Esther 8:11, Question 5. Why do the letters call the threat against the Jewish lives “al nafsham” (“on their souls”)?

  • In Machir Yayin, the Rema writes that the verse’s use of the phrase “al nafsham” (“on their souls”) rather than “al gufam” (“on their bodies”) implies that the Jews’ targets were their spiritual enemies, not their physical enemies. In other words, Jewish survival depends upon their defending themselves from sin.

  • The Sfas Emes focuses on the word al (“on”). He explains in this context that teshuva out of a sense of love is greater than teshuva out of fear. According to him, the Jews were on a higher level at this point – no longer threatened with annihilation – and the verse therefore uses the word al.

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Esther 8:12, Question 1. Why is the battle and plunder limited to a single day?

יב בְּיוֹם אֶחָד בְּכָלמְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁה עָשָׂר לְחֹדֶשׁ שְׁנֵיםעָשָׂר הוּאחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר

12. “On one day in all the states of King Achashverosh, on the thirteenth of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.”

  • Rashi explains that the gentiles’ property was only included in the letter because the Jews’ property had been threatened in Haman’s original decree.

  • The Vilna Gaon writes that the Jews did not want to plunder, and it would have been enough for them to be out of this great danger, but Mordechai and Esther had to have parallel language to Haman’s decree (Esther 3:13).

  • The Maamar Mordechai points out that when a government kills someone, it seizes that person’s property; here, Achashverosh wanted to give it to the Jews.

  • Malbim notes that there was less time for looting to stress that the Jews were really focused on self-defense.

  • In Yosef Lekach’s opinion, Achashverosh gave permission to take spoils, but Mordechai limited the time in which it could be done to lessen the Jews’ ability to enjoy the plunder in order to avoid the same problem as occurred in the time of Shaul (Shmuel 1 15:9), when they did not completely wipe out the property of Amalek for the sake of their flocks.

  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the Torah (Devarim 19:18) speaks of eidim zomemim, who are false witnesses proven to have not been in the location of the crime regarding which they are testifying. Their punishment is to receive the same consequences their testimony would have incurred on the person about whom they testified. Here, too, the enemies of the Jews – having testified falsely about the Jews – receive the consequences they wanted for us.

Esther 8:11, Question 4. Why do the letters not name the enemies?

  • In Ma’aseh Chemed, the Steipler Gaon writes that the letters do not explicitly name the Jews’ enemies in contrast to Haman’s letter (Esther 3:13). There, Haman was concerned that some people might misinterpret his decree to target some other disliked minority. Therefore, he spelled out clearly who the enemies were. By being specific, the ring-leaders could start making plans, stockpiling weapons, collecting Jewish addresses, etc. However, by performing these acts, the Jews’ enemies made themselves conspicuous to the Jews. For this reason, the purported enemies in this verse could be vague because Jews knew exactly who they were already. How complete and precise is H-Shem’s justice! Haman and his cohorts dug their own graves.

Esther 8:11, Question 3. What does the word es add to the command?

  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the word es implies that the Jews were allowed to annihilate these enemies, despite the fact that Amalek is the only nation we are allowed to annihilate. This es includes nations not of Amalek involved in the attempted annihilation of the Persian Jews.

  • The Ginzei HaMelech continues by questioning how we can annihilate another nation. He quotes the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 5:4-5) who points out that the Assyrian king, Sancherev, mixed the nations that he conquered, and we no longer know the actual national pedigree of any people. He answers by quoting his friend, R’ Akiva Stolper that this permission includes any nation that exhibits the characteristics of Amalek. He proves this with a story of R’ Chaim of Volozhin, who once visited St. Petersburg. He saw a little boy there named Nikolai, about whom he confessed to his companion, “he worries me. He is Amalek.” That boy grew up to be the raging Jew hater, Czar Nikolai. Nikolai’s pedigree to the Russian royal throne was unquestionable, so the only way for him to be Amalek is in his personality.

  • Here, too, these people had the characteristics of Amalek. Despite the obvious fact that the Jews were ascending, these people were still planning an attack! Only Amalek would do something like that, as they did when they attacked the victorious Jews leaving Mitzrayim (Shemos 17:8) so many years before. The Midrash (Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei 9) compares Amalek to a person who knowingly scalds oneself by jumping into a boiling hot pool in order to convince others to do it, too.

     

Esther 8:11, Question 2. Why do the letters command the Jews to plunder?

  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the Jews were expected to plunder the wealth of the gentiles because of mida kineged mida (“measure for measure”). After all, Haman’s decree (Esther 3:13) included gentiles plundering the valuable of their Jewish victims.

  • However, the Malbim points out that, as opposed to Haman’s letters, these letters did not imply that the plundering was to take place after the enemy was killed out. Rather, they only had one day! This is because Haman gave plenty of time to plunder in order to help motivate the hordes. Mordechai, on the other hand, did not need to do this since survival is the greatest motivator.

  • Class Participant YML suggested that if this letter were written by Achashverosh, it is possible he only gave them one day out of his anti-Semitic desire to give the Jews less than what they were entitled to receive.

Esther 8:11, Question 1. Why do the letters require the Jews to gather?

יא אֲשֶׁר נָתַן הַמֶּלֶךְ לַיְּהוּדִים ׀ אֲשֶׁר בְּכָלעִירוָעִיר לְהִקָּהֵל וְלַעֲמֹד עַלנַפְשָׁם לְהַשְׁמִיד וְלַהֲרֹג וּלְאַבֵּד אֶתכָּלחֵיל עַם וּמְדִינָה הַצָּרִים אֹתָם טַף וְנָשִׁים וּשְׁלָלָם לָבוֹז

11. “That the king gave to the Yehudim who were in each city and city to gather, and to stand on their souls, to annihilate, and to kill, and to destroy any army of the nation and state who antagonize them, infants, and women. And their property they should plunder.

  • According to Dena Pishra, the letters required the Jews to gather because Jewish unity is a powerful method of attaining H-Shem’s assistance.

  • The Sfas Emes adds that Jews have an aggregate soul, and our combined effort is especially needed when we are in danger.

  • Furthermore, the Ginzei HaMelech asks that if the word “unify” requires two or more people, and the word “stand” implies one [as one person stands for oneself], which is the letters’ intent? Based on Rashi’s comment on the Talmud (Shabbos 127b) that “stand” means to pray, he answers that the Talmud (Bava Kama 97a) promises a Jew that when one prays for another’s needs, one’s prayers are never rejected. The Talmud (Brachos 8a) says the same idea regarding communal prayer.

Esther 8:10, Question 3. Why does the verse mention the couriers’ transportation?

  • The Vilna Gaon points out that Mordechai provided these animals to the couriers because he wanted them to hurry. This, despite the fact that they were exhausted from having just traversed the largest nation in the world to deliver Haman’s original decree. Seeing that they were tired, he gave them the fastest possible horses.
  • The Malbim writes that Mordechai sent the messengers on horses in contrast with Haman. In explanation, R’ Chaim Kanievsky writes that Haman had plenty of time – he had eleven months. Mordechai is in a hurry to save lives.
  • Interestingly, the Talmud (Megillah 18a) writes that the sages were unsure as to the translation of the couriers’ transportation.
  • Rashi translates achashtirans as swift camels.
  • The Ibn Ezra writes that these are a species of mule. After all, the verse says they are bred from ramachs, and the Mishnah (Kilayim 8:5) considers a ramach a mare, mother of a mule. Also, the Arabic word, ramach means mare.
  • R’ Yosef Kimchi concurs and he adds that achash in Median means large and tiran (misrain) means two. Therefore, the combination of the two words means the mating of two large animals: the horse and the donkey.
  • R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume IV, 286) translates rachash as a draft horse. Parenthetically, he adds that the symbolic meaning of these in TaNaCh indicates a reluctance to listening to one’s master.
  • R’ Yehoshua Leib Diskin writes that these untranslatable words answer another question from the Talmud (Megillah 3b), which says one must interrupt Torah learning to hear the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim. This is also brought down as the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 687:2). The Halacha (Mishnah Berurah Orach Chaim 690:26) further states from this verse that one fulfills one’s obligation in Hebrew despite not knowing the meaning. But is not Megillas Esther also Torah?! Rav Diskin explains that it is not considered Torah study if one does not understand it. Understanding is an essential component of Torah study. Hearing the reading is still an obligation because persumei nisa (publicizing a miracle) is even greater than Torah study.