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Wednesday, February 28

The Weekly Shtikle - Purim

Please see my Purim archives for some more insightful (not inciteful) thoughts on Purim.

The megillah, delving into the psyche of the characters of the story, reveals a fair bit of anger on the part of the antagonists. There are a number of different words used in Tanach to denote anger such as (charon) af, cheimah, ka'as. Surely, each must have its own precise connotation and the choice of words is not random. The particular flavour of anger that is featured in the megillah is cheimah. When Haman observes Mordechai refusing to bow before him (3:5 and 5:9) he is filled with cheimah. Achashveirosh provides his own healthy dose of cheima as it burns inside of him following Vashti's rejection (1:12) and again after Esther reveals Haman's treachery (7:7) until it finally subsides (7:10) after Haman's hanging. This begs the question: what is the nature of this cheimah and why is it the emotion-du-jour in the megillah?

The initial instinct is to associate cheimah with the word chom, heat. Indeed, we are observing anger in the heat of the moment and anger and heat certainly have a close relationship. Perhaps more can be gleaned by observing its use in other circumstances, particularly in the Torah. I believe the very first occurrence of the word, ironically, is with regards to Eisav, Haman's forebearer. (This is assuming we are not counting the water vessel Avraham gave Hagar. Sorry, Purim Torah.) Rivkah sends Yaakov away to her brother until Eisav's cheimah subsides (Bereishis 27:44.) Fast forwarding to the end of the Torah, we find cheimah once again mentioned, but this time attributed to the animal kingdom - the creepers in the dust (Devarim 32:24) and the viper (32:33). Both seem to be a reference not to the emotion of anger but rather to the venom of snakes. So perhaps cheimah is a more animalistic variation of anger?

The problem with this approach is that there are a number of other references to cheimah in the Torah and they are attributed to Hashem: Devarim 9:19 and 29:27. Interestingly both appear alongside af as does the original reference to Eisav.

HaKesav VehaKabbalah delves deeply into the meaning of the word and connects it not only to heat but to other similar words such as chem'ah for butter and chami/chamosi for one's husband's parents. But I wish to focus on the seemingly opposite approaches of Malbim and Gra. Malbim, in a number of places, explains that cheimah is the anger that is pent up inside and perhaps not even shown while af refers to the outward expression of that anger. This does seem to fit the verbs associated with cheima in the megilla. Haman is filled with it, on the inside, it would seem. We do not find that Haman actually engaged in an overt confrontation with Mordechai despite his defiance. Achashveirosh's cheimah burned inside of him but perhaps he was able to mask the true depths of his anger in public.

The Gra (Mishlei 15:1) suggests that af refers to the emotion of anger in the mind while cheimah is the carrying out of that anger into action. This approach, as well, can be made to fit nicely with our references in the megillah. After we are told of Haman filling with rage, the very next pasuk details his plans to act on that rage and destroy not only Mordechai himself but all of his people. Achashveirosh translated his cheimah towards Vashti into swift action and the same can be said about his similar feelings towards Haman. In each case, cheimah refers not to a benign emotion of inner anger but to an extreme level of rage which is acted upon immediately.

Have a wonderful and joyous Purim, hopefully devoid of any cheimah, other than what we read about in the megillah.

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