3. And the king said to her, “What is for you, Esther the Queen, and what is your request? Until half of the kingdom, and I will give it to you.”
R’ Mendel Weinbach writes that, since angels just appeared, Achashverosh realized something of tremendous import was happening. He was therefore asking Esther what important thing she had to say.
The Vilna Gaon and Malbim write that Esther broke the law to appear before the king, and she looked weak. Those, then, were the subjects of Achashverosh’s questions: what is happening that you felt compelled to break the law, and why are you looking ill? He likely surmised that either the queen is bothered by something, or she is petitioning the king on behalf of someone else.
Class Participant RS suggests that the return of the king’s eyesight compelled him to wonder about the significance of the unfolding events.
The Maharal and Me’am Loez write that Achashverosh’s scepter simply represented his rule over the land, and that Esther was under Achashverosh’s protection.
The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes the length to which it was stretched was either from two amos1 to twelve, or to sixteen, or to twenty-four amos, or to sixty amos, or two hundred amos. Midrash Socher Tov (on Tehillim 22:27) writes that it grew sixty-two amos.
Either way, the Maharsha says the reason why this scepter needed to be extended at all is because Esther was weak from her three straight days of fasting, and the scepter was otherwise too far away. He adds that these are not random numbers: he notes that the word “vayoshet” (“and he stretched out”) is the twelfth word in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to twelve amos; “sharvit” (“scepter”) is the sixteenth word in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to sixteen amos; there are a total of twenty-four words in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to twenty-four amos; there are sixty letters in the verse before the word “sharvit,” hinting to the idea that it grew to sixty amos.
The Ben Ish Chai writes that the length that the scepter became is not as significant as how much it grew. Therefore, if it started out as two and grew to twelve, that means it grew ten amos. The significance of ten is that the Mishnah (Avos 5:1) teaches that H-Shem created the world with ten utterances. Therefore, this miracle was supposed to intimate to Achashverosh that killing the Jews would be like destroying the world, which was made for the holy pursuits of the Jewish people (see Midrash, Bireishis Rabbah 1:2). If it started out as two and grew to sixteen, that means it grew fourteen amos. That is the gematria of David (4+6+4=14), the man responsible for beginning the construction of the Temple. If it started out as two and grew to twenty-four, that means it grew twenty-two amos. This is the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet, with which is written the Torah that itself protects the Jewish people. If it started out as two and grew to sixty, that means it grew fifty-eight amos. This is the gematria of chein (8+50=58), or grace, which means Esther’s prayers to find grace were being favorably answered. If it started out as two and grew to two hundred, that means it grew one hundred and ninety-eight amos. This is the gematria of H-Shem’s Havaya Name (10+5+6+5=26) added to the Elokim Name (1+30+5+10+40=86) twice. This indicates that Esther had aroused H-Shem’s Characteristic of Mercy. The Ben Ish Chai concludes that all of these numbers should not seem contradictory, but were separate growths that literally occurred.
Not counting the opinion of the Midrash Socher Tov, the scepter grew five different times because there are five different levels of redemption – v’hotzaisee (“and I will take you out”) (Shemos 6:6), v’hitzaltee (“and I will rescue you”) (ibid.), v’gaaltee (“and I will redeem you”) (ibid.), and v’lakachtee (“and I will take accept you”) (Shemos 6:7), and v’hayvaysee (“and I will bring you”) (Shemos 6:8) – and in the merit of the five Books of the Torah2.
2The Ben Ish Chai makes a similar observation regarding Mordechai’s five clothes (Esther 8:15). He writes that our verse shows Esther’s reward, and that later verse parallels this one to show Mordechai’s reward.
The Malbim writes that, due to his great love for her, Achashverosh never intended to apply the death penalty to Esther even for this transgression of approaching him unbidden. This great love, added to her humble aspect as she approached him, gave her additional grace in his eyes.
The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes that, as she was approaching the king, the castle was surrounded by idols, and she was unable to pray. When she movingly asked H-Shem why prayer – her only comfort and strength – was taken from her, H-Shem blessed her with additional favor.
Class participant YL suggested that the verse’s use of the word “king” instead of Achashverosh’s name indicates that the verse is discussing the favor Esther received from H-Shem.
The Talmud there further states that three angels encountered Esther at this time. One raised her neck. Another hung a string of kindness on her. The third stretched out Achashverosh’s scepter.1
The Maharal suggests that there were three angels present because each angel can perform one job at a time. Although these angels all seem to be doing the same thing, the Maharal explains that one angel was there to inspire Achashverosh love Esther, another was there to inspire Esther to love Achashverosh, and the third was there to unify them into a unit.
Class participant RS suggested that perhaps Esther earned these three angels for her three days of fasting.
Rav Dovid Feinstein suggests that, although Achashverosh indeed saw grace/favor in Esther upon their initial meeting (see Esther 2:17), this feeling seemingly slipped away as it may tend to do, but returned at this moment.
Ora v’Simcha quotes the Yalkut Shimoni (1056:5) that Achashverosh became blind upon meeting Esther. This explains why Achashverosh stopped searching for a wife at that point, why he did not proof-read Haman’s letter, and why he did not know he was sleeping with a sheid. At this meeting, however, the sight of Esther allowed the king to regain his eyesight.
1 The Vilna Gaon uses the language of the verse, itself, to demonstrate the need for the angels’ intervention. The verse should have said the active “ka’asher ra’a” (“when he saw”), but instead says “kir’ot” (“when seen by the king”) in the passive voice to allude to the assistance he received from angels. Similarly, the verse’s use of the passive “na’asa chein” (“she received favor”) is unusually passive since TaNaCh typically says this phrase in the more active “matza chein” (“he found favor”). Again, the angel holding up Esther’s head made her a passive participant in earning Achashveosh’s recognition. Finally, the verse’s seemingly unnecessary detail about the scepter being in Achashverosh’s hand shows that the scepter was originally at most long enough for the king to be able to hold it “in his hand.” If she was in the courtyard, the only way she could have reached it is if it was long enough for her to physically reach, which explains the purpose of the third angel.
2. And it was, when seen by the king was Esther the Queen standing in the courtyard, she received favor/grace in his eyes, and the king extended to Esther the gold scepter that was in his hand. And Esther came closer, and she touched the head of the scepter.
According to the Talmud (Megillah 10b-11a), the use of the the word “vayehi” indicates a negative event. In its simplest meaning, this was certainly a negative event for Esther, as she was risking both her life and her relationship with Mordechai by approaching the king unannounced.
The Maharal adds that this meeting was also bad for Achashverosh. Citing a Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni (1056) that an angel turned Achashverosh’s face towards Esther, the Maharal writes that this is bad for Achashverosh because the only thing we have in this world is our free choice. Once it is taken away, even momentarily, by an angel, we lose something of our humanity, making this a negative event, indeed.
Rabbi Avraham Sutton writes that H-Shem always saves us at our lowest point. Following Esther’s life of being an orphan, being raised in secret, being forced into the king’s harem, being chosen to be his wife, everything in her life seemed to her to be in a progressively worsening spiral. At this point, risking her life to save the Jews, she can be said to be at the lowest point in her life.