Shiur #26: Summation

  • Prof. Yonatan Grossman


To conclude the reading that we have proposed for Esther, we note two aspects that, to our view, award Esther a unique place among all the books of the Bible in terms of the manner in which it is written. One is the special use of allusions, aimed at referring the reader to other biblical narratives; and the other is the "hidden writing" form, where the plain text conveys one message, while beneath the surface the message is the opposite.


"Dynamic Analogies" in Esther


In an important methodological article, Paul Noble argues that the constancy of analogy between two narratives should be regarded as one of the indicators for establishing the probability of the analogy.[1] In his article, he seeks to refute the literary analogy proposed by Rendsburg and Ho, presenting the story of Yehuda and Tamar (Bereishit 38) as a parallel to what is referred to as the "Succession Narrative" (referring to the succession of the Davidic throne) (I Shemuel 11, I Melakhim 2).[2] One of his objections to this analogy is that it creates a situation whereby one character in one of the narratives has more than one corresponding character in the parallel narrative. Thus, for example, according to the comparisons proposed by Rendsburg and Ho, Tamar in the story of Yehuda corresponds to Tamar, sister of Avshalom, to Uriah, to Bat-Sheva, to Natan, and also to the woman of Tekoa, to David's concubines, and to Avishag. This, to Noble's view, is an absurd and unreasonable hypothesis.[3]


Noble's argument makes sense, but we must take into consideration those instances where the changeover of characters in an analogy has a literary purpose. Even if the molding of the analogy generally allows for the structuring of a fixed parallel, in some cases the analogy between narratives encourages the presentation of a certain character from one narrative as paralleling more than one character in the other, such that the reader has difficulty tracing a continuous and consistent analogy. This phenomenon, assuming that it is intentional, may be called "dynamic analogy."


The author of Esther makes special use of allusions that he inserts throughout the story, and whose purpose is to hint to the reader about a different biblical narrative which he is being asked to keep in mind as a background to his reading. The better-known allusions in Esther are those that refer the reader to the stories of Yosef in Egypt, Shaul's war against Amalek,[4] the end of David's life, the Book of Daniyel, etc. What I would like to discuss here is a special degree of sophistication in the manner in which allusions are used in Esther, so as to create dynamic analogy. I believe that, in light of the multiplicity of instances in which this occurs in Esther, it should be regarded as an intentional literary phenomenon which does indeed present an obstacle to the reader in maintaining a steady reading of the analogies between the narratives. We shall note here five instances in which, to my mind, the narrator deliberately "plays" with the reader, such that in addition to the contribution of each analogy in its own right to the molding and message of the narrative, there is also a contribution in the reader's inability to find one fixed character to parallel one of the characters in Esther.


1. Yaakov and Esav


The most prominent linguistic allusion referring the reader to the story of the stolen blessings (Bereishit 27) is in Mordekhai's reaction to Haman's decree: "He went out into the midst of the city and cried out with a loud and bitter cry (ze'aka gedola u-mara)" (Esther 4:11). This expression hints at Esav's reaction after his father tells him that Yaakov has taken the blessings that were meant for him: "When Esav heard his father's words he cried out with a great and exceedingly bitter cry (tze'aka gedola u-mara)" (Bereishit 27:34). The Midrash notes this connection: "Yaakov caused Esav to cry out once, as it is written: 'When Esav heard his father's words, he cried out.' When was he punished for this? In Shushan, the capital, as it is written: 'He cried out with a loud and bitter cry.'" (Bereishit Rabba, parasha 67,4).[5] In light of this surprising allusion, the reader will tend to picture Mordekhai as a parallel to Esav: each character reacts in a similar way (crying out loudly and bitterly) upon finding out that his adversary (Haman/Yaakov) has prevailed over him.[6]


However, this is not the end of the allusion to the relations between Esav and Yaakov. In fact, the reader recalls these brothers even prior to the scene where Mordekhai goes out into the midst of the city, crying his great and bitter cry. After Haman discovers that Mordekhai refuses to prostrate himself before him, we read: "He disdained to lay his hands on Mordekhai alone" (Esther 6:3). The verb "disdained" (va-yivez) appears in this form in only one other place in the Bible – in the veiled criticism of Esav when he sells his birthright: "Esav disdained the birthright" (Bereishit 25:34). Interestingly, this connection, too, is noted in the Midrash: "'He disdained to lay his hands on Mordekhai alone' – a disdained one, son of a disdained one. Previously it was written, 'Esav disdained the birthright,' and here it is written, 'He disdained… and Haman sought to annihilate all of the Jews' (Esther Rabba, parasha 7,10). Both of these images describe a first conflict between two adversaries, and in both cases the more senior character – the one favored by the king or the father (Haman/Esav, the elder brother) – is the one who shows disdain in the encounter with the other character who is supposed to be subservient to him (Mordekhai/the younger Yaakov) but who is challenging or rebelling (Mordekhai refuses to bow down/ Yaakov wants the birthright).[7] Just as Esav's show of disdain was just the beginning of a greater loss (loss of the blessings), so too Haman, in his disdain for the idea of killing Mordekhai alone, brings upon himself the destruction that comes later.[8] In Mordekhai's reaction to Haman's decree the text builds a parallel between Mordekhai and Esav (while Haman, his adversary, parallels Yaakov), while in Mordekhai's refusal to bow down to Haman and in Haman's reaction to this, a parallel is drawn between Haman and Esav (while Mordekhai appears automatically in the reader's consciousness as a parallel to Yaakov).[9]


The connections between Esther and the story of Yaakov and Esav do not end here. In light of the existing parallels we may well consider comparing another pair of characters: in Esther, we read that Mordekhai "knew all that had happened" (4:1), and in light of this he convinces Esther to appear before the king, contrary to her basic will. After she "dons her royal garb" (Esther 5:1) she indeed appears before the king, to invite him to her party. In the story of the stolen blessings, Rivka "heard what Yitzchak told Esav, his son" (Bereishit 27:5), and in light of this she convinces Yaakov to present himself before Yitzchak, contrary to his will. And after he dons "Esav's best clothes" (Bereishit 27:15), Yaakov appears before his father, bringing tasty food that his father likes. Thus the following parallel is created: Mordekhai, as the senior character in the story, sends his adopted daughter to the king who has the power to save. Paralleling this, Rivka, as the senior character in the story, sends her son, Yaakov, to Yitzchak, who has the power to bless. The king is compared to the blind Yitzchak, failing to understand the situation,[10] while – to our surprise – Esther turns out to parallel Yaakov, since she must use deceptive means in order to obtain salvation for her nation.[11]


The contribution to the story of Esther when it is read against the backdrop of the relations between Yaakov and Esav is bound up, I believe, with the development of the theme of revelation and hiding of identity. Who is the elder brother in the story of Yaakov and Esav? Should the son be identified by his voice or by his hands? Yaakov enters his father's tent dressed in his brother's clothes. As such, the reader grapples with the question of Yaakov's identity as he receives the stolen blessing: is this Yaakov, as expressed by his voice, or it is only when dressed as Esav his brother that Yaakov is able to receive the blessings?[12] The story of the stolen blessings deals with concealment and with masks; as such, it does not bring the question of identity to the surface.[13] Seemingly, this literary area is addressed in Esther, too. At the beginning of the narrative Esther hides her identity (2:10,20), and the issue is thereby aroused in the mind of the reader. The reader now starts to question who is aware of whose identity. Does the king (who, we recall, is compared to the blind Yitzchak) suspect the identity of Esther, who stands before him? The narrator's focus on Esther's wearing of royal garments, a moment before she enters before the king, turns these garments into a theatrical costume: Esther has to look like a Persian queen in order to convince the king, but who is Esther really? The queen? A Hebrew woman?[14]


To my view, the scene in which Mordekhai tears his garments (4:1) should be regarded as a state in which Mordekhai removes his Persian mask and returns to his Jewish, national identity.[15] But now, in contrast to Mordekhai's action as described at the beginning of the scene, at the end of the scene (5:1) Esther is required to don her royal robes – i.e., a Persian identity – in order to win salvation for her nation. The narrator keeps the story of Yaakov and Esav in mind as a classic literary model in which the hero is forced to assume a different identity in order to win the blessing.


In the context of this discussion I wish to stress that it is impossible to build a complete and consistent analogy between the story of Esther and the relationship between Yaakov and Esav. At first it seems that Haman parallels Esav ("he disdained"); later on we have a sense that it is Mordekhai who is being compared to Esav ("a great and bitter cry"); and ultimately the interaction between Rivka and Yaakov in opposition to Esav is presented in such a way as to parallel the interaction between Mordekhai and Esther in opposition to Haman.


2. The Stories of Yosef and Daniyel


The connection between Esther and the stories of Yosef and the Book of Daniyel is noted by several scholars.[16] In the context of the present discussion, I seek to point out, also, the developing analogy that makes it difficult for the reader to construct a stable literary model. Biblical scholars generally – and correctly – compare Esther's finding favor in the eyes of Chegai and of the king (Esther 2) and Yosef's finding favor in the eyes of Potiphar and of the captain of the prison (Bereishit 39).[17] This connection causes the reader to regard Esther as the mirror-image of Yosef, in her success as a Hebrew girl in exile to be appointed to the royal palace.[18] At the same time, in the very next chapter the reader is required to build a different model of comparison. The language that the narrator uses to report Mordekhai's refusal to bow down to Haman ("And it was, when they spoke to him day by day, and he did not listen to them" – Esther 3:4) alludes to Yosef's refusal to lie with Potiphar's wife ("And it was, when she spoke to Yosef day by day, and he did not listen to her" – Bereishit 39:10). Likewise, towards the end of the plot, when the king hands his ring to Mordekhai ("And the king removed his ring which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordekhai" – Esther 8:2), we recall Yosef, who also received the king's ring ("Pharaoh removed his ring from upon his hand and put it upon Yosef's hand" – Bereishit 41:42). When the reader encounters the description of Mordekhai's departure from before the king – "Mordekhai emerged from before the king in royal apparel of blue and white, with a great crown of gold, and a wrap of fine linen and purple" (Esther 8:15) – he is once again reminded of Yosef, who was dressed in similar fashion: "He had him dressed him clothes of fine linen, and placed a golden chain around his neck" (Bereishit 41:42). Thus, in contrast to the beginning of the story, the narrator presents Mordekhai as a parallel to Yosef. Shapira gives eloquent expression to the confusion:


"In form, Mordecai parallels Joseph: the ring, the garments, the status of second-in-command (specifically in the closing formula). In content, however, most of the themes relate to Esther: the royal clothing; as a queen she is second-to-the-king…and, her name is changed too, from Hadassah to Esther."[19]


It is equally difficult to identify a stable model of analogy vis-א-vis Daniyel. At first, Esther is reminiscent of the success of Daniyel, Chananya, Mishael and Azaria: although these young men sought nothing, it was specifically they who were ultimately chosen by the king, rather than other young men and women (Daniyel 1). However, the continuation of the story hints at a different parallel: Mordekhai, who sits at the king's gate and refuses to bow down to Haman, despite the king's order, is compared to Daniyel who sits at the king's gate (Daniyel 2:49), and to his companions, who refuse to bow down to the golden idol, despite the king's order (Daniyel 3).


Moreover, we may suggest that perhaps the story of Esther encourages a view of Haman, too, as a certain type of reflection of Daniyel. Some scholars have pointed out the connection between the two scenes in which the king is unable to sleep at night.[20] After Nevukhadnetzar experiences a frightening dream, we read: "His spirit was troubled and his sleep was gone from him" (2:1) – meaning that he was unable to fall asleep again.[21] Therefore he calls his wise men, none of whom is able to explain his dream. This scene represents the introduction to Daniyel's entry before the king. Thanks to his successful interpretation he is given great honor and the king promotes him (2:48). This scene is similar to the one from Esther in which Achashverosh was unable to sleep. He, too, proceeds to call his servants who read to him from the Book of Chronicles, but all of this is simply the background to Haman's entry. It must be remembered that in this scene Haman is certain that he is going to be given great honor – like Daniyel. Admittedly, this is an ironic analogy, since ultimately it is Mordekhai who is given the honor and not Haman, but the confusion in the mind of the reader who is aware of the broad analogy between the two narratives, and believes at first that Haman parallels Daniyel, plays a role in the dynamic analogy that we are presenting here.


Who, then, reflects the character of Yosef in the story of Esther, and which character is it who follows in the footsteps of Daniyel and his companions – Mordekhai, Esther, or perhaps – for a brief moment – Haman himself?


3. Achav and Izevel


There are two scenes in Esther that refer the reader to the story of Achav and the vineyard of Navot (I Melakhim 21). The first is where Haman dispatches his letters, signed by the king, calling for the annihilation of all the Jews ("In the name of King Achashverosh it was written, and sealed with the king's ring. And letters were dispatched by couriers to all of the king's provinces" – Esther 3:12-13). The expression selected by the narrator is borrowed from the story of Navot, where Izevel sends letters, signed by the king, ordering that Navot be put to death ("She wrote letters in Achav's name and signed them with his seal, and sent the letters to the elders and to the nobles who were in his city" – I Melakhim 21:8).[22] We addressed the significance of this connection previously, and suggested that its purpose is to indicate a negative judgment of the king.[23] Even if Achashverosh is unaware of the exact content of the letters that Haman has written in his name,[24] he bears responsibility for these letters, and cannot claim innocence. The judgment of Achashverosh is hidden in the narrative, but it is hinted to through the comparison to Achav, since he too, like Achashverosh, was unaware of the exact content of the letters dispatched by Izevel, but the prophetic judgment in the story (uttered by Eliyahu) holds him fully accountable.[25]


In addition to this connection there is another scene in Esther where the narrator refers the reader to the story of Navot's vineyard. When Haman returns from Esther's first party, he encounters Mordekhai, who "did not rise nor stir for him," and therefore "he was full of wrath against Mordekhai" (5:9). He returns home and tells Zeresh, his wife, and all of his friends, about what happened. In view of her husband's anger, Zeresh suggests ("Zeresh, his wife, said to him") that a tall gallows be constructed, "And let them hang Mordekhai upon it, and then go with the king to the party in good cheer" (5:14). This scene corresponds, in all its details, to the scene where Achav returns home "sullen and displeased," following Navot's refusal to sell him his vineyard. He, too, tells his wife what happened, and his wife also offers advice ("And Izevel, his wife, said to him" – I Melakhim 21:7), following which she urges him to eat and to cheer up: "Arise, eat bread and let your heart be merry." Clearly, Izevel's plan is identical to that of Zeresh: to have her husband's adversary killed. Apparently, even the manner of death that is planned is similar in both scenes, because in both cases the women hint that the adversary may be done away with in a formal, legal way: a fictitious trial, according to Izevel's suggestion, or the king's official approval, in Zeresh's plan ("and in the morning tell the king…").[26]


This analogy involves a changeover of characters in relation to the parallel that was drawn previously: at first it was Haman who was compared to Izevel (who disseminates decrees with the king's seal), while King Achashverosh was compared to King Achav. Now, Haman corresponds to Achav, and Zeresh assumes the role of Izevel.


Further perplexity awaits the reader of Esther. Surprisingly enough, Mordekhai's fast is very similar to the fast that Achav takes upon himself after hearing his verdict:


Achav (I Melakhim 21:27):


"And it was, when Achav heard these things, that he rent his garments and placed sackcloth upon his flesh, and he fasted and lay upon sackcloth, and he went about softly"


Mordekhai (Esther 4:1):


"And Mordekhai knew all that had happened, and Mordekhai rent his garments and wore sackcloth and ashes, and went out in the midst of the city and cried out with a great and bitter cry."


Mordekhai, too, is compared to Achav (albeit only at the stage where Achav regrets his actions). Achav had to remove himself from the palace and from Izevel, his wife, in order to rend his garments – which helped to stay postpone his punishment. Mordekhai, too, had to distance himself from the royal palace when he tore his garments; however, unlike Achav, not only does he not sever his ties with the queen in the palace, but he goads her to action, and a new and special bond is created between these two characters.


Thus the author of Esther "plays" with the character of Achav. At first he is represented in the story by the king, whose seal is used to authorize documents whose content is unknown to him. Later on, Achav is embodied in the person of Haman, who seeks to get rid of his enemy and who is aided in this by his wife. Finally, Achav invades the Esther narrative through Mordekhai's act of rending his garments.


4. The greatness of Yehoshua


At first glance, the Book of Yehoshua seems very far removed from the plot of Esther, from its pace, and from its messages. The story of the conquest of the land by Yehoshua is saturated with national, public events, and most of its narratives convey a military, battleground atmosphere. In contrast, the heroes of Esther are individual characters, such that the tension experienced by the reader is of a "personal" nature: what is going to happen to this or that character (even if the results of this event will affect the fate of all the Jews). The battle that is described in Esther is not one that is conducted between nations, but rather between people (even if they are understood to symbolize nations), and it focuses on a very limited geographic area: the royal court.


Nevertheless, there are several common motifs and expressions, which may be meant to hint at a deliberate connection between these two narratives. The following are the main links to the Book of Yehoshua:


a. The description of Yehoshua's greatness serves as a background to the greatness of the two competitors in Esther. Haman's status is described as follows: "After these things King Achashverosh awarded greatness (gidal… et) to Haman, son of Hamedata the Agagite, and elevated him" (Esther 3:1). The only other appearance of the expression "gidal et" in all of the Bible is in the description of Yehoshua's greatness, and it possible that the author of Esther drew the linguistic formula from here: "On that day God awarded greatness (gidal… et) to Yehoshua in the eyes of all of Israel" (Yehoshua 4:14).[27]


b. The author of Esther also employs another description of Yehoshua's greatness to convey the greatness of Mordekhai. Just before the battles take place, the text describes Mordekhai's new status in the following words: "For Mordekhai was great in the king's house, and his renown proceeded throughout all the provinces, for the man Mordekhai grew greater and greater (9:4). The expression, "his renown… throughout" also occurs only in one other place in the Bible: "God was with Yehoshua and his renown was [i.e., extended] throughout the land" (Yehoshua 6:27).[28]


c. Aside from the description of Haman's greatness, on one hand, and Mordekhai's greatness, on the other, it seems that in the very salvation of the Jews from Haman's decree the author of Esther introduces expressions from the Book of Yehoshua. The salvation in Esther is described in the following words: "No-one stood up to them, for the fear of them fell upon all of the peoples" (Esther 9:2). This expression is associated with the Book of Yehoshua, where it appears three times (and nowhere else): "God said to Yehoshua; Do not fear them, for I have given them into your hand; no man of them shall stand up to you" (Yehoshua 10:8); "And God gave them rest all around, as all that He has promised to their forefathers, and no man stood up to them of all of their enemies; God delivered all of their enemies into their hand" (21:42); "For God has driven out from before you nations that are great and mighty; as for you – no man has stood up to you to this day" (23:9).[29]


In light of the linguistic connections between the two narratives, we must ascertain whether there are also common themes that are addressed in both. Naturally, this question must be approached with caution, since on this basis any biblical book can be compared with almost any other: there will always be some "religious conflict" that arises in the story, or issues of reward and punishment (whether manifest or hidden), etc. Hence, we seek central themes that are not common in other books of the Bible, or are not self-evident.[30]


Aside from the issue of the relations between Israel and the nations, which are obviously addressed in both books, I would like to focus on two specific issues that are common to them: the plundering of the spoils of the enemy, and the tribal identity of the main characters:


a.      In Esther, special emphasis is given to the fact that no plunder takes place. The concept initially arises in the license awarded in Haman's letters, and, correspondingly, in Mordekhai's letters. However, it is emphasized by means of a thrice-repeated formula that concludes each day of battles: "But they did not lay their hands on the plunder" (9:10,15,16). Needless to say, the same idea emerges most powerfully at the beginning of the stories of conquest in the Book of Yehoshua.[31] The prohibition against taking any of the spoils of Yericho becomes a central subject in the book, owing to the transgression of Akhan, which leads to defeat in the war against Ai. Thus, the taking of spoils from the enemy becomes a major element in the plot.[32]


b.      In general, we note that the main character in each of these stories is a descendant of Rachel (Yehoshua bin-Nun is from the tribe of Ephraim [= Yosef], while Mordekhai is from the tribe of Benjamin). While it is admittedly difficult to categorize this piece of information among "matters that are central to the way in which each story presents itself," in the words of Noble (p. 244), it must be remembered that Israelite leadership, in the Bible, is usually associated with the tribe of Yehuda, such that in both of these narratives the main character represents an alternative leadership.[33]


c.      [I cautiously present to the reader a comparison noted in passing by Clines, between the fear of the Jews that seizes the inhabitants of the king's provinces and the fear expressed by Rachav in her speech to Yehoshua's spies and prompted by God's Providence over His nation and the great miracles that He performed for them. To Clines's view the fear that spreads among the Persians may be traced to the same root.][34]


As noted, the discussion of the significance of these connections should be divided into two stages: the first concerns the contribution of each individual allusion to the situation in which it appears. The second stage, which we shall embark on here, concerns the general message conveyed by the comparison. Since we are not talking about one local allusion, it is certainly possible that the author of Esther wanted to present the Book of Yehoshua as one of the texts that should be regarded as background for his narrative.


In fact, to be precise, the situation is not such that the story of Yehoshua is being presented as background to the reading of Esther; rather, the descriptions of renown and greatness of the characters in Esther rest upon the descriptions of renown of the characters in the Book of Yehoshua. The first two allusions mentioned above describe the elevated status of Haman, on one hand, and of Mordekhai, on the other. The third allusion also describes the greatness of the Jews as a "collective hero," and an entity feared by all the nations, just as the Canaanite nations feared Israel during the conquest of the land.


A careful comparison of the expressions in question from Yehoshua and their appearances in Esther highlights – alongside their similarity – the consistent discrepancy between the situations. The character who attains greatness at the beginning of Esther – Haman – is promoted to that status by King Achashverosh: "After these things King Achashverosh awarded greatness to Haman, son of Hamedata the Agagite, and elevated him." Similarly, Mordekhai – who attains his greatness at the end of the story – does so by virtue of serving in an important position in Achashverosh's house: "For Mordekhai was great in the king's house, and his renown spread throughout the provinces, for the man Mordekhai grew increasingly great." Yehoshua, in contrast, is awarded his greatness by God: "God awarded Yehoshua greatness in the eyes of all of Israel." He is worthy of his lofty status in view of God's closeness to him: "God was with Yehoshua, and his renown was throughout the land." In fact, this distinction is valid with respect to the greatness of the Jews in general: In Esther it is the fear of them that falls upon all of the nations, while in Yehoshua the description of the fear of the nations is related to God's actions ("For I have delivered them into your hand" – Yehoshua 10:8; "God delivered all of their enemies into their hand" – Yehoshua 21:42).[35]


Thus, a reader who is reminded of the conquests of Yehoshua in the midst of his reading of Esther will encounter, along with the similarity between the stories, a fundamental difference between them. Who is it who appoints ministers and bestows greatness upon them? Who is it who strikes fear into the heart of Israel's enemies? The reader who is aware of the author's hinted allusions to Yehoshua discovers the hidden reading that the narrator has concealed within the story: on the plain level, Esther conveys a clear sense of the central value of attaining honor in the Persian kingdom.[36] Beneath the surface, however, the reader senses the illusory nature of this honor when he is reminded of the "King of Glory," Who awards honor and grandeur to whomever is deserving in His eyes. This very discrepancy gives rise to the teaching: "God's glory is to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to seek a matter out" (Mishlei 25:2).


Aside from this it would seem that by means of the very presentation of the story of the conquest and settlement of the land as a background to Esther, the story of the salvation of the Jews in Shushan is placed in its proper proportion. Even if Mordekhai attains the greatness that was originally awarded to Haman, and even if the Jews ultimately prevail over their enemies, they are still in exile, bereft of political independence. Unlike the situation in Yehoshua, where their greatness in the eyes of their enemies was a prelude to their settlement of the land, in Shushan it is no more than survival. Thus, alongside the atmosphere of great joy that pervades the description of the Jews' salvation at the end of the story, the narrator hints at the deficiency of the Jews' situation, and in the midst of the joy of salvation, the reader is reminded of the mourning over the destruction of the Temple and Jewish national life in the land of Israel.


In this analogy, too, similar use is made of a changeover of characters in the analogy. At the beginning of Esther, Yehoshua's greatness is compared to that of Haman, while later on Yehoshua becomes the model for literary imitation in presenting the character of Mordekhai.[37]


The Building of the Temple and its Inauguration


In several places, the author of Esther hints to the story of the inauguration of the Temple by King Solomon. Surprisingly, the character in whom this connection is most prominent is Haman. After Haman emerges from Esther's first party, having taken his leave from the king and queen, the narrator describes him in the following words: "Haman emerged on that day joyful and merry-hearted" (5:9).[38] The expression "joyful and merry-hearted" is mentioned in only one other place in the Bible – in describing the Israelites as they depart from the celebration of the inauguration of the Temple, taking their leave of the king: "They blessed the king and went to their tents, joyful and merry-hearted" (I Melakhim 8:66, and similarly, II Divrei Ha-yamim 7:10).[39] If the use of the expression is intentional, Haman's joy is being described as a parallel to the joy of Israel at the completion of the Temple. This is indeed a most unexpected connection. The author of Melakhim explains the joy of the Israelites over the Temple as an outpouring of joy "for all the goodness that God had performed for David, His servant, and for Israel, His nation." Now, the author of Esther uses the same expression to describe the joy of Haman, archenemy of the Jews. I believe that there is a large measure of cynicism in this comparison: while the builders of the Temple are filled with joy over the construction of a dwelling place for their God, Haman is filled with joy over a wine party in which he was honored to participate.


After the second party, as Haman's downfall starts to make itself manifest, another allusion to the inauguration of Solomon's Temple is slipped into the text. When the king sends Haman to lead Mordekhai on the horse through the city, he warns him: "Take the garments and the horse as you have spoken, and do thus to Mordekhai the Jew, who sits at the king's gate. Do not let anything fail of all that you have spoken" (Esther 6:10). Apparently, this linguistic formula is also meant to recall to the reader's mind the speech that King Solomon delivers after the completion of the Temple: "Blessed is the Lord Who has given rest to His nation Israel, according to all that He has spoken; nothing has failed of all of his good words" (I Melakhim 8:56). According to this allusion, just as God was good to Israel in helping them to build the Temple, so Haman is being asked to be good to Mordekhai. I believe that Frisch is correct in proposing that this connection is meant to hint to the God of Israel, Who acts behind the scenes in Esther.[40] The narrator hints to this by referring the reader to verses where this concept is stated clearly. God's action is given prominent acknowledgment in Solomon's words: "Blessed is the Lord Who has given rest…," and it is the word of God of which nothing has failed. Thus, the author of Esther hints to a similar interpretation of Haman's actions, which should exclude nothing of all that he had said – perhaps because it is specifically through him that God's word finds expression – an idea made explicit in Solomon's words.


The reader once again finds himself perplexed: is it possible that through the character of Haman he is meant to have a glimpse of Israel rejoicing over the building of the Temple, or is this glimpse being offered through the character of Mordekhai, Haman's enemy?[41]


Moshe and Aharon?


Before concluding, I would like to draw the reader's attention to an interesting suggestion by Loader[42] concerning the story of the Exodus from Egypt as a background to the story of Esther. Gerleman argues that the relationship between Mordekhai and Esther should be viewed as a reflection of the relationship between Moshe and Aharon: The image of Esther speaking to the king while Mordekhai – who sends her – remaining silent, is reminiscent of Moshe standing behind Aharon, who speaks in his name. Likewise, "the man" Mordekhai is "great in the king's house" (9:4) recalls "the man" Moshe who was great in Egypt (Shemot 11:3).[43] Loader notes, however, that in other aspects it is Esther who parallels Moshe, such as, for example, the mortal danger that each faces in approaching the king (Shemot 10:28; Esther 4:11), and others.[44] This confusion leads him to the conclusion that it is impossible to determine unequivocally whether the hero of the story is Esther or Mordekhai. To my view, there are no strong allusions molding a real analogy between Esther and Aharon, but if Gerleman and Loader are correct, this would be another example of an exchange of characters within the system of analogy.


Changeover and reversal


Since more than one analogy is exchanged over the course of the narrative, we must consider whether this phenomenon itself is meant to contribute to the molding of the story of Esther. In other words, even if every allusion and every background narrative makes some individual contribution to the themes and messages of the story, it is possible that the phenomenon of dynamic analogy itself plays a role in the molding of the story and the reading experience. In this context I believe that one can hardly help identifying this phenomenon as yet another manifestation of the motif of reversal that is so strongly emphasized in Esther.[45] The molding of the idea of reversal or switching plays a role in the presentation of the characters,[46] in reversal of the plot, in the general literary structure of Esther, and more. The principle of reversal is also important in this narrative from a theological perspective: it is possible to prevail over the "lot," the fate decreed by Haman.[47]


However, it would appear that in the context of the "dynamic analogy" that we have pointed out, there is further value to the reader's confusion. If the point of the changeover in the analogy was simply to underline the reversal that takes place in the story, we would expect to find the exchange of characters at the critical reversals of the plot. At times this is indeed the case (as in the comparison to the building of the Temple: when Haman thinks that no-one is greater than him in Achashverosh's regime, it is he who is compared to the builders of the Temple; at his downfall, the role is transferred to Mordekhai, who now parallels the builders of the Temple; likewise in the analogy to Yehoshua). However, there are analogies where the changeover is not connected to any particular turning-point (as in the comparison to Yaakov and Esav, or to the stories of Yosef and Daniyel).


It seems that the "dynamic analogy" is another device that the author uses to convey a sense of capriciousness and instability, such that the reader feels unequipped to assess fully the situations that he reads about and the characters whom he encounters. During the reading, as he identifies the background narrative to which the author directs him, he begins constructing a broad body of comparison which he expects to encounter later on, developing stage by stage. An exchange of the characters in this literary model of comparison is like an inversion of reality. Thus, the reader finds himself despairing of any consistent parallel, and accepting the dynamic analogies.


This idea has other expressions in Esther,[48] to the point where we are forced to wonder whether the narrative is not deliberately presenting its situations and characters as elements in a reality whose essence and significance cannot fully be understood: the reality is full of confusion, and only with a broad perspective is it possible to begin interpreting the significance of each individual event and its role in the overall development.



Translated by Kaeren Fish


[1]  Paul R. Noble, "Esau, Tamar, And Yosef: Criteria for Identifying Inner-Biblical Allusion," VT 43 (2002), pp. 219-252.

[2] G. A. Rendsburg, "David and his circle in Genesis xxxviii," VT 36 (1986), pp. 438-446; C. Y. S. Ho, "The Stories of the Family Troubles of Judah and David: A Study of Their Literary Links," VT 49 (1999), pp. 514-431.

[3] Noble, pp. 225-228.

[4] See, for example: William McKane, "A Note on Esther IX and I Samuel XV," JTS 12 (1961), pp. 260-261; Jonathan Magonet, "The Liberal and the Lady: Esther Revisited," Judaism 29 (1980), 167-176.

[5] Aside from the fact of the connection, the Midrash seeks to prove that God does not "forget": even if the reaction to a person's act is postponed, eventually he is repaid.

[6] Moore (p. 47) and others have pointed out this literary connection. Bergey offers the following explanation for the switch from "tze'aka" to "ze'aka": "It is clear that in exilic and post-exilic times a change occurred in the use of the emphatic sibilant צ in comparison to the use of the voiced sibilant ז in the verb זעק –צעק and noun זעקה – צעקה" (Ronald L. Bergey, The Book of Esther – Its Place in the Linguistic Milieu of Post-Exilic Biblical Hebrew Prose, (Ph. D.), Philadelphia 1983, p. 121). The connection reinforces the view of Moore (p. 47) and of Berlin (p. 104) that Mordekhai's cry should not necessarily be viewed as a religious expression, but rather a reaction of sorrow. (This contrasts the view of Paton, Anderson, Levenon [p. 78] and others.) Shapira shows that Mordekhai's cry may also be understood as being directed towards the king, like the cry of the woman of Tekoa before David (II Shemuel 14:2-4) (Shapira, p. 150).

[7] In this context Day draws a fine comparison between Haman and Achashverosh, who holds a huge banquet for the masses: "Ahasuerus is able to find a way to stoke his ego and give benefit to the many at the same time. Haman, however, can only pamper his own ego by bringing destruction upon the many" (Linda M. Day, Esther (Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries), Nashville 2005, p. 68-69).

[8] Esav's intention to kill Yaakov emerges only at the end of the episode of the stolen blessings: "Esav said to himself…" (Bereishit 27:41). Zeresh proposes a similar idea to Haman, and when he comes to the king to ask that Mordekhai be hanged, his heart is also mentioned: "Haman said to himself…" (Esther 6:6). The Midrash notes this connection in the following teaching: "From a person's words you can tell whether he likes you or hates you. For we find in the case of the wicked Haman that he spoke to Mordekhai with his mouth, but hated him in his heart, as it is written: 'Haman was filled with wrath towards Mordekhai'. Similarly, 'Esav said to himself: When the days of mourning for my father draw near, I shall kill Yaakov, my brother.'" (Midrash Mishlei, parasha 26). Aside from these two, only four other biblical characters are described as "saying to themselves": God (Bereishit 8:21); Abraham (Bereishit 17:17); David (I Shemuel 27:1); and Yeravam (I Melakhim 12:26). The expression also occurs in the prophetic literature (in Hoshea, Ovadya and Zekharya, in Tehillim, and in Kohelet).

[9] It should be noted that Amalek – apparently represented by Haman in the narrative – is a descendant of Esav (Bereishit 36:11-16).

[10] "In actuality, Haman steals the kink's mind by blocking Ahasuerus's view of Haman's motives: to gain courtly position, to take revenge against Mordecai" (Shapira, p. 146).

[11] For extensive discussion of this connection, see Shapira, pp. 144-150.

[12] The motif of clothing reflecting issues of identity and change is especially ubiquitous in the story of Yosef (as Matthews demonstrates) and in the stories of Shaul and David (O. Prouser, "Clothes Maketh the Man: Keys to Meaning in the Stories of Saul and David," Bible Review 14 (1998), pp. 22-27). Rendsburg points out the pervasive motif of changing clothes and washing them in Near Eastern literature (as well as in the Bible, to his view) at the point where the hero returns home (G. A. Rendsburg, "Notes on Genesis xxxv," VT 34 (1984), pp. 361-366). Symbolically, we may regard Mordekhai, who changes his clothes, as someone who "returns home" – to his Jewish identity.

[13][13]  For a discussion of masks in biblical narratives and the questions of identity to which they give rise, see Yair Zakowitz's interesting study, "Man Sees With His Eyes, But God Sees Into the Heart: On Disguise and Its Results in Biblical Narratives," Jerusalem, 5758.

[14] Cf. Ofx, p. 68; Berg, p. 70. Concerning the process that Esther undergoes in the story, with a focus on questions of identity, see Yehoshua A. Berman, "Hadassah Bat Abihail: The Evolution from Object to Subject in the Character of Esther," JBL 120 (2001), pp. 647-669. He notes that at the end of the story, Esther is referred to as "daughter of Avichayil" (9:29), as she was called at the beginning, before being taken to the royal palace (2:15) (p. 668).

[15] Cf. Beal, pp. 59-60, 70.

[16] For instance, G.H. Cohen, Introduction to Esther, Da'at Mikra, Jerusalem 5734, pp. 12-16; Berg, pp. 123-152. For an extensive discussion, see Y. T. Cahn, Links beyond Time: The Book of Esther in Light of the Life of Yoseph, Southfield 1995.

[17] For example, Levenson, p. 60.

[18] Indeed, some scholars have viewed the significance of the comparison as the presentation of Yosef as a "model" for Esther: Klara Butting, "Das Buch Esther: Vom Widerstand gegen Antisemitismus und Sexismus," in: Kompendium Feministische Bibelauslegung (ed. Luise Schottroff and Marie-Theres Wacker), Gütersloh 1999, p. 171.

[19] Shapira, p. 203. He makes an interesting comment later on, pointing out that Yosef's name is changed to "Tzafnat Pane'ach," which hints at decoding, deciphering or revealing (pi'anu'ach) of secrets, while Esther's original name, Hadassa, arouses associations of concealment (hastara).

[20]  For example, Shemuel ha-Kohen and Yehuda Keel, Daniyel, Da'at Mikra, Jerusalem 5754, p. 24; Berlin, p. 27.

[21] See also Daniyel 6:19.

[22] Yair Zakowitz notes the connection between the dispatch of Mordekhai's letters in chapter 8 and the dispatch of Izevel's letters (Y. Zakowitz, "Kerem Haya le-Navot," appendix in: Meir Weiss, Ha-Mikra ki-Demuto," Jerusalem 5747, p. 364).

[23]  Shiur no. 10, addressing Haman's decrees.

[24]  As Berg correctly argues, pp. 101-102.

[25] For extensive discussion, see: Y. Grossman, "Gezerot Haman ve-Kerem Navot," Megadim (57579), pp. 49-71; Y. Feintuch, "Judah and Jacob; Achav and Achashverosh – Comments on the Methodology of the Use of Analogy as an Exegetical Device" [Heb.], Megadim 44 (5766), pp. 9-23.

[26] We have previously suggested that Zeresh's intention was to accuse Mordekhai of rebelling against the crown, as expressed in her proposal to have him hanged on the gallows, paralleling the fate of Bigtan and Teresh (see shiur no. 14).

[27] Laniak, p. 79, n. 32. See also Yehoshua 3:7; I Divrei Ha-yamim 29:25.

[28] Paton, p. 285. Compare the words of the Gibeonites (Yehoshua 9:9) and the prophecy of Yirmiyahu (6:24). It is possible that the second part of the description of Mordekhai's greatness ("For the man Mordekhai grew greater and greater") is meant to refer the reader to the description of Yehoshua's teacher – Moshe: "Also the man Moshe was very great in the land of Egypt, in the eyes of the servants of Pharaoh and in the eyes of the people" (Shemot 11:3). It must be remembered that in both cases the text is describing a Jewish "man" in a foreign land, whose greatness influences the actions of the local people (the subjects of the Persian kingdom "become Jews," while the Egyptians lend their vessels of silver and of gold).

[29] A similar but not identical expression occurs in Daniyel 11:16.

[30] See: Noble, p. 244.

[31] For a comparison to other biblical narratives featuring a similar idea (Yehoshua, the battles against Sichon and Amalek) see: Yona Shapira, A Postmodernist Reading of the Biblical Book of Esther: From Cultural Disintegration to Carnivalesque Text, Diss., pp. 176-180

[32] I do not mean by this to express disagreement with the presentation of the war against Amalek and the prohibition against plundering them as a background to this motif in Esther. For a discussion of the connection between the taking of spoils in both narratives, see for example: McKane, p. 261; Clines, p. 160.

[33]  The Sages address this issue in their assertion that "The descendants of Amalek fall only by the hand of a descendant of Rachel" (Pesikta Rabbati, parasha 13).

[34] Clines, p. 40.

[35]  The identical distinction can be drawn between the stories of Yosef and Megillat Esther, as demonstrated by Arndt Meinhold, "Die Gattung der Yosefsgeschichte und des Estherbuches: Diasporanovelle II," ZAW 88 (1976), pp. 72-93, and similarly between Esther and the story of the Exodus from Egypt, as demonstrated by Gerleman, p. 30. For a discussion of the narrator's hints at Divine Providence in the story of Esther by referring the reader to other biblical narratives, see also Angel M. Rodriguez, Esther: A Theological Approach, Michigan 1995, p. 40-43.

[36] It is no coincidence that entire studies have been devoted to the subject of honor and shame in Esther. See, for example, T. S. Laniak, Shame and Honor in the Book of Esther, Atlanta 1998. Lillian R. Klein also addresses this subject in an article entitled, "Honor and Shames in Esther," in: A. Brenner (ed.), A Feminist Companion to Esther, Judith and Susanna, Sheffield 1995, pp. 149-175. There she argues that sovereignty and power, in Esther, are connected to honor, and are attributed to men, while those under their control are associated with shame, and these characteristics are attributed to women. I believe that this assertion misses the irony of Esther with regard to gender issues. The opposite is the case: while the official position that is presented outwardly indeed requires of women that they perform their husbands' wishes, the narrator scorns this position and presents the women as the active forces in the plot.

[37] Here the "dynamic analogy" is a necessity, since Yehoshua is presented all along as a model of greatness; so long as Haman retains a similar status, it is he who is compared to Yehoshua. The moment that this greatness passes to Mordekhai, it is Mordekhai who will be compared to Yehoshua. See also below.

[38] Beal notes the connection between Haman who emerges "joyous and with a merry heart" from Esther's party, and the description of the king at the first banquet in Esther: "When the king's heart was merry with wine" (1:10). Just as the king's good mood is spoiled by Vashti's refusal to appear before him, so Haman's good mood is about to be spoiled by Mordekhai's refusal to bow down to him (Beal, p. 74). The connection between these two scenes is also noted by Judith Rosenheim, "Fate and Freedom in the Scroll of Esther," Prooftexts 12 (1992), p. 139. To her view, the motif common to both is the link between pleasure and the power of rulership. Haman, like the king, receives his power from the honor that is shown to him and from the pleasures in which he is immersed. See also Day, p. 105.

[39]  This expression is also used in the form of an abstract noun in Devarim 28:47 ("With joy and with a merry heart"). Frisch notes the connection between the description of Haman and that of Israel celebrating after the Temple is completed in his article, "Bein Megillat Esther le-Sefer Melakhim," Mechkarei Chag 3 (5752), p. 30.

[40]  Frisch, pp. 31-33.

[41] Frisch proposes another interesting connection to the stories of Solomon: in the description of Achashverosh's banquet at the beginning of the story, we read of "royal wine in abundance, according to the king's bounty" (Esther 1:7). Later, in the party celebrating the coronation of Esther, the king's magnanimity is indicated once again: "He gave gifts, according to the king's bounty" (2:18). This expression occurs only once more in the Bible – in the description of Solomon's generosity towards the Queen of Sheba: "Aside from what he had given her, according to the bounty of King Solomon" (I Melakhim 10:13). This connection may be coincidental, but Frisch proposes that it be viewed as part of the broad set of comparisons between Esther and Melakhim (Frisch, p. 31). He refers to Rabbi Bachrach ("Kitvuni le-Dorot," Jerusalem 5734, p. 19), who also points out this connection.

[42] J. A. Loader, Esther, (De Prediking van het Oude Testament), Nijkerk 1980, pp. 148-151. In fact, Gerleman too notes some of the connections between Esther and Moshe – such as the fact that both are adopted and grow up in the king's palace.

[43]  Gillis Gerleman, Esther, BKAT, Neukirchen-Vluyn 1970, pp. 11-23

[44] For a discussion of the actual comparison between Esther and the story of the Exodus, see Gerleman, pp. 11-23.

[45]  Concerning reversal in Esther, see for example the summary by Fox, pp. 158-163.

[46] See, for example, Berman (above, n. 14).

[47]  As discussed in previous shiurim.

[48] Some are noted by Craig in his attempt to read Esther in accordance with Bakhtin's theory of literary carnival (Kenneth Craig, Reading Esther: A Case for the Literary Carnivalesque, Louisville 1995). The final shiur will be devoted to this theory and its significance.