21 Feb Breaking the Megilah Code
Of all the twenty-four books of the Scripture, Megilas Esther is the most enigmatic. One must be a Biblical cryptographer in order to discover the many secrets lurking under the surface of the thrilling Esther story. This is because Mordechai and Esther had to write the Megilah under the scrutiny of the anti-Semitic censures of Persia and Medes – for the Megilas Esther was included in its entirety in the chronicles of Paras and Madai. Therefore, from the very beginning, we find that Mordechai employed numerous codes to clue us in to the real story.
As a primary example, the name Mordechai gave to the Persian monarch, Xerxes, was Achashveirosh. The Gemora in Masechtas Megilah teaches us that this name, Achashveirosh, already gives us a wealth of information about the true nature of this very wicked Persian king. Rebbi Yochanan reveals that Achashveirosh is an anagram of the two Hebrew words, aish and v’shachor, fire and black, and it is therefore meant to convey that under his cruel rule the face of the Jews was blackened like fire blackens the bottom of a pot. Rav tells us that Achashveirosh is a composition of ‘achiv shel rosh,’ that Achashveirosh was a ‘brother’ to another head of state, the wicked Nevuchadnetzar – and just as Nevuchadnetzar destroyed the Temple, so too Achashveirosh halted the rebuilding of the Temple. Further, just like Nevuchadnetzar was a rabid Jew-hater, Achashveirosh was the same. The Gemora goes on to reveal that Achashveirosh is a composition of the words ‘ach v’reish’ which means ‘woe for the poverty,’ for Achashveirosh was a merciless tyrant who overtaxed his people and forced upon them a life of miserable destitution. Thus, already we see in Achashveirosh’s name alone that the Megilah, in its clandestine fashion, paints the backdrop of the Esther story as an era where the Jews suffered under the tyrannical rule of an anti-Semitic monarch.
The Megilah is called Esther, which means ‘hidden,’ because the Divine Hand was cloaked under the guise of palace intrigue, and the lust and caprice of the royal court. Thus, without the tutelage of the Divine scriptures, we might mistakenly think that the downfall of Vashti was simple due to royal debauchery and marital stubbornness. However, again, the code-breaker will see that Hand of Hashem at every turn. He will discover that the Megilah says, after Vashti’s execution, that the king, “Zachar es Vashti v’es asher asasah v’eis asher nigzar aleha – He remembered Vashti’s legendary beauty, what she did, and what was decreed upon her.” The Gemora says that the hidden meaning of this is that she used to unclothe the Jewish maidens and force them to work on Shabbos, and therefore she was asked to come unclothed on the Seventh Day, which led to her demise.
But this is only the very beginning of the Divine revelation of the attributes of midah k’neged midah, measure for measure that struck Achashveirosh and Vashti on that fateful day. The Gemora tells us that Achashveirosh made the one hundred and eighty day banquet in honor of the failure of Hashem to rebuild the Temple at the famous expected date known as the seventy year prophecy. Thus, Achashveirosh’s partying over the destruction of Hashem’s House led to the destruction of his home through the execution of his wife. The Medrash tells us that another reason why Achashveirosh first made the party in the third year of his reign was because he was making a copy of the awesome throne of Shlomo HaMelech (the original throne locked itself and would not allow him to sit upon it). In another example of poetic justice, for trying to sit upon a copy of the holy throne of Shlomo, he would be punished to sit in mourning over his wife. The Gemora also tells us that when it says that Achashveirosh showed ‘yakar tiferes gededulaso,’ the glory of his splendid greatness, this is similar to the terminology that is used to describe the splendid garments worn by the Kohein Gadol in the Temple.This phraseology is used to inform us that Achashveirosh wore the holy vestments of the Kohain Gadol at his party. For having the incredible temerity of donning the sacred garments of the Holy Kohein Gadol and wearing them at a drunken and promiscuous banquet, Achashveirosh was punished that through a sin of garments, namely Vashti’s refusal to appear without them, Achashveirosh lost his royal and beautiful wife.
When the king heard of Vashti’s astounding refusal to do his royal bidding, he turned to the ‘yodei ha’itim,’ to the sages who had a profound understanding of the mystery of time, namely the Sages of Israel who understood the complexities of the calendar, who to intercalate leap years etc. Perhaps intuitively, Achashveirosh, knowing the national sense of modesty of the Jewish people, was sure that they would issue a moderate verdict for his young wife understanding the mitigating circumstances of his obscene request. But, once again, the Megilah reveals the powerful hand of midah k’neged midah. The Sages of Israel declined to judge the case by explaining that since the Temple was destroyed, they no longer had the license to judge capital cases. Thus we see with frightening clarity that it was Achashveirosh and Vashti’s obsession to halt the building of the Temple that sealed her fate when the case was subsequently turned over to the capricious Persian judges.
Time and time again in this Megilah we see the attribute of measure for measure which precludes any element of chance, being revealed. Thus, Haman builds a gallows to hang Mordechai and on that very gallows he is hung. He and his cohorts ambitiously plot to annihilate Jewish men, women, and children, and providentially on the 13th of Adar, this fate befell the Jew haters. Achashveirosh kills his queen because of his friend, and then will subsequently kill his friend because of his queen.
May it be the will of Hashem that through the tutelage of Megilas Esther we absorb the great lesson of midah k’neged midah – that the way we treat people so we will be treated. Let it serve as a guide that we should not be strict with others and in that merit G-d won’t be strict with us. May it serve as an incentive that if we want to be recipients of warmth, patience, smiles, and caring, that we behave in such a fashion with others. And may it serve as an inhibition to us, to avoid improper behavior with our fellow man, in order that such treatment should not boomerang back against us and in that merit may Hashem bless us all with good health, long life and everything wonderful.