Esther 2:3, Question 1. Why does the verse contain the unusual phrase “appoint appointed ones?”

ג וְיַפְקֵד הַמֶּלֶךְ פְּקִידִים בְּכָלמְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶתכָּלנַעֲרָהבְתוּלָה טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה אֶלשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה אֶלבֵּית הַנָּשִׁים אֶליַד הֵגֶא סְרִיס הַמֶּלֶךְ שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים וְנָתוֹן תַּמְרוּקֵיהֶן

3. “And the king should appoint appointed ones in all the states of his kingdom and they should gather all of the young virgins who look good to Shushan the capital to the house of women, through Heigeh, eunuch of the king who guards the women and gives them their ointments.

  • This beauty contest extended over a large area. The final verses in Iyov (42:15) attest to the fact that “nowhere could more beautiful daughters [than Iyov’s daughters] be found.” The Talmud (Baba Basra 15b) notes that Iyov must have been a contemporary of Achashverosh’s, or else how could one know that there was nobody more beautiful? There must have been a beauty contest in which they were involved, and Achashverosh’s was the only one recorded. Since it would seem impossible to transport (and fit into the king’s harem) all of the beautiful women from the 127 states, the advisers told Achashverosh to appoint administrators in each state to choose the best to then send to the central competition in Shushan. This is much like beauty pageants and sports competitions in America today. They first choose the “best” of each state, and only then have them compete for the top prize in the nation. In Achashverosh’s individual states, administrators were appointed whose thorough knowledge of the local populace would seemingly better equip them to judge the qualities of the local contestants.
  • The Baal HaTurim writes in his commentary on Mikeitz (Bireishis 41:34) that the phrase, “appoint appointed ones,” is used only twice in TaNaCh. There, Pharaoh has Yosef collect grain, and his prudent behavior leads to his wealth and power. Here, Achashverosh collects women as trophies for his harem, and his over-indulgence and dehumanizing disrespect precipitates his eventual ruin.1 There is a fascinating book entitled Tzafnas Mordechai (and published as Links Beyond Time in English) that discusses numerous similar parallels between this story and that of Yosef.

1See 10:1 below and Talmud (Megillah 11a) which describes Achashverosh’s levying enormous taxes on his people, an act otherwise unnecessary unless his own wealth needed replenishing.

Esther 2:2, Question 5. Why does the verse contain two expressions to describe the women the king should seek?

  • According to the Vilna Gaon, the advisers suggested finding “young” women rather than old ones and “virgins” rather than experienced women. Seemingly concerned with their own job security, their advice would either help garnish a gentler, more naïve queen, or perhaps they were appealing to the king’s baser nature to assure their popularity with him.
  • The Me’am Lo’ez notes that the advisers considered it beneath the dignity of the king to marry a woman who had been with another man, and may end up comparing the king to him.

Esther 2:2, Question 4. What does the verse mean that the women found for Achashverosh had to look “good?”

The advisers realized that they needed to replace Vashti. Her royal lineage was irreplaceable, but they still hoped to find someone who could replace her physical beauty. Malbim adds that these advisers were saying that Achashverosh did not even need a woman of lineage – he was great enough on his own without that!

Esther 2:2, Question 2. Why does the verse stress that the women had to be “searched for?”

The Talmud (Megillah 12b) relates that most loving parents wanted to spare their daughters this fate worse than death (see next answer after Passover for details regarding their futures), and actually hid them. Therefore, the king has his men actively search for and forcibly gather these potential future queens.

Esther 2:2, Question 1. Why does the verse stress that Achashverosh’s advisers were “youths?”

ב וַיֹּאמְרוּ נַעֲרֵיהַמֶּלֶךְ מְשָׁרְתָיו יְבַקְשׁוּ לַמֶּלֶךְ נְעָרוֹת בְּתוּלוֹת טוֹבוֹת מַרְאֶה

2. And the youths of the king from his advisers said, “The king should seek out young women, virgins, who look good.”

After having killed his primary advisers (as we said in previous blog posts), Achashverosh was left with his freshman advisers. According to M’nos HaLevi, the king reasoned that their youth may grant them a dovish advantage over the old hawks he blamed for killing his beloved queen. Furthermore, these youths were servants catapulted to this position by a hung-over, depressed king desperate for the human interaction advice guarantees, perhaps without consideration for the quality of the advice given. The Rabbis of the Talmud (see Megillah 31b and Nedarim 40a) consider it generally unwise to take advice from youths, as King Rechavam helped fracture the kingdom of Yehudah by taking his young friends’ advice over that of the elders (Melachim 12).

Esther 2:1, Question 5. What does the verse mean that Achashverosh remembered what was decreed against Vashti?

  • If it is true that Achashverosh had his wife killed for refusing to display herself in the nude at his party, Achashverosh must have regretted such an extreme punishment for so minor an offense. Considering H-Shem’s consistent use of “mida kineged mida” (“measure for measure”), Achashverosh realized that Vashti’s misuse of Jewish servant girls on Shabbos precipitated in her punishment being dealt on Shabbos.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) tells us that she caused her Jewish maids to go around unclothed.
  • The Maharil Diskin asks why this has to be noted. Was it not bad enough that our sisters were forced to desecrate the Sabbath? Did their forced immodesty truly add to Vashti’s evil? He answers that Vashti’s participation in this was especially worthy of punishment because one can reason that poor servants surrounded by expensive goods may attempt to steal what their eyes see. One might think that nudity might thus be a legitimate way to curb theft, leaving potential thieves with less opportunity to hide their loot. (It has been reported that current manufacturers of illegal drugs use this very method with their employees.) However, it was especially evil of Vashti to force the Jewish girls to go unclothed on Shabbos because they would not have stolen, anyway, seeing as theft, coupled with the fact that carrying an object from one domain to another is forbidden on Shabbos (Mishnah, Shabbos 1:1), would have definitely prevented the girls from stealing.
  • Likkutei Anshei Sheim point out that the 180 day feast was held in the beginning of Vashti’s third year of being queen. This means that she had two full years (354 days twice) and the 180 days (354×2+180=888 days), which divided by seven, come out to be 127 Shabbosos (888/7 = 126.857143)1. For causing Jewesses to desecrate 127 Sabbaths, Vashti lost the reign over 127 states.
  • Tangentially, the Chasam Sofer adds that Vashti’s Sabbath desecration was part of the reason for the mystical custom (see Zohar on Bireishis 17b, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 297:4, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 8) to use myrtle leaves for the spices in the Havdalah service after Shabbos. Since “Hadassah” (Myrtle) was one of Esther’s names, her defeating Vashti’s influence was alluded to in the verses in Yeshaya that we read on fast days (55:13, 56:4), in which the myrtle succeeds “from under [or, instead of] the thorn-bush,” (see 2:4 and 2:17 below for similar verbiage) the thorn-bush being the prickly Vashti, who caused Jewish girls to sin on Shabbos.

1Mathematically, one can round up to 127, or perhaps we can consider the last seven days as an additional week. Perhaps Vashti’s not surviving the whole day would account for the fraction missing from the whole number.