January 6, 2022

Megillah 13

Today’s daf (Megillah 13b) provides us with a stark reminder that the Jewish people are in danger when those with influence or power use their platforms to slander Jews – no matter how illogical or irrational such slander is – for it is here that Rava teaches us: ליכא דידע לישנא בישא כהמן – ‘there was no one who knew how to slander [as skillfully] as Haman’.
As the Gemara proceeds to explain, initially Haman proposed to Achashverosh, ‘come let us destroy [the Jews]’, but Achashverosh responded by saying, ‘I am afraid of their God that He should not do to me as He did to my predecessors’ and therefore refused to do so.
But we are then taught – on the basis of Esther 3:8 (יֶשְׁנוֹ עַם אֶחָד מְפֻזָּר וּמְפֹרָד בֵּין הָעַמִּים בְּכֹל מְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתֶךָ וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת מִכָּל עָם וְאֶת דָּתֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֵינָם עֹשִׂים) – that Haman made series of slanderous arguments to Achashverosh about the Jewish people. For example, from the word יֶשְׁנוֹ – which can be understood as being etymologically related to the concept of ‘sleeping’ – Haman accused the Jewish people of being ‘sleepy’ (i.e. negligent) in their performance of mitzvot and therefore unworthy of divine protection, while from the words וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת מִכָּל עָם, Haman emphasizes the particularity of the Jewish people who ‘do not eat from our food, and do not intermarry’, while then adding that Jews regularly cease work due to Shabbat and Festivals.
Clearly, what Haman argues is self-contradictory. He first claims the Jewish people are lax in their religious observance, and then argues that it is their particular religious observances that serves as a separation between them and the rest of the people. And though – in response to Haman’s claim that Jews do not keep the mitzvot – Achashverosh initially interrupts him and states that there are those Jews who do fully observe the mitzvot, all Haman does is flip his argument by then focusing on the so-called offence caused by those who are mitzvah observant, by which point Achashverosh is silent – notwithstanding the fact that Haman himself already admitted to the fact that only some Jews do what he claims to be so offensive.
And this is the problem and danger of slander – because though easily debunked, slander rests on half-truths that have been cynically manipulated by those who wish to do harm, whose proponents rely on the intellectual laziness of their listeners to overlook the self-contradictory messages inherent in what has been said. And what is particularly scary is that, even today, the Jewish people continue to be slandered, and notwithstanding the instant access to so much information, there are still many people around the world who – despite their claim of intellectual honesty – choose to buy into the easily challenged falsehoods that have been cynically crafted by those who wish to do harm to the Jewish people.
And this is why, when we encounter such slander we must debunk it, and when those who claim to be intellectually honest share slander, they must be challenged because, to quote the great Elie Wiesel, “we must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
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