Friday, February 28, 2014

MEGILAT ESTHER 1:1: Time and Space

In the coming days, B'H, I will be writing about Megilat Esther, the book of Esther.  Megilat Esther records one of the most dramatic events in the history of the Jewish people.  Haman, the powerful prime Minister of the Persian Empire, issued a Royal decree to eliminate all the Jews of the Empire, "young to old, women and children", were explicitly potential targets of Haman's decree.   Miraculously, and through the intervention of Queen Esther, we were saved.        

These events, what brought Haman to issue the decree, the way Esther thwarted his plans and the Providential happy ending are all recorded in Megilat Esther. But despite being a very precise historical document, the Book of Esther it is not written in a dry prose, like the historical records of Herodotus, etc.  Megilat Esther is also a masterpiece of literature, written with a supreme literally style, intrigue, irony, and a tension that at times borders with vertigo.  In addition, Megilat Esther might be classified as a book of musar (=Jewish behavioral psychology) in that it generously describes the mental profiles of its main characters, particularly the dysfunctional personality of the Megila's villain, Haman. 
Before we discuss all these aspects of the Megila let us begin with the historical background of Megilat Esther. 

In the first verse, the book of Esther provides the time and space coordinates: 

TIME The tradition of Persian Jews, passed throughout generations, is that King Ahashverosh was the Persian emperor Khashayar-Sha. And Khashayar-Sha is no other than the King Xerxes, who reigned between 486 to 465 BCE. He is the famous King that battled the legendary 300 Spartans in Thermopylae (watch this from History Channel). This time estimation also coincides with the Jewish time-reference mentioned in the Megila: Mordekhay was the son or Ya-ir, who was the son of Shim'i, who was the son of Qish, who was exiled at the time of Yekhonya (Jeconiah) the king of Yehuda (ca.597), that is, four generations from ca. 597 to ca. 485 BCE. (There is an alternative chronology in Seder Olam. For a comprehensive discussion on this matter read Mitchell First, see here).  
PLACE Ahashverosh's Kingdom extended from India to Kush (today Sudan/Ethiopia, in those days Nubia).  The Persian Empire consisted of 127 "city-states" and it was the largest Empire in the history of humankind. It obviously included the Province of Judea (Israel) where at that time lived no less than 50,000 Jews. 


Candle Lighting in NYC        5:28 pm

Shabbat Ends in NYC             6:27 pm