Megillat Esther: Repairing Sha’ul’s Mistake

  • 2 or 3 40 minute sessions
  • Grades: 9-12
  • Lesson Plan
  • by: Moshe Abelesz

Students trace back Mordechai’s and Haman’s ancestry and see that the battle of Megillat Esther mirrors the battle fought by their ancestors. Students learn how to use a concordance.

Introduction

Most children equate Haman with Amalek, for that is what they have been taught, based on traditional non-Biblical sources. Yet not once in Megillat Esther is Haman referred to as an Amaleki.

In contrast, children cannot trace Mordechai’s ancestry to Sha’ul, even though the author goes out of her (according to tradition, the core of Megillat Esther was written by Esther herself) way to stress it.

In this lesson we will trace back both Mordechai’s and Haman’s ancestry and we will see that their battle mirrors the battle fought by both their ancestors many centuries previously. Even though the result remains the same (i.e. victory to Israel), subtle differences allow Mordechai’s victory to be more permanent.

In order to understand this lesson, students will need to know some background information:

a) The divisions of the Kingdoms of Yehuda and Israel.

b) That the tribe of Benyamin sided and assimilated into the Kingdom of Yehuda.

c) The story of Pilegesh BeGiva – how the few Benyamin survivors of the civil war between Benyamin and the rest of Israel married with the residents of Yavesh Gilad.

It is possible to explain this background before or during the course of the lesson, but it would be far more beneficial if the students have studied this material previously.

Lesson objectives

Students will be able to describe:

1. The ancestry of the main characters in Megillat Esther:

a) The ancestry of Mordechai – including the history of Yavesh Gilad.

b) The ancestry of Haman.

2. The battle between Sha’ul and Amalek:

a) How Sha’ul succeeded.

b) How Sha’ul failed.

3. The battle between Mordechai and Haman:

a) How the battle compares to Sha’ul’s battle.

b) How it differs to Shau’l’s battle.

Skills

Students will be able to:

1. Examine and analyze Biblical text.

2. Compare texts from different Biblical sources.

3. Find sources in different texts.

4. Use a concordance.

Values

Students will be able to appreciate:
1. How Israel’s history seems to have a Divine design to it.
2. How one generation can correct the errors of a previous generation.

Resources & Equipment needed

Copies of Megillat Esther for students, concordance, worksheets

Procedure

Hand out worksheet (see appendix).

Work through together, citing from text wherever possible.

Question 1

a) (i) Ish Yehudi – a man from the tribe of Yehuda.

(ii) Ish Yemini – a man from the tribe of Benyamin.

b) Yehuda and Benyamin were separate tribes. How was it possible for Mordechai to belong to both?

c) You will need to explain some history to those students who are unaware of the background: After King Shlomo’s death, ten tribes split away from the ruling tribe, Yehuda, to form a separate country: The Kingdom of Israel or the Northern Kingdom. The tribe of Benyamin remained loyal to Yehuda. Together they formed the Kingdom of Yehuda or the Southern Kingdom (it may be useful for you to use a basic map to demonstrate this distinction).

The Kingdom of Israel was eventually destroyed and its inhabitants exiled. (They have now known as the Ten Lost Tribes and their whereabouts are unknown.) The people of Benyamin assimilated with its dominant partner: Yehuda. Eventually, all the inhabitants of the Southern Kingdom became known as Yehudim (Jews), irrespective as to their origin.

This can be compared to Leviim, who do not originate from the tribe of Yehuda, but are nevertheless, also called Yehudim. The author emphasized that although Mordechai was a Yehuda national, his ancestry stemmed from the tribe of Benyamin.

Question 2

a) Yair

b) Shimi

c) Kish You should mention that it is possible the author was just mentioning Mordechai’s father, grandfather and great grandfather by way of general introduction. However, basic research refutes this claim: these figures are noted in the Tanakh for being heroes of Benyamin ancestry. It is more likely, then, that the author was trying to associate Mordechai with these heroes to show that Mordechai was of noble blood. It is therefore incumbent upon us to learn more about these people.

Question 3

Questions 3–5 provide an excellent way to introduce your students to a concordance (see Appendix) and demonstrate its value. You should explain the purpose of a concordance and how it is used.

If you have enough copies, ask your students to look up the names “Yair”, “Shimi” and “Kish” in the concordance, so that they can find the references on their own. You may prefer to send them to the library to research this work. If there are not enough copies, see the appendix at the end of this lesson which contains a scanned copy of most of the relevant pages.

a) Yair was known as Yair HaGiladi (Yair from the Gilad). This was the area of land on the trans Jordan that was inhabited by half the tribe of Menashe.

b) Early on in Israel’s history, the tribe of Benyamin was almost destroyed completely in a civil war. In their anger against Benyamin, the other tribes swore not to allow their daughters to marry the six hundred surviving men. The people of Yavesh Gilad however, did not make this oath, nor did they fight against Benyamin, and therefore, permitted intermarriage. This guaranteed Benyamin’s survival.

NB: Sha’ul’s first act as king was to defend the inhabitants of Yavesh Gilad from the threat of Nachash HaAmoni. It is possible that Sha’ul determined to fight such a risky battle as he considered the Giladim to be family (see Samuel I Ch.11). The ancestors of Gilad were also the ancestors of Benyamin. Yair remains a hero for the tribe of Benyamin as well as the people of Gilad.

Question 4

a) Shimi was from the tribe of Benyamin and was the only surviving relative of Sha’ul. He was the next in line to the throne and would have been king had David not taken it away from Sha’ul.

b & c) Shimi considered David the murderer of Sha’ul’s whole family so that he would not have any challengers to the throne. When David was dethroned by his son Avshalom and was retreating from Jerusalem, Shimi took the opportunity to vent his anger against David, by stoning, cursing and calling him “the man with blood on his hands.”

Question 5

Kish was Sha’ul’s father, from the tribe of Benyamin.

Question 6

The author seems to be going out of his/her way to associate Mordechai with Sha’ul’s royal blood. The students may ask why the author did not say this explicitly. The story of Megillat Esther was written around four hundred years after Sha’ul’s death and the exile of the Jews to Persia. It is possible that the author relied on tradition, rather than direct evidence, given the time discrepancy between the two events. Rather than write something that could not be proven and that could potentially stir up criticism, the author instead hinted at Mordechai’s ancestry, which only the learned understood. It should be noted that Megillat Esther comes from the Ketuvim section of the Tanakh, not the Nevi’im section.

That is, even though the author was undoubtedly a great scholar who was religiously inspired, s/he was not a prophet who could corroborate all facts through prophecy. Now that we have examined Mordechai’s ancestry, we will examine Haman’s.

Question 7

a) Hamedata

b) The Aaggi.

Question 8

Agag was the name of the Amalekite king, whom Sha’ul defeated and brought home in chains.

Note: while Shmuel preached that Sha’ul made a terrible mistake by not slaying Agag immediately and confiscating their cattle, militarily and in the eyes of the people, the war against Amalek was a tremendous success. What bigger sign of victory can there be when all the enemy’s wealth has been confiscated and their king captured and brought before the victor tied up in chains?!

Question 9

Hamedata may have well-known character for whom we no longer have any records. You may point out that we have lost many ancient books mentioned in the Tanakh, such as Sefer Milchamot Hashem (Numbers 21:14), Sefer HaYashar (Joshua 10:13) and even Divrei HaYamim LeMalchut Paras Umadai (Megillat Esther 2:23).

Despite this drawback, we can still conclude that the author is associating Haman with Amalek. Perhaps s/he does not say it explicitly because there is no direct proof. Or, it is possible that Haman displayed certain characteristics of blind hatred towards Jews including the desire for their physical annihilation, and this indicates that he was either the physical descendant of Amalek or a spiritual heir. This would be similar to the way Nazis are considered the descendants of Amalek, even though there is no chronological evidence to this claim.

Question 10

a) Both these battles are attempts at total annihilation of the enemy.

b) Sha’ul was forbidden to take from the spoils of war, but he did anyway. Mordechai was permitted to take from the spoils of war, yet he he did not.

Question 11

Mordechai is associated as being the descendant of Sha’ul, while Haman is seen as being the heir to Amalek. They seemed to have played out the same battle that their ancestors fought. This time however, Mordechai, corrects the mistake of his ancestor, by not taking from the spoils of war. Sha’ul’s battle with Amalek is the haftorah for Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim.

Appendices

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