Rabbi Jachter's Halacha Files

(and other Halachic compositions)

Parshat VaYikra - Zachor

8 Adar Bet 5768

March 15, 2008

Vol.17 No.26

Megillat Ester and the Yosef Story - Part 1

by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Introduction

Many are aware of the numerous and prominent parallels between Megillat Ester and the Yosef story. We have discovered no less than thirty two parallels between these two stories, and make no claim to have exhausted all the possibilities. The Midrash (Ester Rabbah 7:8) notes many of the parallels, as do the Daat Mikra commentary (Ester pp. 12-14) and Yisrael Shadiel (Megadim 31:95-102). The students I taught at the Torah Academy of Bergen County in 5767 noted many additional parallels, especially the 5767 Y9 class (special thanks to Benny Berlin for recording the many insights we gleaned).

The Midrash - Four Parallels

The Midrash notes the similarities between the Purim story and the Yosef saga. It observes that Yosef, like Ester and Mordechai (see though, Megillah 12b-13b), is a child/descendent of Rachel. The Megillah identifies Mordechai as "Ish Yemini," "From [Sheivet] Binyamin" (Ester 2:4) and lists one of Mordechai's ancestors as Kish, the father of King Shaul, who was from Binyamin. Ester was Mordechai's first cousin (Ester 2:7). The Midrash also notes that Achashveirosh, near the end of the Megillah, removed his ring from Haman and gave it to Mordechai, just as Paroh removed his ring and gave it to Yosef.

Another parallel, both literary and thematic, is the similarity of Yosef resisting the advances of Eishet Potifar and Mordechai resisting the pressure from the king's servants to bow to Haman. Finally, Mordechai was paraded on a royal horse while wearing royal clothes, just as Yosef was given royal clothes and a royal chariot. "Avreich" was called out when Yosef went by (Bereishit 41:43), and an announcement - "This shall be done to the man that the king wishes to honor" (Ester 6:11) - was made when Mordechai was paraded around Shushan.

Daat Mikra and Yisrael Shadiel - Sixteen Parallels

Daat Mikra notes thirteen other parallels between these two stories. Both stories occur outside of Eretz Yisrael. In both situations, individual Jews rise to very high levels of power in a foreign government. The Jews who reach the upper echelons use their power to advocate for and aid their Jewish brethren while simultaneously faithfully and skillfully serving the interests of the monarch.

Both episodes involve good deeds being forgotten; namely, Mordechai's foiling of Bigtan and Teresh's plot to assassinate Achashveirosh and Yosef's interpretation of the dream of the Sar HaMashkim (butler). Sleep - Paroh's dreams and Achashveirosh's one night insomnia - serves as a vehicle to facilitate recognition of these positive but neglected deeds. In both stories, royal ministers - Haman and the Sar HaOfim- are hanged. Ester hides her Jewish identity from Achashveirosh, and Yosef conceals his true identity from his brothers. Both characters reveal their identities after tension-filled partie. Yisrael Shadiel notes that Ester offered Achashveirosh her brethren as slaves in an attempt to spare them from the death sentence, just as Yehuda offered himself to Yosef as a slave in trying to save Binyamin. Yisrael Shadiel also cites Rav Mordechai Breuer, who points out that Rachel, Yosef, and Ester are the only ones in Tanach to be described as beautiful in a doubled manner: "Yefat To'ar" and "Yefat Mareh" (Bereishit 29:17 and 39:6, Ester 2:7). Rav Galinsky of Yeshivat Shaalvim adds another parallel based on the Ketav VeHakabbalah's interpretation of the phrase "And they called before him (Yosef) 'Avreich.'" The Ketav VeHakabbalah explains "Avreich" as an Egyptian royal command to bow down to Yosef, which matches the Persian royal decree to bow to Haman.

Daat Mikra notes the striking literary parallels between the two events. Similar language is employed in describing both Yaakov's decision to risk Binyamin's life in an attempt to save the family ("Kaasher Shacholti Shachalti" - Bereishit 43:15) and Ester's decision to risk her life by appearing unannounced before Achashveirosh in attempt to save her people ("VeChaasher Avadti Avadti" - Ester 4:16). Comparable language is used to describe the embalming of Yaakov Avinu and the preparation of the candidates for their evening with Achashveirosh ("Ki Kein Yimleu" - Bereishit 50:3 and Ester 2:12).

Amazingly parallel language is used to describe the appointment of administrators to gather grain in Egypt and those who would organize the gathering of beautiful women to serve as candidates for the queen of the Persian Empire ("VeYafkeid Pekidim" - Bereishit 41:33 and Ester 2:3). Finally, Ester couches her plea to Achashveirosh in the terms used by Yehuda in pleading for the release of Binyamin ("Ereh Bara Asher Yimtza Et" - Bereishit 44:34 and Ester 8:6).

TABC Students - Twelve Parallels

My Talmidim offered a host of other parallels. They noted, of course, that both Mordechai and Yosef served as Mishneh LaMelech (viceroy) of countries that were during their respective eras the world's only superpower. They noted that both Yosef and Mordechai are described as having been exiled from Eretz Yisrael to a foreign land against their will. Yosef was taken to Paroh against his will, while Ester was taken against her will to Achashveirosh. In both cases, Hashem set up the solution to the problem before the problem began (Makdim Refuah LeMakah; see Megillah 13b) - Ester was appointed queen before Haman rose to power, and Yosef became the viceroy before the seven years of famine. Both Mordechai and Yosef suffered temporarily for their refusal to yield to temptation; Yosef for resisting Eishet Potifar and Mordechai for refusing to bow to Haman. In both cases, the suffering was a "Yeridah LeTzorech Aliyah," "a descent that facilitates an ascent," meaning that in both cases, the refusal to disobey Torah and the subsequent suffering eventually led to success and advancement.

Chazal (Megillah 14a) note that even after we were saved from Haman's planned genocide, we remained "slaves to Achashveirosh." Similarly, we remained slaves to Paroh even after we were saved from the famine. Haman libeled the Jews, just as Eishet Potifar libeled Yosef. In both cases, a major turn occurs after a misinterpreted intimate situation - Yosef with Eishet Potifar and Ester with Haman (see Megillah 16a). Mordechai rose to power based on a recommendation from Ester, and Yosef achieved his position via the suggestion of the Sar HaMashkim.

Chazal also seem to interpret the Megillah in light of these many parallels. They explain (Megillah 13b) that Mordechai saved Achashveirosh from assassination due to his ability understand Bigtan and Teresh's plot despite it being spoken in a foreign tongue that no one else in the palace was able to understand. Chazal's assertion might be based on a parallel to Yosef's ability to interpret Paroh's dream when no one else was able to do so, which saved Paroh and his kingdom from the ravages of a seven year famine. Avi Levinson (TABC '08) notes that this parallel seems to be used by Chazal in the reverse direction as well. Chazal (Sotah 36b) teach that Yosef knew a language Paroh didn't (Hebrew), which paved the way for securing permission to bury Yaakov in Eretz Yisrael and for Yosef to be appointed viceroy in the first place.

Chazal (Megillah 11b) state that Achashveirosh used stolen items from the Beit HaMikdash. This assertion might be based not only on the parallel event in chapter six of Sefer Daniel (there are also numerous parallels between Megillat Ester and Sefer Daniel), where Belshatzar used the stolen vessels from the Beit HaMikdash , but also on the fact that a stolen vessel plays a role in the Yosef story as well (Bereishit 44:2-15).

Conclusion - Significance of the Parallels

Megillat Ester loudly and clearly calls our attention to the Yosef story. The question is why. One reason might be to stress the principle of Maaseh Avot Siman LaBanim, the events of the earlier Jewish generations point to what will occur to future generations. In other words, Megillat Ester is screaming out between its lines that the Yosef story has repeated itself. This message is enormously important to all generations of Jews, because the Megillah forewarns us that just as the Yosef story repeated itself, so too the Ester story will repeat itself in the future. The Megillah communicates to us that it is essential that we learn the lessons of the Purim story in order to insure the survival of our people in the Galut.

Some of the survival lessons we need to glean from the Megillah are discussed in Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik's lecture presented in Reflections of the Rav 1 (pp. 178-186). These lessons include the fact that Jews in the Galut are vulnerable and must be vigilant and avoid naiveté. Recall that the Persian Empire was very positively disposed toward Am Yisrael during the reign of Achashveirosh's predecessors, Koreish and Daryavesh. The change to anti-Semitism was very quick and entirely unexpected, catching the Jews surprised and unprepared. Recall that the Megillah records that the city of Shushan was confused (Ester 3:15), perhaps for this reason.

We may add another survival lesson gleaned from the Megillah is the need for Diaspora Jews to be politically engaged as Mordechai was, which led to overcoming Haman's decree. NORPAC is an excellent opportunity to act as a modern-day Mordechai and Ester (visit www.norpac.net).

A second message that the Megillah is broadcasting by this plethora of allusions to the Yosef story might have to do with the absence of an explicit reference to Hashem in this work. In a previous essay (available at www.koltorah.org), we discussed why it was necessary for Megillat Ester to be written in a secular style that omits direct mention of the Creator. Nonetheless, it is possible that the Megillah does indirectly mention Hashem by the many references to the Yosef story.

Rashi (commenting on Bereishit 39:3) writes about Yosef, "The name of Hashem was constantly in his mouth." Yisrael Shadiel notes that Yosef mentions Hashem in almost every conversation of his that is recorded in the Chumash and at least once with every character with whom he interacts (with the exception of the Egyptian nation). When naming his two sons, Yosef mentions Hashem. In total, Yosef refers to Hashem no less than twenty one times in the Chumash.

The Megillah might be telling us that although it is necessary to omit Hashem's name from the text, nevertheless, just as Yosef unabashedly emphasized Hashem's worldly involvement, so too reading between the lines of the Megillah teaches that Hashem is behind the events recorded in this text. Yosef taught that Hashem is involved in terrestrial events even when His presence is not obvious. The Megillah teaches this lesson by its many "hyperlinks" to the Yosef story.

We would all do well to take the lessons of Ester and Yosef to heart. We must have a conscious awareness that despite His apparent lack of involvement, Hashem is constantly in control of all events in the world. We must also be sure to avoid becoming complacent in Galut, lest the story of Ester repeat itself.