Purim 5780: What Was the Sin Driving the Divine Hand Regarding Haman’s Edict of Extermination of the Jews?

Shalom Friends;

This year’s Purim vort is being sponsored by Aryeh and Lisa Koenigsberg and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated lilui nishmas for Aryeh’s grandparents: Chaya Perel bas Arieh and Yissachar Dov ben Yisrael. To the Koenigsberg family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Purim 5780: What Was the Sin Driving the Divine Hand Regarding Haman’s Edict of Extermination of the Jews?

By Moshe Burt

Rabbi Yehudah Zev Segal, z”l, the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva, in his sefer “Inspiration and Insight”, Volume 2 – Discourses on the Holidays and Other Themes, cites Megillat Esther and writes about Esther HaMalka (Queen Esther) and Mordechai regarding Haman’s plan to exterminate the Jews (pages 116-117):

After learning of Haman’s plans to exterminate the Jews, Mordechai rent [tore] his clothes, donned sackcloth and placed ashes upon himself. He went into the midst of the city and cried out in anguish.

Learning of this, Esther HaMalka sent garments to Mordechai so that he could cloth himself and enter the palace to speak with her. He refused this, for he did not want to interrupt his tefillos for even an instant. Esther then summoned Hasach, one of the king’s chamberlains.

“She ordered him to go to Mordechai to learn what this was and why it was” (Esther, Perek 4, posuk 5)

“R’ Yitzchak said: Esther sent the following message to Mordechai: ‘Perhaps Israel has transgressed the Five Books of the Torah of which it is written (Sh’mos Perek 32, posuk 15).. on this side and on this side they [the Ten Commandments] are written?” (Gemura Tractate Megillah 15a)

Esther understood that Mordechai’s donning of sackcloth meant that the Jews were in danger, but she did not know the nature of the danger or its source. In inquiring of Mordechai…. her first concern was to learn the danger’s spiritual cause. Esther understood that whatever happens to the Jewish people, both as a nation and on an individual level, occurs through… Divine Providence. If a decree against the Jews had been issued, then its root cause must be sin.

Chazal teach that one does not bang his finger in this world, unless it has been so decreed Above (Chullin 7b). When travail strikes…, one should look beyond the apparent cause and take stock of his deeds and ways — not in the spirit of gloom and depression, but with the realization that “as a man disciplines his son, so does Hashem, your G’d, discipline you.” (Sefer Devarim, Perek 8, posuk 5)

So, what was the sin driving the Divine Hand regarding Haman’s edict of extermination of the Jews? Could it have been due to multiple collective sins, as it seems to this author?

Here are excerpts from the overview of the Artscroll Tanach Series: The Megillah – The Book of Esther (pages xvi, xvii, xviii):

Fifty-two years after the destruction of Beit Hamikdash Rishon [the First Temple] a prophecy was fulfilled. Cyrus, king of Persia, gave the order that the House of G’d be rebuilt in Jerusalem. The prophet Yishaiya [Isaiah] had foretold it about two-hundred years before: “So said G’d to His anointed, to Cyrus… — for the sake of Yaakov My servant and Israel My chosen… — he shall build My city and he shall free my captives.” (Artscroll citing Yishaiya 45]

It was two years before Achashveirosh became king and over four years before the opening scene of Megillat Esther. To the Jews, intensely familiar with the prophecies of Yishaiya, the gestures of Cyrus should have been a signal to converge upon Jerusalem to rebuild the Beit Hamikdash that had been razed by Nevuchadnezzar. …They should have considered it a rare opportunity that they, not Cyrus, were given this privilege of rebuilding the House of G’d. According to Yishaiya’s prophecy, it was the Divine will that Cyrus, not the Jews, build the Beit Hamikdash and bring the Jews back to its Holy environs. But Cyrus gave the privilege to the Jews. (Artscroll citing Megillah 12a)

Cyrus, who wept and groaned over the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (Artscroll citing Seder Eliyahu Rabbah, 19) became Hashem’s chosen instrument to fulfill the ancient prophecy and bring the glory of the Divine Presence back to the Holy Mountain where Avraham bound Yitzchak to the altar, where Yaakov beheld the Heavenly Ladder, where Dovid set his hopes and where Shlomo built the Beit Hamikdash. The righteous Persian monarch gave the order that the Jews might go home again — and only forty-two thousand heeded his call! Forty-two thousand heard the call of prophecy, but millions stayed behind.

When Hashem hides His face, such are the effects. Confusion, hesitation, fear. What does Hashem want of us? Where and how are we to do His bidding?

This is the tapestry before which the actors of the Purim story entered the stage of history. The Am Yisrael are splintered and confused. Torah study is experiencing a renaissance in Babylon — but some of its outstanding sons were asking whether they, as a nation driven by its G’d from His land, still owed Him any more allegiance than a divorced woman driven from the home of her husband, or a freed slave sent away from the home of his master. (Artscroll citing Sanhedrin 105a) A shocking question, one that can only be understood as one of the many veils behind which the Divine Countenance was hidden.

The work on the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem proceeded under Cyrus despite the harassment of hostile nations surrounding Jerusalem. In the last months of his reign, Cyrus had a change of heart. He forbade additional Jews to cross the river to the Land of Israel. This setback caused the Jewish pioneers in Jerusalem to despair and halt the work they began so hopefully. But the rebuilding had not been outlawed, only hindered. (Artscroll citing Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:4)

The reign of Cyrus did not long endure. Only two years after he ordered the rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash, Achashveirosh was king of the vast Persian Empire. The new king was no friend of the Jews…. The sages make it very clear that he was thoroughly evil (Artscroll citing Megillah 11a) and that he hated the Jews even more than did Haman. (Artscroll citing Esther Rabbah 4:12)

….It seemed plain that Yishaiya’s prophecy was not to be fulfilled. And if not, then perhaps, indeed, the Jews were no less adrift and alone than the wife and the slave driven from their former husband and master.

And then, the lowliest of Achashveirosh’s advisors, Memuchan, aka Haman, is elevated to the highest position in Achashveirosh’s kingship. The Artscroll Tanach Series: The Megillah – The Book of Esther (page xx) indicates during a dialogue between king Achashveirosh and Haman:

When Haman sought to persuade Achashveirosh that the Jews could be exterminated with impunity, the Jew-hating king was reluctant. “I’m afraid that their G’d will do to me what He did to my predecessors,” Achashveirosh argued.

Haman answered, “The Jews are sleeping. Because they no longer perform mitzvot as they once did, they do not merit Heavenly intercession.” (Artscroll citing Megillah 13b)

The overview of the Artscroll Tanach Series: The Megillah – The Book of Esther now indicates the real reason behind Haman’s edict of extermination of the Jews (page xxxv):

The real reason for the sword over the Jews’ heads was that the Jews allowed themselves to enjoy the feast of Achashveirosh despite Mordechai’s insistence that they refrain from going. [This, despite the fact that] …The feast was in the third year and the decree of extermination was in the twelfth year.

Could it be that the Jews partaking in the feast of Achashveirosh would be the final straw, after the vast majority of Jews were non-participants in rebuilding the Beit Hamikdash, that they questioned their allegiance to Hashem, that they had become lax in mitzvot, thus leading to Haman’s decree of extermination? Are we capable of absorbing the lessons of Purim in our times?

In a piece on the Israel National News site a few years ago, it was reported that Dr. Hagi Ben-Artzi, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s brother-in-law, said the following of Netanyahu’s meetings with President Trump:

“Bibi, this is the moment for which you became Prime Minister. Until now, you worked on holding off the tide. Now is the moment of truth – make a break for it and normalize the lives of half a million Jews in Judea and Samaria.

“….This is a basic demand, and if, G-d forbid, you fail this test, then as Mordechai said to Queen Esther, ‘Salvation will come to the Jews from a different place.'”

This author has cited the above Israel National news report in previous Purim vorts. But it seems particularly applicable in this current period of the unveiling of the “Deal of the Century,” with all of the resultant talk of Israel applying her national sovereignty to the Biblical territories of Yehudah and the Shomron.

In our time, although we can observe the Yad Hashem (the Hand of Hashem) in history for the benefit of Am Yisrael, who among us has the wisdom to know if, or whether or not this or those individuals, even from among Observant American Jews, short of Moshiach, are the ones Divinely positioned to play a central role in assuring the well-being of Israel?

We, and our leaders, our governance must do as a proud, sovereign, principled Jewish nation, in every way must do for our collective security and well-being, and as a paradigm for all of the Ways of Hashem, while believing and trusting that Hashem Sees and Acts for His nation.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free, as Naama Issachar is now free and home — which can only occur when Jonathan is home in Israel and carrying for his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Purim Same’ach!!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.