Chapter 9

Esther 9

1) When the day arrived on which the order decreed by the king was to be carried out, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, Adar, on which the enemies of the Jews had expected to overpower them, the situation was reversed: the Jews overpowered those who hated them.


COMMENTARY:  A central theme of Esther is reversals of fortune, with the tide eventually shifting in favor of the Jews .


2) The Jews mustered in their cities throughout the provinces of King Ahasuerus to attack those who sought to do them harm, and no one could withstand them, for fear of them fell upon all the peoples.


COMMENTARY:  Bullies much prefer targets who don’t fight back.


3) Moreover, all the officials of the provinces, the satraps, governors, and royal procurators supported the Jews out of fear of Mordecai; 4) for Mordecai was powerful in the royal palace, and the report was spreading through all the provinces that he was continually growing in power.


COMMENTARY:  Politicians have ever been a fickle lot.  They would have just as gladly supported Haman in his day.


5) The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them; they did to those who hated them as they pleased.


COMMENTARY:  “To those who hated them” matters.  They did not start this fight.  Be advised, however, that it is all too human to project one’s own hatred onto others, and convince oneself that an attack is really a defense.



6) In the royal precinct of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred people.


COMMENTARY:  Ancient people liked to boast, “We killed more of you than you killed of us!” even in sacred writings.  Here’s hoping that we can outgrow this primitive attitude.


7) They also killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, 8) Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, 9) Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, and Vaizatha, 10) the ten sons of Haman, son of Hammedatha, the foe of the Jews. However, they did not engage in plundering.


COMMENTARY:  Presumably because these sons supported and encouraged their father’s violent intent.  The important note on plundering, however, means that they left Haman’s great wealth to support his family’s women and children—and did not take them as slaves.  Specifying this imposes a crucial limit, lest self-defense turn into vendetta, and lest the innocent be punished for mere kinship with the guilty.  (The innocent always, unavoidably, suffer from the sins of their kin—anyone who has had a loved one in jail knows this—but one can mitigate the damage.)  This contrasts, again, with Haman’s genocidal intentions.  Forbidding plunder also removes a profit motive, which could have tempted still more violence.


11) On the same day, when the number of those killed in the royal precinct of Susa was reported to the king, 12) he said to Queen Esther: “In the royal precinct of Susa the Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred people, as well as the ten sons of Haman. What must they have done in the other royal provinces! You shall again be granted whatever you ask, and whatever you request shall be honored.”


COMMENTARY:  Do I detect a bit of tension in this report?  Ahasuerus seems to realize that his helpless little kitten has grown into a lioness.  Yet he respects her, now, and again offers her whatever she asks, no longer as one indulging a lover in frivolities, but as one conferring with a strategist.


13) So Esther said, “If it pleases your majesty, let the Jews in Susa be permitted again tomorrow to act according to today’s decree, and let the ten sons of Haman be impaled on stakes.”


COMMENTARY:  Had the ancient authors had editors, this would have been put in before the report on the deaths of Haman’s sons.  Impaling is a horrible way to die, but it’s what they wanted for Mordecai—the only real loved one that Esther had.


14) The king then gave an order that this be done, and the decree was published in Susa. So the ten sons of Haman were impaled, 15) and the Jews in Susa mustered again on the fourteenth of the month of Adar and killed three hundred people in Susa. However, they did not engage in plundering.


COMMENTARY:  Again the emphasis on not plundering.  Here it seems to include not just Haman’s family, but all of the families of those who had plotted against the Jews.


16) The other Jews, who dwelt in the royal provinces, also mustered and defended themselves, and obtained rest from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of those who hated them, but they did not engage in plunder.


COMMENTARY:  So this restraint on plundering extended throughout the empire.  Bitter as the widows and orphans might be, they would have to concede that, by the standards of the ancient world, their lot could have been much worse.  This could have prevented retaliations when the orphans grew up.


17) This happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar.  On the fourteenth of the month they rested, and made it a day of feasting and rejoicing.  18) The Jews in Susa, however, mustered on the thirteenth and fourteenth of the month. But on the fifteenth they rested, and made it a day of joyful banqueting. 19) That is why the rural Jews, who dwell in villages, celebrate the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joyful banqueting, a holiday on which they send food to one another.


COMMENTARY:  Hence an explanation for the holiday of Purim.  Although considered a holiday of secondary importance by some communities of Jews, others regard it as at least as important as receiving the covenant at Mt. Sinai, (some have even said more important) because on that earlier occasion the people embraced the covenant after many miracles, way out in the desert and away from all other influences, as a coherent people; whereas on Purim the Jews renewed their covenant without miracles, in the midst of their subjugation, while scattered among people of other customs.

Some Jews celebrate an additional Purim on the anniversary of whenever their own communities were saved at the last minute from massacre, throughout history.  And on that date, instead of reading the story of Esther, they will read the chain of events of their own people’s deliverance.  These villages and neighborhoods have sometimes made distinct scrolls recording the events, preserved over the centuries and brought out every year.

Two notable modern examples seem more than coincidental.  Joseph Stalin had planned his own “final solution” for the Jews of the USSR, but couldn’t put them into operation because he died—on Purim.  And when Saddam Hussain sent SCUD missiles against Israel, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson reassured that nation that they would be delivered—and the hostilities ended on Purim.



20) Mordecai recorded these events and sent letters to all the Jews, both near and far, in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus. 21) He ordered them to celebrate every year both the fourteenth and the fifteenth of the month of Adar 22) as the days on which the Jews obtained rest from their enemies and as the month which was turned for them from sorrow into joy, from mourning into celebration. They were to observe these days with joyful banqueting, sending food to one another and gifts to the poor. 23) The Jews adopted as a custom what they had begun doing and what Mordecai had written to them.


COMMENTARY:  Again we have mention that banqueting cannot be completely joyful without including gifts to the poor.  Jewish (and, by extension, Christian) religious practices without generosity are empty.

Interestingly, celebration of Purim also includes costumes.  The reason given is that Jews pretended to worship other gods along with their neighbors in the days when Mordecai and Esther took on names honoring Pagan deities, and so God pretended to be about to destroy them.  When they took off their masks and came out as Jews, so did He take off His mask and come out as their savior.



24) Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the foe of all the Jews, had planned to destroy them and had cast the pur, or lot, for the time of their defeat and destruction. 25) Yet, when the plot became known to the king, the king ordered in writing that the wicked plan Haman had devised against the Jews should instead be turned against Haman and that he and his sons should be impaled on stakes. 26) And so these days have been named Purim after the word pur.


Thus, because of all that was contained in this letter, and because of what they had witnessed and experienced in this event, 27) the Jews established and adopted as a custom for themselves, their descendants, and all who should join them, the perpetual obligation of celebrating these two days every year in the manner prescribed by this letter, and at the time appointed. 28) These days were to be commemorated and kept in every generation, by every clan, in every province, and in every city. These days of Purim were never to be neglected among the Jews, nor forgotten by their descendants.


COMMENTARY:  An explanation for the name of the holiday.



29) Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, and Mordecai the Jew, wrote to confirm with full authority this second letter about Purim, 30) and Mordecai sent documents concerning peace and security to all the Jews in the hundred and twenty-seven provinces of Ahasuerus’ kingdom.


COMMENTARY:  Some nitpicky Bible scholars seem upset about this supposedly contradicting the earlier part about Esther and Mordecai writing a letter together, but if two people write separate letters building the same case, that counts as collaboration in my book.  (Interestingly, this passage shows that Esther was also literate.)



31) Thus were established, for their appointed time, these days of Purim which Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had designated for the Jews, just as they had previously enjoined upon themselves and upon their descendants the duty of fasting and supplication.


COMMENTARY:  Prayer and fasting traditionally precede the festivities of Purim on the day before.



32) The command of Esther confirmed these prescriptions for Purim and was recorded in the book.


COMMENTARY:  The timid girl at the start of the story has become a bold woman capable of commanding generations for thousands of years into the future.

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