Midrash Esther Rabba
The introduction to Midrash Esther Rabba known as the Petichta does not parse the narrative of Megillat Esther. Instead, it deals with the themes of the Megillah. Whereas the frivolity associated with Purim generally eclipses what would have been the darkest of moments in Jewish history, the midrash hits the themes of exile and oppression full on. In Midrash Esther Rabba, the meta-psycho-historical Jewish condition gets profound and explicit exposure as does the variant traumas of exile. The poetics of the Midrash are also breathtaking.
Midrash Esther Rabba: Lesson 1
MIDRASH ESTHER RABBA STARTING 30 MINUTES LATER THAN USUAL: The Opening to Esther Rabba has little to do with the Megilla itself, but is exclusively concerned with a major motif in Jewish history–the tragedy of exile. The Midrash opens with the culminating curse of the Torah, and parses the psychological toll that being uprooted, insecure and displaced can take from those living by the “generosity” of their host country. Powerful, insightful, and cleverly rendered, Esther Rabba is full of surprises.
Midrash Esther Rabba: Lesson 2
THE FOUR EXILES, THE FIRST ATTEMPTED GENOCIDE, THE VULNERABILITY OF EXILE, AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF וי: Continuing on with the Petichta of Esther Rabba, the horrific curses elucidated toward the end of Parshat Ki Tavo take on an erie resonance, as this meta-history of Jewish suffering continues. Among other themes, we learn about what was particularly horrific about Haman’s designs on the Jews of Persia.
Midrash Esther Rabba: Lesson 3
DUPLICITOUS KINGS BRING REBELLIOUS SUBJECTS, BUT WHOSE TO BLAME?: Rabbi Yochanan and Resh Lakish are at it again. Parsing a verse in Job, each of them come to opposite conclusions. Rabbi Yochanan says the people get what they deserve, and Resh Laqish says that anarchy is preferable to a duplicitous leader. Esther Rabba comments unwittingly on the realpolitik of the world around us.
Midrash Esther Rabba: Lesson 4
WHO IS THE: The Midrash continues to explore hard times in Biblical history employing seemingly anachronistic descriptions of cause and effect. Do our Sages truly imagine that they are recounting facts, or are they elucidating concepts for their current audience? Tonight we explore, the concept of inter-textuality, and metaphor in midrash.
Midrash Esther Rabba: Lesson 5
MIDRASH ESTHER RABBA: Tonight we riff on the vagaries of oppression and its many nuances, all of which are part and parcel of our actual and literary history. The word “Vayehi” however does not always portend evil, but it may not be entirely happy. The question remains “If vayehi is encoded to foreshadow calamity, what would be the purpose of doing so. Wouldn’t the calamity itself be obvious without the cryptic clue? I got questions, but do you have answers. Remember, we are beginning a half an hour later than usual. Hope to see many of you! Avi Weinstein
Midrash Esther Rabba: Lesson 6
NOW THAT THE PETICHTA IS FINISHED…THE FUN BEGINS…: Everyone knows that to say Achashverosh is a mouthful. Encoded in this name are words and wordplays that reveal the king’s qualities of character. Midrash of this kind tends to be playful, powerful, and, on occasion painful. Welcome to the first chapter of Esther Rabba, the Megilla within the Megilla.
Midrash Esther Rabba: Lesson 7
EMPIRE BUILDING AND PURIM: A LESSON IN MILITARY STRATEGY, AND OTHER CURIOSITIES: How did Achashverosh conquer 127 countries? Why, if he halted the building of the Temple, was he rewarded in this way? How much of the world is 127 countries? Is there something significant about the number 127? These, and other issues, grab the attention of the midrashim we will be learning. See you tonight!
Midrash Esther Rabba: Lesson 8
WHO GETS TO SIT ON SOLOMON’S THRONE? NOT THIS PERSIAN KING!: We continue to venture forth painstakingly word by word through Megillat Esther, but tonight after plumbing a few words we will detour into Midrashim that deal with Solomon, the wisest, but not necessarily the most pious of kings. Elephant ivory thrones anyone?
Midrash Esther Rabba: Lesson 10
SMART JEWS, THE BABYLONIAN SANHEDRIN, AND B’NAI ISSACHAR, THE SCHOLARS OF TIME: All these topics and more will be discussed as the desert wine after Purim. The Midrash brings interesting insights into the relationship of Jews with the leaders of Bavel (Babylonia), and Paras (Persia). As much as things change, some things–the important ones–remain the same…
Midrash Esther Rabba: Lesson 11
THE JEWS AS TARGETS: ALREADY AN OLD STORY IN THE THIRD CENTURY.: The vagaries of exile is the dominant theme of Midrash Esther Rabba. The question tonight is “What sin precipitated the genocidal vengeance of Haman, and what saved us in the end. The seventh chapter has an extensive narrative, a subtext to The Book of Esther that gives context and big picture perspective of The Jews of Persia in particular, and Jews anywhere in general. A fitting end to this season’s zman.