June 14, 2024
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The Gemara’s Evidence of Divine Influence on Megillat Esther

Tannaitic Evidence

In a rare moment, the Gemara (Megillah 7a) searches for evidence of Hashem’s influence on the writing of Megillat Esther. The Gemara cites several highly questionable proofs from Tannaitic authorities, including some of the most prominent figures such as Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Meir (from the William Davidson edition of the Talmud):

It is taught in a baraita that Rabbi Eliezer says: The Book of Esther was said with the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, as it is stated: “And Haman thought in his heart” (Esther 6:6). If the Book of Esther was not divinely inspired, how was it known what Haman thought in his heart? Rabbi Akiva says: The Book of Esther was said with the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, as it is stated: “And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all those who looked upon her” (Esther 2:15); this could have been known only through Divine inspiration. Rabbi Meir says: The Book of Esther was said with the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, as it is stated with regard to the conspiracy of Bigtan and Teresh against Ahasuerus: “And the thing became known to Mordechai” (Esther 2:22). This too could have been known only through Divine inspiration. Rabbi Yosei ben Durmaskit says: The Book of Esther was said with the inspiration of the Divine Spirit, as it is stated: “But they did not lay their hands on the plunder” (Esther 9:15). The only way that could have been stated with certainty is through Divine inspiration.

However, as is pretty obvious, these proofs are hardly convincing, as noted by the Gemara.

That which Rabbi Eliezer said with regard to knowledge of what Haman was thinking in his heart can be refuted, as it is based on logical reasoning to conclude that this was his thinking. There was no other person as important to the king as he was; and the fact is that when he elaborated extensively and said, “Let the royal apparel be brought” (Esther 6:8), he said it with himself in mind. That which Rabbi Akiva said with regard to the knowledge that Esther found favor in the eyes of all, perhaps it can be understood and refuted in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Elazar, who said: This teaches that she appeared to each and every one as one of his nation, and they expressed that sentiment aloud. And that which Rabbi Meir said, i.e., that the Divine inspiration of the Book of Esther is clear from the fact that Mordechai exposed the conspiracy against Achashverosh, perhaps this can be explained and refuted in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba, who said: Bigtan and Teresh were both members of the Tarsi people and conversed in their own language. Mordechai, who was a member of the Sanhedrin and therefore fluent in many languages, understood what they were saying. And that which Rabbi Yosei ben Durmaskit said with regard to the knowledge that no spoils were taken, perhaps this can be explained and refuted by the fact that they dispatched messengers who informed them of the situation.

 

An Early Amoraic Argument

The Gemara then presents proof from a prominent early Amoraic figure, Shmuel. He argues:

Had I been there among the Tannaim, I would have stated a matter that is superior to them all, as it is stated: “They confirmed, and took upon themselves” (Esther 9:27), which was interpreted to mean: They confirmed above in heaven what they took upon themselves below on earth. Clearly, it is only through Divine inspiration that this could have been ascertained.

However, Shmuel’s argument is hardly ironclad, for a skeptic could question the veracity of Shmuel’s interpretation.

 

Later Amoraic Argument

Finally, the Gemara cites compelling evidence set forth by two later Amoraic authorities:

Rav Yosef said: Proof that the Book of Esther was divinely inspired may be cited from here: “And these days of Purim shall not cease from among the Jews” (Esther 9:28), an assertion that could have been made only with Divine inspiration. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak says: Proof may be cited from here, at the end of that verse: “Nor the memorial of them perish from their seed” (Esther 9:28).

Rav Yosef and Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak offer solid evidence for the Divine influence on the author of Megillat Esther. Megillat Esther makes an unequivocal prediction that the Jewish people will always observe Purim. In other words, the author predicts that the Jewish people will never completely forsake their heritage (as stated by Rashi to Devarim 31:21). This is quite a bold prediction, especially in light of the Jewish people very narrowly avoiding this terrible outcome in the 20th century. Our extremely unlikely fulfillment of this prophecy is strong evidence of the Divine influence on Megillat Esther.

 

A Basic Question

Why did the earlier authorities not offer this proof? Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues were more than capable of arriving at this conclusion. If so, why did they not cite these pesukim?

We suggest it is because the argument from the fulfillment of prophecy gains strength by the passage of time. Rav Yosef and Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak were not cleverer than their predecessors. However, they did have the advantage of a more extended period of fulfillment of the prediction. Therefore, we suggest that the Talmudic scholars waited for centuries to pass before setting forth this argument.

 

Conclusion

Our generation is certainly not wiser than the early authorities cited by the Gemara. However, the passage of time has only highlighted and dramatized the compelling nature of Rav Yosef and Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak’s argument. In a book replete with miracles, we Jewish readers of Megillat Esther and Jews who continue to celebrate Purim are the greatest miracle of all. The fact that the Jewish people have survived both physically and spiritually despite the physical and spiritual persecution, challenges and tribulations is the Purim miracle of which we should be the most enamored and elated.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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