3. And in each and every state – place where the word of the king and his rule reached – was a great mourning to the Yehudim, and fasting, and crying, and eulogy. Sack and ash was spread under most.
On a simple level, the Yad HaMelech brings that, the further away from Shushan that a Jew found himself, the more scared he would be after learning of the decree. After all, the limited power of the king there would make it more difficult to control the anti-Semitic masses eager to jump at the chance to kill Jews in those locations.
On a simple level, Ibn Ezra tells us that this lowly dress would shame the monarchy.
According to the Me’am Loez, people were not allowed to wear sackcloth before the king because it was considered a bad omen as such people would thereby be walking reminders of death. For this reason, we find in the Torah (Bireishis 50:4) that when Yaakov passed away, Yosef was not allowed to have an audience with Pharoah.
Also, the Talmud (Brachos 62b) learns a kol v’chomer (a fortiori) argument that if in our verse, a person could not wear sackcloth (which, although is ugly, it is not repulsive) before a human king, how much more-so should one be forbidden from spitting (which is physically repulsive) in a synagogue, where one stands before the King of kings.
The Kabbalas Rabbah takes this idea one step further. If it is inappropriate to walk in front of a hum king looking like a mourner, how much more-so is it inappropriate to appear before the King of kings looking that way. In other words, in general, having a downcast negative attitude does not befit the servant of H-Shem. Even on the night of Rosh HaShanah, when we are judged, we are instructed to leave the synagogue confident in our positive judgment.
2. And he went until before the gate of the king because one could not go to the gate of the king wearing sackcloth.
The Vilna Gaon suggests that Mordechai went to the palace because he simply did not know that he would be barred from it.
The Malbim adds that Mordechai wanted to inform the king of the goings-on, not knowing that the king did not know that the Jews were targeted for genocide.
R’ Zalman Sorotskin in Mayleetz Yosher notes that Mordechai knew that he could change his clothing to discuss his issue with the king, and then change back into his sackcloth. The reason Mordechai chooses to act otherwise is because he actually felt a sense of mourning for the state of the Jewish people. Changing clothes would also show the Jewish people a lack of concern for their predicament.
R’ Eliezer Ashkenazi clarifies that Mordechai’s actions were a part of prayer. Prayer being the Jews’ strongest weapon, Mordechai knew he had to pray before performing any other activity, and therefore the removal of the sackcloth would have been considered tantamount to ceasing prayer.
Basing itself on a verse in Tehillim (85:14), the Talmud (Brachos 14a) teaches that we are not allowed to fulfill our own daily needs before performing our duties to H-Shem. This is also brought down in Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 89:3, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 17). Even our forefather, Yaakov, in preparing for his meeting with Eisav prayed before doing anything else (Bireishis 32:10-13).
The Talmud (Megillah 15a) records an argument about what, exactly, Mordechai was calling out as he went through Shushan. One opinion there has it that he yelled out, “Haman is greater than Achashverosh” in order to arouse the king’s jealousy. The other opinion is that Mordechai yelled out, “The King above is greater than the king below” in a euphemistic fashion to imply that Achashverosh was attempting to usurp H-Shem’s Power.
Yalkut Shimoni writes that there is generally a difference between Jewish prayer and idolatrous prayer; whereas Chana’s prayer was quiet (Shmuel 1 1:13), Eisav’s prayer was a “great and bitter cry” (Bireishis 27:38). Like dogs that bark loudest when they have the least bite with which to threaten, an idol-worshiper’s prayer needs to be loud since it has the least spiritual power behind it.
Furthermore, Rav Eliyah Lopian suggests that, whereas physical people cry over physical phenomena, spiritual people cry about spiritual matters. Here, however, to counteract the possible spiritual effectiveness of Haman’s ancestor’s (Eisav) “great and bitter cry,” caused by the actions of Mordechai’s ancestor (Yaakov).
According to Yosek Lekach and the Vilna Gaon, Mordechai’s cry was inspired by his feeling responsible for the decree against the Jews. After all, his decision to refuse to bow to Haman, regardless of the logic, is what led directly to Haman’s anger with the Jews of Persia and beyond.
R’ Henach Leibowitz points out in his characteristic way that this should be a powerful lesson to us about how careful we must be to avoid hurting someone, even when we are in the right!
Taken as a unit, some commentators find great significance in the combination of these three motifs of the sackcloth, the city, and the crying. According to the Ginzei HaMelech, the loud voice represents Avraham because he spoke out powerfully against idolatry in a world filled with idols (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avoda Zara 1:3). The ash represents Yitzchak who allowed his father to symbolically sacrifice him. The sackcloth represents Yaakov, who mourned in sack upon being told of his son’s untimely death (Bireishis 37:33). Therefore, in a thoughtful, calculated action of spiritual symbolism, Mordechai used these to recall the merits of the forefathers, whose merits always protect their descendants.
On a simple level, Malbim, writes that Mordechai went out “into the city” to better publicize the decree he just learned. According to the Malbim, this would encourage the Jews to beseech Achasverosh to rescind the decree.
Similarly, R’ Mendel Weinbach writes that Mordechai’s intention was to advertise the decree to Achashverosh directly, in case he had not heard of it yet.