12 Tishrei 5781 / Wednesday, September 30, 2020 | Torah Reading: Sukkot
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Esther's Secret    

Esther's Secret

Unlike her uncle Mordechai the tzaddik who was "in Haman's face" by refusing to bow down to him, Esther convinced Haman into believing that she was his best friend…


On Purim, we celebrate the downfall of our archenemy Haman, the descendant of Amalek whose evil aspiration – like his predecessors and like those who followed in his footsteps to this very day - was the annihilation of the Jewish People, Heaven forbid.


Queen Esther was smarter than Haman. As the catalyst for Hashem's salvation, she didn't fight Haman in a flagrant, confrontational manner. Unlike her uncle Mordechai, the tzaddik of the generation who was "in Haman's face" by refusing to bow down to him, Esther convinced Haman into believing that she was his best friend and fan, to the extent that Haman completely dropped his guard. Esther invited him to a private wine party, where the only other participants were King Achashverosh and her.


Look how Haman reacts: "Queen Esther hasn't even invited anyone else to her private wine party with the king, but me!"[1] He feels fantastic; this is exactly what King Solomon was prophesying when he said, "Arrogance precedes destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall."[2]


What was the secret behind Esther's choice of a private wine party in bringing about Haman's downfall?


Esther, in her prophetic holy spirit, saw in her mind's eye the stern judgment that was levelled against her people. What did they do wrong? They bent rabbinical law by participating in Achashverosh's wine fest, even though he sat aside special "Glatt Kosher" tables for them. They sinned with wine so Esther knew that she had to make an equivalent rectification with wine. This was perilous, like an electrician trying to repair a high-voltage connection that electrocuted his colleague. What did Esther see exactly?


Our sages tell us, "Wine comes in, secret comes out."[3] Esther knew that the numerical equivalents for both the Hebrew words of wine, yayin, and secret, sod, are 70. She also knew that if the Babylonian-Persian exile would last longer than 70 years, then the Jews would be in exile forever, Heaven forbid. She connected the dots and realized that wine would bring about Hama's downfall.


We ask ourselves: "How can wine bring someone's downfall? In Judaism, we use wine for the holiest occasions, as libation in the Holy Temple, for Kiddush on Shabbat and festivals, and for the main blessing in weddings and brits." That's just the point – just as wine has the power of extreme holiness, it can also be devastating and destructive. Like atomic power, that can illuminate  a city or destroy it to ashes, wine can uplift the righteous but bury the evil.


The holy Afta Rov, Rebbe Yehoshua Shia Heschel, explains that there are two types of wine cups, the "cup of salvation"[4] and the "cup of venom".[5] The cup of salvation is the one that carries the powers of holiness whereas the other one is full of dark-side toxins that lead the evil to their utter downfall. The Afta Rov explains that Esther, in her prodigious powers of kavanna, or intent, poured King Achashverosh's cup with the intent of "cup of salvation" and holiness, so that he should have compassion for the Jewish People and overturn the bitter edict against them. But, as she poured Haman's cup, she had the powerful kavanna of "cup of venom", that this she be his downfall. And, as the Megilla unfolds, it surely was.


We learn two important lessons from Queen Esther here: first, one doesn't defeat Amalek with conventional weaponry, only with spiritual weaponry. And second, when we drink wine in holiness on Purim, we too can trigger the downfall of our enemies, for there is truly a Purim in every generation.


[1] Esther 5:12

[2] Proverbs 16:18

[3] Eruvin 65a

[4] Psalm 116:13

[5] Ibid., 60:5


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