Esther 3:10, Question 4. What is the significance of the Talmud’s pit analogy?

The Talmud (Megillah 14a) compares Achashverosh and Haman to two land owners. One has a giant mound of excess land. The other has a ditch in his field. The person who has a ditch wants land to fill in the field. The person with the dirt is looking for a ditch to dump his dirt. Simply put, this analogy indicates a symbiotic relationship between Achashverosh and Haman; the two need each other. Achashverosh has too many Jews, while Haman is looking for Jews to kill.

  • The Ben Ish Chai on the Talmud (in Sefer Benayahu) writes that this analogy means to indicate that, like the dirt-owner, Achashverosh did not accept Haman’s financial offer because he was doing him a favor ridding the nation of Jews.
  • R’ Meir Shapiro and the Chasam Sofer say that Achashverosh and Haman had different theories as to how to defeat the Jews. Achashverosh thought the best method for this was to invite them to his feast, elevate them, and watch as assimilation destroyed the Jews from within. Therefore, he built them up, like a mound. Haman, however, considered the best method degradation, making them low as if they were lower than a ditch1.
  • Similarly, R’ Mendel Weinbach writes that Achashverosh considered the Jews a threat to his power. After all, if the Jews were to rebuild their Temple, Achashverosh would lose some of his esteem. Therefore, to him, the Jews were respected, like a mound. In contrast, Haman considered the Jews disgusting and lowly, like a ditch. Rabbi Weinbach also writes that the mound and the ditch metaphors can be different ways for Jews to view assimilation. One way to avoid assimilation is to build up Jews like a mound, placing them on a pedestal by pointing out Jewish accomplishments to build up Jewish pride. Another way to avoid assimilation is to paint Jews as so different, so “uncool,” as to belong on a completely separate level, like a ditch.
  • In answering the question of why Achashverosh does not seem to be punished in the end of Megillas Esther, the Ben Ish Chai tells the following parable: two hooligans kidnap the king’s son. When the king refuses to pay their ransom, Hooligan A becomes incensed, and wants to kill the prince. Hooligan B feels this to be unnecessarily cruel, and they begin to argue. As they do, they are both captured. The king pardons Hooligan B for being kind to the prince, but Hooligan A is summarily burned for his evil intentions. Similarly, both Achashverosh and Haman are, indeed, evil. However, due to the respect Achashverosh will show the Jews (see 6:10 and 8:1-2 below), he will be treated in a kinder fashion.

1It is amazing how Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as dirty rodents on the one hand, and over-intellectual snobs on the other, ignoring the inherent contradiction in these estimations.

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Esther 3:8, Question 4. Why does Haman use both “scattered” and “dispersed” to describe the Jews?

  • Generally, the implication of the word “scattered” is that the object under discussion is weakened and no longer whole. On the contrary, the implication of the word “dispersed” is that the object retains its original strength, and has spread. Rav Dovid Feinstein writes that, by using the word “scattered,” Haman is implying to the king that the Jews should have assimilated into Persian culture by now, but they stubbornly refuse by making themselves “dispersed,” retaining their own culture.
  • Rabbi Naftali of Rofshutz writes that Haman also describes the Jews in this way to address Achashverosh’s concern that no other nation has been able to destroy the Jews – how could he dare try? Haman’s response to this would be to not worry about the Jews’ previous longevity. True, they used to be united as an “am echad,” but now they are scattered and therefore disjointed. Only Jewish unity can save the nation from exile.
  • The Malbim says that Haman is attempting to emphasize that these Jews – these vermin of evil influence, as was echoed in history – are everywhere. We don’t know where they are; they can be hiding everywhere. Even today, the average anti-Semite is under the impression that there are billions of Jews everywhere, and they own the banks, Hollywood, and the government, whereas the truth is that the Jews number merely 0.4% of the world’s population.
  • According to the Alshich, Haman is emphasizing that, as a minority, the Jews are virtually loners, and no other nation would come to their aid in their time of need.
  • Mystically, as mentioned previously, one of the purposes of life in this world is to gain sparks of holiness. Just as sparks are scattered, the Jews have been spread in exile to gather together these sparks. Therefore, the Sfas Emes writes, although the Jewish people are spread out to find these sparks as individuals, we mustn’t lose sight of the need to retain communal unity. Other Jews may need our help to find their intended sparks.
  • Rav Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the acronym of “mefuraz umeforad” (“scattered and dispersed”) spell out the word “mum” (“defect”). By saying this, Haman is attempting to prove to Achashverosh that the Jews are lacking, and can be defeated.
  • Emphasizing the positive in this statement, the Sfas Emes points out that although the Jews are spread out, weakened, and incomplete, they nevertheless do not intermarry, and attempt to identify with their Jewish roots.