Study and Theory/
Purim

Daniel Ben Nahum

The Book of Esther as the Story of Exile

Beit Zera

The Book of Esther is a classic story of the Jewish exile. It is an amazing model of the reality of exile with all of its uncertainty, distress and danger, and of the exile mentality, stuck between two poles: Self-denial (Mordechai orders Esther not to disclose her national origin) and (Mordechai refuses to bow before Haman). In addition, what we have here is a model of Jew hatred over the generations; essentially, Haman explains his policy as would a modern anti-Semite. Even the ruses used by Jews are entirely conscious diaspora ruses, first and foremost among them lobbying. The main thing is to find a sympathetic ear in high places.

 

Along with the diaspora atmosphere the Book is shrouded in and, in many people’s opinion (or perhaps as opposed to it), at its end something totally incredible takes place: The Jews rise up against their oppressors and wreak havoc on them! Jews in exile take matters in hand to use force and deliver a devastating blow to gentiles! Such a think was without precedent in the history of Jewish exile, and constitutes something totally utopian: An advantage of Jewish force in a foreign land is a utopian situation that shall never come to realization.

 

The conclusion is bitter and terrible: The Jews’ existence in exile, any exile, is unsustainable, even in the shadow of a rich and enlightened kingdom. No vital function in the state economy, closeness to public office or influence in cultural life will help them in times of crisis. It may be that all the Book’s author intended was a critique of exile reality, to bring it to absurdity, a situation opposed to common sense and historical experience. As if he wished to say: You want life in exile? So be it; but the path of exile sooner or later gives rise to Haman the evil, who plots to destroy, kill and annihilate. To ensure your diaspora existence under all circumstances, without a shadow of doubt, you must be stronger than Haman and all of his aides and cronies. Yet who would be so naive to consider this possible outside the bounds of literary imagination?

 

Mordechai is only the fourth generation descendant of those sent into exile with Jeconiah, King of Judah. However, all of the tragic problematics of a hundred generations of Jewish exile is encapsulated in this story; exile with all its inherent meanings and characteristics, and all its accompanying phenomena.

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