Esther 7:9, Question 5. Why does Charvona mention the height of the gallows?

  • The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach write that since Charvona was one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to the feast (Esther 6:14), he overheard Haman’s plot, and that is how he knew the height of the gallows.
  • According to the Malbim, Charvona mentions the height of the gallows now because it would add an additional layer of embarrassment for Achashverosh because, at such a height, Mordechai would have been seen publicly hanging while wearing royal robes in which the king dressed him1.
  • A more conspiratorial explanation comes from the Dena Pishra, who writes that Charvona mentions the height because it is obviously too high to serve the purpose of hanging only Mordechai. Clearly, then, Haman also wanted to hang more people, namely Achashverosh and his advisers.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes a Mishnah (Bava Basra 2:9) that a dead body, if it is not buried deeply enough, must be buried 50 amos from a city due to its offensive odor. Since Mordechai is righteous, and the righteous do not decompose, then the 50 amos height of the gallows were indented for someone else – the king.
  • According to Targum Sheini (on Esther 2:1), Achashverosh had been angry with the advisers who convinced him to remove Vashti, and had them hanged. The Aruchas Tamid writes that Haman, the adviser who originates the plan, was actually hanged along with the other advisers, but miraculously fell from the gallows alive. As a precursor to America’s rule of “double jeopardy,” Persian law then dictated that a condemned criminal could not hang twice for the same crime. The Aruchas Tamid continues that since Haman fell when hanged before, Achashverosh was concerned that he might be freed again as per that Persian law. However, these gallows’ height being 50 cubits meant that Haman would die even if he were to fall free.

1Class Participant YML pointed out that Haman could not have intended on Mordechai being hanged on those gallows while wearing the king’s robes. After all, it was only that morning that Mordechai was paraded in the streets of Shushan wearing the royal garb, and Haman built the gallows the night before that – not knowing what the next 24 hours had in store for him and his plans. Perhaps, as the king’s adviser, Mordechai regularly wore clothing akin to a uniform which identified him as belonging to the king’s court.

Esther 7:9, Question 4. Why does Charvona mention that the gallows are in Haman’s home?

  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Charvona provides the seemingly unnecessary location of the gallows the king presumably already sees in order to imply that Haman was usurping Achashverosh’s power by executing people in his own property.
  • R’ Chaim Kanievsky points out that, grammatically, the adjective describing the gallows should have preceded the preposition describing the gallows’ location. Charvona mentions the gallows’ height of 50 amos after mentioning Haman’s house. Furthermore, Charvona seems to say that the gallows are inside Haman’s house. In explanation, he quotes the Yalkut that suggests that the beam Haman used for the gallows was made from the crossbeam of his own house. In his hatred for Mordechai, he destroyed his own house. Throughout history, people have behaved in a self-destructive manner in attempt to fulfill their own temptations.

Esther 7:9, Question 1. Who is Charvona?

ט וַיֹּאמֶר חַרְבוֹנָה אֶחָד מִןהַסָּרִיסִים לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ גַּם הִנֵּההָעֵץ אֲשֶׁרעָשָׂה הָמָן לְמָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּרטוֹב עַלהַמֶּלֶךְ עֹמֵד בְּבֵית הָמָן גָּבֹהַּ חֲמִשִּׁים אַמָּה וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ תְּלֻהוּ עָלָיו

9. And Charvona, one of the eunuchs before the king, said, “Also, behold! Here is the tree that Haman made for Mordechai who said good regarding on the king. It is standing in Haman’s house fifty-cubit tall.” And the king said, “Hang him on it.”

  •  The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach propose that Charvona was simply one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to feast (Esther 6:14).
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), Charvona was an evil ally of Haman’s, intent on killing Mordechai. Once he saw that the plan would not succeed, he surrendered. This fits with the verse (Iyov 27:22) that allies of the wicked “will surely flee.”
  • The Dubno Maggid explains this with the following allegory: A blind beggar works with a young boy. One day, the boy stole the blind beggar’s wallet with 30 coins. When he saw the beggar crying pitiably, the boy returned the wallet saying, “I found the wallet with the 30 coins.” Instead of thanking the boy, the beggar began to beat the boy mercilessly for the theft. How did he know that the boy stole it? How else could the boy have known that there were 30 coins in the bag? Likewise, the Talmud knows that Charvona is evil because how else could he have known that the gallows were 50 amos tall if he were not in on the plot.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that Charvona noticed that Haman lost the ability to defend himself, and this emboldened him to speak up.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:9) lists what many of the angels and other Heavenly Beings were doing during the climax of the Purim story. It says that Eliyahu appeared like Charvona, and said the words attributed to him in this verse.
  • Another Midrash (Yalkut 1059) and the Ibn Ezra concur that Charvona is Eliyahu.
  • The Alshich adds that another proof that Charvona is Eliyahu is that the verse describes him as “before the king,” and Eliyahu is certainly a minister of the King of kings.
  • Interestingly, the song, “Shoshanas Yaakov,” sung on Purim after the public reading of Megillas Esther ends with the words, “v’gam Charvona zachur latov” (“and also Charvona should be remembered for good”). Charvona is the only person who shares the epithet, “zachur latov” with Eliyahu.
  • When Charvona is mentioned earlier (Esther 1:10), he is the third in a list of the king’s chamberlains/eunichs. The M’nos HaLevi notes that the name is spelled with a letter aleph at the end there, and with a letter hey at the end here. He explains that when Charvona was on the side of evil, his name is spelled with an aleph. When he repents, and is Eliyahu, it is spelled with a hey.
  • In an explanation, R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this name ending with an aleph means destruction in Aramaic. With a hey, it is a composite of “charav boneh” (“destroy, build”). In the process of true repentance, he was rebuilding that which he had earlier wanted to destroy – namely, Mordechai.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya, in his commentary on the Torah writes that he was called Charvona because he helped destroy Haman.
  • The Chasam Sofer and R’ Dovid Feinstein both say that with an aleph, it is the gentile Aramaic; with a hey, it is Hebrew, so it is Jewish.

Esther 7:8, Question 3. Why is Haman’s face covered?

  • In his Sherashim, the Radak translates the word chafu as “fell,” as Haman was described before (Esther 6:12).
  • Targum and the Vilna Gaon translate chafu as “despondent or disappointed.”
  • The Ibn Ezra, however, sees the word as an active verb, meaning that somebody – in this case, Achashverosh’s servants – did this to him. This is due to their recognizing the king’s displeasure.
  • The Alshich explains that it was a Persian custom to cover the face of a capital offender.
  • In another example of mida kineged mida (“measure for measure”), the Me’am Loez cites an earlier verse (Esther 1:19) that this custom of covering was Haman’s own idea.
  • The Brisker Rav says that this detail was necessary because Charvona was at the end of the list of chamberlain advisers listed earlier (Esther 1:10), so he would have been too intimidated to speak against Haman earlier. With Haman’s face covered, he is able to speak, as he does in the next verse.

Esther 7:8, Question 2. Why is Achashverosh upset?

  • According to a Midrash, Achashverosh is upset at this point because, in the garden, Achashverosh remembered that Haman (as Memuchan) was responsible for Vashti’s demise (Esther 1:16).
  • The Dena Pishra adds that Achashverosh was upset that Haman was speaking to Esther behind his back. He even considered that if she pleads for his life, Achashverosh would still not listen to her.
  • The Yosef Lekach notes that Achashverosh took Haman’s silence as admission of guilt, based on this principle in the Talmud (Yevamos 87b) that people are expected to speak up for themselves when accused unjustly.
  • The Malbim writes that Achashverosh was angered that Esther seemed included in decree without his expressed agreement. The Malbim adds that this anger created an unsafe environment in the palace, despite its providing political and legal sanctuary.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Talmud (Shabbos 33a) teaches that dropsy and its attending discoloration affect people who are guilty of immorality. Thus, Achashverosh suspected Haman of immoral acts due to his face coloring.
  • R’ Moshe David Valle notes that Achashverosh could only think immorality was on Haman’s mind at a time like this if he so was inspired by H-Shem.
  • Perhaps some insight may be gained on this topic from the Talmud’s (Horiyos 10b) understanding of the story (Shoftim 4:17-22) between Sisera and Yael. There, Sisera is in mortal danger, and yet is easily seduced by Yael. Violence and immorality sometimes go together.
  • However, according to Midrash Shmuel, Achashverosh did not really think anything immoral was happening. In fact, he did not even accuse Haman of anything like that. Rather, H-Shem had the words come out of the king’s mouth to make Haman more nervous.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Achashverosh simply thought Haman intended Esther harm. Perhaps, this anger was pretense, and was Achashverosh’s method for ridding himself of Haman in the most politically expedient fashion. Interestingly, none of these answers explaining Achashverosh’s anger need be exclusive; the combined reasons create a massive, unappeasable anger that justifies the king’s next act.

Esther 7:8, Question 1. How and why does Haman fall on the bed?

ח וְהַמֶּלֶךְ שָׁב מִגִּנַּת הַבִּיתָן אֶלבֵּית ׀ מִשְׁתֵּה הַיַּיִן וְהָמָן נֹפֵל עַלהַמִּטָּה אֲשֶׁר אֶסְתֵּר עָלֶיהָ וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ הֲגַם לִכְבּוֹשׁ אֶתהַמַּלְכָּה עִמִּי בַּבָּיִת הַדָּבָר יָצָא מִפִּי הַמֶּלֶךְ וּפְנֵי הָמָן חָפוּ

8. And the king returned from the garden of his house to the house of the wine feast. And Haman is falling on the bed on which is Esther. And the king said, “Also to attack the queen with me in the house?!” The word went out from the mouth of the king, and Haman’s face was covered.

  • Rashi notes that people in those days reclined on beds or couches during meals, as was mentioned earlier (see Esther 1:16).
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) pointed out that during Achashverosh’s party in the beginning of the story, that the couches were designed to be equal in order to avoid jealousy. Here, ironically, the couch provokes the epitome of jealousy.
  • In a simple explanation of this verse, the Ibn Ezra writes that Haman was merely beseeching Esther, and fell from fear when Achashverosh entered.
  • Similarly, the Vilna Gaon states that because Haman was so deeply saddened, he could not stand.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein stresses that, had Haman been simply begging for his life, he would have been on the floor, so an explanation beyond the simple understanding is in order.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) is bothered by the verse’s use of the present tense nofal (“is falling”) instead of nafal (“fell”). It records that when Achashverosh returned from his garden, an angel was in the process of pushing Haman onto Esther’s bed. Achashverosh yelled, “Woah onto me in my house and woah onto me outside.”
  • R’ Avigdor Bonckek explains that the use of the present tense is meant to express the mental image in our minds like an ongoing event.
  • The Baal HaTurim, in his commentary on the Torah (Bereishis 48:2) points out the phrase “al hamita” (“on the bed”) is used in TaNaCh twice – here, and in reference to Yaakov giving his blessing to his grandchildren through Yosef, Menashe and Efrayim. This is meant to contrast the righteous, who lift themselves up even at their weakest moments (as Yaakov raised himself from his deathbed to bless his progeny), to the wicked, who fall even when they are at highest peak of their success (as Haman fell from the king’s grace).
  • The Talmud (Pesachim 100a) uses the phrase “hagam lichvosh es hamalka imi babayis” (“also to attack the queen with me in the house”) to criticize someone who follows the opinion of Rabbi A in the presence of Rabbi B when those opinions conflict. Similarly, Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story of the Klausenberger Rebbe who prayed one late afternoon at the grave of the tanna R’ Yehuda bar Ilai outside Meron in Eretz Yisrael. In the evening, the rebbe became unusually downcast. When he was asked about his sudden change of mood, he explained that the R’ Yehuda bar Ilai’s opinion was that mincha needed to be prayed earlier, and “hagam lichvosh es hamalka imi babayis!”
  • The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105a) tells us that a proof to the idea that the wicked Bilam performed magic through immoral acts is the fact that the Torah (Bamidbar 24:4) records that he called himself “fallen.” This bears a marked similarity to Haman’s situation in this verse, in which he falls. Falling onto a bed is a reference to falling into immorality.
  • The Maharal suggests that Haman fell over the bed because he could not see it due to his embarrassment. He refers us to the Talmud (Bava Metzia 59a) that teaches that embarrassed people behave clumsily.
  • Perhaps he could not see the bed because his inflated ego caused his head to be perpetually in the air, even as he is about to die.
  • The Ma’amar Mordechai points out that Haman knew that Achashverosh would get jealous if he saw Haman and Esther together, and, knowing that he was as good as dead already, he tried to take Esther down with himself.
  • The author of the website doreishtov.blogspot points out that the Talmud calls the holiday of Purim by the name, “Puraya,” which also means “bed” in Aramaic. He suggests that this event of Haman falling on Esther’s bed is more central to the story from which the holiday comes than the lots that Haman threw.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that Haman fell twice, once here, and again when his followers fall on the thirteenth of Adar. The Sfas Emes continues that these multiple falls were foreshadowed when Haman’s advisers said (Esther 6:13) “nafol tipol” (“falling you will surely fall”). The Sfas Emes concludes that this also foreshadows the ultimate downfall of Amalek at end of history as promised in the Torah (Bamidbar 24:20), it should be in our days.

Esther 7:7, Question 4. To what decision does Haman refer?

  • In a rather enigmatic comment, Rashi writes, “evil, hatred, and vengeance were decided.” Haman must have known that all negative things were being focused in his direction.
  • The Brisker Rav asks how Haman knew that evil was decided. He answers that the Targum translates Achashverosh’s asking (Esther 7:5) “ay zeh” as “where is he.” In other words, the decision to punish whoever was responsible for this evil decree was final, and only required the finding of the culprit.
  • The Ben Ish Chai answers that Haman knew bad things were in store for him because he had already been advised by his friends (Esther 6:13) that his situation was deteriorating. Besides that, Haman thought that his situation would regress because Zeresh and his advisers thereby made what the Talmud (Kesubos 8b) calls “an opening for the Satan,” – saying something that could allow the Heavenly accuser an opportunity to punish someone.
  • The Dena Pishra answered that the verse, once again, used the word melech to refer to the King, H-Shem, because Haman angered Him, and now was certain the time had come for retribution.
  • Both the Dena Pishra and R’ Moshe David Valle note that the last letters of the phrase “ki chalasa eilav hara” (“because he saw that evil was decided on him”) spell out H-Sem’s Name in order. As the Chida and Rabbeinu Bachya write, when H-Shem’s Name is encoded in order, it represents His quality of mercy. This hints to the fact that Haman must have realized that all comes from H-Shem.
  • Parenthetically,this fact does not automatically define him as righteous righteous. After all, instead of getting on his knees at this point in true repentance to H-Shem, he begs for his life from an earthly queen. However, perhaps his begging Esther for his life instead of Achashverosh indicates that he acknowledges her righteousness, and its accompanying power. This very act may be the one that earned him the merit of having descendants who the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) says learn Torah in Bnei Brak learn Torah.