Esther 3:15, Question 3. Why is Shushan described as confused?

  • The Me’am Loez writes that the people of Shushan were confused about Haman’s new promotion from lowly barber to the point where he had the power to order the annihilation of an entire people.
  • Still going according to his theory, the Malbim says the confusion stemmed from nobody knowing the content of the letters.
  • R’ Mendel Weinbach adds that, since nobody knew which group was being wiped out on the thirteenth of the following Adar, each ethnic group in Achashverosh’s 127 states was worried that they were the intended target.
  • However, the Yerushalmi writes that the confusion of Shushan stemmed from the polar opposite reactions to this decree (which the Yerushalmi clearly presumes everybody knew). The Jews in the city were scared and simultaneously anti-Semites in the city were overjoyed.
  • The Talmud (Makkos 12a-b) discusses a case in which a tree is planted on the border of the city of refuge to which a person who committed negligent homicide must flee, and asks if such a killer would be allowed to safely stay under this tree. After all, while he is in the city of refuge, the “go’el hadam” (“blood avenger”) cannot kill the negligent killer (Bamidbar 35:19). The Talmud answers that we follow the lenient opinion, but the lenient opinion for whom – the go’el hadam or the accidental murderer? Just like the news in Shushan about the impending annihilation of the Jews, it is a question of perspective.
  • Similarly, the Vilna Gaon writes that the gentiles did not know for what they needed to be prepared, while according to Rashi, the Jews were confused because they were pondering the age-old question of why the Jews are so hated.
  • The Yalkut Shimoni and the Alshich comment that this confusion came from seemingly random accidents occurring throughout the city as the city became suddenly accident-prone.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein suggests that the gentiles were concerned about the economic effects of the upcoming massacre. When the Jews are in trouble, commerce is affected. As it says in Mishlei (29:2) “When evil rules, the nation sighs.” In other words, everybody loses when wicked are in charge; even the wicked leader’s allies cannot sleep securely.
  • R’ Shlomo Kluger writes that the people were worried because Achashverosh had just drunk. With a history of abhorrent behavior when imbibing (see 2:1 above), the people were scared about what he may do next.
  • The Maharal has the exact opposite opinion. According to him, the two sat down to drink in order to calm the populace. They were sending the message, “We are not doing anything to serious. Look, we are just sitting down for casual drinks.” Perhaps the order of these last two verses are testifying to the fact that this plan failed miserably, as the entire city was lost in confusion.
  • Ultimately, regardless of the reason for the city’s confusion, Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 404) writes that Achashverosh’s drinking at this historical crux shows he was “aloof from his subjects in unapproachable majesty.”
  • R’ Yehonasan Eibshutz quotes Yosipon as saying that, in the ancient world, making a decree and then drinking means agreeing with the decree, and that it cannot be rescinded. However, making a decree after drinking means the decree is not legitimate, and can therefore be rescinded. Later in the story (Esther 8:8), when Achashverosh allows Mordechai and Esther to uproot this decree, he was implying that they drank first, which is clearly a lie. The city was confused because they did not know the order in this case. This is a powerful contrast from the Jewish G-d, the King of Kings, who, as we shall see in the coming chapters, cares intimately about His people, and has orchestrated these events in a way that will ultimately lead to the Jews’ salvation, it should come soon. Amen.
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Esther 3:15, Question 2. Why do Haman and Achashverosh drink together at this point?

  • Dena Pishra writes that Achashverosh and Haman sat down to drink to finalize their deal.
  • Eyney Ha’Eyda, on the other hand, writes that Haman here attempted to get Achashverosh drunk to keep him from changing his mind, as he is liable to do. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we drink on Purim.
  • The fact that Achashverosh is drinking at this point is one of Malbim’s strongest proof that he did not know what was going on. Otherwise, he should worry at least, but certainly not have a drink!
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle brings a proof against the idea that Achashverosh was blissfully ignorant of Haman’s plans. He notes that the gematria of Haman (5+40+50=95) is equal to “hamelech” (“the king”) (5+40+20+30=95). Therefore, he writes, they were equal in their evil and equal in their joy.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 63a) that the Jewish court is not allowed to eat on a day it passes the death sentence on someone. The reason for this is that the court should not celebrate the taking of a human life. The fact that Haman and Achashverosh are drinking at this point is evidence that they are cheerful, thinking that they are doing the world a favor. Like many evil people in history, they allowed their good intentions to perform the worst of actions in the Machiavellian delusion that the ends justify the means.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:21) writes that this drink-fest is a consequence of Yosef’s brothers sitting down to eat after throwing him into the potentially deadly pit (Bereishis 37:25). In one view, the entire Purim story is a tikkun for the sale of Yosef. The only reason we could be punished for the sins of our ancestors is if we continue to repeat the same mistakes (Rashi to Shemos 20:5). The main sin of the brothers was that they lacked love for their brother. Again, this is why unity is one of the themes of Megillas Esther.

Esther 3:15, Question 1. Why are the runners rushed?

טו הָרָצִים יָצְאוּ דְחוּפִים בִּדְבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַדָּת נִתְּנָה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה וְהַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן יָשְׁבוּ לִשְׁתּוֹת וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן נָבוֹכָה

15. The runners went out rushed according to the word of the king. And the law was given in Shushan the capital. And the king and Haman sat to drink, and the city of Shushan was confused.

  • R’ Dovid Feinstein gives a practical reason for the runners to be rushed; Achashverosh’s empire was huge. With communication being as impaired as it was then, Haman rushed the runners to avoid having anything less than 100% success.
  • Rav Galico says they were rushed in order to prolong the agony of the Jews (who, according to him, knew of their impending annihilation) from Nisan to the next Adar – eleven frightening months away.
  • Based on his theory that Achashverosh did not know what the decree said, the Malbim says Haman rushed the runners so that Achashverosh would not change his mind.

Esther 3:14, Question 2. Why is a copy necessary at all, and what is being “revealed?”

  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:24) uses this verse to contrast Jewish prophecy from gentile prophecy. Gentile prophecy is vague to the point that all they see is, for instance “killing,” and they do not know if they will be doing the killing, or if they will be killed. As an example, the Midrash tells the following parable:

A man is walking on the road. When his legs begin to hurt, he says, “If only I had one donkey…” Just as he says this, a Roman whose she-donkey just gave birth passes by him. The Roman sees the man and orders him to carry the donkey colt on his shoulders. The man says, “I asked, but did not ask correctly.” This is the prophecy of the gentile nations. They are vaguely instructed to “be ready,” (Esther 3:14) but they did not know if they were to be ready to kill or be killed. Jewish prophecy is explicit, as when it says, “…to allow the Yehudim to prepare for this day to avenge themselves from their enemies” (ibid. 8:13).

  • The Malbim explains that this is a copy for the regular people. According to him, the letters sent out previously (Esther 3:12) to the governors and lieutenant governors were sealed, so even they did not know what was happening.
  • The Vilna Gaon disagrees, and writes that the officials knew what was happening, but the general populace was kept in the dark. The Vilna Gaon and Malbim agree, however, that these copies mentioned here, like contemporary movie posters, intentionally revealed very little in order to better surprise the Jews. Quite literally, these public copies might only say, “Be prepared…”
  • The Me’am Loez writes that very little was revealed because Achashverosh and Haman feared that some fanatical Jew-haters might have acted prematurely, spoil the surprise, and accidentally allow some Jews to escape annihilation.
  • Parenthetically, there is an interesting story about the Maharil Diskin. After he passed away, his students poured over his unpublished work in hopes of finding material for publication. A note fell out of one book. It read: “tefillah b’kavanah u’bipeirush, udvidah d’chamor,” which means “prayer with intent and explanation, story of the donkey.” For a long time, the students did not know what this meant. Upon asking R’ Raphael Katennellenbogen, he explained this note referred to the above parable. When people pray, they need to be as detailed as possible. Prayer require thought and understanding. If one prays for wealth, for instance, it would be wise to mention as many specific details as possible in order to get the wealth you actually seek, and not something different.

Esther 3:14, Question 1. Why does the text use such an unusual word for a copy?

יד פַּתְשֶׁגֶן הַכְּתָב לְהִנָּתֵן דָּת בְּכָלמְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה גָּלוּי לְכָלהָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת עֲתִדִים לַיּוֹם הַזֶּה

14. A copy/summary of the writing was to given as the law in each state revealing to all the nations to be ready for this day.

  • The Aramaic word, “pas’shegen” (“copy” or “summary”), is only used thrice in TaNaCh, and all three times are in Megillas Esther (here, 4:8, and 8:13). The Vilna Gaon writes that the plan to kill the Jews was supposed to be secret. Perhaps the word, too, is supposed to indicate this secrecy with its obscurity.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:13) writes that, as soon as Mordechai learned of the decree, he saw three schoolchildren, and he asked them what they were learning. Somehow, it seems, what schoolchildren learn somehow indicates what is going on in the world. The first child quoted a verse from Mishlei (3:25) “Do not fear sudden terror or the darkness of the wicked when it comes.” The second student quoted a verse from Yeshaya (8:10) “Advise together and nothing, speak a word and it will not occur, because G-d is with us.” The third student quoted another verse from Yeshaya (46:4) “Until your old age, I am He. Until your hoary age, I remain. I made and I hear. I carry and I deliver.”1 Upon hearing this, Mordechai felt great joy. This Midrash teaches that, as long as the Jewish people are learning, they can still be saved – especially the Torah of schoolchildren (Talmud, Shabbos 119b).
  • The Maharal explains that the greatest impediments for evil people are righteous people, H-Shem, and their own evil. Based on this, these three verses reference these three groups. The first verse concerns righteous people because the righteous do not fear anything besides H-Shem. The second verse concerns H-Shem because people in the verse are already conspiring together, and the only thing stopping their evil is that “G-d is with us.” The third verse is related to the evil person befuddling him/ herself because evil people are under the impression that they are in charge of their destinies.
  • Perhaps “pas’shegen” is used thrice in Megillas Esther to show that three principle actors will undermine Haman’s plan – the righteous Mordechai and Esther, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and even Haman, himself.
  • Based on the translation of “pas’shegen” as “copy,” Class Participant CRL suggested that perhaps there was a copy of Haman’s decree in Heaven indicating H-Shem’s approval of the threat on Jewish survival.
  • The gematria of the word “pas’shegen” (80+400+300+3+50=833) is equal to “hishavtanu” (“that we swore”) (5+300+2+400+50+6=833) (Yehoshua 2:17). Also, with the principle of im hakollel (see #47 above and footnote there) its gematria is equivalent to “mishbetzos” (“settings”) (40+300+2+90+400=832), used in the manufacture of the priestly garb of the Kohen (Shemos 28:13). Perhaps this alludes to the reason for the threat on Jewish existence at this time (Talmud, Megillah 12a). The swearing may allude to the bowing to Nevuchadnetzer’s idol in swearing allegiance to him. The settings may be a reference to the party because the clothing of the Kohen is what Achashverosh wore at his feast.
  • The gematria of “pas’shegen” is also the same as the entire verse regarding Noach’s drunken debasement (Bereishis 9:20), which has obvious parallels to the Purim story.

1Interestingly, there is a custom to say these verses together in this same order after Aleinu at the end of all three daily prayer services.

Esther 3:13, Question 6. Why are these previous two verses so unusually long?

  • Perhaps these last two verses are so long because, as the Kol Sasson points out, this verse contains every single letter of the Hebrew alphabet – even the five final letters. According to the AriZal, rare verses like this point to the greatness of Torah, which is written with the letters of the Aleph-Beis.
  • Perhaps the previous verse is even longer to emphasize that a verse’s significance does not come from its size, but from containing the holy letters of the Aleph-Beis.

Esther 3:13, Question 5. Why does the decree include a proviso to plunder the Jews’ wealth?

  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Haman ordered the plundering of the Jews’ wealth to increase incentive for the Persians.
  • Furthermore, the Alshich writes that this plunder was meant to make it impossible for the Jews to bribe their way out of this.