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 8:11, 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 8:10, 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.

Esther 8:9, Question 4. Why does the verse mention both the script and the language?

  • Rashi explains that the verse uses the words kiksavam (“like their writing”) and chilshonam (“like their language”) to refer to the written letters and spoken sounds of the language, respectively. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 22a) deduces from this verse proof that neither the Hebrew script nor spoken language has ever changed.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that one reason for this was for the illiterate Jews who may otherwise become incensed over the knowledge of the gentile decree, and might react violently. The idea was that the scholars who read the decree would be able to calm the restless rabble.
  • Furthermore, as the Talmud (Shabbos 12b) teaches, angels only understand Hebrew.
  • According to Rebbetzin Heller, keeping the language is an additional merit that helped rescue the Jews. As the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 32:5) teaches, even the Jews in Mitzrayim, although they maintained next to no Jewish observance, had the merit of retaining their language. This dedication to Jewish “culture” demonstrated the people’s desire to retain a bond with their Creator.
  • The Yerushalmi (Megillah 2:1) learns from this verse that the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim must be read in Hebrew. This is brought down as the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 690:8-9).
  • Class Participant BR suggested that the intent of this may have been to keep the secret messages and lessons of Megillas Esther hidden exclusively for the Jewish people.

Esther 8:8, Question 3. Why does Achashverosh refer to himself several times?

  • The Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 51:2) writes that this verse is an example of using the same name twice in one verse.
  • Class Participant EAS suggested that the repetition of a word indicates a stress on that word. By repeating his own name, Achashverosh is trying to reassert his threatened authority.
  • Class Participant CRL suggested that this is H-Shem’s way of referring to our endearment toward Him.
  • In Machir Yayin, the Rema writes that all of the mentions in this verse to a king are references to the King of kings.

Esther 8:8, Question 2. What is Achashverosh giving Esther and Mordechai permission to do?

  • In his commentary, R’ Meir Zlotowitz explains that Achashverosh gave permission to override, but not annul the previous decree. This was a dilemma for Mordechai and Esther to make Haman’s decree powerless without challenging its authority.
  • The Vilna Gaon and the Malbim wrote that Mordechai’s decree could only affect the vague, public copy of the original decree. It could not change the explicit, private memo that each governor received.
  • The Malbim adds that Achashverosh’s plan was for the second document to only clarify the first, vague decree.
  • The Ibn Ezra notes that Achashverosh could have come up with excuses for first document, like saying that the first document was the result of language confusion because Haman changed the wording of the original draft of the decree from “Jews can kill” to “Jews can be killed.”
  • Similarly, the Alshich writes that Achashverosh was saying that Haman left out a comma when he said (Esther 3:13) “l’abeid es kol HaYehudim” (“to kill all of the Yehudim”). A comma placed after kol could make the phrase appear as “to kill all, (by whom?) the Yehudim!”