The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:10 and a number of other Midrashim) teaches that the turnaround mentioned in this verse refers to all of Haman’s plans – from the queen whom Haman installed for more power taking his power, to the tree he prepared for Mordechai becoming the one on which he was hanged, to the wealth he gathered becoming Mordechai’s property, to the honors he wanted being given to his enemy, to the date Haman picked for the Jews’ extermination becoming the date of their success – absolutely everything backfiring.
The Kol Reena points out that the reason for Haman’s thinking of Adar as the ideal month to wipe out the Jews was that Moshe died on that month. Ironically, Moshe’s merits are what protected them.
R’ Hutner notes that even the misuse of Temple vessels (Esther 1:7) in order to show that it would never be rebuilt was turned around because the Purim story led to the Beis Hamikdash being rebuilt.
The Dubno Maggid writes that this turnaround shows how much hate Haman had. After all, the Talmud (Brachos 7a) teaches that we can see the evil that Bilam intended from the diametric opposite good with which he blessed the Jews. Here, too, Haman’s hate can be seen from the positive turnaround that resulted.
The Maharal notes a principle of physics that when one throws a rock against a wall, it bounces back somewhat. One could measure the level of Haman’s hate from the force with which Haman was punished. As the Torah (Devarim 19:19) commands regarding false witnesses, Haman got back an equal measure of what he intended against the Jewish people.
The Dubno Maggid also writes that Haman’s failed decree exposed the Jews’ enemies, who likely gathered arms in preparation for the attack, and this effectively made it easier to expose these Jew haters. Similarly, Yehu gathered together worshipers of Baal by promising a demonstration of his tremendous worship as a ruse to capture them and punish them for idolatry (Melachim 2 10:19).
R’ Shmuel Aharon Rubin writes that when the Talmud (Megillah 10b) says “we were slaves, but H-Shem did not abandon us,” it is in relation to the Purim story. He explains that we were like slaves because the Talmud (Kiddushin 36a) says that the Jews are called the children of H-Shem when they fulfill His Will, and are called slaves when they do not. The Jews’ attendance at Achashverosh’s feast demonstrates that they were not fulfilling H-Shem’s directive, but He nevertheless “did not abandon” the Jews.
R’ Hutner adds that since the existence of the Jews is without limit, rejoicing on Purim is also without limit. There is a famous story of a friend of mine who had gone missing the day after Purim. He was eventually found on a Sunday night after he had fallen on a hike on Friday. Without nutrition since Friday, he was only able to survive because the day previous was Purim, and the person sitting next to him at the Purim seudah kept piling food onto his plate to encourage him to eat without restraint in fulfillment of the above dictum.
יז וּבְכָל–מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה וּבְכָל–עִיר וָעִיר מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דְּבַר–הַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ מַגִּיעַ שִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשׂוֹן לַיְּהוּדִים מִשְׁתֶּה וְיוֹם טוֹב וְרַבִּים מֵֽעַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ מִתְיַהֲדִים כִּי–נָפַל פַּחַד–הַיְּהוּדִים עֲלֵיהֶם
17. And in each every state, and in each and every city – any place where the word of the king and his law was revealed – there was happiness and joy to the Yehudim, a feast and holiday. And many from the nations of the land became Yehudim because the fear of the Yehudim fell upon them.
The Ksav Sofer points out that the repetition of “happiness and joy” in this verse connotes the high degree of happiness present on Purim due to re-acceptance of Torah (Esther 9:27).
R’ Moshe Dovid Valle notes that these four expressions of happiness are intended to stand in marked contrast to the four expressions of sadness (Esther 4:3) – evel (“mourning”), tzom (“fasting”), bechi (“crying”), and misped (“eulogy”) – used earlier when knowledge of Haman’s decree became known.
The Ben Ish Chai points out that, taken together, the first letters of the words magiya simcha v’sasson la’Yehudim (“there was happiness and joy to the Yehudim”) form a rearranged acronym for shalom (“peace”). This is because joy and happiness is only fully realized in peace.
- According to Malbim, since the previous verse (Esther 8:15) testifies to the fact that everybody was happy, the various expressions in this verse underscore the fact that the Jews were especially joyous.
- Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 405) writes that this verse demonstrates that the Jews could now survive any difficulty in history because they “preserved their own light and joy.”
- The Rambam (Perakim Hatzlacha, Chapter 2) emphasizes that all of the good that the Jews received was due to their return to Torah. Based on this, the Binyan Shlomo points out that it is a very praiseworthy custom to learn Torah on the holiday of Purim (see Rema, Orach Chaim 695:2).
- The Sharis Yosef teaches that objects going from darkness to light is yet another source for the custom to wear costumes on Purim.
- The Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) writes that this description mirrors how the Jews will be redeemed with the coming of Moshiach.
- The Talmud (Megillah 16b) interprets this verse’s expressions thus: light is Torah; happiness is Yom Tov; joy is circumcision; and glory is tefillin.
- Rashi comments on the Talmud that Haman made decrees forbidding Jews from fulfilling these mitzvos. The Yad HaMelech points out that Jews may have neglected circumcision at that time, as they sometimes have done on times of persecution to pass as non-Jews.
- The Megillas Sesarim writes that Mordechai’s wearing tefillin earlier (Esther 8:15) put that mitzva back in vogue.
- Rav Shimon Schwab finds it impossible for the Jews to have been successfully banned from these mitzvos, en masse. Rather, he explains that the Jews at that time studied Torah, but without light; they commemorated holidays, but without happiness; they performed circumcisions, but without joy; they wore tefillin, but without glory. Without caring, without thinking, and without these precious mitzvos affecting their souls.
- Rav Yehonason Eibshutz points out that it is a natural, human reaction for the emotional impact of an event to fade in subsequent anniversaries of that event. For instance, as happy as a child’s birthday celebration may be, it pales in comparison to the happiness felt at the actual successful birth. However, when that event is attached to a mitzva that is repeated every year, the original happiness felt at the event is retained (and perhaps enhanced) with the performance of the mitzva. This is the reason for the Talmud to equate happiness with Yom Tov; with each occurrence of Purim, its mitzvos reignite its accompanying joy.
- The Sfas Emes asks a fundamental question: why does the verse uses metaphors instead of explicitly writing that the Jews garnered Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin? He answers that, with the miracle of Purim, the Jews recognized the real nature of light, happiness, joy, and glory; light comes from Torah, happiness comes from Yom Tov, joy comes from circumcision, and glory comes from tefillin.
- The Ohr Gedalyahu adds that all of these misapplied emotions point to the Jews’ ancient battle against Amalek, a nation described (Devarim 25:17) as having cooled us. Amalek wins when Jews perform mitzvos without an accompanying fire of emotion. He quotes the Sefer Yetzira that the month of Adar is represented by the letter kuf, meaning kedusha (“holiness”), which he defines as keeping something special and invigorating.
- The Ohel Moshe similarly writes that simcha (“happiness”) is the antidote to Amalek’s cooling effect. The Vilna Gaon notes that all four of these mitzvos – Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin – are regularly called osos (“signs”) and eidus (“testimonies”). He explains that these all testify that there is one G-d, and that the Jewish people are uniquely His people. He adds that taking the first letters (roshei teivos) of the words ora (“light”), simcha (“happiness”), sasson (“joy”), and yikar (“glory”) – aleph, sin, sin, and yud respectively – produces a gematria (1+300+300+10=611) equal to that of Torah (400+6+200+5=611). He continues by quoting a cryptic Talmudic tale (Sukkah 48b) about a character named Sasson speaking with another named Simcha. In this piece of Aggadeta, the two are trying to outdo each other by quoting verses throughout TaNaCh in which one or the other appears first. When Sasson and Simcha finally consult with Rebbe Abahu, he tells them that if a person has a water flask but never fills it, but merely keeps it next to him, he will die of thirst.
- The Vilna Gaon’s explanation is beyond the author’s erudition and the scope of this work, but the Shem M’Shmuel explains that conversation by distinguishing between the exact spiritual nature of these two almost synonymous emotions, happiness and joy. He writes that happiness is the emotion felt after careful planning yields a successful result, whereas joy is the emotion felt when one experiences an unexpected windfall. The debate between Sasson and Simcha, then, is whether success is better felt in the former type of situation, or the latter. For instance, should an organization carefully plan its charitable giving, or bypass the planning and initiate the giving as quickly and haphazardly as possible? Having one necessarily means lacking the other. Rebbe Abahu’s allegoric answer, then, is that there needs to be spiritual content (water) inside the emotion (water flask) to gain anything beyond failure (thirst). Therefore, in our verse, the Jews had both emotions – happiness from the prearranged success, and joy from the unexpected success.
- The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why the great mitzvah of teshuva (“repentance”) seems missing in this list of mitzvos the Jews are performing. After all, the Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that Achashverosh giving his signet ring to Haman created the greatest wave of teshuva in history. He answers that exactly these mitzvos are actual teshuva! Sitting around feeling sorry is not genuine repentance; improving our performance of H-Shem’s service is how we return to Him.
טז לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשׂן וִיקָר
16. And to the Yehudim, there was light, and happiness, and joy, and glory/honor.
- The Chida quotes from Midrash Eliyahu that when Haman threw lots to determine the best day to annihilate the Jews (Esther 3:7), he was happy because that was the month when Egypt experienced the ninth plague of darkness1. To his understanding of black magic, this meant that this was the opportune time to conquer the Jews. However, the Torah (Shemos 10:23) testifies that there was, indeed, light for the Jews. Since the Jews had “hayta” light at that historic juncture, Haman’s very source of joy was due to his misunderstanding.
1This calculation is based on the idea that each plague in Egypt lasted one month, including the preparation, warning, the plague itself, and the immediate aftermath. Since the tenth plague occurred in Nisan, the ninth plague should have occurred one month earlier, in Adar.
Malbim points out from the next verse (Esther 8:16) that specifies that the Jews were happy, that this verse seems to imply that the non-Jews were happy. In reference to this, he quotes the verse (Mishlei 29:2) that the elevation of the righteous brings gladness to the people.
The Ben Ish Chai and the Ksav Sofer point out that the verse uses two expressions, tzahala (shouting) and simcha (joy), in describing Shushan’s happiness. One is for the happiness the general population felt about the death of Haman, and the other was for the happiness they felt over Mordechai’s honors.
Megillas Sesarim explains these two expressions as describing “the brightening of the face and the joy of the heart.” In other words, there were two different feelings: one was a physical show of joy and the other was an internal feeling of joy.
The Ibn Ezra writes that tzahala is a cognate of the Hebrew word for brightness. He explains that the verse uses it here in the sense of the hopefulness of a person sitting in darkness when the light begins to shine.
Maamar Mordechai writes that people are usually unsure of new, untested officials. Here, nobody was nervous because Mordechai was a known and trusted entity.
Class Participant YML suggests that maybe other ethnic minorities in the kingdom felt encouraged when they saw that even a Jew could be elevated in Achashverosh’s kingdom.
R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the entire city of Shushan was happy that a Jew was elevated because Jews are often instrumental in commerce, and their security would thus presage a country’s financial security. Many countries in history that exiled its Jewish population had to deal with major financial crises immediately afterward.
Dina Pishra writes that the verse is using hyperbole to describe the salvation of the Jews being so complete that even the stones of the city were rejoicing.
On a deeper level, the Ginzei HaMelech writes that this does not have to be seen as hyperbole. Rather, as the R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzzato in Mesillas Yesharim (Chapter 1) explains, the entire world was given to man for its proper usage, and is thus physically affected by mankind’s spiritual behavior. This is the reason for the world to have been destroyed by the Flood when the people sinned. Here, too, the world, and Shushan specifically, rejoiced as a byproduct of man’s spiritual elevation.
Yosef Lekach writes that Shushan’s joy is described as a contrast to Mordechai’s worries. His concern was the Midrashic (Bireishis Rabba 84:3) statement that “there is no rest for the righteous.” He anticipated that this time of peace and contentment meant to him that he had to find more positive actions to perform and new evils to combat.
טו וּמָרְדֳּכַי יָצָא ׀ מִלִּפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת תְּכֵלֶת וָחוּר וַעֲטֶרֶת זָהָב גְּדוֹלָה וְתַכְרִיךְ בּוּץ וְאַרְגָּמָן וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן צָהֲלָה וְשָׂמֵחָה
15. And Mordechai left from before the king wearing royalty: Ticheiles, and white, and a great gold crown, and a shroud, fine linen, and purple. And the city of Shushan was shouting and happy.
- According to the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) this verse is the second of four verses read aloud by the congregation during the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim.
- The Midrash Shmuel quotes the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) that one who flees honor has honor thrust upon him, and the opposite is true of one who pursues honor. When Haman wanted to wear the royal clothes (Esther 5:6-8), he received nothing. In contrast, Mordechai, who asked for nothing, received the honor of wearing the royal clothes.
- The Alshich notes that this is the first time in the story that Mordechai is dressed regally. Before, he was wearing sackcloth and ash, but Mordechai is now confident about the fate of the Jews. The Alshich continues that Mordechai had to display this confidence at this point because Haman’s decree was vague in other locations but explicit in Shushan, so Mordechai needed to demonstrate that the Jews were indeed in Achashverosh’s favor.
- In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, it says that Mordechai became the king of the Jews. Perhaps this means that Mordechai received the authority that the Jews are supposed to give to their rabbis. The Talmud (Gittin 62a) even calls rabbis kings.
- After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he sent them back to Canaan with word of his stature in Mitzrayim. At that point (Bireishis 45:22), he gifted the half-brothers with one pair of clothes each, but he gave his full brother Binyamin five pairs of clothes. The Talmud (Megillah 16b) writes that he did this in order to hint to these clothes that Mordechai, Binyamin’s descendants, would wear.
- R’ Dovid Feinstein wonders why Yosef would choose this point in time to make such an allusion. He explains that Yosef intended to demonstrate to his brothers his very real appreciation for their act of selling him to slavery. A fired employee who finds a job even better than his previous boss’s may even want to thank his boss for releasing him from employment. Similarly, the righteous Yosef felt gratitude for his brothers’ part in his success and growth. By alluding to the Purim story, he foresaw that Jewish history would be a series of epochs filled with times that seemed to be the most hopeless transforming into the most productive.
- The Maharil Diskin points out that there are not five items, but only four: ticheiles, white, a crown, and a shroud. He quotes the Talmud (Zevachim 18b) that defines butz as linen. Argaman implies wool. Since the two sewn together in one garment would be a violation of shatnez (“mixture of wool and linen,” see Vayikra 19:19, Devarim 22:11, and Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 298-304), Mordechai was actually wearing two separate shrouds of these materials.
- The M’nos HaLevi notes that the first verse to mention Mordechai by name (Esther 2:5) and the first to be customarily read aloud during the public readings of Megillas Esther on Purim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) gives him several descriptions: Yehudi, Mordechai, ben Yair, ben Shimi, and ben Kish, He explains that “Yehudi” is a reference to kingship because Jewish royalty must come from that tribe (Bireishis 49:8-11). The Talmud (Chulin 139b) says “Mordechai” is a reference to myrrh, an ingredient in the Mishkan’s incense. This is paralleled in the ticheiles, which was an ingredient in the Mishkan’s covers (Shemos 26:1). According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b-13a), Mordechai earned his appellation of “son of Yair” by enlightening (hey’ir) the Jewish people regarding prayer, which is paralleled in the white clothes he wears. He is called the “son of Shimi” because his own prayers were heard (shema) by H-Shem. This is paralleled in the crown which represents the King of king’s powerful reaction to the requests of the righteous. He is called the “son of Kish” because he knocked (hikish) at the Gates of Mercy. This is paralleled in the linen and purple because they are the colors of nobility – those precious few who are allowed into the Palace.
Yehudi royalty Mordechai ticheiles ben Yair white ben Shimi crown ben Kish linen and purple
- The Vilna Gaon writes that all of these article are also related to the clothing one should wear during prayer. He writes that the royalty relates to the talis worn when we pray; ticheilis relates to the ticheilis-dyed fringes of the tzitzis; the white relates to the undyed white fringes of the tzitzis; the crown relates with the head tefillin; the wool robe relates to the straps of the head tefillin; and the purple relates to the arm tefillin.
- Rav Galico also related to Mordechai’s clothes here to his and Shushan’s earlier actions. In reward for his having previously worn sackcloth (Esther 4:1), he now wears royalty; in reward for putting ash (Ibid.) on his head, he now wears a crown; in reward for Shushan being worried and confused about Haman’s decree (Esther 3:15), it is now happy.
- The Rema adds that there are four aspects make a man’s life complete: wealth, health, perfection of character, and knowledge of and closeness to H-Shem. Mordechai acquired all of these, as can be seen from this verse: wealth relates to royalty, health relates to ticheiles, character development relates to humble linen, and knowledge and faith is related to the crown.
- Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 180-1) writes that purple is historically symbolic of royalty. Ticheiles, on the other hand, represents a humble recognition of “the limits of our horizon.”
Malbim writes that the verse stresses the decree’s being distributed in Shushan because the decree went out in the capital after the riders were dispatched. This way, enemies of the Jews would not even attempt to change Achashverosh’s mind; once the riders were off to the far distant corners of the empire, it was too late.