Esther 4:3, Question 5. Why did the Jews make eulogies?

  • According to the Ibn Ezra, the eulogies were merely sad dirges that the Jews composed and sang at this time.
  • Yad HaMelech goes along with his earlier comment that there were places far from the capital of Shushan where the king had less ability to control his citizenry. Therefore, he maintains that the Jews were mourning those who were indeed killed in the places where persecution began, despite the king’s decree.
  • According to Rav Shach, who quotes Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, the Jews were eulogizing the days wasted without Torah study and mitzvah performance. Indeed, in this world where time is all we have, such a waste truly deserves mourning.

Esther 4:3, Question 4. Why does the verse mention six responses of the Jews?

  • The Jews responded to this news with a total of six actions: they mourned, fasted, cried, eulogized, and donned sack and ash. The M’nos HaLevi writes that there is significance to this number. These six actions correspond to the six days in which the Jews participated in Achashverosh’s party (see Esther 1:5). Indeed it was a seven-day party, and the Jews took a break from the last day because it was Shabbos.
  • Since the verse that describes Achashverosh’s party (1:4), the verse says the party lasted for many days (yamim rabim), and gives the number of days as 180, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz wonders why the phrase “yamim rabim” is not superfluous. He answers that this phrase refers to the kind of days they were, long summer days, concluding with Yom Kippur. This is the day on which no Jew sins. In fact, he adds that the gematria of the Satan (hasatan) is 364 (5+300+9+50), one less than the total amount of days in a solar year, indicating that the Evil Inclination has no hold on us for one days out of the year – Yom Kippur. Therefore, there were only six days for which the Jews needed to atone.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Sfas Emes views Megillas Esther as the beginning of the Oral Law. Mordechai was even a member of the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) that began the establishment of Rabbinic law. The Oral Law is represented by the number six, as that is the total number of Orders in the Mishnah – Seeds, Festivals, Women, Damages, Holy Items, Purity. The Jews mourned in six different ways in to show their new-found reverence for the Oral Law.
  • Interestingly, according to the Vilna Gaon, there are not six actions here, but five. In his understanding, the great mourning is not a separate action, but is one general action described with the remaining five detailed descriptions. According to him, these five correspond to the five actions Jews are supposed to take (Mishnah, Taanis 1:3-7) when they are suffering agriculturally.

Esther 4:3, Question 3. Why does the verse call the Jews’ mourning “great?”

  • In its classically sarcastic tone, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:2) asks if there is such a thing as a mourning that is not great. After all, any mourning is painful. Naturally, after seven days, our personal mourning diminishes to some degree as we come to grips with the fact of the loss we are experiencing. In this case, however, the mourning only intensified as the Jews continued moving forward toward the day set for their annihilation. The Midrash adds that, in normal mourning, there is comfort in the fact that the deceased left someone behind. Here, again, nobody is expected to remain behind as Haman has decreed the deaths of women and children along with everyone else.
  • Rav Henoch Leibowitz cites a story in the Talmud (Brachos 60a) in which Rebbe Yishmael calls a student a sinner merely because the student was agitated. The only thing about which a person should be nervous is if that person performed enough good deeds. A person nervous about anything else is simply not living – constantly in the grips of fears and anxieties that prevent that person from enjoying the blessings of life. The Jews’ mourning here, too, is great in the sense of its quality. It was the fear of the righteous, the concern he felt if he had done enough good on his level. They were mourning for the right reasons, and that is why the verse calls their mourning “great.”

Esther 4:3, Question 2. Why does the verse refer to both the king’s “words” and “rule?”

According to the view of the Vilna Gaon and the Malbim, the king’s “words” refer to the secret documents Haman sent out to the governors and vice-governors. The king’s “rule” refers to the public copies of the plan to the general populace. The Malbim’s opinion is that these public copies were put up by Jew-friendly governors.