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Esther's Plea

by Nachman Cohen

Bibliographic information

TitleEsther's Plea
AuthorNachman Cohen
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2009
SubjectUnderstanding the disputes of R. Yehoshua and R Elazar haModaim


A facinated exploration of the tie-in between hallachic decision making process and politics through the analysis of the disputes of R. Yehoshua and R. Elazar haModi'in in Tractate Megillah.

About the Author 

Nachman Cohen ---

Rabbi Nachman Cohen, Director of Torah Lishmah Institute, is the Spiritual Leader of Young Israel Ohab Zedek, of North Riverdale/Yonkers, and Chairman of the Board of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists.

Rabbi Cohen studied in Mesivta Torah Vodaath as well as Yeshivas Karlin Stolin. He received an Sc.M. in Physics from Brown University and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Boston University.


Table of Contents

Esther's request: Eternalize my Megillah 1

Bar Kokhba's Revolt: R. Elazar haModa'i as activist 33

What will I eat tommorow? 41

Illness: Divine or Natural? 51

Scriptural disputes in Mekhilta: Midrash of Shemot

Introduction 57

The Bitter Waters of Marah

(15:22) Who ordered Israel to leave Yam Suf? 62

(15:23) How many encampments were there at Marah? 63

(15:24) What was the extent of Israel's sin? 64

(15:25) What type of tree did HaShem show Moshe? 65

(15:25) Which laws did Moshe teach them? 69

(15:25) What was the effect of these mitzvot on the populace? 72

(15:26) What is the explanation of this verse? 73

(15:27) Were the springs at Eilim there by design? 77


(16:2) What was the extent of Israel's sin? 80

(16:3) Did the Jews eat meat in Egypt? 80

(16:4) Was Israel's complaining sinful? 81

(16:4) How much faith must a person have? 82

(16:9) Was the gathering to afford respect or to receive punishment? 84

(16:14) What rose to Heaven? 85

(16:19) Who spoke to the Israelites? 86

(16:23) To what extent was the taste of the mann personalized? 87

(16:26) Did the mann fall on Yom Kippur? 88

(16:30) What blessing was bestowed for observing Shabbat? 89

(16:31) To what could the mann be compared? 91

(16:32) For which generations was the mann set aside? 91

(16:35) For how many days after Moshe's

death did Israel continue to eat the mann? 92

(17:7) Who named Massah and Meriva? 93


(17:8) Why and how did Amalek attack? 94

(17:9) By what criteria were the soldiers chosen? 95

(17:9) Why did Yehoshua need to be prodded to fight Amalek? 96

(17:10) What were they going to do on the morrow? 97

(17:12) Explanation of several verses 98

(17:13) To what extent was Amalek slaughtered? 101

(17:14) Anointment or prophecy? 103

(17:14) How much of Amalek need be annihilated and how long would the process take? 104

(17:14) What if Amalek is successful? 105


(18:1) What did Yitro hear? 108

(18:1) Was Yitro a priest or governmental agent? 109

(18:2) Why did Moshe send away Tzipora? 110

(18:3) Who was the stranger? 111

(18:6) How did Yitro communicate with Moshe? 112

(18:19) For which goodness did Yitro rejoice? 113

(18:20) Of which laws should the nation be informed? 113

(18:18) How will Moshe be effected? 114

(18:20) Of which laws should the nation be informed? 115

(18:21) What are the priorities in choosing judges? 116

(18:22) Is immersion in Torah study a prerequisite for a judge? 117

(18:24) Did Moshe consult HaShern? 118

(18:27) What gifts did Moshe give his father-in-law? 118


Summary outline of case study 120

R. Elazar haModa'i: Kabbalist 131

Original texts 136


Bar Kokhba Revolt: R. Elazar haModa'i as Activist

In the previous section, we explored the basis for R. Elazar of Modi'in's assertion that Esther should be canonized. We found that this was grounded upon his belief that Mordekhai and Esther annihilated Amalek. This meant that there were no Amalekites alive to hinder the rebuilding of the Second Temple. He felt that the Temple's future status was in the hands of the Jewish people. This led him to support his nephew Bar Kokhba in the latter's rebellion against Rome. He believed in Bar Kokhba's messianic aspirations and was one of his staunchest advocates.

One can best appreciate the zeal of R. Elazar for the Bar Kokhba Rebellion by studying the following ma'amarim (statements). These ma'amarim have eternal significance and we can rightly apply them to our lives, yet, at the moment R. Elazar advanced them they had added significance. The Jews of Betar were rebelling against the Roman legions and these statements had a very direct, current meaning to them. The wisdom in these ma'amarim guided and supported those who backed Bar Kokhba in his quest to vanquish the Romans and rebuild the Temple.


Soldiers must be God-fearing

In this maamar, R. Elazar reminds Bar Kokhba's army that they will be victorious only if they have complete allegiance to HaShem and His Torah.

R. Elazar haModa'i: The book and sword descended intertwined to the world. God told mankind: If you observe the Torah you will be saved from the sword. If not, you will be punished by it.

(Sifre, Ekev 4)

Revere your leader

The following ma'amar urges the populace to rally about Bar Kokhba. It emphasizes that they must support him when he is strong. Most people come to appreciate the greatness of their leader only after that leader's demise, removal, or diminution.

"And each tribe sent 1000 soldiers" (Bamidbar 31:4) R. Elazar haModa'i: It is interesting to note the nation's feeling towards its leader. Until the point that Israel's destiny was not tied to Moshe's death, the people wanted to stone him.

The minute that they found out that he would not die until after the war with Midian, they tried to hide the soldiers from him.

The redemption is foretold in the dream of the wine-butler

To encourage the populace, R. Elazar haModa'i expounds his belief that the rebuilding of the Temple was foretold in the dream of the wine butler.1 In the dream, the wine butler saw a grapevine. He said

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