Will He Deal with our Sister as with a Harlot?


Precis: Although Purim has festive trappings, it also has a tragic dimension, because it spelled personal tragedy for Mordecai and Ester. And the relevance of personal outrage and suffering to the national condition must be understood as well



אִישׁ יְהוּדִי
הָיָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה
מָרְדֳּכַי בֶּן יָאִיר בֶּן שִׁמְעִי בֶּן קִישׁ
אִישׁ יְמִינִי


The Megila has to resolve the tension between the opening and closing phrases of the Pasuk, which label Mordecai in Shushan as both: Ish Yehudi and Ish Yemini.

The contradiction is addressed by Rashi:

איש יהודי
על שגלה עם גלות יהודה
כל אותן שגלו עם מלכות יהודה היו קרויין יהודים בין הגוים ואפילו הן משבט אחר
והוא איש ימיני היה
כך פשוטו
ורבותינו דרשו מה שדרשו

Rashi defines Ish Yehudi – a Jew – to be a man who is powerless, because he is in exile, in Galut.

The Ish Yemini (on the other hand) has a powerful right hand, which he can use to alter the circumstances in which he finds himself.

The usual understanding of the term Ish Yemini is that it denotes Mordecai as being from Shevet Binyamin, the Tribe of Benjamin.

But Rashi avoids saying this. Rather, he implies that Ish Yemini is not a matter of pedigree, but a matter of choice. It is not who you are or how you were born: rather, it is a question of how you choose to act.

What exactly does Ish Yemini mean? The word Yemini appears in the Tora only once [baMidbar 26;12]. And it has no reference to Binyamin. Rather, it refers to Yamin, a son of Shimon:

בנֵי שִׁמְעוֹן לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם
לִנְמוּאֵל מִשְׁפַּחַת הַנְּמוּאֵלִי
לְיָמִין מִשְׁפַּחַת הַיָּמִינִי
לְיָכִין מִשְׁפַּחַת הַיָּכִינִי

Does Purim – the battle against Amalek – in fact have more to do with Shimon than it has to do with Binyamin?

It seems that it does. Divrei haYamin (Chronicles) 1 4;26 has this to say about the sons of Shimon: And they smote the remnant of Amalek who had escaped; and dwelt there to this day.

וַיַּכּוּ אֶת שְׁאֵרִית הַפְּלֵטָה לַעֲמָלֵק
וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם
עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה

In fact, the connection of Binyamin to Purim is only relevant in terms of failure to destroy Amalek. As in the case of Shaul (King Saul) – who was from the tribe of Binyamin.

Rahel, however – the mother of Binyamin – is instrumental to the story of Purim.

Rahel and Yakov had a stormy relationship and disagreed with each other, more often than not. When Rahel died, she named her son Ben Oni. Yakov contradicted her, and called the child Bin Yamin. In the Purim story, Rahel lives again as Ester. Ester and Rahel are described in similar terms, as being both beautiful and fair.

As Yacov loved Rahel for her beauty, so did Mordecai love Ester. This means that the Purim story has a tragic personal dimension. The Talmud states that Mordecai and Ester were man and wife.

Yakov virtually disowned Shimon, because he felt that Shimon lacked finesse. But the world of Amalek is a savage, violent, and cruel one; and the Purim story, in part, is the story of how Rahel as Ester vindicates Shimon.

Shimon asked [Breshit 34;31]: Will he deal with our sister as with a harlot?

ויאמרו הכזונה יעשה את אחותנו

Which is a question we may fairly ask about our sister Ester in regard to the depraved king of Shusan.

Purim is like Yom Cipur (the Day of Atonement), but with special reference to the age-old problem of the attitude that we, as a nation, need to adopt towards those who wish to annihilate us. The reason we read the Megila again and again, every year, is in order to enable us to revisit this issue and try discover a renewed perspective that may be more relevant to the age in which we live.

Purim, for us, need not be the story of the second son of Rahel, Binyamin, and the partial failure of Shaul. Rather, it might be the story of how Rahel vindicates and redeems the character of the second son of her sister Leah: Shimon.

We have already quoted Shimon:

Will he deal with our sister as with a harlot?

But who is the subject of this statement?

At first glance, the subject is Hamor ben Shechem the Hivvite. Who violated Dina; who happened to be the daughter of Yakov and the sister of Shimon.

But the issue is not merely of personal relevance to Yakov and his family. Due to the vexed relations of the Children of Israel with all the nations of the world, from that time on till our present day, the issue has national and historical significance as well.

Yakov fears the fallout of his sons’ actions in defending the honor of Dina.

But Shimon elevates the issue to its true level: Will He – God! – deal with our sister as with a harlot? Is she a princess in God’s eyes or is she a slut? Is it God’s will that our national history be forever a tale of threatened mass-murder laced with intermittent sporadic murder, sordid criminality, rapine, and strife? Is our natural place in the gutter? Is this forever the way it is going to be?

Year by year, we should have a better answer to that question. But a great deal of the answer depends upon us.

We first have to ask ourselves: How is God involved in this battle? Are we are fighting merely for our own physical survival?

Or is the Honor of the God of Israel at stake here as well?

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