Purim Table Topics

History Repeats Itself

  • Compare Mordechai to other Biblical characters who rose to prominence in the service of a foreign king such as Yosef and Daniel, and to more modern Court Jews like Abarbanel who was the financier for the kings of Portugal and Spain.  How do their challenges compare?  What are both the dangers and benefits of such a position?  See Yosef and Megillat Esther, Yosef, Esther, and Daniel and Mordechai's Refusal to Bow.
  • How might Esther be compared to the "crypto-Jews" of Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition?  See Why Conceal Esther's Nationality?
  • How does the Purim story compare to other decrees of persecution?  When in history has the Jewish nation been targeted for physical destruction?  When for spiritual destruction?  What was the motivation in each case?

Mordechai & Esther – Persian Jews or Jewish Persians?

Although the vast majority of commentators assume that Esther and Mordechai were not only observant Jews but the spiritual leaders of Persian Jewry, a small minority of exegetes do not.  These sources suggest that the two had initially assimilated into Persian society and it was only after Haman's plot was hatched that they reconnected to their roots.  Set up a debate at your Purim meal regarding these differing portraits of the Megillah's protagonists.  What evidence is there in the text for either side?  See Mordechai's Religious Identity and Esther's Religious Identity for elaboration.

Follow up questions:

  • Is it problematic to suggest that Biblical heroes might have been flawed?  Why or why not?  Can you think of other characters who might have only grown into greatness, while some of their earlier actions might have been questionable?  For one possible example, see the discussion of Moshe's life in Midyan in Mystery at the Malon.
  • According to each of the above portraits, what is the main message that the Megillah is trying to convey?  What statement might the less traditional portrait be making about the relationship between assimilation and anti-semitism?
  • What leads people to stray from their faith?  What leads them to reconnect?

Civil Disobedience

Examine some examples of modern leaders who engaged in acts of civil disobedience.  What did these leaders set out to accomplish; were they successful?  Compare their actions to Mordechai's refusal to bow to Haman.

  • Were Mordechai's motivations similar to those of modern activists?  Was he guided by a religious, political, or personal agenda?  See Mordechai's Refusal to Bow for details.
  • When is civil disobedience warranted? When are other routes preferable?  In Mordechai's case, his refusal endangered the entire nation; was that justified?

Life in Exile

The story of Esther is one of only a few in Tanakh which describe Jewish life in exile and the rise of a Jew to prominence in a foreign land.

  • What light does the Megillah shed on the challenges of life in exile?  What does it teach about leadership under foreign rule?
  • In the Megillah, Hashem works behind the scenes.  Is Hashem's providence generally less prominent in exile than in the Land of Israel?

When Do the Ends Justify the Means?

Sometimes difficult situations require making hard choices.  When, if ever, is it proper to commit a cardinal sin in order to attain a lofty goal?

  • Was Esther justified in marrying the idolatrous Achashverosh, or should she have resisted and even risked her life to avoid being taken to the palace?  Did she have a way of knowing that her marriage would later lead to the nation's salvation?  For some approaches, see Esther's Relations with Achashverosh.
  • Have you ever thought about compromising your religious ideals to achieve something you wanted?  What made you decide to either listen to or reject the impulse?
  • In Esther's place, what would you have done?

Achashverosh in Art

Bring some artwork related to the Megillah to your Purim meal and use it as a foil to discuss the story.  For an example, see Esther's Second Banquet in Art. Use it to open a discussion on the following:

  • What was Esther thinking when she invited Haman to be a "third wheel" at her party with Achashverosh?
  • Was Achashverosh really the drunken fool that everyone assumes? 
  • Were he and Haman really in agreement on the plot to annihilate the Jews? On this, see also Achashverosh's Shock and Fury.
  • Was Esther a strong or docile character?
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