How wonderful that you are sensitive to ‘the moral high ground’ that is part of our path. We, who read Torah with a modern eye and a sensitive heart, are disturbed by the practice of ‘Jihad’ that is, the destruction of the blood lineage of the enemy. Yes it was the practice of the time. Yes, Shaul is chastised (Shmuel 15) and loses all when he does not follow the ‘word of G’ and slaughter Agag. And yet it troubles us. How many times in TaNaCh are we upset by the unsettling acts of our ancestors? We see those acts with our modern eye and our sensitive heart is unsettled.
But in this case, we find another lesson. Achashverosh gives permission to the Jews, through royal edict, to kill men, women and children and to take their spoils (Ester 8:11). But is that what happens? If we look at the text we find that there is no mention of the slaughter of innocents. In Ester 9:6 and again in Ester 9:15 the text points out that the Jews killed armed men bent on their destruction. These were the men who raised arms against our people. There is no mention of the killing of children or women or non-combatants. In other instances, when a slaughter is mentioned, it will specifically say that women and children were killed along with the men. That is missing here. Of course, one may assume that we, like others of the day, would have committed ‘Jihad’. But that there is no mention of such a slaughter gives us the option to believe that we did not slaughter the non-combatants. Further, it states that we did not touch the spoils, as was our right by royal edict. Since we were given the right to do both, slaughter the lineage and take the spoil; and since it states that we did not take the spoil, can we not assume that we also did not slaughter the innocents, the women and children.
Furthermore, when it comes to the sons of Haman, it specifically states that they were slaughtered; the silence regarding the slaughter of children of our enemies speaks even louder. We are taught that this Megillah is a story of ‘Nistar’, the hidden. G is not mentioned. We say that G is ‘Nistar’ in the story. Here is where we find G, in the silence regarding the destruction of the lineage of our enemies. In Ester 9:15 we find an extra Yud in Yehudim. It could mean that a pair of Jews defended all against the hate-filled horde (Yehudayim, as in Yadayim, a pair of hands), and that might be a fun Purim play. Or we might handle the hint on a higher level. That little extra Yud is a pointer, a Yad that G is hidden in the story and is revealed in our restraint, our moderation, our refusal to destroy the innocent with the wicked.
My drash, my ‘take’ on the events goes like this: Achaverosh gives permission via royal seal, to slaughter the enemy and his lineage and take all that was his. And yet the Jewish people use restraint. Yes, we fight back and yes, we defend our lives. But that is where we stop. We do not kill the children of our enemies, though it was the custom of the day. We do not take the spoil of our enemies, though that was our right. And right after that statement of restraint, we read of the great celebrations. We do not celebrate the fall of enemies, symbolized by our noted refusal to take in the spoils of war. We celebrate our survival from destruction. We celebrate the moral high ground.
Today, when we exclaim that we should celebrate (and here we should remember what the RaMBaM states; that we do not need artificial stimulants to reach the heights) with such intensity that we cannot differentiate between the phrases: “Blessed is Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman,” it is not the blurring of right and wrong that we celebrate. It is a celebration of moderation. The extremes of Mordechai and Haman are blurred. Whether genocide has its genesis in xenophobia or in zealotry, the result is the same. And that is not our path.
Our path weaves between the weal and the woe of life. Our path weaves together tradition and modernity, faith and fact, the timely and the timeless. Our path weaves between the extremes, weaving together a tapestry of sanctity.