Two Hasidic Masters on Esther


Marc Chagall’s “Esther and Mordechai”

Two (abridged) teachings from Uziel Meizlish of Ostroha and Zeev Wolf of Zhitomir on Megillat Esther.

From Tiferet Uziel:

המן מן התורה מנין Where in Torah do we find Haman, Mordechai, and Esther? Babylonian Talmud, Masechet Hullin 139b

For Torah is the source of all existence, and no created thing — beasts or birds, pure or impure, the nations of the world or Israel — could exist without being hinted at in Torah… (1) Our sages find the hint for Haman (המן) in hamin ha’etz (המן העץ), “from the tree” (2). The hint for Mordechai (מרדכי) they find in mera dachia (מרא דכיא), “choice myrrh,” for the light of Mordechai was hidden [like the silent letters aleph] (3). And Esther (אסתר) they find in v’anochi hester astir panai (ואנכי הסתר אסתיר פני), “I will hide My face” (4). In the Talmud it is written, “She was called Hadassah (lit. “myrtle”) and also Esther. Why? She was sallow (lit. “greenish”), but a thread of grace was drawn about her” (5). The meaning is this: G!d hides the light of divinity within the mitzvot, as in the verse above, “I will hide Myself within” (6), so we only see the external aspect of the mitzvot, for example, shaking the lulav and myrtle branches at Sukkot, but do not see the holy lights within. Nevertheless, “a thread of grace was drawn about her” (7), and so the light of divinity is drawn out through our actions, even if we do not see it.

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1) For teachings on the idea that all Creation is rooted in and exists through the power of Torah, click here and here.   2) Genesis 3:11; The Hebrew letters are identical, and “from the tree” evokes the hanging (or impaling) of Haman from the gallows in Esther 7:10.   3) Exodus 30:23; This is the Aramaic from Targum Onkelos, a translation of the text which was accepted as divinely inspired and holding its own secrets to understanding the Torah. Mera dachia spells Mordechai with the addition of the letter aleph in each word; the silent aleph represents the hidden divinity in the world. This is my own simplification of the Tiferet Uziel’s rather complex explanation. There is another thematic connection between the righteous Mordechai and the Tabernacle and Ark that were anointed with the myrrh mentioned in this verse — righteous people are compared to the Ark of the Covenant in that they carry the living “Torah” within them.   4) Deuteronomy 31:18; In the verse God tells of how He will hide the divine Presence when the Jews break the covenant, which is the situation in Megillat Esther, in which the name of God does not appear.   5) Megillah 13a; The plain sense seems to be that she was green like a myrtle leaf, but God was gracious to her and so she found favor in the king’s eyes.   6) A play on words between “My face” and “within.”   7) Here the “her” probably refers to the Shekhinah, the feminine aspect of God found within/ manifesting as Creation and enlivened by our good deeds.

Marc Chagall’s “Esther”

From Or HaMeir:

וַיְהִי, בִּימֵי אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ:  הוּא אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, הַמֹּלֵךְ מֵהֹדּוּ וְעַד-כּוּשׁ–שֶׁבַע וְעֶשְׂרִים וּמֵאָה מְדִינָה. בַּיָּמִים, הָהֵם–כְּשֶׁבֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, עַל כִּסֵּא מַלְכוּתוֹ

And so it was, in the days of Ahashverush, that Ahashverush who ruled over a hundred and twenty-seven provinces from India to Ethiopia. In those days, when King Ahashverush occupied the throne of kingship…   Esther 1:1-2

It is worth paying close attention to the depth of this story which we read and remember every year, and every Jew should recognize the lovingkindness that the God of our ancestors did, saving not only them but us as well, for what is “written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet may not be revoked” (1)… If you are discerning you will see how this story applies to everyone in every time, and the love of God will be renewed and reestablished in your heart.

Let’s try to understand why the time of the story is called “the days of Ahashverush,” for as Rashi points out Ahashverush was “wicked from start to finish.” Have not our sages taught us that the world was created for the sake of the righteous and for Israel, that they might follow God’s holy Torah and so make manifest God’s kingship in this world? So it seems the story should begin “in the days of the righteous Mordechai and Esther,” not the wicked Ahashverush.

Now since time began not one day has gone by when God has not been made manifest in one way or another, for as the Zohar explains, the very purpose of Creation is to make God known and to let the divine light shine upon all creatures (2). In this way the world becomes a “garment” for the Shekhinah, the divine Presence, and a gate to God through which we can grasp the divine luminosity. This is the meaning of the verse, “Your Kingship is a kingship over all the worlds” — all the worlds above and below were created so that God’s kingship could be made manifest through our own deeds when we imitate the goodness, love, and mercy of God (3).  But sometimes, when we don’t do the will of the Omnipresent One, God gives power to our enemies in order to bring us close to our Father in Heaven, as happened with Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar (4). So Ahashverush was made king, and this is what Scripture is hinting at in the verse, In those days, when King Ahashverush sat on the throne of kingship — that is, God’s kingship. Even though, as our sages tell us, Ahashverush was a fool of a king and not fit for the throne, because of his wickedness we rededicated ourselves to Torah and divine service, and so God’s divinity was made manifest through Ahashverush (5). But this is not the ideal way, and so the story begins Vayehi, “And so it was…,” which our sages tell us is a sign of woe — for there was no greater woe in the days of Ahashverush than that God’s manifestation in the world depended on this wicked king and not on the righteous acts of a holy people (6).

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1) Esther 8:8   2) Zohar II, 42b   3) Psalms 145:13   4) Hagigah 13b   5) Megillah 12a   6) Bereishit Rabbah 42:3 and Megillah 10b

Jeff says…

In wanting to exterminate an entire people, Haman was a descendant of Amalek, both biological and spiritual, and as such he is a manifestation of pure evil. In this teaching Haman is tied to Adam and Eve’s eating of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, and in this act of separating the fruit from its source, the kabbalists saw a manifestation of primal evil. When God created the world, it was to have an “other” to be in relationship with, to love and be loved by. So God emanated some of the divine light in a way that it was part of God and yet separate, a delicate balance of unity and relationship. The problem arose when part of the world got a taste of independence and power and wanted more, and strayed too far from its source, forgetting God. That’s the root of all evil. Haman, as a manifestation of this evil, hates Mordechai and the Jews because they will not let him achieve his goal of total power apart from God, yet he frames his criticism of them as if they are the rebellious ones (another example of the sages’ teaching that when we want to criticize someone else, it is because we see ourselves in them). The antidote is people like Esther and Mordechai, who respond not only with bravery and self-sacrifice, as in the “on-stage action” of the story, but who thereby remind us of our shared source in the One, making the hidden light manifest, as the Tiferet Uziel points out is happening “off-stage.” If no one does this, then we abandon not only our world but G!d’s to evil. As the Or HaMeir explains, God’s power, like a river, will manifest somewhere, and it is up to us to channel it into making the kind of world we want to live in.

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This entry was posted in Concepts, Creation, Hasidic Masters, Holidays/Days of Remembrance, Purim, Uziel Meizlish/ Tiferes Uziel, Zeev Wolf of Zhitomir/Or HaMeir. Bookmark the permalink.

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