By: Danielle Ostrovsky Raje Manhattan 2018-2019
When one opens up any book of historical significance, one is not only putting him or herself in the context of a basic plotline; rather, one is immersing him or herself in the many layers and secrets that is contained within the period of time. One book that not only defines the characteristic of secretive knowledge being tucked away for commentaries, or meforshim, to discover and explain, but also has such secretive characteristics within the name itself, is the Book of Esther. The Book of Esther, known as Megillat Esther, or simply the Megillah, is a very complex story underneath its basic premise. With an abundance of commentaries over the many events that took place in the city of Shushan, one of the past locations in present-day Iran. The book tells of the legendary story where Esther, the Hebrew word meaning “secretive” or “hidden,” goes on an epic journey to save her nation, the Jewish people. With Megillat Esther containing heroism, villainy, treachery, and plot twists that can boggle the mind of any fans of such literature, this true tale harbors a tremendous number of side-stories and secret pieces of knowledge that really is a testament to how intricate the story is.
One part of the story that is most fascinating actually is found within the writing of the text of Megillat Esther itself. Every year, on the holiday of Purim, the Jewish people read from the Megillah, and are always faced with some seemingly distorted letters when listing the ten sons of Haman, the antagonist of the story. Below is an excerpt of the three Pasukim, or passages, that show the distortions of size within four of the letters- Small ת (Tav), ש (Shin), and ז (Zayin), and an enlarged ו (Vav):
|ז וְאֵת פַּרְשַׁנְדָּתָא וְאֵת דַּלְפוֹן וְאֵת אַסְפָּתָא.||
|ח וְאֵת פּוֹרָתָא וְאֵת אֲדַלְיָא וְאֵת אֲרִידָתָא.||
ט וְאֵת פַּרְמַשְׁתָּא וְאֵת אֲרִיסַי וְאֵת אֲרִידַי וְאֵת וַיְזָתָא.
This mysterious set of letter sizing has puzzled the minds of meforshim through the ages, and has prompted a series of searches for their explanation. Many creative ideas have been given towards the reasonings behind each of these letters. Digging deeper into this subject, one can find just a few explanations, but most famously, one will come across the unbelievable story of how the aforementioned Pasukim relate to the Nuremberg Trials of the Nazis in the 1940’s.
Upon first research, an article appeared that introduced a very clear and understandable reason to the elongation and shortening of the few letters in the names of Haman’s ten sons. Whenever we see in Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, a certain letter that is of a different size, there is usually a reason pertaining to the person whose name contains such a letter, or another word relating to another person. A classic example is when the Hebrew letter כּ (Kaf) is shortened in the Parsha of Chayei Sara located in the Book of Genesis. The letter is shortened in the word “וְלִבְכֹּתָֽהּ,” translating to “and he cried for her;” the commentary Ba’al HaTurim famously explains this to mean that Avraham cried only a small bit when Sara died, for reasons explained across many meforshim. Similarly, Rabbi Yaakov Klass explains, the commentary Rashi quotes the Seder Olam, and says that each of the letters corresponded to a different sin that each of the sons committed. The first son, whose letter Tav is shortened, is explained to have wanted to obliterate the Torah, also beginning with a Tav. The son whose letter Shin is shortened is explained to have wanted to obliterate the day of Shabbat, also beginning with a Shin. Lastly, the final son, whose letter Zayin is shortened, is explained to have wanted to obliterate the major Jewish holidays that lasted for seven days, the holidays of Sukkot and Pesach. The number “seven,” in the Gematria, corresponds to the letter Zayin (quoted in Klass, 2004). The reason, according to the Talmud in Masechta Megillah, for the elongation of the Vav in the final son’s name was due to the fact that the Vav resembles a long pole, and it is to show that all ten sons were hanged on the same gallows (Megillah, 16B).
Perhaps one of the eeriest, yet phenomenal, stories pertaining to such letters being shortened and elongated accordingly is the story about Nazi officer, Julius Streicher, and his execution at the famous Nuremburg Trials. The Nuremburg Trials involved Allied countries of World War II prosecuting and sentencing Nazi war criminals. Thirteen tribunal sessions were carried out between 1945 and 1946, and twelve additional trails lasting until 1949. These trials included that of Julius Streicher, a high-ranking Nazi officer accused of crimes against peace and crimes against humanity, and eventually sentenced to death by hanging. The date of Streicher’s execution was the sixteenth of October in the year 1946, and upon going up to the hanging platform, Streicher, for some inexplicable reason, shouted the phrase “Purimfest!” From this word “Purimfest,” the Jewish world was in absolute shock. As the Jews follow the lunar calendar, the date of the trial was in the Hebrew year of 5707, or in Hebrew letter form, ז“תש, the same letters that were minimized in the Megillah by the names of the ten sons of Haman. As ז“תש literally is just 707, as the Jewish people customarily don’t put a letter in the thousands place for the year tally, one can still derive that it was in the year 5707, or 1946, from the enlarged Vav; Vav, in the Gematria, corresponds to the number six, and most commentaries claim that this six is indicative of the sixth millennium (the years 5000-6000), where 707 years into the sixth millennium would result in the year being 5707. Interestingly enough, the method of execution was hanging, just like the ten sons of Haman.
As shocking and brilliant as the story of Julius Streicher is, the question of why the elongated and shortened letters appear probably would lean more towards an approach similar to the previously mentioned one of the Seder Olam. Letters that are distorted in some fashion anywhere in Tanach are meant to indicate characteristics and tones of that time period, no matter how perfectly lined-up the prediction of the Streicher trial was in relation to the lettering. My initial belief and opinion as to why the letters were shortened and elongated, respectively, was that it somehow reflected those particular people. As seen in Chayei Sara, twice within the same story of Avraham bargaining for the Ma’arat HaMachpeila with Efron, letters were either decreased, as mentioned previously, or taken away. I recall learning at a younger age that Efron lost the letter Vav in his name due to his evil and deceitful ways being exposed, as the Gematria of his name without a Vav is equal to four hundred, the same Gematria as Ayin Ra (evil eye). When one looks at the names of the sons, and sees that a few of them had diminutive letters, one cannot help but be reminded that there is special attention given to words within Tanach that have special letterings and markings. Perhaps, the inverse of the Seder Olam’s interpretation is true; perhaps, the three sons of Haman listed, Parshandata, Parmashta, and Vayzata, were less evil than their other seven brothers.
The Book of Esther truly is a testament to the idea that G-d pulls strings that man is unaware of, and that G-d is present even when not brought up or mentioned. The Book of Esther does not even contain the name of G-d, because the entire scripture- the entire way the story was conducted- was done in a way that seemed natural or coincidental. Of course, in Judaism, there is no coincidences, and everything that G-d plans for will be certain. Being that G-d is an eternal presence in this world and in the heavenly world, it is very true that He knew that on the sixteenth of October in 1946, over 6,000 years after the story of Esther, Julius Streicher would yell “Purimfest,” shocking and befuddling the world as he did so. How could this Nazi officer, a virulent desecrater of Jews, know anything about Purim, let alone familiarize himself with the date corresponding to the different sized letters in the names of Haman’s sons, who, incidentally, were hanged just like he was about to be? So many questions can arise, but even if they are not answered to the fullest extent, they remain as a pillar of faith in G-d, a faith and belief that G-d is eternal, and far greater than a mere mortal. The lesson with this convoluting series of elongated and shortened letters just goes to prove the point that the Jews have kept alive throughout the generations, even through times of suffering, such as the time under Haman’s decree amidst the Persian rule in the story of Esther. This point- the point that keeps Jews alive when all seems lost, as testified in the last pasuk of the third perek of Megillat Esther, where the city of Shushan was described as being “bewildered”- is that G-d will always redeem His people. We may not know when, we may not know how, but faith guides us to salvation, even if we cannot see the miracles before our eyes. References
Goldstein, Y. (2018). The small letters of “Taf” “Shin” “Zayin” in the Megillah and their eerie connection to the Nuremberg trials. Shulchanaruchharav.com, Retrieved from https://shulchanaruchharav.com/halacha/the-small-letters-of-taf-shin-zayin-in-the- megillah-and-their-eerie-connection-to-the-nuremberg-trials/
Klass, Y. (2004). The ten sons of Haman. Jewish Press, Retrieved from http://www.jewishpress.com/judaism/ask-the-rabbi/q-a-the-ten-sons-of- haman/2004/03/31/
Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Yerushalayim. Point by point outline of the daf. Daf Yomi, Megillah 16, Retrieved from http://dafyomi.co.il/megilah/points/mg-ps-016.htm
Esther’s prophecy on “the ten sons of Haman”. Here a Little, There a Little, Retrieved from http://www.herealittletherealittle.net/index.cfm?page_name=Bible-Code-Ten-Sons- Haman