Design credit: Maya Kaplan, mymodernmet.com
In one of the climaxes of the story the narrator declares this phrase which means: the opposite, things have turned around (it is translated in Esther 9:2 into “the tables have turned”).
Just when the antisemites around the Persian empire thought they are about to annihilate the neighboring Jews, the tables have indeed turned and they themselves became the prey.
This turned into one of the reasons behind the colorful costumes that characterize the feast of Purim, even though the Bible does not say a word about it. The costumes declare: “what you think (and what you see) is not what you get. Behind the scenes there is another layer, well hidden.”
There is much hiding of truth throughout the book of Esther. It starts with the very name of the book, which means “hidden”, and continues with the fact that God is not mentioned even once, though it is clear that He is the one who causes all the “coincidences” to occur at just the right time.
In addition to that, Esther does not reveal her true identity until later in the book. She hides her Jewish origin and name even from the king.
There are also many opposites and reversals of circumstances all over the book:
The original plan was to humiliate Mordechai by Hamman, but “NaHafoch Hoo” takes place, and Mordechai ends up with honor and becomes second in command to the king (10:3);
Instead of hanging him, Hamman is the one who ends up hanging from the gallows;
The 14th day of the month of Adar was destined originally as a day of sorrow and destruction, yet turns into a day of rejoicing; The day of mourning became into a day of celebration (9:22).
A Little Bit of History
Mordechai came with the exiles from Jerusalem to Persia (more accurately to Babylon, which was later conquered by Persia), so at the very least he is 60 years old when the book begins. Esther is obviously young, so she was born in exile.
The cruel Babylonian kings dispersed the Jews throughout the empire; The Persian rulers came up with a different policy. They figured that a calm and peaceful nation will not rebel against a conquering empire, and thus allowed the exiles to return to their homelands and worship their own gods.
The plot of Esther’s scroll takes place over the span of about 4 years (starting at 483 BC), a few decades after Cyrus decreed that the Jews are allowed to go back to their homeland and build the temple (538 BC). Cyrus’ decree played a role in fulfilling God’s promise to bring His people back, as it started waves of immigrants returning to Zion after 70 years in exile. Some of these waves are recorded for us in the Bible, mainly those led by Ezra and Nehemiah.
Only about 42,000 Jews chose to make it back home to Zion. Probably because life in Judea required a heart and mind of a pioneer.
The Comfort of Exile
life in Persia, on the other hand, was comfortable. Most Jews who were born in exile did not miss Zion, and have somewhat assimilated into the Persian culture. Evidence of that we find in the pagan names Daniel and his friends take on, as well as Nehemiah, Mordechai and Esther; Some Persian words infiltrated Hebrew and are echoed even in the Old Testament later writings, and that tells us just how common this foreign vocabulary was back then, alongside some foreign traditions the Jews have embraced.
Mordechai and Esther were among those who chose to stay behind. I find a hidden warning right here for the Jewish reader: when you indulge in the comforts that an enlightened exile provides, you put yourself in danger of possible annihilation, with no authority to fight it back.
Did the threat of mass annihilation, though not fulfilled, yet nonetheless hovering over the Jews for long months, bring about another wave of immigration? The Old Testament does not go into these details, but I’d like to believe it did, as a brief look into the matter leads me to an interesting theory.
When war breaks out anywhere, we mostly focus on its geopolitical aspect. We (and the media) discuss in length the offenders and the victims. In the past few weeks, Putin is of course the offender, Zelensky the victim.
But even when God’s image and His outstretched arm are hidden from the all-seeing lenses of camera-men and journalists, there is no doubt He is in full control, pulling the strings. What at times may look like a series of happen-stances, actually advances His plan.
Wars have two important ramifications, that the media doesn’t even know it’s supposed to cover. The breaching of known borders brings the Gospel to new places. Believers, among others, turn into refugees and are forced to leave their comfort zones; Refugees leave countries in which the Gospel was outlawed and end up in places in which talking about Yeshua is allowed; the terror war strikes in the hearts stirs the fear of God in many people, and so on.
And there is another important ramification, a prophecy that is being fulfilled behind the scenes when war breaks: the eyes of Jews living in danger zones are opened, they start seeking solutions they never thought they will need again, and they realize they have a place much safer than foreign paradises. That’s when new waves of Aliyah to Israel begin to form.
Since the war between Russia and Ukraine broke, thousands of Jews have already made Aliyah (immigrated) to Israel. These numbers are expected to rise weekly. They are coming from Ukraine, and from other bordering countries: Moldova, Latvia, Croatia, even Russia. And Israel is sending airplanes and teams to the borders, in order to rescue Jews who are running away from the war zone.
Tables Turning Over
Nathan Sharansky, born in Ukraine, was held captive in Russian prison for 9 years as a prisoner of Zion, until his immigration to Israel in 1986. He later became a member of the Knesset, and today is a proud Israeli. A couple of weeks ago he attended a wedding of a terror attack victim. During the wedding Sharansky shared a little about his childhood in the former USSR:
“There were various nations in Ukraine. A birth certificate stated the person was ‘Russian’, ‘Ukrainian’, ‘Georgian’, ‘Cossack’, etc. But none of these really mattered, there wasn’t a big difference between them. One thing did make a difference – if your certificate stated you are a ‘Jew’. In that case, you were considered as if you had some disease.
“Being Jewish brought antisemitism and hatred. No one needed to replace the word ‘Russian’ with the word ‘Ukrainian’ in their IDs in order to get accepted to university, for example. But if a Jew could somehow change what is written on his ID, his chances improved.
“I was reminded of it when I saw thousands of people standing at the borders of Ukraine, attempting to escape the present tragedy. They stay there night and day, unable to escape. However, there was only one word that could help some get out: ‘Jew’. Those who are Jewish knew there are other Jews at the border, who came to take care of them, and that their chances of escaping are much bigger.
“When I was a kid, ‘Jew’ was a bad word. No one envied us. Today, at the Ukrainian border, ‘Jew’ turned into a good word. It describes those who have a place to go to, those who have an entire nation awaiting them on the other side.”
Think about it: since the establishment of Israel, the term “Jewish refugees” is non-existent. Jews who flee a war zone don’t need to look for a country that will pity and take them in. They simply always have a home.
Oh, how the tables have turned!