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Chekov's Megillah

Every story has a beginning and an end, and typically when recounting the story, the specifics eventually all tie in as part of the overall arch of the story. In literature, this principle is referred to as “Chekov’s gun,” where if there is a gun depicted in a scene, it can be assumed that it will be used at some point. And if it won’t be used, then it shouldn’t be included at all.

This is especially true when the Torah recounts a story, as there are no superfluous details in the Torah. Everything is described in concise precision, to the point that any detail that is not directly relevant to the lesson, is omitted from the narrative.

In describing the famous story of Purim, where Haman plotted to kill the Jews and with Mordechai and Esther’s intervention the Jews were saved, the Book of Esther (AKA “The Megillah”) seemingly includes several details unrelated to the actual story. Specifically, the opening verse of the Megillah stating that King Achashveirosh ruled over 127 nations, and the concluding verses, describing Mordechai’s ascent to the position of viceroy and his overseeing various nation building initiatives on behalf of the king.

One of the reasons these seemingly irrelevant anecdotes were included in the story of Purim, is to remind us that everything a Jew sees and hears in life is significant. Even if on the surface a certain event might seem unconnected to your day-to-day life, the mere fact that you’ve been made aware of something means that there is a message in it for you.

This leads us to the hidden messages behind the opening and closing verses of the Megillah.

The opening verse of the Megillah, which describes King Achashveirosh’s rule over 127 nations, serves to underscore the magnitude of the threat faced by the Jewish people, highlighting the universal scope of Haman’s plot. It wasn’t just a localized threat, but the entirety of the Jewish people, wherever they were living, was slated for annihilation. And of course, that also gives us an idea of the tremendous relief that overcame them once the decree was miraculously abolished.

The conclusion of the Megillah, where we learn of Mordechai’s new position, tells us that despite the Jews’ substantial victory, there was still a lot of work to be done. For starters, although they beat Haman, they were still subjects of Achashveirosh’s rule. They may have won that battle, but there was still an oversized war that had to be fought. This couldn’t be accomplished only through physical battle, but by primarily engendering morals and ethics among all nations of the world. 

This is similar to how the Book of Leviticus opens; G-d called out — “Vayikra” — to Moses lovingly, but with a specific mandate: Don’t be like everyone else who cares only for themselves. As G-d’s chosen people, you must represent G-d in everything you do, even the most mundane parts of your life, and even when interacting with non-Jews.

Both the opening verse of the Megillah — putting the magnitude of the threat in perspective — and its conclusion — the reminder that we cannot be content with caring only for ourselves — apply at all times and situations, but especially today.

The existential threat to the Jewish people isn’t something new that we are suddenly contending with, and it cannot be ignored in hopes that it will go away. With acts of antisemitism on the rise, we must continue to be vigilant and protect ourselves and our communities. But when the Jewish people focus outward, on making the world a better place for all people and not just themselves, that’s when the threat is diminished. Being a “light unto the nations” wherever we go and whatever we do, will have the greatest impact on our own wellbeing too.

And we will continue working to this goal until its completion, which we will witness with the coming of Moshiach, may it be speedily in our times!

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