One Sheep, 70 Wolves, and a Great Shepherd
In Tractate Megillah, the Talmud relates an exchange between the famous leader Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and his students in which they ask him “why was it that the Jewish people were threatened with annihilation during the time of the Purim story?[The premise of this question is that nothing in this world occurs by accident, without some cause above. Maimonides likewise explains regarding this story that “Mordechi and Esther knew with certainty that Haman’s decree was not an accident of history, but a sequence of failings within the Jewish people.”]
Rabbi Shimon begins by testing his students- “you tell me…” They then answer “the Jewish people derived pleasure from the banquet of that evil person [King Achashveirosh].”
At first glance, this is an extremely surprising statement in which the punishment doesn’t seem to match the crime. How can attending a banquet and deriving pleasure be a cause for such a serious decree? One might attempt to explain that the participation entailed eating non-kosher food. But this is not a serious enough act to warrant the danger of so many other people- men, women, and children. Furthermore, the Megillah states that “the king had appointed to all the officers of his house that they should do according to every man’s pleasure.” The commentaries on this verse explain that there was food for everyone- even kosher food.
So back to the question: how is it that the harsh decree came about because we “derived pleasure.” What was it about deriving pleasure from this banquet that was so appalling that it nearly resulted in the destruction.
To understand the intention behind this statement, let’s examine a foundational analogy provided by the Sages, one that bear true throughout the ages: The existence of the Jewish people in times of exile] is like a solitary sheep that finds itself surrounded by 70 wolves. And great is the Shepherd who protects and guards His flock. Consequently, the continued existence of the Jewish people is sometimes dependent upon miraculous means – the watchful eye of the “Great Shepherd.”
[Yet the Jewish people are assured of G-d’s protection only when their conduct is consonant with relying on Him for protection. However, when they choose to rely entirely on natural means – on one or more of the “70 wolves” – then they remove themselves from His miraculous divine protection and place themselves at the mercy of natural forces.]
If we apply this analogy, it would indicate that the “decree” of Purim was not a punishment for a sin, but rather the natural consequence of their attitude: After the king had elevated Haman to a position of exceptional power, the situation of the Jewish people was similar to that of the “solitary sheep that finds itself surrounded by 70 wolves.” At the same time, our conduct – “deriving pleasure…” – forfeited miraculous protection.
For this invitation to the feast was so important to the Jews of that time, they were so extremely honored by the invitation, that it caused them a great deal of pleasure. Thus they partook not because they had no choice, but because of their delight in being invited.
Since the Jewish people themselves gave credence to one of the “70 wolves” and took pleasure in being invited by “that evil person,” they annulled their supernatural guardianship. Instead, they placed themselves at the (natural) mercy of the “70 wolves” – something that threatened the continued existence of the solitary sheep.
It is true that while the Jews are under the dominion of another nation they are obligated to honor that nation,  obey its laws,  and pray for that country’s peace and welfare.  Thus, when King Achashveirosh invited the Jews to attend the feast, they were compelled to do so.
Nevertheless, they should have understood that the existence of the Jewish people is not at all contingent on any king of flesh and blood, but wholly dependent on G-d. Moreover, the ongoing existence of the Jews is a miracle clothed in the garments of nature – “great is the Shepherd” who guards us in a manner that transcends the world.
Thus, their pleasure that so important an evil person as King Achashveirosh – upon whom they felt their lives depended – invited them to a meal, indicated that they had forsaken their trust in G-d and had placed their faith in the hands of one of the “wolves.”
This also helps us understand why Purim is unique among all the Festivals that celebrate G-d’s miracles on our behalf, in that it commemorates a miracle that was completely clothed in nature. 
The reason for this is as explained. Since the evil decree came about because the Jewish people chose to rely totally on the forces of nature, the Purim miracle therefore revealed, within nature, that G-d’s conduct with the Jews – even as they exist in the natural realm – is truly above and beyond the natural.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXI, pp. 170-174.
- 1. (Back to text) Back to text Megillah 12a. See also Shir HaShirim Rabbah 7:8.
- 2. (Back to text) Back to text Esther Rabbah 7:18.
- 3. (Back to text) Back to text Megillah, ibid.; Esther Rabbah 2:13.
- 4. (Back to text) Back to text Tanchuma, Toldos 5; Esther Rabbah 10:11.
- 5. (Back to text) Back to text See Berachos 29a.
- 6. (Back to text) Back to text See Rashi, Vayechi 48:2, Shmos 5:3, 6:13, 11:8.
- 7. (Back to text) Back to text Nedarim 28a; Rambam, Hilchos Gezeilah VeAveidah 5:11ff.
- 8. (Back to text) Back to text See Yirmeyahu 29:7; Avos 3:2.
- 9. (Back to text) Back to text See Torah Or, Megillas Esther, p. 93c ff., 100a ff. See also Likkutei Sichos, XVII, p. 154 fn. 51.
What was their mistake? After all there is a principle that we may not rely on miracles.
Our task is to recognizing the miracles within nature. That’s why the miracle of Purim came in the way it did…
The message for us is that, within our lives, we must do our best according to natural means to lay the foundation for the blessing to come. But at the same time, the key is recognize the source – not to get too caught up in the mask and miss the main element of the blessing .
There are many miracles in Jewish history. In fact the entire the survival of the Jewish people is deemed miraculous.
The story of Purim is one for the ages. But what is the lesson for us today?
How did this festival of Purim come to be established?
After the miracle of Purim, Esther sent a messages to the sages saying “Establish me for the generations”- that the 14th and 15th of Adar should be established in the Jewish calendar as a day of recounting the story (reading the megillah) and called in her name. Esther then sent another message saying “inscribe me for the generations”- that this megillah should be included in the works of Jewish Scripture. The ramifications of the second request would mean that one who only verbally recounts this story, without reading it from a megillah, would not fulfill the obligation of remembrance
The Jerusalem Talmud offers a slightly different version of what happened: “Mordechi and Esther wrote letters to the Sages requesting that these two days be accepted into the Jewish calendar as a day of celebration.” In this case, it was a joint effort wherein Mordechi and Esther made the request.
Yet the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmud may not be arguing about the facts, but rather speaking of two different requests- one in which Esther wrote on her own, the other a joint request of Esther and Mordechi. The joint request was to simply mark the day in the Jewish calendar. The request of Esther alone went a step further- that the day should entail the reading of a Megillah, and that this should become part of Scripture.
If so, why the separation? Furthermore, Mordechi was a member of the Sanhedrin who ultimately accepted Esther request.
The key to understanding this is to examine the specific roles that each of these two individuals played in helping to nullify the decree of Haman.
Because of their different involvement in the story, they each chose to emphasize a different aspect of the miracle. This different perspective expressed itself in their different requests.
Esther is compared to the dawn.
Last of the unique type of miracles, one the is smuggled within the laws of nature.
Esther means hidden.
Dawn comes after a period of darkness. It is a revelation or happiness that comes after a dark time.
Message from Purim: Look within the nature to find G-ds hand.