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Browse Zemanim: Pourim: Warranting Haman's Decree

Contributed by: R. Ezra Mizrahi

In the Gemara, our rabbis inquire about the Jews during the time of Esther and Mordechai:

Why did the Jews of the time deserve to perish from Haman's decree? What did they do?

Two answers are given in the Gemara: The Jews deserved to perish because they enjoyed the festival of Ahashverosh, and secondly because they bowed to the idol of Nevouchadnessar seventy years earlier.

The second answer begs an obvious question: Why would a punishment be delayed for seventy years?

In the time of Nevouchadnessar, who was an evil emperor of the Babylonian Empire, the Jews were subjugated. They were brought before a great gold statue of Nevouchadnessar, which had the "sitz" around its head. This "sitz" was a gold crown, which the Kohen Gadol wore, with the holy inscribing of "Kodesh LaHashem." When Bnei Yisrael bowed, they claimed afterwards that they bowed only to the holy crown and not to the actual idol.

There is a halacha, that the minute holy artifacts from the Bet Hamiqdash enter the possession of a gentile, they are immediate defiled and hold no residual holiness. Therefore, Bnei Yisrael bowing to the crown was misguided and incorrect. In essence, the Jews bowed solely to the idol. However, they could claim that they did not know this halacha and erred.

And so Hashem delayed the punishment. During the time of Ahashverosh, the Jews enjoyed the festival of the king. During this festival, the dishes and utensils of the Bet Hamiqdash were used. However, here Bnei Yisrael would claim, as the halacha states, that the minute holy artifacts from the Bet Hamiqdash entered the possession of a gentile, they are immediately defiled and held no residual holiness. So there was no problem with them using the utensils from the Bet Hamiqdash.

However, this proves that they knew of the halacha, yet still bowed to the idol of Nevouchadnessar seventy years earlier. Now was the time for punishment. Just as Bnei Yisrael acted as if they were bowing to the idol, Hashem prepared a punishment that would be as if they were being destroyed (as the decree of Haman was never ultimately fulfilled). Midah keneged Midah.

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