Feasting and Fasting
Unmasking Purim
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המופע התקיים בתאריך
26.2.20
20:00
Unmasking Purim
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תמלול אירוע Feasting and Fasting שהתקיים בתאריך 26/02/2020

Unmasking Purim - Second Meeting
Hodesh Tov, two updates, my voice is waiting to get better, so thank God for the microphone, and my daughter is still awaiting happier news. So we will continue our discussion of hitherto rather unexplored aspects of Megilat Esther. We will employ three textual methodologies, to see new insights, elicit various ideas the authors of the Megila are trying to explore. A chiastic structure, an ‘x’ structure, chias is an X in Greek, a BA-AB structure, having a nadir within the story. In this Megila, the storyline itself attests to it, the authors tell us – Venahafochu, here we find not only that the Jews are going to have the upper hand, Venahafochu, you’re going to see in various letters. The greatness of his Kingdom, even if we want to be more specific, it begins in the third year of Ahausveros, in which the Persians won over the Greeks, the first time we meet the king, it's a feast that celebrates the greatness of the kingdom, but the story ends in the levying of a heavy text, an economic framework. The first part of the feast, for the generals. Arranging for the militia to come and advise him in relation to another Greek attack, then another feast for those who live in Shushan, the Megila ends with two feasts, one for a military victory, followed by a specific feast for the Jews living in Shushan, another parallel, Esther at the end, in a very timid manner, is going to appear before the King, to ask for another battle against their enemies. And a description of Aman, he advanced him over all his officers. Two other times in the Megila, where these words appear – at the end, in relation to the stature of the Jews. All the provinces elevated the Jews, saw that they were the ones in charge. Amman was promoted initially, Mordechai will be promoted at the end. The casting of the lots – the war was going to be at 13 of Adar, cast at the start of Nissan, they will have 11 months to prepare for a massacre, but ‘on the contrary,’ the Jews may defend themselves when the time comes, and from not having any say in the government, they come to have it. Achashverosh gives his ring, writes letters for Amman, and then – the giving of the ring to Mordechai, the writing of letters protecting the Jews. A complete turn about. First and second feast, and the climax of the story, the king cannot sleep, everything is turning about, Esther has fabricated a plot, to frame Haman not only as a womanizer, but as plotting against the king, as though he has a private affair with Esther, and she is going to use it. What does Haman demand from Achashverosh? His very crown it would seem. And about Zeresh, she suggests to prepare a ‘tree for treason,’ a tree is preparing the scene for treason, for framing the innocent Mordechai, two innocent framings simultaneously, which story has greater support? Mordechai knew about the plot against him, but Haman did not. Everything that goes about comes about, the ‘measure for measure.’ The chiasm allows us to appreciate not just the development of plot but character too. Our new methodology is not just to look at the structure, the development of the story, but see if there are any pillars, trees, that will not only serve as motif, but as turning points. The motif is that of ‘Mishte,’ which is not just a party or a feast, the connotation is wine, the drinking of wine. One of the structuralist biblical scholars tells us that the name of the Shem cannot appear in the Megila because the role of parties seemingly is stronger here than God. It would be unbecoming to the divine, to have this as part of the canon. There are 10 parties in the Megila. So we should look for the halves paralleling each other, with the outline of the feast. Notice that altogether we have ten feasts, that appear, albeit not in the introductory scene. The flow of the narrative. At the beginning there were two feasts, drinking episodes. The first for his provinces but particularly for their military commanders, a Pentagon party. Enjoying at the pub after discussing strategy. This would go on for 180 days. They are not merely drinking, rather it is a hundred and eighty days of planning. The number of 180 days accentuates the amounts drunk, but also it signifies 6 months, during which the sun is worshipped, in Judaism, but also Zoroastrians and other classical cultures. God is telling us to count the months from that time, but according to the moon, the Rosh Hodesh. In that case, the drinking would end in Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the year, two different new years. After the 180 day party, there would be a seven day party, for the Jews. We know of Sukot, of what other parties? The inauguration of the temple, seven days and then – Sukot. Part of the critique is that they celebrate the power of the King, rather than the Sukot at the Temple? Or – if the party is in Nissan, you would celebrate the Temple, or the Miluim, the inauguration of the second temple. Why are you celebrating in Shushan, not Jerusalem. There is something negative already in that party, then you have Esther appearing before the king. This leads to Vashti being banished. Esther is going to be chosen, her coronation is going to be accompanied by a party, we will refer to that soon. Then Haman casting the lots, Achashverosh is going to approve of his commission of letters, to make sure that the inhabitants of all provinces are entitled to kill the Jews and the latter could not defend themselves. Haman says – I will give this to the king. The king is not concerned with who is going to be despoiled, he just wants the money. The fourth feast is that of Haman and Achashverosh, the city then is depressed, Nevoha, as also in the scroll of Eha. Then Esther is going to appear on the scene. Haman’s plan is more convincing, Haman is fooled, Haman thinks the offer of the king is for him, Mordechai being already accused. Then the second feast. Haman is tricked. Immediately following the war, there are two more feasts. Then they feast the people from outside of Shushan, Shushan is going to continue to fight. Finally the future feasts, an enactment of everyone celebrating, in the 14th and 15th, all should celebrate, particularly those of Shushan. This is not only the chiastic structure, but in an overt manner – the authors tell us, pay attention to these structures. But in addition to the inverse chiasm, we look at the parties and we see the parties are similar to each other. What the authors are trying to do is to draw parallels between these parties. What is the most obvious ones? Which ones can you not separate? Esther’s. Five and six. How do you know five and six go together? They are both Esther’s parties, they don’t exist in a vacuum. Esther says – can you and Haman come to the party, why are you inviting and our adviser. Is something going on between them, she is consciously trying to arouse suspicion, then – not sufficient arousal of suspicion, then – because of Haman’s hubris, who is so excited to frame Mordechai, though his wife told him to wait. What will he be doing in the middle of the night in the courtyard, next to my wife’s bedroom? The development then from party 5 to party 6 – what changed between them? Everything. Haman consults with Zeresh, the king can’t sleep. Esther knows she has enough material to frame Haman. Other possible matches? Borem 7. What is the parallel over here? Both the parties that are celebrated after letters were commissioned? Now the king is not going to worry about his finances, the spoils from the Jews will help them – but the city is oppressed. What is going to instill fear, all the Persians around, a drinking with happiness, they drink because they are happy. The Simha is going to be similar. Parties 8 and 9, in the direct wake of the victory, the people of Shushan continuing another day, after their battles they are going to engage again in drinking, what is not obvious is numbers one and three, why are they going to be portrayed so? Achashverosh is going to be presented as a strong king, the first three years, the throne was not so secure, in the third year, he won a great war, the generals, this is going to be a coronation ceremony, he is viewed as a military victor. Number three is the coronation of Esther, this is also going to have ramifications, she is going to be crowned in the 7th year, at that point he even lowers the taxes at the time of the crowning of Esther. The drinking that is going to accompany their coronation ceremonies, 8 out of the parties are actually pairs, who are going to appreciate not only part of the chiasm but part of this motif. Party number 2 and 10 are going also to be paired? But the first party is only for the people of Shushan. But in Vashti’s parties, she and the women have nothing to do while the men are drinking. Two days of partying – the second is the remember the miracle of the Pur, how the plan of the lottery wasn’t going to work out, how he was hanged together with his sons, so 2 and 10 are not going to pair. But the structure is important. So, let’s highlight some of the pairs we already discussed, when we had a Mishte, referring to the party, after the letters. Every place the letters was sent, we are happy, because we are happy, because we are happy we don’t go to the pub, we hope the alcohol is going to alleviate it –we drink in Pesach because we are relieved, already very different, the parties parallel, but the Mishte is accompanied by Sason and Simha, Simha and Mishte, we are going to drink to remember the Mishtaot of Purim, but we should remember that the Jews, even in the provinces, will make sure they are happy, you are going to drink but make sure it is accompanied by Simha as well. Now – how we are going to understand the parties – there’s something very significant about this party, this ist he party that not only precedes Esther’s appointment, this is the party of the Shushanites, who are not only in danger, but going to a party because Achashverosh want’s to show the prestige and honour of his luxury. The glory and majesty – usually this is used for the clothes of the priests. What is the point of this party? It must stand alone, it is a party of assimilation. Shimon Bar Yochai, why can’t we start hearing about the story of the Megila. For what reason did the Jews in Shushan deserve the threat of annihilation. In that generation, it is said – don’t look at the Megila, what did we learn in chapter one, there was a aprty that stands on its own. A party of assimilation, they enjoyed their time there, the rule of the country is - you drink. No one has to force you, force anyone to drink in a culture where everyone is drinking, seven days of drinking. Here there is something unique in party number 1. Then – the party for 180 days, paralleling Esther’s they are both crowning parties. Who is invited to Achashverosh’s 180 party? The generals and servants. The first party is political, and here – Esther’s party, it has economic ramifications, though the king’s was also an ostentatious party, he was giving gratuities to everyone. Here we find very similar parties. In party number 2, stuck between two separate parties, why did it have to come, what is it matched up with? We don’t have a feast, a Mishte, not just to match up with party 2, but also 10. Here we have to be careful readers, each feast has its parallel, each not going to talk only about the people and the culture, but also about the development of the plot. There are not only 10 feast, but also 2 fasts. Two feast then are going to be matched up not only with each other, but also with a fast. The first fast has two parts, when Mordechai hears about this decree that has fallen upon the people, a date for genocide has been appointed, a government-endorsed Kristalnacht. If the government is going to allow this, Jews are going to be killed, who is going to lead this? The Haman brigade. The Jews in Israel are less afraid, there are not many Persians there, it’s a faraway province. But wherever the people were scared they fasted, a sack was proffered to many mourners, again as with Jeremiah, they are living now in fear of complete destruction. This leads to a more calculated fast, that of Esther, but they are two sides of the same fast, they are both responding to the decree of Achashverosh, to the idea of Jewish genocide, so Esther says – the people of Shushan have to fast too. Three days, three full days of fasting for the people of Shushan and for me. Is this paralleled to a feast? The exact same words appear as they did in the 7 days feasting in the Shushan, in chapter 1, Achashverosh’s second party, that didn’t really have a match, it was not just for his servants, but for his entire nation, now – Esther orders a fast for all the Jews in Shushan, Bar Yochai is trying to teach his students that this fast is caused by that same feast. If that was a feast of assimilation, where they came to enjoy the seven-day holiday of Achashverosh, now, we’ll have a celebration of our Judaism, coming out as Jews to everyone. Now, from the young to the old, an all-inclusive approach, a feast in the king’s courtyard, and now – a fast in the inner courtyard. The feast like the fast will be, because of the decree, made public throughout the realm. And the rule at the parties – you drink, you can’t go aginst the culture, here – I’m going to fast and then go against the culture, I’m going to go to Achashverosh uninvited, I will come to the king against this. We now have to ask ourselves, we found the match for party and feast number two. There is still one feast that is left matchless, number 10, the feast for the future, Mordechai says – everyday since today, we will celebrate the pur, the lesson of antisemitism, authors have already showed us that feasts don’t exist on their own, but with fasts, fasts fix the problem of the feasts. There are also fasts for the future. And there are – Mordechai establishes, that in the 14th of Adar, and the 15th, he notices the people outside of Shushan only want to celebrate the day of the provinces, not on the 15th, in Israel we cannot celebrate, we never want to celebrate more than 1 day, now a second Yom Tov of the diaspora? Mordechai – yes, make sure that you continue to celebrate these days of salvation, accompanied not only by the Jewish value of happiness, but also Ahdut, we will send care packages, gifts to the poor. What is this a reference to? The people are not going to accept Mordechai’s pleas for remembering what happened in both days. The days are then commemorate – why do they send two letters? You should also be celebrating the Shushan feast. They send Megilat Esther all over again, accompanied by ‘words of peace and truth’ – what does that mean? Anyone living in that time knows them. Like the emancipation proclamation, state of the union address, so – everyone knew those words, the words of Zecharia the prophet, after a representative of Babylon comes to Zacharia, asking him – now that we see the second temple is being built, should we still mourn in 9th of Av? He says – are you only asking about the 9th? What about the 7th? The Gdalia fast, the fast we fast when we remind ourselves that the last of the Jews lost hope and left despite Jeremiah telling them to stay. Shame on you – if you want forget the fast, it’s up to you to internalize the lesson of the fast, you left and the temple was destroyed. How the temple will last? You have to promote peace and truth, speak kindly to each other, work on a justice system, start building here a society of truth, etc. Stop thinking badly one on the other. I despise lies, etc. God said – the fast of the 5th, the 6th, the 7th, etc., if you build a society on the values of peace and truth, not only will you not be fasting in the 7th or 9th, but also in Tamuz, Av, Rishrei, Tevet, any of the fasts of the Destruction, you will have a just society, then will you not only not fast, but those days will turn into good days, but pending on whether you are going to espouse these values of peace and truth. So – Mordechai and Esther are writing, please accept this Takana for ever and ever, though we live abroad, we are also building up society, we are associating with the Jewish values, helping the poor – please accept our two-day holiday. So – Zecharia’s words, if you accomplish this, you will not have to fast anymore, so he is saying – come to Israel and celebrate these words as feast, or stay abroad and they will remain fasts. But what happens? They decide to keep on fasting. Mordechai and Esther says – feast so you remember antisemitism, feast to remember the words of Truth and Peace, the Jews reply – we will keep feasting, and fasting. Rashi – what are those days? Ta-anit Esther, we did not accept a three day fast, but a one day fast. These are the fasts that could have been cancelled had they made Aliya, but these are going to be the fasts of the Destruction. They realize – as long as they celebrate Purim, as long as they associate with the feasts of abroad, they would go with the fasts of the future. Those would be transformed into days of feast, if we listen to words of Shalom and Emet.
Then – 80% of the Megila is about feasting, and a little bit tells us about the Jewish culture of fasting. When I teach in America, the non-Jews think we’re crazy, fasting in the heat of the summer, and in the 9th of Av. They ask – this is the religion you want to be part of, all these fasts, and also on Kipur, before on Gdalia. Some people even accept the fast of the Bahav. What is a culture of fasting? We are going to revisit the idea of fasts and feasts. In page 3, we see that feasting, especially when it is a Mishte, you drink and lose control of your senses, what does that mean? Nothing is up to me, it makes no difference if I am sober or inebriated, I never have control, that is depictive of Persian culture, the culture of the ‘pur,’ the ‘pur’ is fate, we will call this holiday ‘purim,’ though there is one pur. The feasting is depictive of losing control. Don’t we also have a goral, on Yom Kipur we take two goats, have a lottery, one is going to be slaughtered, the blood is going to be sprinkled in the Holy of Holies, but the other is for ‘Azazel.’ Our lottery is not by default, it is not fate, you can change it and create your own destiny. Is your fate the result of your sins, you should be stoned, with the goat of Azazel. But there is another option – you can go to the holy of holies, you can not go to the desert, but appear before God, ask him Kapara, the blood is going to be sprinkled atop the Aron. When do we have a feast? When we control our urges, not lose control, but do the opposite of a feast, we fast, that’s Yom ha-Kippurim. And in Purim, at the beginning of the month, the sun is in control, the Persians believe the sun determines the seasons, so let’s see what will happen, through chance. The Babylonians, and the Persians – in the new year, the king enters, in simple clothing, he appears before his God, before Marduk, and he says – I am absolved of all sins, I am a reincarnation of you, then – they have a pur, they ask what god says is going to happen. Haman says – the star says, the Jews will be annihilated, let’s see when – ah, in Adar. In our ceremony, the priest, not the king, appears dressed in white, he does not present himself as innocent, but culpable, all the people have sins, then we have not a pur but a goral, not a fate but a choice we believe we can make, the fasting is the direct antithesis to that of feasting, of losing control, this we see in the parallels between Kipur and Kippurim. On purim we fast and fast, and in Kippurim it’s the opposite, in Vayikra, we hear- not only are we supposed to fast, but also Shabat Shabaton is for you. When are we supposed to fast, on the 9th and the 10th, but Gemora explains, you have to have your fast only on the 10th, so why does it say – why also n the 9th? Are we supposed to fast also on the 9th, but it means – no, on the contrary, whoever feasts of the 9th, it’s as though he fasted on the 9th and 10th. How does this make sense? When we feast, the more you eat on the 9th, it makes the fast more difficult. Really, we should have been commanded to fast on both, but god knows our physical limitations, and from his love he ordained it so. But why make it a day of feasting? The two go together, if we are a culture of choice, capable of control, we will show you how well we control, we will consciously engage in eating on one day, then Shkia comes, and then? None of that. We can go from a year of sin to one of complete control and devotion to God. Purim is like Tu Beav and ha-Kippurim. We understand why – it’s a day of forgiveness, that’s our Simha, and so – once we experience true happiness, which isn’t the alcohol, but forgiveness, salvation, then we can enjoy. You can’t have a good day without eating. You definitely can feel a positive sentiment on that day. You find here the culture of Purim, they should have called it the day of the Pur, but why is it Purim? Ke-Purim, you are reminded on Yom Kipur, a day like Purim? It is, because it is a day you are reminded of taking control, of a culture that lost control and what that can lead to, what Jewish cultures are all about – Mishte, or Tzom and Simha? You can appreciate this on Yom-Kippur, but even more on Purim, the day is called after that, you can realize the day is one of atonement, Kipurim is like Purim, if Yom Kipur is like Purim, then Kippurim is modeled after it? On Kipurim we are ordered not to eat, to separate from our natural human tendencies, and to refrain from eating, tashmish, siha, etc. In purim – what are we saying? We are going to engage, indulge in all physical enjoyments, we are going to show you we can still channel it in a proper way. Though in Kipur we show it by being ascetic, in Purim – we are going to indulge, but sanctify it. Simha. Just as Purim has feasting and fasting, so – Venahafochu, we are going to invert Kipur, to show they are really similar. Every holiday in the future is going to be extinct, Hazal say. Except Yom Kipur, and – Purim. Are we going to celebrate that even after we’ve cancelled the fasts, and Hanuka? They go hand in hand, purim and Kipurim, the fasting and the feasting, our culture is not 10 parties, but 8, two of them go hand in hand with a fast. Remember the Shiur before Yom Hakippurim, where I compared Yona with Esther, but chronologically, Esther is later than Yona, written in the 10th century BCE, she from the 5th century, she wants to show how she is paralleled. Yona was enacted more or less at the same time Esther’s megila was enacted to be read. They were both enacted, Yona as the haftarah of Kipur. Esther already gave us a sense of the parallels. Esther wants us to know, while she is preparing to enter the inner chambers of the king, already from the 2nd chapter, what surrounds the Harem, a kind of ezrat nashim, then – an inner courtyard, one enters only by royal invitation, and anyone else can die. That’s the Kohen Gadol entering the holy of holies. Haman was in the outer courtyard, Esther portrays the palace of the king, the Kentapi palace was modelled after the palace of Shusan, the geography is similar to that of Jerusalem, the outer Azara, then the inner courtyard and the holy of holies. My Purim is my Yom Kippurim, she dresses royally, and stands in the inner courtyard, seeing herself as standing before god, appearing not only before the king, but before the King of Kings, and in case we are not convinced, she enters the Court, and kind sits there exactly the way that Beit HaMikdash is described, the Ezra of the Kohanim and Israel, Mordechai and Esther describe their functions – Esther is going to be like the Great Priest, working inside, Mordechai like a Levite, working outside. And she appears before god like the ‘goat for god.’ How are we going to counter these feasts? With a fast. She is not just writing about her countering of the culture of Persia, but she has Yona in mind, who is someone who does not want to appear before God, he doesn’t want to appear before God, but disappear. If you remember – he tries to flee. Esther also – let salvation come from another place. Mordechai says – don’t disappear before god, but appear before god. Yona is upset that god allows people to change their ways. I’ll do something wrong and get punished, he explains to the sailors – it’s me, I did something wrong. They say – are you out of your mind. How do they know? There is a goral, not a goral like that of Yom Hakippurim, he understands it more like a pur, the sailors are scared, also believe in fate, they throw him to the sees and sure enough, everything is calm all of a sudden. They are trying to change things. They turn to God, and say – as you will, so you may do. They understand what Yona doesn’t, until he is swallowed by a very big fish. How long is here in there, not eating? What do you know – three days. Of deliberation. Can you change a culture of losing control, subvert it for a culture of fasting, can you change a destiny? He says, o.k., I am going to appear before God, after three days, what does Yona say? At first I was cast out from your eyes, but the day is going to come when I come back to the Hall of Holiness, the Temple, while he is under the sea. The Temple symbolizes appearing before god, a change of destiny. Even here I feel that now I am standing before the temple, in Yom Kipur. My prayer reaches your temple. We are excited that he decides he can change his destiny, and even the people of Ninveh can change theirs. He tells the people of that city – you have forty days, or you will be destroyed entirely, with the same words of Sdom and Amora. They do change their ways, how do they show that they can in fact change their cultural norm? They declare a fast. They take it very far, their animals shall be muzzled, they can’t eat nor drink, we’re going to wear sackcloth, our animals too. Here in Yona we find, it's not the sackcloth but the fasting, what Mordechai and Esther are going to write, we’ve learnt this from the people of Ninveh, no more feasting, we are going to fast, and that’s what they do in chapter 4. A great grief for the Jews, and Esther is sick to the stomach that Mordechai is not wearing his suit, but he says –I don’t want to be part of that culture, I’m not an assimilated Jew, not only am I going to put my clothing aside, she says – I’m going to do that too. Do you want to be forgotten? What happens to Esther? She is able to stand the Malchut, before the King, as she pleads, the salvation will come through Mishte, Yona regrets everything he did? As a matter of fact, I don’t like to change, God, why do you allow for Tshuva, after all – you are not a god of truth, you allow people to change this, but still – I would rather be dead. God says – really? Let me tell you of the culture God engages in the world. Ninveh don’t know the difference, but they know how to take control, the message of taking your ways, how to change a culture and identify yourself properly, choose properly, not the identity of a drinking culture, but of choice before God. The stories are built one on the other. I know how to change, I am not going to disappear even when the situation looks dire, look at the bigger picture, what culture do you want to associate yourself with, you may survive for now, but this culture cannot last. Man must return to who we really are, not to be assimilate with the culture around us, a culture of loss and identity, if you only understand, that fasting accompanied by the feasting, if this can serve as a parallel, this is means not only of appearing before God, but of the culture he intends. I wish you all a Yom Kipurim Sameh.


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