Thursday, March 17, 2016

Purim: Countering the confusion of correlation and causation


Unfortunately, there are no divrei Torah from my grandfather for several parshios in Sefer Vayikra, so I will try to fill in when I could with other  relevant insights.  So here's one on a central lesson of Megilas Esther.

One of the most common logical fallacies is that assumption of  post hoc, ergo propter hoc [after this, therefore resulting from it].  You can skip the Latin and just refer to the confusion of correlation with causation. We see this kind of error all the time; it's at work, for example, in attributing particular conditions that present in children in the toddler years to vaccines.  But what has that got to do with the story of Purim?  

The story begins with a royal feast with even Jews in attendance, and that, according to  Chazal was the real cause of the decree against them that only came to light years later when Haman's orders went out around the empire. At a recent lecture, Rabbi Manis Friedman explained that the Jews were guaranteed kosher food and kosher wine, and so they came to the feast, thinking there can be nothing wrong under such conditions. But that alone was not their error. Their true error was assuming that Achashverosh's concession to their religious practices indicated that he was a friend to them. That was the source of their hana'a [enjoyment] in the feast, the sense of security of being in league with the king. So they had to learn the lesson of al tivtechu benedivim [do not trust in nobility] but only in G-d. That connection is the only real cause of Jewish survival.

The way the story transpired, though, it would appear that connections were the salvation. Weren't the Jews saved as a result of having a Jewish queen who influenced her husband to intercede on behalf of her people?  I believe (this is my building on what Rabbi Friedman presented) that this situation was set up precisely to effect a true tshuva for the miscalculation the Jews made before. Though Esther did intercede, she was serving as an instrument. That's something Mordechai makes perfectly clear in urging her to go to Achasheverosh despite the real danger of losing her life in coming to the king without a summons from him. From the fourth chapter
13And Mordecai ordered to reply to Esther, "Do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the king's house from among all the Jews.יגוַיֹּאמֶר מָרְדֳּכַי לְהָשִׁיב אֶל אֶסְתֵּר אַל תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל הַיְּהוּדִים:
14For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father's household will perish; and who knows whether at a time like this you will attain the kingdom?"ידכִּי אִם הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר וְאַתְּ וּבֵית אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ אִם לְעֵת כָּזֹאת הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת:


He's not telling her "You're our only hope," but just the opposite. He's telling her she has the opportunity to act as the agent of salvation, but she shouldn't think that it's all up to her. If she goes the route of self-preservation now, she would lose the opportunity for herself. Consequently, somoene else will arise to save the Jew. Saved they will be, but if she doesn't step in, she may lose her own life and that of her family's.

I've seen commentators who suggest that Esther's next move was actually designed to get the Jews not to rely on her. She invited Haman along to the party so that they will think that she doesn't regard him as her own enemy. The whole idea was that the Jews had to not put their trust in her or any other person but in their relationship with G-d. Esther also asked for that directly in requesting that everyone join in the 3 day fast prior to her approach to the king. The real cause of  the turnabout of the decree was a spiritual turnabout. When that happened, the decree against the Jews was abolished in the metaphysical reality and that translated into the physical realm with permission granted to fight back and defeat our enemies.









Related posts:  http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2015/03/purim-when-we-were-all-heroes.html
http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2008/03/thoughts-on-mishloach-manos.html

http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2010/02/poetic-justice-as-sign-of-divine.html

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