- The Me’am Loez writes that Mordechai’s sitting at the king’s gate meant that he resigned from his position with the Sanhedrin. He became involved with the government instead in order to thwart any possible anti-Jewish decrees. The Rabbis were critical of this decision as we shall see, with H-Shem’s Help, when we get to 10:3 at the end of Megillas Esther.
- According to the Malbim, this again indicates the hand of the Divine in the Purim story, as Mordechai’s being at the king’s gate gave him the ability to uncover the plot.
כא בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם וּמָרְדֳּכַי ישֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר–הַמֶּלֶךְ קָצַף בִּגְתָ֨ן וָתֶ֜רֶשׁ שְׁנֵי–סָרִיסֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשֹּׁמְרֵי הַסַּף וַיְבַקְשׁוּ לִשְׁלֹחַ יָד בַּמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרשׁ
21. In those days – and Mordechai was sitting at the king’s gate – Bigsan and Seresh became angry with the king, two eunuchs of the king guarding his doorstep, and they sought/ requested to send out the hand to the king Achashverosh.
Rabbi Dovid Feinstein writes that the phrase “in those days” is meant to emphasize that H-Shem set up the saving of the Jews long before the threat to Jewish existence. As we have said before, H-Shem always prepares the cure before the advent of the ailment (Talmud, Megillah 13b).
- The Vilna Gaon points out that “ma’amar” (“instruction”) is a word connoting a gentle form of speaking. Esther, being queen, still followed Mordechai’s instructions like a daughter following the gentle reproach of a parent even after leaving his authority. Rashi adds that Mordechai sat at the king’s gate (see next verse), gently reminding Esther that she was Jewish and thus had responsibilities to H-Shem.
- The Talmud (Megillah 13b) says that Esther showed her niddah questions to Mordechai, as it may be necessary at times to seek rabbinic advice in this area according to the halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 193:1). In fact, the Yerushalmi states that Esther asked Mordechai other questions in regard to rabbinic law. In other words, she was asking specifically issues of rabbinic law.
- Rabbi Dovid Feinstein says that Esther was following Mordechai’s advice because she knew she was a part of H-Shem’s plan, but did not know how, and did not want to get in the way of this Divine plan.
- Rabbi Tzvi HaCohen Kaplan writes that Esther’s prophecy mentioned earlier (mentioned previously) was a direct result of her fidelity to Mordechai, trusting the Torah of the Rabbis in these difficult times.
- Another opinion in the Talmud there is that Esther had relations with Achashverosh, went to the mikvah, and then had relations with Mordechai. Although she was taken by force, and so allowed to Mordechai, Esther seemingly should have waited the requisite three months (Yevamos 35a) before having relations with her husband, unless it was actually a sheid (as mentioned in previous posts) having relations with the king. Perhaps going to the mikvah was Esther’s way to feel more pure, even if she wasn’t so in actual fact.
The Malbim writes that, earlier, the king wanted to know Esther’s nation for political reasons, so “nation” was written before “lineage.” Here, he wanted to know who her family was to reward them with gifts, so the verse mentions “lineage” before “nation.”
כ אֵין אֶסְתֵּר מַגֶּדֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ וְאֶת–עַמָּהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה עָלֶיהָ מָרְדֳּכָי וְאֶת–מַאֲמַר מָרְדֳּכַי אֶסְתֵּר עֹשָׂה כַּֽאֲשֶׁר הָיְתָה בְאָמְנָה אִתּוֹ
20. And Esther did not reveal her lineage and her nation as Mordechai commanded her, and the instruction of Mordechai Esther did just as she did in being raised by him.
- Eitz Yosef writes that, earlier (2:10), before Esther was introduced to Achashverosh, Mordechai did not want the knowledge of Esther’s royal lineage to encourage the king to choose her (as we’ve said before). Now that she was already chosen, she no longer had this reason, and she refused to identify her royal stock out of modest humility.
- The Malbim writes that, despite the fact that she was no longer under Mordechai’s direct influence, and despite the many tactics of the king, she still refused to identify her people. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:12) comments that Esther’s silence was an innate, genetic family trait learned from Rachel, her ancestor. Rachel famously stayed silent in the face of her sister marrying her beloved Yaakov (see Bireishis 29:25 and Rashi there). Decades later, Rachel’s son, Benyamin, stayed silent about the sale of Yosef, despite mourning for his brother to the point of naming all of his ten sons after him (see Bireishis 46:21 and Rashi there). King Shaul, Rachel’s descendant, too, was silent (Shmuel 1 10:16) about being made king by the prophet Shmuel. The Midrash is teaching, therefore, that it was due to Esther’s lineage – her ancestral ability to stay silent in the face of adversity – that allowed her to stay silent now.
- The Ohel Moshe points out that silence is not always good. Although the Mishnah praises silence (Avos 1:17) as the best thing “for a body,” this seems to contradict the verse in Koheles (3:7) which states that “there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak.” The Alshich and Maharal both point out that the Mishnah specifically says silence is good for the body, meaning that silence is always good for the physical body, but silence is not always ideal for the soul. The Ohel Moshe concludes from this that all of Esther’s relatives praised in the Midrash for being silent were pure enough to know when to speak, and when to be silent.
It was Mordechai’s position as adviser to the king that allowed for him to propose the above-mentioned advice, and for him to be taken seriously.
יט וּבְהִקָּבֵץ בְּתוּלוֹת שֵׁנִית וּמָרְדֳּכַי ישֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר־הַמֶּלֶךְ
19. And virgins were gathered a second time and Mordechai sat at the king’s gate.
- The Talmud (Megillah 13a) says the king asked advice of Mordechai to help get Esther to open up regarding her background. Surprisingly, Mordechai’s advice was to make Esther jealous by making another contest to pick a wife, similar to the first. Nevertheless, after this additional contest, she still did not reveal her lineage, as it says in the following verse (2:20). In his commentary on the Talmud there, Rashi explains that Mordechai actually hoped the king would find a more suitable wife, and would leave Esther alone.
- The Ben Ish Chai suggests that it is possible Mordechai was seeking assurance that Esther’s being chosen by the king came from a Divine source and was part of H-Shem’s master-plan.
- The Malbim, however, sees this gathering as Achashverosh’s attempting to seem like a nice guy by gathering the virgins with whom he had not yet had relations, and releasing them!