Friday, March 6, 2009

David Forhman on Megillat Esther - Two Thumbs UP

No need to reiterate my skepticism related to the historicity of the Purim story; readers are referred to the posts 10000 Talents of Silver and
The Ahistorical Nature of Megillat Esther. These touch on only a few of the many problems with the accuracy of such a story; the interested reader is referred to the considerable body of scholarly literature available on both the web and in print (one of my favorites is Michael V. Fox's Character and Ideology in the Book of Esther.)

But historical skepticism doesn't imply that there is no value to the telling of the story. Nor does it matter whether its multi-layered intricacy was intentional or primarily the product of later interpreters. The author(s) of Megillat Esther has (have) woven together a fascinating saga with a timeless message for the Jewish people.

I recently listened to a wonderful lecture by Rabbi David Forhman available on YUTorah: The Queen You Thought You Knew: The Hidden Heroism of Esther. Forhman begins by elaborating nine bothersome problems regarding the Megillah (it's too long - the climax seems to occur in chapter 7 yet it goes on for three more long chapters; Esther's puzzling strategy; emphasis on the grandeur of Mordechai; why does Haman point out that the Jews are scattered; why does the king want to display Vashti; etc.) and then weaves together a very compelling narrative that neatly answers all of the problems. (Much of it relies on the complex political interplay of the characters; see also the post My Last Words on Purim). The lecture is a pleasure to listen to and has my highest recommendation; if you have an hour to spare, please check it out before Purim - I guarantee that you will gain a new appreciation for the Megillah reading. Even if you are a skeptic like yours truly!


Baal Habos said...

It does sound interesting. I'll try to check it out.

Baal Habos said...

FH, I finished listening to this today and while he has great delivery, I really don't see the gadlus in this. Most of it was quite the way I always understood it, eg, as Esther creating this tension between Haman and the King, etc. Some nice touches about the parallel language between Yehudah and Esther, but is that really so atypical? Interesting concept about Esther representing Mother Persia.

He does tie in everything nicely.

But this always begs the question, is all this Torah really the author's original intent?

Frum Heretic said...

While I had heard some of these ideas before, I felt that R. Forhman neatly tied together the answers to a number of puzzles in the story. (And DovBear's "Plot holes in Esther" post suggests that some of these problems continue to bother other people as well, such as why Ahashuerus agreed to exterminate the Jews, why the need for the second party, why Esther couldn't ask for more when the King offered, etc). I also thought that tying in the historical Rachel/Leah rivalry was quite interesting.

As for what was the original intent, who knows? (see the second paragraph of the post.) Every generation takes new meaning from the stories of Tanach.

Baal Habos said...

>or primarily the product of later interpreters

Interesting that you said that. It used to be one of my Kashyes. I forgot what it was about, but I once heard this Rav get up and said mamish a beautiful outstanding vort, the kind that answered real questions, by tying in a different possuk in a differnt parsha that also made didn't make much sense independantly. And he prefaced it by saying, that he believes that he actually stumbled onto "The emmeseh Pshat". And it mamish made sense. But then I thought, how is it that Hashem would allow this "emmese pshat" to go unknown for two millenia, be discovered by some relatively unknown Rav who will never publish it, and then let the Pshat fade into oblivion?

(I probably should turn this into a real post.)

Frum Heretic said...

Some Torah/Science reconciler/ kiruvniks are similarly guilty when they imply that only today can we truly understand some of the statements of Torah/Talmud/Chazal/Zohar/etc. What, you mean for the past 3000 years everyone got it wrong or had a flawed interpretation??

(I recently got into a similar argument with a friend that related to the text of the first beracha of birkat hamazon which I take major exception to. He had a nice pshat, but IMO it only works for perhaps the last 100 years. Probably fodder for a post...)