Be Killed Rather Than Violate the Oaths
They Can’t Admit Eretz Yisroel is a Dangerous Place
He Who Creates Danger and Then Saves You From It
Following Daas Torah
There is one people, scattered and separated among the peoples, in all the states of your kingdom…” (Megillas Esther 3:8)
The Ramban asks: Why were the Jews still scattered in all the states? Just a few years earlier, the first Persian king Cyrus had given permission for the Jews to return to Eretz Yisroel and build the Temple (Ezra 1:3). The permission to build the Temple was later revoked, but we should still expect to find most of the Jews back in Eretz Yisroel. And even later, when Darius reinstated the permission, only about 1500 Jews came up with Ezra from Babylonia (Ezra 8:1-20). The answer is, he says, that the Jews would not have taken advantage of these kings’ offers had they not been foretold by a prophet, speaking in the name of Hashem. That prophet was Yirmiyahu, who said (29:10), “When seventy years of Babylonia are complete, I will revisit you.” Now, the Jews were uncertain whether these kings had meant to give permission for all the tribes of Israel to return, or only for Yehuda. And even if they had meant to give permission to all of Israel, perhaps Yirmiyahu’s prophecy had only referred to those Jews living in Babylonia proper, not in all the 127 Persian states. The king’s permission was not enough; they needed Hashem’s permission as well. Without Hashem’s permission, they had no right to leave exile; this would be “forcing the End.” (Ramban, Sefer Hageulah, Shaar 1)
And he wrote in the name of King Achashverosh, and sealed with the king’s ring…that the king gave permission for the Jews in every city to gather and fight for their lives… (Megillas Esther 8:10-11)
Rabbi Avraham Loewenstamm, in his work Tzeror Hachaim (published 1820), asks: Why were the Jews so full of joy after Mordechai’s new decree was publicized? Mordechai did not revoke Haman’s decree – as it says above (8:8), a decree of the king was not allowed to be revoked – but merely stated that the Jews had the right to defend themselves. They had known all the time that they could try to defend themselves, but they were very few in number compared to all the gentiles in all the states of the king, and therefore they had felt that there was no hope. That was why they had been fasting and praying all this time. And now, Mordechai achieved this new decree that they were allowed to defend themselves – what was there to rejoice about? Everything was the same as before.
The answer is, he says, that the Jewish people knew that their strength did not lie in physical power or in superior numbers, but in the help of Hashem. The Tanach is full of stories of a few Jews defeating a mighty gentile army – the wars of the Canaanites, Yonasan’s war against the Philistines, Gideon against the Midyanites. But in this case, the Jews were in exile, and they feared that they were forbidden to fight back against the gentiles under the oath against “rebelling against the nations,” since the king had not given explicit permission for this fight. If so, were they to fight back they would not only not enjoy Hashem’s help, they would anger Him by violating the oath. Therefore, their sole weapons against Haman’s decree were prayer, fasting and repentance. Once their prayers were answered and Haman was hanged, the king said to Mordechai and Esther, “Write any decree you want regarding the Jews, as long as you don’t go against Haman’s decree.” Haman’s decree had not specifically stated that the Jews had no permission to defend themselves, so Mordechai wrote that they had this permission. Once the fear of the oath was gone, the Jews once again trusted that with Hashem’s help they would overcome their enemies.
From the words of the Tzeror Hachaim we see that even if keeping the oaths means the death of the majority of the Jewish people, such as would have happened under Haman’s plan, it is forbidden to violate the oaths. This same opinion is voiced by the Maharal in Netzach Yisroel, end of chapter 24: “Another explanation of the Midrash’s statement that Hashem adjured the Jewish people in a generation of forced sin (shmad): that even if they will threaten to kill them with difficult torture, they will not leave [the exile] nor will they change their behavior in this manner.”
The Satmar Rav asks: Why should one be killed rather than violate the Three Oaths? Don’t we hold that there are only three sins – idolatry, murder, and immorality – for which one must be killed rather than transgress? (Vayoel Moshe 1:32) He answers that violating the oaths is tantamount to heresy, because when the Jewish people rebel against the nations in exile or try to leave exile, they are in effect saying, “Our fate is in our own hands; Hashem does not run the world.” In other areas such as making a living or medicine we are permitted to make efforts and so those efforts do not amount to denial of Hashem; but in the area of exile and redemption human effort was explicitly forbidden by the oaths. Thus, a violation of the oaths is, in effect, a denial of Hashem’s control over the world. The Radbaz (4:92) rules that heresy has the same status as idolatry, for which one must be killed rather than transgress (Vayoel Moshe 1:76).
Another answer to the Satmar Rav’s question is given by Rabbi Yehoshua Dovid Hartman in his notes on the Maharal. The Minchas Chinuch in mitzvah 425 argues that the obligation to kill the Canaanites applies even when the Jew’s life will be in endangered by fulfilling this obligation. His proof is that the Torah commands the Jewish people to wage wars against the Canaanites. It is only natural that in the course of a war, some people are killed on both sides. The Torah’s laws are not predicated on miracles. So it must be that implicit in the command to wage war is the fact that one must give his life for this mitzvah. In a similar way, we can say that the prohibition to rebel against the nations or to leave exile on our own is, by its nature, a law that implies danger and even death, since the nature of life among the nations is that sometimes they kill Jews. When the Gemora says that there are only three sins for which one must be killed rather than transgress, it does not need to count laws such as fighting the Canaanites or the Three Oaths, which are by their very nature dangerous laws.
Why did the Jews in that generation deserve destruction? Because they had pleasure from the meal of that wicked man (King Achashverosh). (Megillah 12a)
Rabbi Bentzion Sternfeld, rav of Bilsk, an older contemporary of the Chofetz Chaim (his approbation is printed in the Mishnah Berurah), asked: Why did they deserve such a severe punishment for this? And why does it say that they “had pleasure” – it should say that they ate. The answer is that the Jews wanted to attend the feast in order to get on good terms with the king and his ministers, and eventually ask him to reinstate the permission to return to Eretz Yisroel and build the Temple. Mordechai told them not to go, for the redemption must come from Hashem, not through political means. A few Jews disobeyed Mordechai, but their numbers were small enough that the entire people would not have been punished on their account. However, most of the Jews “had pleasure” in the fact that this small group of Jews went to the feast and made these political efforts. It is this pleasure that showed their lack of trust in Hashem’s deliverance, and this was the sin for which they deserved the decree of Haman. (Shaarei Tzion, Parshas Zachor Drush 4)
There was a Judean man in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai, son of Yair, son of Shimi, son of Kish, a Benjaminite man. (Esther 2:5)
The Gemara asks: First Scripture tells us that Mordechai was a “Yehudi” – from the tribe of Judah – and then it says he was from the tribe of Benjamin! Rabbi Yochanan resolved this question by saying that in fact, he was from Benjamin, but he was called “Yehudi” because “Yehudi” is a special term of distinction for those who deny belief in idols (Megillah 13a).
This seems to be a strange statement. Idols are patent falsehoods: statues of wood and stone that cannot even move, let alone save their worshippers. Anyone who has any intelligence denies the silly beliefs of idolatry. Why then does someone who denies idols deserve such a dignified name as “Yehudi”? The term should have been reserved for someone who possesses fear of G-d, love of G-d or another high attainment.
After Moshe Rabbeinu told Pharaoh about the plague of fiery hail that was about to befall Egypt, the Torah says, “Those among Pharaoh’s servants who feared the word of Hashem gathered their slaves and cattle into the houses, but those who paid no attention to the word of Hashem left their slaves and cattle in the fields” (Shemos 9:20-21). Here we can ask a question similar to the one above: Why was this considered fear of G-d? Anyone could see that throughout the previous six plagues, whatever Moshe had predicted had come true to the last detail. Whether they feared G-d or not, they should have taken precautions. Those who did not act to protect their property should not have been called “those who paid no attention to the word of Hashem” but rather fools and madmen who did not care about their belongings.
Rabbi Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, the Alter of Novardok, explained that even when something is obvious and sensible, if it has some connection with belief in prophecy and the word of G-d, then a person will not be able to understand it unless he has a certain level of fear of G-d. If the Egyptians had had any reason to suspect that an enemy army was about to invade their country and steal their property, all of them would certainly have locked up their property well. But since the plague of hail was announced by Moshe Rabbeinu in the name of G-d, and belief in it was thus bound up with belief in G-d’s power and attribute of reward and punishment, anyone who was lacking a certain level of fear of G-d was unable to understand and believe that it would really happen.
This is why the Gemara says that one who denies idolatry is given the title “Yehudi” – because however obvious the falsehood of idolatry is, it is impossible for a person to deny it unless he has attained some level of fear of G-d.
We are unfortunately witness to a similar phenomenon today among Jews, many of them religious and some even Torah scholars, who go and settle in the Zionist state, thinking that it is a safe and secure haven, an ideal place to build yeshivos and religious communities in which to raise their families. The terrible danger hovering over Jews in the Holy Land today is obvious and is recognized even by the non-Jewish world. Everyone knows that the State of Israel is the most dangerous place in the world for a Jew to live. Surely, then, wise Jews who have studied the Torah and Talmud should realize this.
But denial of the Zionist idol is the supreme test of our generation, and our entire redemption is hanging in the balance – the Gemara in Sanhedrin 98a states that moshiach will not come until the “low government” is gone from Israel. Admitting that the Zionist state is a place of terrible danger for Jews, and that its army provides no protection but rather puts Jews in even greater danger, involves a certain degree of rejection of the Zionist idolatry, as well as acceptance of the Torah, its principles of reward and punishment, and the words of the prophets. Therefore, although the danger is an objective fact, it is very difficult for many Jews to reach this realization. May G-d help all of us to strengthen our emunah and see the truth!
And all the servants of the king in the king’s gate bowed and prostrated themselves to Haman, for so had the king commanded, but Mordechai would not bow and would not prostrate himself (Esther 3:2).
The Gemara asks why Mordechai was called (in 2:5) both a Judean and a Benjaminite. Rava answers that the verse is not coming to tells us what tribe he came from, but rather what tribes caused the near-tragedy in the time of Haman. It was a combination of two acts done hundreds of years earlier, one by King David, from the tribe of Judah, and one by Shaul, from the tribe of Benjamin. David spared the life of Shimi ben Geira, Mordechai’s ancestor, and Shaul spared the life of Agag, Haman’s ancestor. Thus Mordechai and Haman were born, Mordechai made Haman angry, and Haman decreed destruction on the Jewish people. The Jewish people cried out, “See what the Judean and the Benjaminite did to me!” (Megillah 12b)
The Maharsha asks: Why was the Jewish people angry at Mordechai? Didn’t Mordechai save them from the decree through his fasting and prayer? He answers that this still did not make up for the fear Mordechai brought upon them by provoking Haman. It would have been better if Mordechai had never existed and the decree had never come about in the first place.
This seems very strange. We know that Haman himself was an idol and bowing to him was a form of worship. Or, according to one opinion, he hung idols around his neck so that those who bowed to him would be bowing to the idol (Sanhedrin 61b). So what was the righteous Mordechai to do? Of course he had to refuse to bow to Haman. Why did the Jewish people blame him for provoking Haman?
The Manos Halevi answers that Mordechai should have avoided being in the king’s gate when Haman walked by. But then the question is how Mordechai could have done such a reckless act of provoking Haman and endangering the Jewish people. To this, the Manos Halevi answers that Mordechai thought that Haman would only punish him personally, not the Jewish people as a whole. He was trying to make a personal sacrifice to atone for the sin of the Jews in the previous generation who bowed to Nevuchadnezzar’s statue.
When Haman decreed death on all the Jews, the Jews complained about what Mordechai had done, and even after the decree was annulled, they complained that he had brought fear upon them; it would have been better if he had never provoked the decree in the first place.
However, in the end they recognized that the miracle of Purim had been Hashem’s plan – they determined that the Megillah should be included in the Tanach based on the interpretation of a verse (Megillah 7a). They also recognized that only after the miracle of Purim did the Jews accept the Torah wholeheartedly (Shabbos 88a).
Since their complaint against Mordechai was only temporary, why did Chazal tell us about it? What was their purpose in revealing something that reflects badly on such a righteous man? The answer is that Chazal wanted to teach us this important lesson: that if someone brings danger upon the Jewish people, even if later on he saves them, we are not thankful to him.
This is all the more true in the case of the Zionists, who have brought danger upon Jews and have not really saved the Jews at all. Thousands of Jews have died fighting in their wars, and innocent souls continue to perish all the time, may Hashem have mercy. The danger created by the Zionists is unfortunately still as present as ever! (Al Hageulah V’al Hatemurah, Chapters 38-41)
Why did the Jews in that generation deserve destruction? Because they had pleasure from the feast of that wicked man (King Achashverosh). (Megillah 12a)
When Chazal looked at Haman’s decree, they perceived clearly why it came. But the simple Jews of the time saw the decree as the result of Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman. They complained to Mordechai and blamed their predicament on him, as the Gemara says (Megillah 12b): “See what the Judean and the Benjaminite did to me!”
Looking deeper, we see that the Jews’ attending the feast and their blaming the decree on Mordechai are two sides of the same coin. Mordechai, as the gadol hador, certainly warned the Jews not to attend the feast, or else there would be dire consequences. They disregarded his warning, yet nothing bad happened to them. Nine years later, Mordechai refused to bow to Haman, and the Jews warned him that he was bringing danger upon them. And indeed, Haman immediately decreed death upon all the Jews. The gadol hador, with his “daas Torah”, could not have looked more wrong.
When did the Jews finally recognize that Mordechai had been right? When Mordechai became the king’s prime minister. Their whole reason for attending the feast had been to mingle with the gentiles and thus gain respect in their eyes. For the same reason, they held that bowing to Haman was the correct path. But now, who had gained the most respect in the king’s eyes? Mordechai, who had opposed attending the feast and refused to bow to Haman and his idol. This was the ultimate proof that standing by our Torah principles, rather than assimilation, is the key to our survival.
This is why we sum up the central lesson of the Megillah with the words: “The rose of Yaakov was elated and joyful when they saw together the royal blue of Mordechai.” Seemingly, it should have said that they were joyful when they saw that they had triumphed over their enemies. But the answer is that it is more important to understand why we were in danger and why we were saved – as a lesson for the future. We must always remember that following the directives of the gedolei hador is the way to safety, even if at the time it seems that they are leading us to danger and not following them would lead to safety.
This is the meaning of Chazal’s statement (Megillah 7b) that a man must drink until he cannot distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.” He must get to the point where he mixes up the words and says “blessed is Haman” and “cursed is Mordechai.” And even then – even when it seems to him that following the gedolei hador will lead to curses for the Jewish people and blessings for its enemies, he must have faith and follow them.
In our times we are witness to a classic example of this. The gedolei hador warned the Jewish people against the Zionist plan to establish a state, quoting the terrifying admonition: “If you keep the oath, good, but if not, I will declare your flesh ownerless like the gazelles and deer of the field” (Kesubos 111a). Yet when the Zionists went ahead and established a state, that tragedy did not materialize. True, the state has brought on a cycle of wars and violence in which 14,000 Jews have lost their lives, and even one lost life is a good enough reason why the state should not have been established. But this is still nothing on the scale of Chazal’s warning.
Today, the gedolei hador instruct us that giving up the state is the only path to safety. The Satmar Rebbe writes in Al Hageulah V’al Hatemurah, siman 44: “Even now, if they were to give up their state and their government, there is no doubt that they would take Hashem’s anger away from the Jewish people… Every minute that they hold on to their power, they are offending the Creator, blessed be He, with violation of the oaths and rebellion against the nations, which the holy Torah has forbidden and for which we have been warned of a severe punishment.” Many people read these words but think they know better. To them, it is obvious that giving up the state today would place the Jewish people in danger.
The Purim story teaches us that we must have emunas chachamim. What the chachamim say is dangerous is dangerous, and what they say is safe is safe, even if it looks to us otherwise. When we keep to the terms of the exile in which Hashem placed us, we are under His protection, but when we violate those terms, we are vulnerable.
The classic statement about Hashem’s protection of us in exile is found in the Hagadah of Pesach: “And this is what has stood by our fathers and us, for not only one arose against us to destroy us, but in every generation they arise against us to destroy us, and the Holy One, blessed is He, saves us from their hands.”
Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi (an early Rishon), in his commentary Maasei Hashem on the Hagadah, asks: Why do we need Hashem to promise us that in every generation they will try to destroy and He will save us? Wouldn’t it be better if we weren’t persecuted in the first place? He answers that the words “this is what has stood…” do not refer to a promise, i.e. that Hashem’s promise has stood by us to protect us from attacks. Rather, they mean that the very phenomenon of the nations persecuting us and Hashem saving us has stood by us is the proof in every generation that Hashem still loves us. If, on the other hand, He simply overthrew our oppressors, it would only prove His hatred for them, not His love for us.
But according to this, what is the connection to the previous paragraph in the Hagadah, which quotes Hashem’s promise to Avraham Avinu? Doesn’t this show that “this is what has stood by our fathers and us” refers back to that promise? The Maasei Hashem explains: Hashem promised that Avraham’s descendents would be slaves, in order to eventually leave Egypt in a miraculous way, receive the Torah and spread the belief in Hashem in the world. And the promise was fulfilled with the children of Israel, not Avraham’s other descendents: the Ishmaelites, the Edomites or the children of Keturah. This showed His special love for the Israelites. But the memory of the Exodus faded in the world’s consciousness, and therefore there needs to a reminder of Hashem’s love for us in every generation. That reminder is the persecution of the Jews and Hashem saving them from it.
The Maharal (Netzach Yisroel Chapter 10) makes a similar observation on Megillah 11a, which quotes the verse “I did not reject them nor despise them” (Vayikra 26:44) and interprets each part as a reference to a different danger encountered by the Jews in exile, and the people who saved them: Daniel and his companions saved them from Babylon, Mordechai and Esther from Haman, Shimon Hatzadik and the Hasmoneans from the Greeks, and Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi and the Sages of every generation from the Romans. Had Hashem simply influenced the hearts of the leaders not to harm the Jews, says the Maharal, this would not have shown that He did not reject the Jewish people. But when He put Jews in positions from which they were able to save their people, that showed His special love and protection for them.
The Gemara (Megillah 6b) says that the months of Purim and Pesach are always consecutive – even in a leap year when there are two Adars, we keep Purim in the second Adar – in order to draw a parallel between the redemption from Egypt and the redemption from Haman’s decree. Just as we saw Hashem’s love for us in the redemption from Egypt, so we see it His protection over us in exile. Exile is where Hashem wants us to be in our times, and that is the path to true safety.