Q. Why do we make such a fuss about Purim when the whole story was a minor episode in the life of a Diaspora community, away from the mainstream of Jewish history?A. This is the generally accepted interpretation of Purim, but it is quite wrong. The fact is that the real story is far more important than most people realise, and not only is it part of what the questioner calls “the mainstream of Jewish history” but it is actually integrally connected with the land of Israel and even has uncanny modern implications for both Israel and the Diaspora.
Persian political intrigue and personal pique in the palace? That’s just the sideshow. Read the Megillah in conjunction with the Book of Ezra, look at Rashi, and you have the real story.
The first step is to peruse Ezra chapter 4, where you read that when the Jewish exiles returned from Babylonia to rebuild the Temple the “enemies of Judah and Benjamin” offered to help, were rebuffed and then made allegations against the Jews and sought to have the building work stopped. Especially relevant is the verse, “And in the reign of Ahasuerus, at the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 4:6).
Who wrote the accusation? Rashi (on Esther 9:10), quoting the Seder Olam, says it was the ten sons of Haman. Haman, of Agagite descent, was already known as “the enemy of the Jews”, i.e. of the Judeans, those who had returned to Judea and Jerusalem (Esther 3:10; 8:1; 9:10, 24) and was probably involved in the move to prevent the rebuilding of the Temple.
Mordechai too was not just a nice Persian rabbi; he too is mentioned in Ezra (2:2) and was a leading Jewish exile who had returned to Judea and had been sent to plead the Judeans’ case before Ahasuerus, ruler of a vast empire “from India to Ethiopia” (Esther 1:1).
What was being played out before Ahasuerus in Shushan was the battle of the leaders – Haman and Mordechai – in relation to events in Jerusalem and the future of the Holy Land.
Were the Jews grateful to Mordechai for his efforts? Not all (Esther 10:3); the minority, says Rashi, believed he should not be so involved in politics but get back to his Torah learning.