- According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:8), Mordechai had two purposes in visiting Esther. One was to answer her questions about whether she was considered a niddah, woman having her monthly period. One of the lessons from this is that we must always make the best of our situations. No, Esther’s situation was not ideal, but even there – in the king’s harem – she cared about maintaining her spiritual state.
- Mordechai’s other reason listed in the Midrash (ibid.) was to make sure Esther was not the victim of witchcraft from the other women in the harem, who were seemingly desperate to become the future queen. If they were so desperate to avoid marrying Achashverosh earlier, why would they now perform witchcraft to accomplish just that? Perhaps living in a harem for the rest of their lives was that much worse a fate. Perhaps this is what the Ibn Ezra and Vilna Gaon mean when they say Mordechai visited Esther to heal her. As great as he was, he may have possessed power to remove the effects of any curses placed on Esther.
- Alshich says Mordechai was concerned that Esther, being a descendant of King Shaul, was going through this tragedy to make up for Shaul’s sin of letting Agag – and thus Amalek – survive.
- Rav Moshe Meir Weiss takes Mordechai’s checking on his wife every single day without fail, as a lesson for all husbands. He mentions that one of his congregants asked him once to daven for the congregant’s wife while she was having a procedure because the husband would be at work at that time, and unable to be in shul. Rav Weiss responded, “How can you be going to work if your wife is going to the doctor?!” That is a reason to take the day off.
Me’am Loez says that, due to the danger involved in being near the king’s harem, Mordechai made it seem as though this was a regular occurrence, and that he was going on a leisurely stroll – not with the express aim of checking on Esther.
יא וּבְכָל–יוֹם וָיוֹם מָרְדֳּכַי מִתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵי חֲצַר בֵּית–הַנָּשִׁים לָדַעַת אֶת–שְׁלוֹם אֶסְתֵּר וּמַה–יֵּעָשֶׂה בָּהּ
11. And every day and day, Mordechai would be walking in front of the courtyard of the house of women to know the condition of Esther and what was done with her.
- The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:8) says that Mordechai’s caring for Esther merited his later caring for the entire Jewish nation, as the last verse in Megillas Esther (10:3) says “he sought the good of the entire nation, and found peace for all his offspring.”
- According to Sfas Emes, the phrase “day and day” means that Mordechai checked on Esther consistently, daily. The mark of a true “tzaddik” (“righteous person”), as we said before, is consistency. Mordechai’s constant care for Esther merited his participation in the Purim miracle. The Tarlaz notes that Megillas Esther uses the same language of “yom v’yom” (“day and day”) again later (3:4) when Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman, again, consistently.
- According to Targum Sheini, Mordechai was concerned that the king would become upset with Esther at some point, and take his anger out on her people. This is similar to what actually happens when Haman becomes angry with one Jew, Mordechai, and decides to exterminate his entire people as a consequence (see below 3:6).
- The Ibn Ezra quotes commentators critical of Mordechai for this order, saying his selfish intent was for Esther to not be chosen by Achashverosh, so that she could return to being Mordechai’s wife. He rejects these opinions, and comments that Esther’s keeping this secret allowed her to stay Jewish because the king would have used violence in an attempt to force Esther to convert had he known her background.
- Rabbi Eliezer of Worms writes that Mordechai knew that Esther’s very presence in the harem of the king meant that she was placed there for a reason. After all, wherever we are in life, H-Shem wants us there for a reason, though we often do not readily know what it is.
- Rav Moshe Meir Weiss adds that even if Esther did not understand the reason for her secrecy, or even if she disagreed, this verse is a praise to her for listening to the words of Mordechai, the Gadol HaDor (greatest rabbi of her generation). When we trust the Sages, things go well for us.
- Is Judaism a nationality or a lineage? It is neither, really. Judaism is unique in that it breaks through all of the sociological definitions of groups. It is not a religion because one can be Jewish and yet not observant and not a believer in Jewish ideals, and still can be counted for a minyan. It is not a nationality because one has to be (or have parents who are) from a particular place, and Judaism has converts. It is not a “race” because Jews can have different colors, body types, hair textures, and any of the other qualifiers for this designation.
- According to the Iyun Yaakov, everybody in Persia wanted to know Esther’s nationality because she looked like she could come from any nation, as the Talmud (Megillah 13a) asserts. Only the king was interested in her lineage to see if she was fitting for a king to marry. He would have less problem marrying her if she were not a commoner, but of royal blood.
- The Rambam notes in his commentary on Megillas Esther that it is interesting that, although Achashverosh offered tax exemptions and other rewards for anyone who would share information regarding Esther’s background, the Jews unanimously refused to give her up, despite their dire poverty. Regarding this, the Rambam comments, paraphrasing a blessing in Mincha for Shabbos, “Mi ka’amcha, Yisroel!” (“Which nation is like you, Israel!”)
י לֹא–הִגִּידָה אֶסְתֵּר אֶת–עַמָּהּ וְאֶת–מוֹלַדְתָּהּ כִּי מָרְדֳּכַי צִוָּה עָלֶיהָ אֲשֶׁר לֹא–תַגִּיד
10. And Esther did not reveal her nation and her lineage because Mordechai commanded her not to reveal.
- Rashi gives two reasons for Esther to not reveal her lineage. First, if she were to reveal that she was Jewish, she would be dismissed from the contest since Jews were then seen as the lowest of the low. On the other hand, her lineage was from King Shaul, and Achashverosh might prize that information, reveling in the fact that he’s marrying Jewish royalty. Either she will get dismissed and lose the opportunity to do this important deed for her people, or she will have to sacrifice her holiness in being chosen by the king.
- Malbim writes that this verse demonstrates that Esther resisted being swayed by the luxuries and creature comforts afforded her by Heigai (see previous verse).
- The Binyan Ariel points out that the reason Vashti was removed to begin with is that Achashverosh wanted to show off the beauty of her nation to the dignitaries at his party to prove that women of her nation were the most beautiful. If Achashverosh does not know Esther’s nationality, he would not do the same with her. If he were to have attempted this, Esther would have refused, leading to another dead queen.
- A Purim-Torah suggestion regarding the actual word “higida” (“related”): Perhaps this word is used because, as we shall see with H-Shem’s Help when we get to 4:16, Esther and Mordechai annulled Pesach in the year of the Purim miracle (Talmud, Megillah 15a), and there was therefore no Pesach Seder with its accompanying Haggadah. Thus, “lo higida Esther” may be interpreted as “Esther annulled the Haggada.”
- The Megillas Sesarim’s opinion is that these maidservants were Jewish. After all, the previous queen had Jewish maidservants (as we saw before), as well, so there would be little suspicion. This was “fitting for” Esther because she was surrounded by people with whom she could relate and whom she could trust. Rabbi Mendel Weinbach adds that they could even share food with her. Perhaps it was also fitting for her because she could fulfill the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta larey’acha kamocha” (“loving your fellow as yourself”) (Vayikra 19:18) by treating them well.
- The Talmud (Megillah 13a) tells us that Esther requested Heigai to give her seven maidservants to help her count the days of the week for her to know which day was Shabbos.1
- Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz asks why a person would need other people to count the days. He answers that Esther, although she was hiding her Jewish identity, was still practicing Jewish law. Therefore, if all of her maidservants saw her every day, they would see that she was behaving differently on the Sabbath, and that would give away her secret. On the other hand, she could not treat every day as a rest day, but had to stay active to keep from going crazy.
- Perhaps another reason why Esther felt she had to maintain an active lifestyle during the week is based on Rav Elie Munk’s interpretation in Call of the Torah on the verse (Shemos 20:9) that tells us “to work” during the six days preceding Shabbos. Rav Munk says that, just as there is a law forbidding work on Shabbos, we have a similar responsibility to work when it is not Shabbos. Therefore, having one maidservant per day, her maids every week from Sunday through Friday saw her active, and must have figured she was some sort of activist queen. Her weekly Shabbos maid saw her lazing about, and probably figured that she was as idle as most normal members of the noble class.
- Parenthetically, the Rokeach points out that the last letter of “v’eis” (suf) and the first two letters of “sheva” (shin and beiz) spell the letters of Shabbos. Also, the gematria of “hana’aros hari’uyos” (“fitting maidservants”) is the same as “zu haysa moneh bahen Shabbos” (“this is she counted Shabbos using them”).
- Another interpretation of the Talmud is that she used these maidservant to keep track of each of the days of the Shabbos, the week. After all, every day is special. As we say in the morning prayer service before the weekday psalm of Sunday, “today is the first day of the Shabbos,” and on Monday, “today is the second day of the Shabbos,” etc. We make the most out of every day.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky says that all three opinions in the Talmud regarding the food Esther ate (as we in the last post) can be correct. First, Heigai tried to give her non-kosher food. When she refused it without telling the reason, he tried “Jewish food,” and then seeds and whatever else might work. Therefore, “tamrookeha” (“her cosmetics”) is spelled in full because he gave her the same variety of cosmetics as the other women. However, “manoseha” (“her portions”) is spelled missing a letter yud because Esther’s portion of food was lacking in variety, as can happen with a kosher diet.
- One opinion in the Talmud (Megillah 13a) tells us that the “changes” mentioned here refer to Heigai giving Esther “Jewish food,” which presumably means kosher food.
- Another opinion is that he gave her pork bacon.
- A third opinion, that of Rabbi Yochanan, says Heigai fed Esther seeds. His proof is that, in regard to Daniel and his comrades, the verse (Daniel 1:16) says “The cook took away the bread, and also gave them to eat seeds.”
- If she did eat kosher food, Ben Ish Chai in Ben Yehoyadah wants to know why this did not give away her Jewish identity. He answers that, first of all, everybody knew she was from Mordechai’s house (as we mentioned in a previous blog), so it was possible she became used to kosher food in his house even if she were not Jewish. He also says that kosher food has a reputation for being more healthy than non-kosher food (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129649433), anyway, and it was safe to assume Esther may have preferred it for that reason. Perhaps this last idea is alluded to in the Talmud’s use of the phrase “Jewish food” rather than “kosher food.” In other words, he gave her food to eat the way a Jew is supposed to eat, primarily for health reasons and nothing more (Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Deyos 4:1).
- Actually, regarding seeds, there is a custom (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:2, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 11) on the night of Purim to eat edible seeds (sunflower seeds, etc.) because of this verse. What is interesting is that the custom is to eat the seeds specifically at night. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss suggests that we do this at night because Esther was eating seeds in an attempt to hide her identity while simultaneously abiding by Jewish dietary laws. We, too, follow suit by eating the seeds at night, a time of secrecy.
ט וַתִּיטַב הַנַּעֲרָה בְעֵינָיו וַתִּשָּׂא חֶסֶד לְפָנָיו וַיְבַהֵל אֶת–תַּמְרוּקֶיהָ וְאֶת–מָנוֹתֶהָ לָתֵת לָהּ וְאֵת שֶׁבַע הַנְּעָרוֹת הָרְאֻיוֹת לָתֶת–לָהּ מִבֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיְשַׁנֶּהָ וְאֶת–נַעֲרוֹתֶיהָ לְטוֹב בֵּית הַנָּשִׁים
9. And the young woman was good in his eyes and performed kindness before him, and he hurried to prepare her cosmetics and her portions and to give her seven maidservants fitting to give her from the house of the king, and he changed for her and her maidservants to the good of the house of women.
Both the Malbim and Rav Dovid Feinstein remark that Heigai hurried to bring Esther her cosmetics because he was sure that she would be chosen as queen. He saw from her appearance and her behavior that she was exactly what the king wanted. He therefore attempted to ingratiate himself with her to get in the good graces of the future queen.