וּבְשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה הָרְגוּ
הַיְּהוּדִים וְאַבֵּד חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת
6. And in Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man.
The M’nos HaLevi translates habira, not as “the capital,” but as the “palace,” so the verse is intimating, according to R’ Yosef Gakon, how safe the Jews felt in the palace compound to have killed 500 servants of the king in his presence.
Similarly, the Ibn Ezra adds that, outside Shushan, the Jews feared the influence of Haman and his sons.
Interestingly, the Vilna Gaon notes that the verse uses the word vi’abed (“and destroyed”) because the Jews destroyed the property of their enemies. The reason for this is to assist the Persians in forgetting this event ever took place. Nations in general have poor memories, and the lack of physical reminders can help avoid the anti-Jewish sentiment this massacre could later conjure.
According to the Midrash, the Jews killed the enemies inside their houses with the sword, but killed those who were outside with other methods. Those who were hiding needed to be brought out to the battlefield.
The Alshich explains that some gentiles openly threatened the Jews, while others harbored hate privately. Each group received a punishment commensurate with their behavior – some were wounded with the sword, some were killed, and yet others were destroyed together with their possessions.
The Maharal points out that hitting the enemies with the sword could potentially kill them, and once they are killed, they may need to be buried. But once they are destroyed, the enemies are gone.
R’ Moshe Katzenellenbogen writes that, in big cities, Jews could only kill bigger, more obvious enemies. In the smaller cities, the Jews stripped the weaker leaders of their power and humiliated them.
The Vilna Gaon explains these three methods were utilized at different stages of the battle. During the first stage, the Jews used swords, then graduated to burning those hiding out of the buildings, and finally arrested the residents.
The Ben Ish Chai points out that the rearranged initial letters (not counting the article letter vuv‘s) of makas cherev vi’hereg vi’avdal (“striking of the sword, and killed, and destroyed”) spell out the word emcheh (“I will destroy”). H-Shem (Shemos 17:14) uses this very word in His promise to eradicate Amalek, the nation responsible for this massacre. He also points out that these three expressions parallel Haman’s plan (Esther 3:13) to kill, destroy, and annihilate the Jews. The Jews merited to overcome this triple fate by fasting for three days (Esther 4:16).
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the destruction in this verse refers to the Jews destroyed the property of their enemies. This was done to demonstrate that their intent was not to conquer the wealth of others. Perhaps this was also intentionally contrary to Achasverosh’s order (Esther 4:11) in order to have the excuse that they could not take the possessions, since they were destroyed.
ה וַיַּכּוּ הַיְּהוּדִים בְּכָל–אֹיְבֵיהֶם מַכַּת–חֶרֶב וְהֶרֶג וְאַבְדָן וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְשׂנְאֵיהֶם כִּרְצוֹנָם
5. And the Yehudim struck all of their enemies striking of the sword, and killed, and destroyed, and they did with their adversaries as they wanted.
Like the Vilna Gaon’s answer to a similar question earlier (Esther 9:1), the M’nos HaLevi says that an oyeiv (“enemy”) hates openly and a soneh (“adversary”) hates secretly. The secret enemy is far more dangerous, as it is difficult to predict an attack from a hidden foe.
Malbim, however, reverses these definitions, and suggests that the hidden enemies were not killed, but were merely humiliated.
Rav Arama writes that after the sending of Haman’s original decree, Jews likely went into hiding. At this point, they now felt confident to come back into the cities, and reestablishing their economical and social infrastructure there, making the cities their own again.
The Rishon L’Tzion suggests from a verse in the Torah (Shemos 17:16) that enemies always means the nation of Amalek.
The Vilna Gaon says that an oyev (“enemy”) is someone who wants to commit harm, whereas a soneh (“hater”) is someone who rejoices in others’ misfortune and harm. In this case, the redemption was so complete, that both were attacked.
In a simple explanation, the Alshich writes that the fear felt by the gentiles was the fear of being killed. This is the reason for the verse using the word nafal (“fell”). After all, the emotion of fear existed already because of Jews’ impending extermination, and it now “fell” onto the gentiles.
However, the Rema in Mechir Yayin interprets their fear specifically as that for the G-d of the Jews.
The Chasam Sofer explains that the “pachad Yehudim” (“fear of the Jews”) that inspired their conversion can be interpreted as fearing what the Jews fear, which is only H-Shem. Let us hope for the day to come soon on which, as the prophet (Yirmiya 33:9) promises us, all the peoples of the earth will fear and tremble over all the goodness and peace H-Shem establishes.