For Reading Out Loud
Rabbi David L Kline
CONTEXT: This is a tale of the Persian King the Greeks called Xerxes I, 486-465 BCE, and his encounter with Jews of his land. Xerxes was the only Persian king “who reigned from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces…his throne in Shushan .” Other than that, and the names of the characters which, written in Hebrew, come across as recognizably Persian, and the titles of the officials which correspond to those recorded in outside sources, nothing in the story is corroborated in the historical record. Antisemitism resulting from a single negative personal experience being generalized into hate of the “other” sounds as likely in this story as it does in actual history. Similarly, the case of individual Jews rising to high state and helping their brethren in time of need seems to be not uncommon. Plausibility stops, however, with the salacious contest for queen. And, horrobile dictu, there is no Persian word “pur” meaning “lot.”
The writing style is simple, repetitive, and labored, suggesting an author who did not speak Hebrew but wrote in the language. My translation mimics the feel as well as the sense of the writing. The anglicized forms of the names (based on Septuagint and Vulgate pronunciations) make no sense to me so I have supplied direct transliterations. Vowels follow Latin pronunciation. Accent the final syllable. (e.g. Ester sounds like the last name of Fred Astaire.) The flow of the story, as well as the character of the writing, breaks down beginning with chapter 9, verse 20, “Mord’chai wrote down these things. . .” For clarity I employ the proclamation and list forms.
The author, as usual in Tanach, is unknown. Thematic and linguistic data point to the Hellenistic period for the composition of Ester. 2 Maccabees (124 BCE) mentions “Mord’chai’s Day,” as the day following the 13th of Adar celebration of the victory over Nicanor (15:36), so the date must have been observed by the middle of the reign of the Hasmoneans. The book may have been written as back-story for Purim, a notably raucous, topsy-turvy, celebration featuring jokes over meditation and drinking over prayer. Arthur Waskow long ago offered what became my favorite characterization of the Book of Ester: “the original Purim Spiel.” Note that the Targum (the Aramaic translation) expands the narrative to a complex melodrama, and so does the Septuagint (Greek). My task here is to render the original in its simplicity, leaving room for tellers and hearers to have the fun.
1Once upon a time in the day of Achashverosh, the one who reigned from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces:
2In those days, having sat on his throne in Shushan the citadel for three years 3he threw a drinking party for all his rulers and servants. The forces of the Medes and Persians, the governors and rulers of the provinces were there. 4For 180 days he showed off his grand royal wealth, his costly decorations. 5Next he made a week long party in the house garden for the entire population, great or small, of Shushan the citadel. 6The royal palace was hung with cotton, linen, violet, and purple, tied with cords of sea silk on silver rollers and alabaster columns. Couches of gold and silver rested on pavement of porphyry and alabaster, mother of pearl, and quartz. 7Drinks in gold vessels of various shapes held royal wine in plenty by the open hand of the king. 8Drinking was by law! No limitation, for the king fundamentally ordered every headwaiter in his house, “Make be the wish of each and every man.”
9Queen Vashti, as well, made a drinking party, for women, in the royal home of King Achashverosh.
10On the seventh day, the king’s heart good with the wine, he said to M’human, Bizta, Charbona, Bigta, Avagta, Zetar, and Karkas, the seven eunuchs who served his royal presence, 11“Bring Vashti the queen into the presence of the king. Have her wear a royal crown so as to show her beauty to the peoples and the rulers, for she is good looking.”
12But Queen Vashti refused to come at the word of the king as conveyed by the eunuchs. The king got very angry. His wrath burned within him 13and he consulted the wise men, knowers of the times, for such was the way of the king before all knowers of law and order. 14He summoned Karshna, Shetar, Admata, Tarshish, Meres, Marsna, M’muchan, the seven rulers of the Medes and Persians who were admitted to the royal presence and who sat first in the kingdom. 15“By law, what is to be done with Queen Vashti for her not doing the saying of King Achashverosh by the eunuchs?”
16M’muchan said before the king and the rulers, “Not the king alone, has Queen Vashti wronged. She has wronged all the rulers and all the peoples throughout the provinces of King Achashverosh. 17When word of the queen gets out, it will empower all the women to look disdainfully on their masters. They will say, “King Achashverosh said to bring Queen Vashti to his presence and she would not come. 18This very day the dignitary women of Mada and Persia, upon hearing word of the queen, will backtalk all the king’s rulers. More than enough disdain and rage!
19“If it is good for the king, let a royal word go out from his presence. Be it written in the laws of the Medes and the Persians that none can transgress: to the effect that Vashti no more come before King Achashverosh and that the king give her reign to another who is better than her. 20This royal edict, proclaimed throughout his reign so broad, will be heard. Then all the women will give esteem to their masters from great to small.”
21The thing was good in the eyes of the king and the rulers and the king did as M’muchan had spoken. He sent out scrolls to all the royal provinces, each province in its writing, each people in its tongue, so that every man be ruler in his house.
1Following these events, when the royal wrath had cooled, the king remembered Vashti and what she did, and that decreed against her. 2The king’ s boys, his servers, said, “How about sending out a request for good looking virgin girls for the king! 3His majesty could commission commissioners in every province of his kingdom and they could gather every good-looking virgin girl to Shushan the citadel. They could go to the harem in charge of Hege, Royal Eunuch, Keeper of the women, and he could see to their rubdowns. 4And the girl who proves good in the eyes of the king, she could reign in place of Vashti.” The thing was good in the king’s eyes, so he did it.
5In Shushan the citadel there was a Jewish man named Mord’chai benYair benShim’I benKish of Binyamin. 6He, Kish, was of those exiled from Y’rushalayim along with Y’chonyah, King of Y’hudah, exiled by N’vuchadnetsar, king of Bavel. 7Mord’chai was caregiver to Hadasah/Ester, his cousin, for she had no father or mother. The girl was a beauty in shape, good to look at. At the death of her father and mother, Mord’chai had taken her to himself as a daughter. 8And so it happened that when the royal word and law was heard, and in the gathering of many girls to Shushan the citadel in charge of Hegai, that Ester was taken to the palace, in charge of Hegai, Keeper of the Women.
9The girl was good in Hegai’s eyes. She won favor before him so he expedited her rubdowns
and the delivery of her food portions and getting her the seven girls she was entitled to from the palace. Then he moved her and her seven girls to the best of the harem.
10Ester hadn’t told of her people or her kin, for Mord’chai had commanded her not to tell. 11Every day Mord’chai walked about before the court of the harem so as to know Ester’s wellbeing and what was being done with her.
12Each girl’s turn to come to King Achashverosh would arrive at the end of a twelve month period of rubdowns as required by the law for women: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and women’s rubdowns. 13And with this the girl would come to the king. Any accessory she requested would be given her to come from the harem to the palace. 14In the evening she came and in the morning she returned again to the harem to the charge of Sha’ashgaz, Royal Eunuch, Keeper of the Concubines. She would come no more to the king unless he desired her and she was called by name.
15When her turn to come to the king arrived, Ester batAvichayil–adopted daughter of Mord’chai her cousin–did not request a thing other than what was said by Hegai, Royal
Eunuch, Keeper of the Women. Ester radiated charm in the eyes of all who looked at her.
16In the tenth month, Tevet, in the seventh year of his reign, Ester was brought to King Achashverosh in the palace. 17The king loved Ester more than the other women! She charmed and won favor beyond the other virgins. So he put the royal crown on her head, and made her queen in place of Vashti. 18He then threw a great drinking party for all his rulers and servants: The Ester Drinking Party! He proclaimed an amnesty for the provinces and he gave a kingly openhanded grant.
19Some virgins remained gathered and Mord’chai remained at the gate. 20Ester had not told of her kin or her people, as Mord’chai had commanded her. What Mord’chai said, Ester did as she had done while in his care.
21In those days, as Mord’chai was sitting at the gate of the palace, Bigtan and Teresh, two Royal Eunuchs of the Keepers of the Doorway, they became enraged and sought to lay hand on King Achashverosh. 22Mord’chai learned of the matter and told Queen Ester. Ester told the king, in Mord’chai’s name. 23The matter was investigated and confirmed. Both of them were hanged on a tree. All was recorded before the king in the scroll for the words of the days.
1After these things, King Achashverosh aggrandized Haman benHamdata the Agagi–distant descendent of King Agag of Amalek in the days of Saul. He promoted him, setting his seat above those of his fellow rulers. 2All the servants of the king who were at the palace gate would bow the head and bend the knee to Haman just as the king had commanded for him. But Mord’chai would neither bow the head nor bend the knee. 3The servants of the king who were at the palace gate said to Mord’chai, “Why do you transgress the royal command?” 4As it happened, they said this to him day by day and he did not listen to them. So they told Haman, to see whether Mord’chai’s words would stand, for he had told them that he was a Jew.
5Haman now saw that Mord’chai was not bowing the head and bending the knee to him and he filled with wrath. 6He disdained to raise hand against Mord’chai alone, for they had told him Mord’chai’s people. Haman sought to destroy all the Jews of Achashverosh’s entire kingdom along with Mord’chai. 7In the first month, Nisan, in the 12th year of King Achashverosh, they cast pur–that is “lots”–before Haman, over each day and each month, leading to the selection of the twelfth month, Adar.
8Then Haman said to King Achashverosh, “There is a certain people scattered and separated among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom. Their laws differ from those of other people, and the laws of the king they do not do. For the king it’s not equitable to leave them alone. 9If it’s good for the king, be it written to lose them. And, ten thousand disks of silver I will weigh out, by the hands of they who do the work, to bring to the royal treasury!”
10The king took his ring off his hand and gave it to Haman benHamdata the Agagi, enemy of the Jews. 11The king said to Haman, “The silver is given to you along with the people, to do as is good in your eyes.”
12The royal scribes were summoned on the 13th day of the first month. All that Haman commanded was written to the satraps of the king and to the governors of each province and to the rulers of each people. 13For each province in its own writing, for each people, in its tongue, with scrolls sent by the runners to all the royal provinces:
14WRITTEN IN THE NAME OF KING ACHASHVEROSH AND SEALED WITH THE ROYAL RING
ON A SINGLE DAY, THE 13TH OF ADAR THE 12TH MONTH
TO DESTROY, SLAY, AND LOSE ALL THE JEWS
YOUNG AND OLD, WOMEN AND CHILDREN, THEIR PLUNDER AS BOOTY
A copy of the legal document in every province, clear to all the peoples, to be prepared for this day, 15the runners hurried with the royal word.
The law got posted in Shushan the citidel. The king and Haman sat down to drink. The city of Shushan was perplexed.
1Mord’chai knew all that had been done. He ripped his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went out to the center of the city and cried out a great and bitter lamentation. 2He arrived at the front of the royal gate though one should not approach the royal gate dressed in sackcloth. 3In every single province, any place the royal word and law reached, there was great mourning for the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing, and sackcloth spread over many.
4Ester’s girls and eunuch’s came and told her. The queen gave a big shudder and sent garments to clothe Mord’chai in place of his sackcloth. But he wouldn’t accept. 5Ester then summoned Hatach, one of the royal eunuchs who had been placed before her. She commanded him regarding Mord’chai, to know what is this and why. 6Hatach went out to the city square in front of the royal gate. 7Mord’chai told him all that had happened to him and about the exact amount of silver Haman had said he would weigh out for the royal treasury for losing the Jews. 8He gave him a written copy that had been posted in Shushan, of the law to destroy them, to show Ester and tell her. And he should order her to approach the king, plead and petition him regarding her people.
9Hatach came and told Ester Mord’chai’s words. 10Ester said to Hatach, and commanded him, to pass it to Mord’chai: 11“All servants of the king and people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without having been summoned, there is but one law. To be killed! Except for one to whom the king extends his gold scepter that he live. And, as for me, I have not been summoned to approach the king for thirty days now.”
12They told Mord’chai Ester’s words 13and he said, respond to Ester, “Do not imagine escape in the palace apart from all the Jews. 14If you indeed keep silent at this moment, relief and help will rise for the Jews from another place and you and your family will be lost. Who knows but that for just such a moment as this have you reached royalty.”
15Ester said to respond to Mord’chai, 16“Go, assemble all Jews to be found in Shushan. Fast on my behalf. Don’t eat or drink for three days, night or day. I too, with my girls, shall fast like that. And so I will approach the king, which is illegal. If I am lost, I am lost!” 17Mord’chai went and did all that Ester commanded him.
1It happened on the third day. Ester dressed royally and stood in the inner court, opposite the house of the king. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the royal house opposite the entrance. 2It then happened as the king saw Queen Ester standing in the court that she won favor in his eyes and he extended to her the gold scepter in his hand. Ester came near and touched the head of the scepter.
3“What’s up, Queen Ester?” said the king to her. “And whatever your request, up to half the kingdom is given you.”
4Said Ester, “If it’s good for the king, the king will come today, with Haman, to a drinking party I have made for him.
5Said the king to his boys, “Hurry Haman to do the word of Ester.”
The King came with Haman to the drinking party Ester had made. 6In the course of drinking wine he said to Ester, “Whatever you ask, it’s given you. Whatever your request, up to half the kingdom, it’s done.”
7Ester answered, “My asking, my request–8if I have found favor in the eyes of the king and if it is good for the king to grant my asking and do my request–the king will come with Haman, to the drinking party I shall make for them. Tomorrow I shall do as the king says.”
9Haman went out that day joyful and good-hearted. But then he saw Mord’chai at the royal gate, and Mord’chai neither rose nor trembled on his account. 10Haman was filled with wrath but he restrained himself and arrived home. There he called together his friends and Zeresh, his wife. 11He told them about the weight of his wealth, about his many sons, and about all the king had done to aggrandize him and promote him above the rulers and servants of the king. 12“Indeed,” he went on, “Queen Ester brought none but me to come with the king to the drinking party she made. And tomorrow too, I’m invited by her along with the king. 13And all this means nothing to me any time I see Mord’chai the Jew sitting at the royal gate.”
14Then said Zeresh–and his friends, “Let then make a tall pole, fifty cubits! And in the morning, tell the king about it and they will hang Mord’chai on it. Then go joyfully with the king to the drinking party.”
The thing was good in Haman’s eyes so he made the pole.
1That night the king’s sleep wandered. So he said to bring the memoir scroll, the words of the days, to be read aloud before the king. 2And there it was found written that Mord’chai had informed about Bigtana and Teresh, the two royal eunuchs, Keepers of the Doorway, who had sought to hand on King Achashverosh. 3“What,” said the king, “has been done to Mord’chai by way of esteem and agrandizement for this?”
“Nothing,” said the king’s boys, his servers, “has been done with him.”
4“Who’s in the court?” said the king. Haman had come to the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about hanging Mord’chai on the pole he had prepared for him.
5“Why, it’s Haman standing in the court,” said the king’s boys.
“Come in,” said the king. 6Haman came in and the king said, “What’s to be done with the man whose esteem the king desires?”
Haman said in his mind, “Whom would the king desire to esteem more than me?” 7To the king he said, “For the man whose esteem the king desires: 8let them bring a royal garment that the king has worn, and a horse on which the king has ridden, the royal crown on its head, 9the garment and the horse to be presented by one of the kings rulers, a governor. Let them dress the man whose esteem the king desires, and ride him on the horse through the city square. Let them call out before him, “SO BE IT DONE FOR THE MAN WHOSE ESTEEM THE KING DESIRES.”
10“Hurry!” said the king. “Take the garment and the horse, just as you have spoken. Do thus for Mord’chai the Jew who sits at the royal gate. Let nothing fall of all you have spoken.”
11So Haman took the garment and the horse and dressed Mord’chai and rode him through the city square and called out before him, “SO BE IT DONE FOR THE MAN WHOSE ESTEEM THE KING DESIRES.”
12Mord’chai then returned to the royal gate. Haman hastened home, mourning and with head covered.
13Haman told Zeresh and his friends all that had happened to him. His wise ones and his wife said to him, “This Mord’chai before whom you’ve started to fall, if he is seed of the Jews, you’ll never prevail over him. You are bound to fall!” 14They were still speaking when the royal eunuchs arrived and rushed to bring Haman to the drinking party that Ester had made.
1The king came and Haman to drink with Queen Ester. 2On this the second day of wine drinking, the king again said to Ester, “Whatever you ask is given you. Whatever your request, up to half the kingdom, is done.”
3Queen Ester answered, “If I have found favor in your eyes and if it is good for the king, let my life be given me for my asking, my people as my request. 4For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, slain, and lost. Had we been sold for slaves and handmaids, I should have held silence, for adversity like that would not have been worth troubling the king.
5King Achashverosh spoke up, turning directly to Queen Ester, “Who is this? Where is there such a one who has made up his mind to do thus?”
6Said Ester, “A man, adversary and foe, this wicked Haman!”
Haman was stunned before the king and the queen. 7The king rose in his wrath, from the wine drinking out to the house garden. Haman stood, to petition Queen Ester for his life for he saw that the king’s bad intention towards him was complete. 8Then the king returned from the house garden to the wine drinking room and there was Haman, fallen on the couch where Ester was. “Was he even going to conquer the queen with me right here in the house?!” The words were no sooner out of the king’s mouth than they covered Haman’s face.
9Said Charbonah, one of the eunuchs before the king, “By coincidence there is the pole made by Haman for Mord’chai, the one whose words benefitted the king. It’s standing at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.”
“Hang him on it,” said the king. 10So they hanged Haman on the pole he had prepared for Mord’chai. The king’s wrath subsided.
1That day King Achashverosh gave to Queen Ester the house of Haman, adversary of the Jews. Also, Mord’chai came before the king, Ester having told what he was to her. 2The king took off his ring, which he had removed from Haman, and gave it to Mord’chai. Ester set Mord’chai over Haman’s house.
3Ester spoke again before the king. She fell at his feet and wept, and she begged him to remove the wickedness of Haman the Agagi, his intention against the Jews. 4The king extended the gold scepter so she arose and stood before him. 5“If it is good for the king, and if I have found favor before him, and the thing is proper before the king and I am good in his eyes, then let it be written to rescind the scrolls–the thinking of Haman benHamdata the Agagi–he wrote to lose the Jews in all the provinces of the king. 6For how can I go on having seen the wickedness that will find my people? How can I go on having seen the loss of my kin?”
7The king said to Queen Ester and Mord’chai the Jew, “Well, I have given Ester the house of Haman, and hanged him on the pole for raising a hand against the Jews. 8So you go ahead and write, in the name of the king, what ever is good in your eyes regarding the Jews. Seal it with the royal ring for a document written in the name of the king and sealed with the royal ring there is no rescinding.”
9They summoned the royal scribes. On the 23rd day of the third month, Sivan, all that Mord’chai commanded was written to the Jews and to the satraps and the governors and rulers of the 127 provinces, from India to Ethiopia, each province in its own writing, each people in its tongue, and to the Jews, in their writing and tongue. 10Under the name and seal of Achashverosh, he sent scrolls by runners on elite, royal thoroughbreds:
11BY ROYAL GRANT TO THE JEWS OF EVERY CITY:
TO CONGREGATE AND STAND FOR THEIR LIVES
TO DESTROY, SLAY, AND LOSE ALL FORCES OF PEOPLE AND PROVINCE WHO OPPOSE THEM
INCLUDING WOMEN AND CHILDREN–THEIR PLUNDER AS BOOTY
12ON A SINGLE DAY, THE 13TH OF ADAR THE 12TH MONTH
THROUGHOUT THE PROVINCES OF KING ACHSHVEROSH,
13A copy of the legal document in every province, clear to all the peoples, for the Jews to be prepared for this day, to be avenged of their enemies. 14The runners hurried urgently, on royal thoroughbreds, with the royal word. The law was posted in Shushan the citidel.
15Mord’chai left the presence of the king dressed in royal blue and white, a large gold crown, a purple cape of sea silk. The city of Shushan was raucous and joyful. 16The Jews had light and joy, exultation and splendor. 17In every single province and every city reached by the royal word and law, there was joy and exultation for the Jews, holiday partying with drink. Many of the peoples of the land converted to Judaism because fear of Jews had fallen on them.
1The 13th day of Adar, the 12th month, the day on which the royal word and law was due to be done, that day on which the Jews’ enemies had looked forward to dominating them, was turned upside down, such that they the Jews dominated their haters. 2The Jews congregated in their cities throughout the provinces of King Achashverosh to lay hand on those who sought their harm. Not a man stood up to them for fear of them had fallen on all the peoples. 3And all the provincial rulers and satraps, the governors and they who did the king’s work, exalted the Jews for fear of Mord’chai had fallen on them. 4Since he was grand in the palace, news of him traveled throughout the provinces that the man, Mord’chai was growing grander.
5The Jews struck at all their enemies, a blow of sword, slaying and loosing. They had their way with their haters. 6In Shushan the citadel the Jews slew for a loss of 500 men, including the 10 sons of Haman benHamdata, adversary of the Jews:
10They did not reach hand for the booty.
11That very day the count of the slain in Shushan the citadel came to the king. 12He said to Queen Ester, “In Shushan the citadel the Jews have slain for a loss of 500 men, including Haman’s 10 sons. What will they have done in the rest of the royal provinces? Whatever you ask is given you, any further request, is done.”
13So Ester said, “If it is good for the king, be it given to the Jews tomorrow to follow the law of today, and hang the bodies of the 10 sons of Haman on the pole.” 14The king said for it so to be done. The law was given in Shushan, and they hung the 10. 15The Jews of Shushan gathered again on the 14th of Adar and slew another 300. They did not reach hand for the booty.
16The rest of the Jews in the royal provinces congregated to stand for their lives, on the 13th of Adar, and had rest from their enemies after slaying among their haters 75,000–and they did not reach hand for the booty. 17The rest on the 14th they made a day of drinking and joy.
18The Jews of Shushan, having congregated on the 13th and 14th, had rest on the 15th, and made of it a day of drinking and joy. 19(For this reason rural Jews, dwellers in unfortified towns, make of the 14th of Adar: joy, drinking, and holiday, and sending food portions–shalach moness–to one another.)
20Mord’chai wrote down these things and sent scrolls to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Achashverosh, near and far, to establish for themselves:
21MAKE OF THE 14TH AND 15TH OF ADAR, EVERY YEAR
22LIKE THE DAYS THE JEWS RESTED FROM THEIR ENEMIES
THE MONTH THAT WAS TURNED FOR THEM
FROM SADNESS TO JOY, FROM MOURNING TO HOLIDAY
TO MAKE THEM DAYS OF DRINKING AND JOY
AND SENDING FOOD PORTIONS–SHALACH MONESS–TO ONE ANOTHER
AND GIFTS TO THE POOR
· 23The Jews accepted what Mord’chai had written, having already begun to do so.
· 24Whereas Haman benHamdata, the Agagi, adversary of all Jews had thought to lose the Jews and cast pur–that is “lots”–to vex them and lose them. 25But when it came before the king, he said, in writing on a scroll: “Reverse his evil thought! What he had thought for the Jews, upon his own head.” So they hanged him and his sons on the pole
· 26Wherefore they called these days “Purim,” from the word pur
· Wherefore, considering the words of this letter and what they had seen and experienced regarding it,
· 27The Jews established and accepted for themselves and for their seed and all who might join them,
· Without fail, to be doing these two days as written and at their time every year.
· 28These days to be remembered and done in every generation, every family, every province, and every city.
· These Purim days not to fail from among the Jews, their memory never cease from their seed.
29Queen Ester, batAvichayil and Mord’chai the Jew, wrote with all authority, to establish this second Purim letter. 30She sent out scrolls to all the Jews in the in the 127 provinces of the Kingdom of Achashverosh, with words of peace and truth:
31ESTABLISH THESE PURIM DAYS IN THEIR TIMES AS ESTABLISHED FOR THEM
BY MORD’CHAI THE JEW AND QUEEN ESTER
AND AS THEY ESTABLISHED FOR THEMSELVES AND FOR THEIR SEED
THINGS OF FASTING AND LAMENTING OUTCRY
32Ester’s statement established these things of Purim, and were written in a scroll.
1King Achashverosh levied a work force from the land and the sea islands. 2And the rest of the story of his authority and power, including the episode of the agrandizement of Mord’chai whom the king agrandized, is to be found in the scroll of chronicles of the kings of Madai and Paras. 3For Mord’chai the Jew was second to King Achashverosh, grand for the Jews, pleasing to most of his brothers, seeker of good for his people, speaker of peace for all his seed.
© Rabbi David L. Kline http://good-to-be-a-jew.blogspot.com/