Feb 28, 2018
One of the more unusual elements of the Megillah is found within the names by which the hero and the heroine are known - Mordechai and Esther - which are actually names of Babylonian / Persian deities: Marduk and Astarte! This is particularly peculiar, because in neither case was it their real name anyway. Esther was actually Hadassah, as we are informed in the Megillah (2:7), and Mordechai’s name was Petachyah as the Talmud tells us. So what’s the deal? And why would we name our children Esther and Mordechai through the ages? Trés bizarre!
Another oddity arises from one of the four verses that the entire community says aloud as they are listening to the Megillah being read (Esther 2:5). it is the first of these four verses and it starts with the words: “Ish yehudi haya b’Shushan Habira, U’Shemo Mordechai...”. There was an Ish Yehudi living in Shushan and his name was Mordechai. What does Ish Yehudi mean? It can’t refer to the fact that he was a descendant of the tribe of Judah because the verse concludes by telling us that he was from the tribe of Benjamin. And if it is simply informing us that he was a Jew, well… to put it mildly, given the context of the Purim story, that would be a little redundant.
The answer to both questions is actually one and the same. The Persian exile was one in which the Jews (who were a minority) were surrounded by a foreign culture which was leading them astray. Ish Yehudi is therefore a reference to the individuals who never lost sight of their origins, heritage or goals, irrespective of society or politics. It is a title given to those who on the one hand were fully involved in government affairs (Mordechai was a senior cabinet member), and were even known by their Persian patronyms, yet never put their Judaism second. As such Petachyah and Hadassah made the names Mordechai and Esther Jewish, and they became one’s which we can proudly pass on to our children. They are names which are Jewish to the core. The message of the Megillah is one that teaches us about identity, especially whilst in exile.
As an aside, if you are still looking for Purim gifts, you may want to consider the following:
- A solar powered torch
- Water-proof tea bags
- An index for a dictionary
Have a Wonderful Purim