Purim: Blame It on the Rabbis


An anonymous submission in honor of Purim — Adapted from Michtav M’Eliyahu Vol. I p.75

The casual observer of the story of Purim will often overlook and/or misunderstand some of the most crucial aspects of the narrative. Take, for example, the chronology of the story. Although the tale of the Book of Esther is often told inside of a quarter of an hour, the actual story spanned more than nine years.

The Book of Esther famously begins with the feast of Achashverosh, which occurred during the third year of his reign. Our sages reveal (Megilla 12) that Mordechai prohibited the Jewish People from attending this feast. However, this was not due to restraints of the Jewish dietary law, as many assume. Strictly kosher food was available, and one of the two chief butlers at the feast was none other than Mordechai himself (Rashi ibid). Yet, Mordechai prohibited the Jews from attending. The Jewish People did not heed this directive from the generation’s Torah Leader and they attended, facing no repercussions.

Then, nine years later, in the twelfth year of Achashverosh’s reign, Mordechai refused to bow to Haman because of the idol Haman would wear on his neck. There was no clear violation of Torah prohibitions in bowing down to Haman, as it would not have given off the appearance of actually serving idolatry. Indeed, the Jewish People lambasted Mordechai for his actions, accusing him of endangering the Jewish Nation (Midrash Agadath Esther 3:2). Furthermore, the Megillar relates that it was when Haman took notice of Mordechai’s refusal to bow that he began his plot to annihilate the Jewish Nation.

However, when the decree was issued to wipe out the Jewish people, Mordechai chastised the Jews, saying that the reason for this tragic decree was not his actions, but rather because the Jews had bowed to Nevuchadnezzar’s idol (at least thirty years prior) and because they had attended Achashverosh’s feast nine years earlier!

Imagine if today, in a generation where the Rabbis are commonly accused of being “out-of-touch” with the ways of modern society and its politics, a Torah Leader had offended a political figurehead. Then, citing the actions of this Rabbi, this politician proceeded to use his position to cause difficulties to the Jewish People (Chas V’Shalom). What would we say?

Now visualize what would happen if that Torah Leader, instead of apologizing, blamed previous actions of the Jews for this tragedy. Imagine if he said that the reason for this calamity was because people did not listen to a specific decree issued by Torah Leaders. How would we respond?

In the story of Mordechai and Esther, the Jewish People acknowledged their wrongdoings and repented. Would we do the same today?

We must realize that our Torah Leaders in every generation (see Rashi Devarim 17:9) have greater insight than us, and even when their instructions may appear illogical and counter-intuitive, it is their words that we must heed (see Rashi Devarim 17:11), not our own pompous and biased opinions.

The Jews during the time of the Purim Story realized and accepted this, and therefore merited salvation. Let us pray that this Purim we will also do the same so that we may merit salvation from our modern enemies with the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

Happy Purim!

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56 Responses

  1. Meir Goldberg says:

    R’ Slifkin, I’m not sure your point about praying on the front lines in relevant since there are no current front lines.

    The Rambam says in Halacha 12 that, among other things, Levi did not go to war, and then continues in Halacha 13 that these rules which apply to Levi apply to anyone who is in a similar position. I.e. Sets his life aside for knowledge of G-d (He seems to be referring to Torah study here) So it is pretty clear that Rambam is extending the war exemption given to Levi, to anyone who takes on that role, i.e. people devoted to Torah.

  2. Natan Slifkin says:

    Meir, I’m glad that you recognize that one cannot pasken from this Midrash. Also, regarding the Midrash, please note that (a) it is talking about prayer, not learning, and (b) as Netziv points out, these people were sent to the front lines to pray!

    Regarding the Rambam – what does that have to do with anything? In Halacha 13, he is talking about people (not just Jews) choosing to dedicate themselves to philosophy. It doesn’t mean that they are exempt from military obligations – nor that they are entitled to being financially supported by others. And, as I pointed out, he refers to David Hamelech, who did engage in battle. (All this is clear from Rambam’s overall position as expressed in many other places).

  3. Meir Goldberg says:

    R’ Slifkin, I never once stated a position regarding the current situation of the IDF and Charedim serving. As I stated, I can understand each side, thus I have refrained from expressing my opinion. I am merely pointing out that the sources from Chazal that you bring to support your position, in fact contradict your position. I merely brought the Midrash to bring out a point, not to decide practical Halacha. Allow me further to quote the Rambam which does not support your position

    Laws of Shmittah and Yovel Halacha 12
    Why did the Levites not receive a portion in the inheritance of Eretz Yisrael and in the spoils of war like their brethren? Because they were set aside to serve God and minister unto Him and to instruct people at large in His just paths and righteous judgments, as [Deuteronomy 33:10] states:25 “They will teach Your judgments to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel.” Therefore they were set apart from the ways of the world. They do not wage war like the remainder of the Jewish people, nor do they receive an inheritance, nor do they acquire for themselves through their physical power. Instead, they are God’s legion, as [ibid.:11]: states: “God has blessed His legion” and He provides for them, as [Numbers 18:20] states: “I am your portion and your inheritance.”
    Halacha 13
    Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before God to serve Him and minister to Him and to know God, proceeding justly as God made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies.28 God will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites.29 And thus David declared [Psalms 16:5]: “God is the lot of my portion; You are my cup, You support my lot.”

  4. Dr. E says:

    A litmus test for the intellectual honesty of the Chareidi argument and its adherence to the supremacy of Torah study might be as follows:

    Let’s say that someone proposed a Yissachar-Zevulun relationship to a Chareidi. One of the many Chareidim who are objectively not cut out for learning would be asked to engage in (Glatt Kosher) national service for 1 year–in exchange for a high potential Hesder bochur to be able to learn in his Yeshiva for a year longer, thus reducing his IDF service by the amount of time.

  5. Natan Slifkin says:

    Meir Goldberg – Do you really think that this Midrash about what happened with Midian is a source for a practical, real-life halachic ruling that for every soldier, there needs to be one person in full-time learning?

    Rambam most certainly did not include “anyone who wants to learn Torah” as being exempt from war. He says nothing at all about any exemption from battle. And the example he brings of someone emulating Levi is David HaMelech, who did engage in battle!

    And again, I still don’t see the relevance of my not being in the IDF. Let’s say that I’m a coward. Or a hypocrite. How does that affect the arguments that I present? Does the fact that I am sending my sons to the IDF suddenly give validity to my arguments that other people should do the same? If you are not in full-time learning, does that automatically invalidate your own arguments?

  6. L. Oberstein says:

    Great debate in the comment section. The present situation is the product of an ad hoc decision made by David Ben Gurion in 1948-9 when he was told that there were no other full time learners left in the entire world. I downloaded his letter of 1958 to Rav Herzog where he specifically says this. At the time, all he asked was that all bnai yeshiva get 3 months basic training and even that wasn’t accepted. Menachem Begin greatly increased support for the chareidi world.Yehuda Avner told me in a phone interview the other week that in the early days of the State, what we call Chareidim were not reckoned, they hardly existed and were of no significance. The term wasn’t even used. This whole Balagan is based on the Law of Enforseen Consequences and it is harder to change than for the Congress to reform Social Security and Medicare.
    The only question now is whether Netanyahu will form a short lived coalition excluding Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi which will lead to new elections and a new Prime Minister named Yair Lapid. That is what all the polls show. If I were on the Chareidi negotiating team, I would rush to make a deal with the present Prime Minister before it is too late. As Yair said in his address to the Knesset, “Tden percentg of the country cannot fight a civil war against ninty percent of the country”.