritan security threats and a weak economy and social infrastructure. Nonetheless, Mordechai, Esther and the Tanna’im instituted a holiday that would remind Am Yisrael that should such an opportunity for return arise again, especially under looming threats of antisemitism, they would know how to properly respond. 

The megillah’s message is “disguised” and easily missed if we are unfamiliar with the prophecies of Tanach. There is no time better than the present to “unmask” its eternal encouragement to return to Israel, establish a value-based society of “peace and truth” and merit the rebuilding of our Mikdash in Yerushalayim, as our fast days and mourning are transformed to annual days of celebration. The fulfillment is up to us! 

 

Rabbanit Shani Taragin is Educational Director of Mizrachi and the Director of the Mizrachi-TVA Lapidot Educator’s Program.

© 2024 World Mizrachi

Follow us: