Esther 5:14, Question 1. Why were the gallows specifically 50 cubits?

  • The Ma’amar Mordechai writes that the tree was supposed to be 50 amos tall to enable Haman to see Mordechai hanging while still at Esther’s party. The reason we can be certain that Mordechai would be more visible under that condition is that the Talmud (Eruvin 2b) teaches that the windows in kings’ palaces are no higher than 50 amos.
  • The Vilna Gaon teaches that the gallows certainly needed to be tall enough for Harbona to point to it (Esther 7:9). This is because of the Talmudic principle (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 26a) that hearing is not comparable to seeing.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Zeresh is advising Haman that if he gets irritated, he can simply look up and get in a good mood because Mordechai will hang from the tree seen everywhere.
  • According to Yalkut Shimoni (1054), besides throwing lots (purim) to decide on the best date to kill all of the Jews (Esther 3:7), Haman also threw lots to decide on the best species of tree to use in making this gallows. However, throughout TaNaCh, the Jews are compared to many different kinds of trees, so he decided on a cedar because Jews are not compared to it. The reason for this is that the cedar can be shattered by the wind.
  • Both the Yalkut Shimoni and the Midrash Abba Gorion continue that Haman could not find such a tall beam, so his son Parshandasa, governor of the area of Mt. Ararat, the area where Noach’s ark landed (Bireishis 8:4), gave him beam of Noach’s teivah, which would have been 50 amos long (Bireishis 6:15).
  • Rabbi Dovid Feinstein explains that the wood was from Noach’s teivah to show that killing Mordechai was important for humanity, as his refusal to bow down to Haman disturbed the “Great Chain of Being,” society’s understanding of the social hierarchy.
  • However, the Binyan Shlomo quotes the Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer (Chap. 50) that the wood taken from Holy of Holies1.
  • The Maharal notes that the teiva and the Beis HaMikdash both represent Olam HaZeh, the terrestrial world. Essentially, the idea of the Beis HaMikdash is that items of this world can be taken and elevated to greatness. Similarly, the teiva saved this physical world from destruction during the Deluge. Haman was attempting to conquer that mystical power that holds control over this world. This is what it means that Haman made of himself an object of worship, which is one of the reasons Mordechai had refused to bow to him. It is interesting to note that another connection between the teivah and the Beis HaMikdash is hidden in gematria. The gematria of ararat (1+200+200+9=410) is the same as the amount of years the first Temple stood.
  • In his usual, mysterious style, Rav Moshe David Valle writes that the 50 amos refer to the 50 gevuros (powers) of the yad hachazaka (“the strong Hand”), all of them combining against Haman. Perhaps this is a reference to the Haggadah in which Rabbi Yosi haGelili asks, “How do we know the Egyptians were struck with ten plagues in Mitzrayim and 50 at the sea?” In reply, he contrasts the verse (Shemos 8:15) in which Pharaoh’s magicians recognized the plagues as “the finger of G-d” with the verse (Shemos 14:31) describing Israel’s recognizing G-d’s might after drowning the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds, “and Israel saw the great Hand.” If one finger represents the plagues, of which there where ten, then a hand with its five fingers would be five times greater, or 50. Therefore, the 50 amos of the gallows demonstrate H-Shem’s anger with Haman.
  • According to the Sfas Emes, when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Bireishis 3:6), good and evil became confused. Kabbalistically, this resulted in 49 gates of tumah (impurity) which parallel 49 gates of kedusha (holiness). When the Talmud (Chulin 139b) states that Adam’s eating from the tree (Bireishis 3:11) is an allusion to Haman, it is because Amalek (represented by Haman), is the force that causes this confusion (the Hebrew word for confusion, safek (60+80+100=240) has the same gematria as Amalek (70+40+30+100=240). To know clearly what is right, and have not doubts at all, one needs to be above one’s area of control by leaping above to the 50th gate, a place Amalek cannot exist. Moshe’s raising his hands during the Jews’ war with Amalek (Shemos 17:11) hints to the idea of rising above one’s vantage point. Chiddushei HaRim brings this idea of confusing good with evil as another reason for the custom to drink wine on Purim ad d’lo yada.

1 Most commentators give the source for this measurement as Yechezkel 40:15, which describes the length of the boards used in the Third Temple. Being that this Temple has unfortunately not been built yet (unless this was attempted before, as Rabbi Ken Spiro suggests in his “Crash Course in Jewish History”), perhaps the intended source is Shemos 27:12-13, which describes the Mishkan’s width rather than length.

Esther 5:3, Question 2. Why does Achashverosh offer up to half of the kingdom?

  • The Maharal says that Achashverosh offered Esther only half of his kingdom because any more would make it so that it is no longer his; he would no longer be the majority stock holder in that corporation. He therefore offers her 49% of the kingdom.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) says he was not willing to give her something that would “chotzetz,” divide the kingdom – the Beis HaMikdash.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Achashverosh wants to feel in control of the world, and a rebuilt Temple guarantees that a portion of his population – ever so small – would have allegiance to something other than him.
  • Rashi (on the Talmud there) quotes the Mishnah (Yoma 5:2) that the Beis HaMikdash is the center of the kingdom because it contains the even shasiya, the foundation stone from which the earth was made. Based on this, the Ohel Moshe asks, why did Esther not ask for the Temple to be rebuilt? He brings the Megillas Sesarim that Amalek needs to be destroyed before the Temple is rebuilt.
  • The Sfas Emes notes that it is ironic that Achashverosh does not want the Temple rebuilt. After all, it was his decree that inspired the Jews to unite, earning them the privilege to build the second Beis HaMikdash. The Sfas Emes points out that this order is alluded to in our weekday Shemoneh Esrei prayer. First, we pray that H-Shem eliminate the wicked, then we pray that H-Shem elevate the righteous, and only then do we pray that H-Shem rebuild Yerushalayim1.
  • R’ Moshe Meir Weiss mentions that we first mention the righteous and then the rebuilding of Yerushalayim because it is not possible to take ownership of the Land without righteous leaders. Without holiness, there is no protection.
  • As a Kabbalistic allegory, the Rema writes that the body requires half of the malchus (royal spirituality), while the other half has to be material and physical. The holiest people in the world still need to invest in this physical reality.
  • Perhaps another reason Achashverosh considered Yerushalayim so important to his rule can be gleaned from an earlier discussion in the Talmud (11a) that quotes a braisa saying that only three kings – Achav, Achashverosh, and Nebuchadnetzer – ruled the entire known world. The Talmud asks why Sancherev was not included in this list, and responds that he ruled everything except Yerushalayim. In effect, not controlling Yerushalayim means not being king of the entire world. As such, Achashverosh would have been reluctant to part with the city that held the key to his inclusion into such an exclusive group.

1In the Purim story, too, first Haman is defeated, then Mordechai is promoted, and then Israel received permission to return to the Land.

Esther 5:1, Question 3. Why does the verse mention so many locations?

  • Both the Vilna Gaon and Malbim write that the verse mentions so many locations because Esther stood outside his private residence, where Achashverosh was expected to be. H-Shem had arranged it so that Achashverosh was then in court, able to see Esther outside his residence. This way, she was suddenly in the public courtyard, and he felt unable to order her execution. Like the reasons he had to give him pause before having Vashti killed, the king again did not want to appear insecure, especially since this would be the second wife he’d have executed.
  • As the Alshich points out, since Esther was right in front of Achashverosh, nobody would be able to attack her without his say-so.
  • Finally, the Imrei Emes, in a less literal interpretation of the verse, writes that the verse’s description of Esther’s location is a spiritual dimension. This is not a physical courtyard. Rather, the added power of Esther’s accomplished Ruach HaKodesh, her powerful prayer, and her self-sacrifice transported Esther into H-Shem’s Inner Courtyard, where He made Himself more receptive to her plea.

Esther 4:3, Question 1. Why does the verse use the word “makom” (“place”) in addition to “every state?”

ג וּבְכָלמְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דְּבַרהַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ מַגִּיעַ אֵבֶל גָּדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים וְצוֹם וּבְכִי וּמִסְפֵּד שַׂק וָאֵפֶר יֻצַּע לָֽרַבִּים

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.

Esther 1:1, Question 5. Why is the quantifying of Achashverosh’s geographic reign in reverse order?

One would expect for the verse to write the number from numerically larger to smaller denominations, as the Torah usually does. However, as the Talmud (Megillah 11a) relates, Achashverosh first conquered seven lands, then twenty more, and finally one hundred more, spreading out his kingdom until he was ruler of 127 provinces. Taking his cue from the earlier mentioned idea that Achashverosh was an unworthy upstart, Rabbi Dovid Feintein writes in Kol Dodi that we are influenced psychologically by the first number we see. This is why marketing executives write $9.99 as the price for an item rather than $10. The 9 that people see first makes 10 seem much larger. This verse, accordingly, is emphasizing again that Achashverosh is an upstart, worthy of only the first seven of his 127 states.

Esther 1:1, Question 4. Where are Hodu and Cush, and why does it matter?

There is an argument in the Talmud (Megillah 11a) regarding whether Hodu and Cush are near each other or far apart. Either way, the Talmud concludes, Achashverosh’s conquest of them was indicative of his great power. If they were far apart, the phrase “from Hodu and until Cush” shows that his kingdom was large geographically. If they were close, “from Hodu and until Cush” shows that his powerful influence was just as strong in Hodu and Cush as it was in the more far-flung provinces of his kingdom. This is unlike even more recent dictatorships like the Soviet Union, where the government’s anti-religious laws were far more influential in the capital, Moscow, than far-away Tashkent. Whereas Moscow Jews did not by and large get circumcisions, did not eat kosher, and could not learn basic Jewish traditions, the situation was markedly different for the Jews of Tashkent and its surrounding environs. The Rema famously writes that the two opinions in the Talmud are not necessarily contradictory. He writes that the distance from Point A to Point B on a sphere depends largely on which direction the line is going. If two people are next-door neighbors, and one takes the long route around the globe to reach the other, that person traveled an unnecessarily circuitous path, covering far more ground. This, according to the Rema, is indicative of the sheer size of Achashverosh’s kingdom – it covered all the the known world.