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For the week ending 16 March 2019 / 9 Adar II 5779

Spiritual Slumber

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Sandra

Dear Rabbi,

The Megillah mentions that the Jews were dispersed throughout the Persian Empire. And the commentaries note that this was a veiled criticism of their being disunited. However, the same verse refers to them as “one People”. Could you please help clarify this for me?

Dear Sandra,

The verse you refer to is part of the wicked Haman’s attempt to defame the Jews to King Achashverosh and bribe him to decree their destruction. And yes, commentaries point to their disunity as a source for the Divinely-directed decree. Accordingly, it is possible that the verse which states “am echad”, which you understand to mean “one people”, is rather to be understood as “a certain people”. In which case, the text would read as follows:

“And Haman said to King Achashverosh, ‘There is a certain people scattered and separate among the peoples throughout all the provinces of your kingdom, and their laws differ from every people, and they do not keep the king’s laws. It is therefore of no use for the king to let them be. If it pleases the king, let it be written to destroy them, and I will weigh out ten thousand silver talents into the hands of those who perform the work, to bring into the king’s treasuries.” (Esther 3:8-9)

That being said, even if the verse were to be understood as you suggest, literally as “one people”, implying their unity despite their physical dispersion, there is still a separate Talmudic explanation of the verse which accuses the Jews being in a state of spiritual slumber. This is based on the wording “yeishno am echad”, where the word “yeishno” which means “there is” can also be read as “yeishnu”, meaning “there sleeps”, such that the Sages commented (Megillah 13b) that the Jewish People were “asleep regarding the mitzvot”. The explanation is as follows:

If the text had meant to tell the king nothing more than “there is one nation”, then the word for “there is” should have been simply “yeish”, and not “yeishno”. Now that the verse says “yeishno” it is clear that Haman was expressing something more — that “they are sleeping”. Thus, the verse reveals that the Jewish People had not only scattered themselves and were separate, but they had also lost their enthusiasm for the Holy Torah and were “asleep regarding the mitzvot”.

We find in the Talmud (Bava Metzia 16a), “The evil inclination descends and entices, rises and provokes, receives permission, and then takes the soul.” Rashi explains that this force of evil descends from Above and entices people to sin. Then it rises to the Heavenly Court and speaks as prosecutor against the very sinner it seduced in order to provoke the anger of the King. Thereby, it obtains permission to slay the sinners, and then it descends to slay them.

Regarding this teaching, the Sage Reish Lakish commented that this force of evil takes on several manifestations: “It is the evil inclination, it is the Satan, and it is also the Angel of Death”.

Based on this teaching, the author of Sefer Torah Ohr makes a fascinating observation, asserting that this multi-faceted evil being was actually incarnated in the person of Haman himself!

First, assuming the role of the evil inclination, he enticed the Jews to sin by convincing them to partake in the forbidden feasts of Achashverosh. Afterward he acted as Satan, for he accused them of being “asleep regarding the mitzvot”. This then precipitated the decree of death upon them. And finally, acting as the Angel of Death, he deftly designed to take their lives.

Thus, the wicked Haman was simultaneously the evil inclination, the Satan, and the Angel of Death, all in one!

§ Source: The Megillah Anthology, R’ Y.D. Rubin, p. 184

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