Midrash Esther Chapter II: II: Days of Tribulation

Feb 28th, 2012 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays
“Many days.” They were days of tribulation; and similarly we find, “And it came to pass in the course of those many days that the king of Egypt died (Exodus 2:23).” Now were they really many days? No, only because they were days of tribulation, Scripture reckoned them as many days.

Similarly we find: “And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah (I Kings 18:1).” Now were they really many days? No, only because they were days of tribulation, Scripture calls the many days.

How many were they (The days of famine)? Rabbi Berechiah has said in the name of Rabbi Chelbo in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: One month in one year, and one month in another, and 12 months in the middle, making altogether 14 months.

Similarly, “And if a woman has an issue of her blood many days (Vayikra 15:25),” on which Rabbi Chiya taught: “Days,” signifies two, “many,” signifies three. Are these then many? No, only because they are days of pain they are called “many.”

The verse is describing a grand party and yet, the midrash describes the “many days” of the party as days of suffering. They compare the party of Achashveirosh to the slavery in Egypt, and defendant during the time of Elijah. They then compare the pain experienced by the citizens of the kingdom to the pain a woman suffers During her period.

At first glance the midrash determines that these were days of suffering by comparing the phrase “many days” to other places where it appears in the Bible. They believe that the author of the Book of Esther is providing a hint to what people felt during Achashveirosh’s party.

I believe that the three comparisons; Egypt, Elijah’s famine, and a menstruating woman, are actually indications of how the rabbis knew that these were days of tribulation, and what type of tribulation it was:

When the midrash compares this party to the servitude in Egypt, it’s pointing out to us that it is impossible for a king to run a six month conference of all the important political and military leaders of his entire kingdom with out the guests feeling compelled by the King to be there. Achashveirosh was informing then that they will act at his beck and call. No president, prime minister, Duke or King, will leave his country for six months. No province or state will allow its military leaders to be absent for so long. Unless, that is, they have no choice. These people did not. They were there at the king’s invitation and they could not refuse. They would remain in Shushan as long as Achashveirosh desired. Every moment they were there dragged on as they waited for permission to return home.

When the midrash compares these days of tribulation to those that the Children of Israel suffered during the family in the days of Elijah, it is pointing out that when all the political and military leaders watched as a Achashveirosh wasted all his money, or, as we said, “spent his spirit,” they were concerned for the future. Would the kingdom be able to pay for this grant party? They began to wonder whether they would have the ability to sustain their people. They felt as if they were watching a famine in the making.

When the midrash compares these days of tribulation to those of a woman suffering her. It is telling us that, just as a woman knows that the discomfort is temporary, so to, all of Achashveirosh’s guests pretty much knew that this king and the tribulations he imposed would be temporary. He could not last. He was truly, “spending his spirit.”

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