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.
In a previous verse (2:3), Heigeh’s name is spelled hey, gimel, alef. Here, it is spelled hey, gimel, yud. Perhaps the alef became a yud because there is a difference of nine in gematria (10-1=9), and Heigai is treating nine people differently. Which nine people? Although Esther and her seven maidservants would appear to be eight people, Esther’s other name (Hadassah) is an added personality. Therefore, Heigai had nine new personalities with which to deal.
Esther was taken against her will, despite the fact that she was well-hidden. In Targum Sheini’s commentary-embedded translation of this verse, it writes that
When Mordechai heard that virgins were sought to be taken, he took Esther into the house. And he hid her inside a room. He was concerned that the messengers of the king would see her…When they came to look for Esther and could not find her, they informed the king. Then the decree came out from the king that any girl hiding from the king would be killed. When Mordechai heard of this decree of the king, he became afraid and took her out to the market, and Esther was taken.
The M’nos HaLevi asks why Mordechai would take her out into the market after taking such pains to keep her hidden. He answers that a Mishnah in Terumos (8:11) discusses a situation in which a Kohen is accosted by gangsters who want to sully his sanctified food. Obviously, he should not risk his life, but should he hand it over? Rabbi Yehudah says the Kohen should put it on a rock, and not hand it over directly. Similarly, Esther, a holy person, was about to become spiritually sullied. Instead of performing an action of giving her over to the king, Mordechai took Esther to the public marketplace, and allowed for her to be taken passively if such was the will of H-Shem.
Let’s recall that Achashverosh was looking for a number of characteristics. He was attempting to replace Vashti, a woman whose beauty was unequaled and irreplaceable (as we’ve said here before), so he therefore needed to find a woman who was superior to her in other ways. The Malbim’s view is that this number of women is one of eight indicators in theses verses that Mordechai broke the law of King Achashverosh.
- The verse (2:5) tells us Mordechai was “in Shushan” to tell us that he knew of the law. He could not feign ignorance since he lived in the capital city, and it was well-publicized everywhere.
- The verse (ibid.) also says “his name” was Mordechai, indicating that he had a “name,” or level of fame, and should have seen it as an honor to bring his adopted daughter to the king.
- The next verse (ibid. 6) informs us that Mordechai was “exiled.” As an immigrant, he should have felt gratitude to his host nation, wanting to give back by giving his daughter.
- The next verse (ibid. 7) tells us that Esther was “daughter of his uncle” meaning that he was responsible for her, and thus had the final say of whether or not she should be a part of this contest.
- More than that, the verse (ibid.) tells us Esther “did not have a father and mother” to stress that he had ultimate authority over her, having to answer to nobody.
- The additional fact that Esther had a “beautiful form” (ibid.) was all the more reason for Mordechai to bring her!
- By describing Esther “as daughter” to Mordechai, the verse is saying that Esther would not go without his approval, making him ultimately culpable for her being absent at the king’s casting call.
- In our verse, the phrase “word and law” indicates that he knew the law well, and even knew of the consequences for ignoring it.
Additionally, Mordechai saw that “many young women” were taken to the king, and could not say he was ignorant of what was going on. As the Malbim continues, despite all of this, Mordechai nevertheless ignored the law, and placed himself in great peril in order to protect Esther.
ח וַיְהִי בְּהִשָּׁמַע דְּבַר–הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ וּבְהִקָּבֵץ נְעָרוֹת רַבּוֹת אֶל–שׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה אֶל–יַד הֵגָי וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶל–בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל–יַד הֵגַי שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים
8. And it was, when the king’s word and law became known, and many young women were brought to Shushan the capital by the hand of Heigai, and Esther was taken to the king’s house by the hand of Heigai, guard of the women.
Is not the king’s word law? Why would the verse need to have two nouns describing the same thing? The Vilna Gaon says these two words refer to two different things: one is the “davar,” the word requiring young women to be brought to the king, whereas the second term, “daso,” refers to a threat to back up the law once people resisted and began hiding their daughters (see previous blogs). The government realized the need for a penalty for those people who refused to comply with their edict.