Facing the Foolish King: How Queen Esther Vanquished Misinformation

March 10, 2022Rabbi David Wirtschafter

Whispering into the ears of the foolish king, our calculating villain puts his fiendish plan into action. This is the moment he has been waiting for. Nothing less than perfect acceptance can launch his heinous plot.

"There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king's laws; and it is not in Your Majesty's interest to tolerate them. If it please Your Majesty, let an edict be drawn for their destruction, and I will pay 10,000 talents of silver to the stewards for deposit in the royal treasury."

There upon the king removed his signet ring from his hand, gave it to Haman and said, "The money and the people are yours to do as you see fit."

It takes only a single verse for the malevolent antagonist of the megillah to state his case against an entire people - all without dates, names, witnesses, documents, evidence, or proof. Haman does not bring King Ahasuerus an indictment, but an accusation. As a practitioner of propaganda before the word even existed, Haman is thoroughly wicked, rather than utterly stupid. Stupidity is the king's department. The evil advisor intuitively understands what Nazi German politician Joseph Goebbels would articulate centuries later: "A big lie is easier to believe than a small one."

Don't bother inviting this king to your seder. He doesn't ask any questions, such as, "which Jews, which laws, what defiance, when, where, why, and how? The mere assertion of mutiny is more than enough. Proof? Proof is for law school professors not partiers like the king and his pals who spent half the year drinking, feasting, and ignoring their duties ! (Esther 1:2-5)

The genius of Haman's case is that he never makes one. The problem with the king's approach to inquiry is that he does not have one .

Herein lies the genius of Esther. We tend to emphasize her courage to the point of under-acknowledging her intellect. After risking her life by entering into the king's chamber unsummoned, sh e does not waste his invitation to ask for whatever she wants. She presents the monarch with a point-by-point refutation of the accusations against the Jews.

Haman did not win the king over with facts, logic, or reason, and neither does the queen.

Esther does not make an argument. She is the argument. She does not appeal to the king's mind. She speaks to his heart. The same heart that led him astray to begin with. When she says, "I and my people are written down for destruction," she forces the ruler to see that he cannot engage in mass slaughter without killing the people he loves.

For better or for worse, people like Ahasuerus arrive at conclusions from an emotional point of view. If we want them to think differently and act differently, then we must make them feel differently. Although she must have wanted to, at no point does Esther tell the foolish king that he's stupid. She was too smart for that. If we want people to abandon foolish thinking, we must wise up. We cannot rely on intellect alone to unmask the Hamans of the world.

The problem they pose is not an intellectual one. We expose their treachery best by reminding the Ahasueruses around us that we care for them and need them to care for us. They have made foolish choices. They are not foolish people. Haman is correct that we can easily be misled but he completely underestimates our capacity to change direction. Caught between the wickedness of Haman and the foolishness of the King, Esther wisely selects a strategy of defeating the former by confronting the latter.

Be it the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the vaccination debate, or baseless hatred against anyone, may we defeat misinformation with a megillah grounded in the ability of the mind to listen to the heart.

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