Esther 6:13, Question 3. Why do Haman’s advisers speak first?

  • In the previous event in which Haman asked advice from his loved ones (Esther 5:10), Zeresh spoke first.
  • The Dena Pishra points out that here, Haman’s advisers speak first because Haman held Zeresh responsible for what he now considered bad advice.
  • According to the Sfas Emes, that verse called them “loved ones” and this verse calls them “advisers” because these were fair-weather friends, jumping on Haman’s bandwagon in the height of his rise to power, but are just advisers during his fall. He quotes the Mishna (Avos 5:6) that a love that is attached to a reason, once that reason goes away, that love disappears.
  • The Maharal notes that Haman’s male friends, like any good friend, were required for critical statements. The type pf woman Haman would marry is supposed to be his equal, not pointing out his flaws. The Maharal quotes a seeming contradiction between one Talmudic statement (Bava Metzia 59a) that says listening to one’s wife’s advice can lead a man to gehinom, or Hell, and another Talmudic statement (Ibid.) that advises a man with a short wife to bend to hear her advice. The Talmud explains that taking a wife’s advice in religious matters leads a man to gehinom, whereas taking her advice in worldly matters is worth bending for. The Maharal explains that, although there are exceptions, women then did not typically study Talmudic discourse, so taking their advice in that abstract, logical area would be foolish. A man should listen to his wife about the practical, worldly, real-life matters.

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 3:7, Question 6. Why does the verse mention that Adar is the twelfth month?

Every now and again, the Jewish calendar requires us to add an extra “leap” month. The Tosefta on Sanhedrin points out that if we were to add a thirteenth month anywhere else in the Jewish calendar in the process of adding this month, Adar would no longer be the twelfth month. That would contradict this Scriptural verse. Therefore, this verse forces Adar to always be the twelfth month.

Esther 3:7, Question 4. Why does the verse stress that the pur was cast “before” Haman?

  • According to the Targum Sheini’s interpretive translation, Haman’s oldest son, Shimshi, cast the pur.
  • The Malbim writes that the lot was cast for Haman – it decided when he would die since this plan to kill the Jews led to his execution (see below Esther 7:10).
  • The Chassam Sofer and the Me’am Loez write that Haman saw himself on top, and the Jews beneath him. Unfortunately for Haman, he did not interpret this correctly, as it was pointing to his hanging from the tree, and Mordechai beneath him, standing safely on the ground.
  • The Maharal says that Haman did not throw the lots himself for two reasons. The first is that he knew he was not a spiritually sensitive person. He therefore asked someone else to interpret the lots. The second reason is that he knew he had a subjective bias in the result. As such, his own subjectivity would subconsciously color his interpretation of the final result of the lots tossed. Perhaps these two answers are really one and the same. One cannot be a spiritually attuned person with biases. The more spiritual one becomes, the more objective one becomes. The entire goal of spirituality is to realize that our own wants should not have significance.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that the way Jews escape annihilation is through their performance of mitzvos, of which Torah study is the greatest (see Mishnah, Peah 1:1). That being the case, the Ben Ish Chai interprets our verse in a novel manner by writing that the lots cast pointed to the solution to Haman’s challenge being “lifnei Haman” the letters preceding the letters in Haman’s name in the Hebrew alphabet. The letters before hey (dales), mem (lamed), and nun (mem) can form the word “lamed,” (“learn”).
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Haman felt he needed to pick the right day of the week, as well as the correct month. Since, the days of the week represent the natural cycle established in the seven days of Creation, and every culture has its own fashion for establishing and measuring months, days represent a variable given Divinely. Months, however, represent a variable provided by people. Haman therefore thought the rabbis, who established the Jewish months (as mentioned above), were prone to error. Hence, Haman felt he could not be successful against H-Shem, Who established the days, but could be successful against the rabbis, who in his view represented imperfect, fallible men.

Esther 2:20, Question 2. Why does the verse reverse “lineage and nation” in contrast with “nation and lineage” of 2:10?

The Malbim writes that, earlier, the king wanted to know Esther’s nation for political reasons, so “nation” was written before “lineage.” Here, he wanted to know who her family was to reward them with gifts, so the verse mentions “lineage” before “nation.”

Esther 2:16, Question 3. Why does the verse mention both the number and name of the month?

  • The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 7a) uses this verse to suggest we usually count the years from Rosh HaShanah every Tishrei, but we count the individual months from Nissan. The names of the months we use are not even Jewish in origin (Yerushalmi, Rosh HaShanah 1:2), so why do we use them? By mentioning the names, Ramban writes (on Shemos 12:2) we remind ourselves that we are in exile, still awaiting Mashiach, speedily in our day.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 13a) says that Achashverosh and Esther met in this month because Teves is a naturally colder month, and the warmth of bodies would be more enjoyable. This way, Achashverosh would be naturally predisposed to like Esther more than the other women. In this seemingly “natural” manner, H-Shem works His miracles.

Esther 2:5, Question 4. Why does the verse mention Mordechai’s lineage?

  • In the Talmud’s lengthy exposition on this verse (Megillah 12b-13a), the Rabbis note that the verse seemingly mentions these ancestors of Mordechai out of order, skipping around generations. For example, Shimi was a distant descendant of Kish (Targum Sheini to Esther 2:5), not his son. The Rabbis therefore expound on these names as indicating Mordechai’s characteristics. He was the “son of Yair” in that he brightened (“hey’ir”) the eyes of the Jews to prayer; he was the “son of Shimi” in that his prayers were listened to (“shema”) by H-Shem; he was the “son of Kish” in that he knocked (“hikish”) at the Gates of Mercy. The Ohel Moshe asks the question: should not the fact that his prayers were listened to be more important – thus listed before – than his act of “brightening the eyes” of others to pray? After all, his prayers being answered saved the Jews! He answers that, indeed, as powerful as Mordechai’s prayers were, the combined power of the Jews he roused with his “great cry” (Esther 4:1) led to an unprecedented era of teshuva, return, whose cornerstone is prayer.
  • But like every great man, he was not without his detractors and controversy. Another opinion in the Talmud there (Rava) states that the tribes would deflect from themselves responsibility for Mordechai’s seemingly causing Jewish existence to be threatened in the Purim story, as we will discuss (iy”H) when we get to it (in Esther 3:6). The Jews blamed Yehudah for King David’s (a member of Yehudah) not killing Shimi ben Geira (Shmuel 2 16:7-13 and Melachim 1 2:9), and they blamed Benyamin for King Shaul’s (a member of Benyamin) not killing Agag, ancestor of Haman. Interestingly, Rav Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz notes that Shaul is noticeably missing in this list of ancestors (see Shmuel 1 9:1). Possibly, this could be a way to avoid embarrassing Mordechai for this relation, especially in light of Shaul’s embarrassing failure to wipe out Amalek leading to the Purim story. Otherwise, Rav Alkabetz ventures to opine that Mordechai could be a “gilgul,” (“reincarnation”) of King Shaul.