An Excerpt from Mesorat Harav Megillat Esther

OU Kosher February 26, 2018

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Following the success of the Mesorat HaRav volumes of the Kinot, Siddur, Chumash, and Birkon, OU Press has now released Megillat Esther Mesorat HaRav, another outstanding addition to the library of the Rav Soloveitchik’s masterful works. Below, enjoy an excerpt from the brand new title, available at OU.org.


The story of Esther tells us in the most lively, realistic fashion, with a tinge of refined yet biting sarcasm, about paradoxical, absurd events, which are both tragic and comical at the same time. It is a strange story, both sad and funny, about a king, neither wicked nor cruel per se, who signed, upon the spur of the moment, a decree to exterminate a people he did not know, without even inquiring as to their identity, and a short time later forgot the whole incident and became very indignant over Haman’s foul conspiracy.


It is a story about a commonwealth where many races lived, many languages were spoken, many rituals practiced, a pluralistic society, culturally and religiously, which suddenly decided to commit genocide for one reason only: the people who were to be exterminated were abiding by religious statutes and laws that differed from those of other people. It is a puzzling story about millions and millions of people, about countless liberal-minded, decent individuals who indifferently accepted the satanic, bloodthirsty, murderous royal edict, without even asking themselves, Can we tolerate that? Can we stand by and witness the extermination of a people? It is a story about a conspiracy of silence agreed to by the entire citizenry of the great Persian empire.


A short time before, the entire population was invited to the seven-day feast on the grounds of the royal palace. The invitations were extended to everybody, Jew and gentile alike, to all races and faiths, “for all the men of the imperial city, Shushan, from the greatest to the lowliest” (1:5). The invited guests fraternized, drank toasts, shook hands, and hugged each other. A little later, the ruthless, inhuman edict was issued and sent hastily with the couriers to all parts of the commonwealth “that they wipe out, kill and destroy all the Jews, young and old, children and women alike, all in one day” (3:13). The king and Haman celebrated by feasting on wine! How is it possible?


The answer to this riddle can be found in our philosophy of man as a dual, dichotomous being, burdened with an inner contradiction. On the one hand, Judaism looks upon man with a sympathetic, appreciative eye—indeed with admiration. He is the king of all creatures. Judaism has time and again expressed faith in man and belief in human uniqueness, in man’s royal status, in his contemplative, meditative power. After all, he is the only rational being in the universe. In a word: he is a great figure. That this thesis is correct, that Judaism is optimistic about man and his nature, can be attested by our stand on human freedom. Judaism has declared without any reservations that the human being enjoys unrestricted moral freedom. God does not interfere with man’s liberty to plot his own existential course. Apparently, man is deserving of freedom. It has not been granted to any other creature.


On the other hand, Judaism has also treated man with extreme caution, alas suspicion. The Judaic skepticism concerning man is due to our historical experience and memory – that man, though endowed with divine rationality, may turn at a moment’s notice into either a non-rational or an irrational being. That is why Judaism took all the extravagance of man in stride. It has never been stunned, amazed, or aghast watching the latter suddenly run amok. In the opinion of Judaism, there is no element of surprise in man’s abrupt changes and transformations; his unpredictability is a part of his humanity, and I would say that his unpredictability is quite predictable.