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Tuesday, March 7

The Weekly Shtikle - Purim

The world recently marked a full year since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Sitting around the table at the seudah last year, I offered my very amateur – and somewhat biased – analysis of why our current government might have a vested interest in a prolonged altercation. Our economy had been in the middle of a pretty steep decline. The prices of gas and many other necessities were sharply on the rise and the supply chain crisis was also taking its toll. With the war exacerbating these issues, it presented the perfect scapegoat, a cataclysmic event on which to hang the blame for our troubles, regardless of the mismatch in timing. Indeed, it presented a very practical case of techilaso bipshi'ah, vesofo be'oneis – a Talmudic concept relating to the laws of custodians where an initial negligence on the part of the custodian is followed by an unpredictable event beyond his control. What was previously attributable to bad policy and poor management was now the fault of a foreign power. (Nevertheless, the halacha (Bava Metzia 42a) is that he is liable.)

This overly simplistic explanation of a very complex situation is definitely debatable. But what in the world does it have to do with Purim (unless we suggest that Russia is the modern-day manifestation of Amaleik?) And why would I waste precious moments of Purim joy discussing geopolitics? Well, it just so happens that this thought allowed me to understand a passage relating to the megillah that had previously perplexed me.

The gemara (Megillah 14a,) in its extensive expounding upon the story of the megillah, likens the relationship of Achashveirosh and Haman two individuals, one of whom had an unwanted mound of dirt in the middle of his field and the other of whom had a ditch in the middle of his field. Each was wallowing in their predicament until they came upon each other and the owner of the ditch asked the other to sell him the dirt so that he may fill his ditch. The owner of the dirt responded, "Please, take it for free."

This passage suggests that both Haman and Achashveirosh had the same desire for the fate of the Jews. They were merely helping each other reach a common goal. But how are we to understand the king's side of this relationship? Why would the ruler of the world, ostensibly, need another to execute his wishes. Could he not have simply commanded it on his own?

Ramban, in the beginning of Shemos (1:10) explains that even all-powerful monarchs who rule with an iron fist need to be careful in how they govern so as not to provoke a revolt. This is why Paroah had to devise a devious plan to subjugate the Jews, rather than just wiping them out right away. Achashveirosh, as well, had to be mindful of the optics of a brutal decree that would originate from his palace. To him, Haman was the fall guy to whom any blame for the genocide could be deflected. Indeed, the decrees were signed with his own ring but they were still Haman's decree. The king still maintained some semblance of plausible deniability. This is why Achashveirosh is portrayed as "needing" Haman to take care of the Jews.

Purim samei'ach!

Mishenichnas Adar marbim be'simchah

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

Shtikle Blog Weekly Roundup:

Dikdukian: Dikdukian Posts on Megillas Esther


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