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 7:7, 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.

Esther 7:6, Question 4. Why does the verse stress that Haman’s reaction was “before” the king and queen?

  • As mentioned above, the Malbim and the Vilna Gaon explain that Haman’s confusion stemmed from the fact that he was in the presence of both the king and queen, so he could not use either of his excuses.
  • Similarly, according to the Maharal, Achashverosh asked Esther why she invited Haman to the party if he is so evil. She answered that she did so intentionally to avoid the possibility of Haman giving excuses if he were confronted without both of them present.
  • The verse has a combined gematria of 3355, the same as the verse (Bireishis 38:17) regarding the amount of money Yehudah pledges to Tamar. It also has the same gematria as the verse (Devarim 13:10) commanding the punishment for someone who encourages others to worship idol. Finally, it also has the same gematria as the verse in Tehillim (67:4) that the nations are happy when H-Shem governs the nations. Perhaps, just as the verse climactically demonstrates H-Shem’s active rescue of the Jews from their impending holocaust, all of these verses have to do with H-Shem’s supervision of the world. Just as the Talmud (Sotah 10a) says that He was involved with the otherwise seemingly elicit relationship between Yehuda and Tamar, so too He alone should be worshiped – without the false gods of idolatry. Similarly, the point of our world is to reach the level where everyone recognizes the guiding Hand of H-Shem in all of the events of the world.

Esther 6:12, Question 1. Why does the verse emphasize that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate?

יב וַיָּשָׁב מָרְדֳּכַי אֶלשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן נִדְחַף אֶלבֵּיתוֹ אָבֵל וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ

12. And Mordechai returned to the gate of the king. And Haman was propelled to his house mourning, and with a covered head.

  • It seems doubly strange for the verse to say Mordechai returned to the palace, when our commentary on the previous verse made clear the Haman found Mordechai in the house of study. According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and the Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:6), the verse emphasizes that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate instead of into because Mordechai returned to wearing sackcloth and fasting.
  • Rashi’s explaining that Mordechai returned to mourning seems to not be his pashut pshat, simple explanation.
  • The Maharsha clarifies that Mordechai could not enter the king’s gate wearing sackcloth because of their rules of propriety in those days, so he could only come as far as the gate, itself. Therefore, Mordechai, having been mourning in sackcloth for the last several days could not be said to be returning to a place where he could not have previously been.
  • R’ Avigdor Bonchek explains that being paraded on a horse emboldened Mordechai to defy Achashverosh’s law by going to gate in sackcloth.
  • The Targum writes that Mordechai returned to serving on the Sanhedrin at this point, a position that is described in TaNaCh (see Bireishis 19:1, Devarim 21:19, Ruth 4:1) as being positioned “at the gate.”
  • The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4) teaches that the verse says Mordechai returned because he is humble. There is a humility in accepting one’s place, as is said of Avraham whom the Torah (Bireishis 18:33) describes as having “returned to his place” after speaking with H-Shem.
  • R’ Henoch Leibowitz notes that the Torah (Devarim 30:8) promises us that H-Shem will return us to our Land only after we suffer from our enemies. Rav Leibowitz explains that the lesson is that a person’s prayer in times of rescue should be equal in power and intensity to that with which one prays in times of troubles. The very purpose of our troubles is to increase our attachment to H-Shem. The proper method for this is to follow Rabbeinu Bachya’s advice (on Shemos 2:23) when he says that one’s prayer is the most intense in times of difficulty and that, therefore, it is incumbent on a person to remember that feeling of intensity, and bottle up that feeling of pain in order to pray strongly in the brighter future that the troubles do not return. At our most desperate, we should try to encapsulate the emotion to use in better times.
  • He quotes R’ Naftoli Tropp, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin writes that a famous piyut said on Yom Kippur calls us all dalim, poor. Even the rich should recall that all is H-Shem’s and they only have their riches only by the grace of G-d.
  • The Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai usually wore sackcloth during davening, and then changed for court. At this point, Mordechai did not change because he felt his prayers were unsuccessful, and not answered. This is because his riding on a horse did not manifestly spell out the redemption of the Jews. The Jews were still threatened.
  • Rebbetzin Heller points out that, being G-d focused, Mordechai didn’t care if Achashverosh loved or honored him. This event did not change Mordechai’s humility.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Mordechai still felt guilty about causing the threat to Jewish existence by refusing to bow down to Haman. True teshuvah comes from the feeling of being unworthy of kindness from H-Shem. He concludes that one should never be too confident in this.
  • The Iyun Yaakov points out that, on the political side, Mordechai had anticipated using his saving Achashverosh’s life as leverage when begging Achashverosh to save the Jews – not just a pony ride around town. Disappointed by the loss of his ace in the hole, Mordechai’s only remaining means to save the Jews is to pray to H-Shem.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes the Brisker Rav, R’ Yitzchak Zev HaLevi Soloveitchik that in his reporting the goings-on to Esther earlier (Esther 4:5-16), Mordechai was unwilling to get out of his sackcloth for even one moment and even requiring Hasach as an intermediary because prayer and emunah are the main tools for salvation.
  • The Ohel Moshe also brings R’ Yehonason Eibshutz who quotes the Talmud (Brachos 5b) that a prisoner does not free himself. Somebody else needs to help somebody out. Similarly, Mordechai, once he sees himself rescued, returned to pray for the other Jews. Similarly,
  • R’ Dovid Bleicher of Novordok notes that Mordechai had his own needs met, but kept praying for the Jews because he had worked on himself to feel as if he was still under the threat of death.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:12) states that a true Jewish leader does not stop fasting until the prayers are answered.
  • The Maharal notes that Mordechai was not satisfied by this honor because Achasherosh did not come to thank him, himself. He had no reason to think that Achashverosh felt actual gratitude. After all, as R’ Elie Munk points out in his commentary on Chumash (Vayikra 7:30), of all the offerings, the only one which the Torah describes as having to be brought “by his own hands” is the shelamim (peace offering) because it is brought as a way to thank H-Shem, and “when expressing one’s gratitude, it is proper to do it personally.”
  • Parenthetically, he also quotes this as the reason brought by Abudraham for the congregation to say the blessing of Modim (thanksgiving) during the repetition of the Amidah prayer, since the congregational leader cannot express the gratitude of another person.
  • The Maharal also says in a few places (Nesivos Olam) that simcha (joy) comes from shleimus (completeness). Here, too, Mordechai cannot be content since the Jews are still under the threat of annihilation, and are thus incomplete.
  • Perhaps the simplest explanation to why Mordechai returned to his place can be gleaned from a story told about R’ Yechezkel Abramsky. While discussing Megillas Esther with his rebbetzin, he asked her what Mordechai could have been thinking while riding on the horse. She answered, “This type of foolishness is for drunkards. I wish this will be over soon, so I can return to learning Torah!”

Esther 6:7, Question 1. Why does Haman repeat Achashverosh’s question?

ז וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן אֶלהַמֶּלֶךְ אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ

7. And Haman said to the king, “The man whom the king desires in glorifying him…

  • The Malbim writes that Haman wants to emphasize that the highest possible honor is to be the man whom the king wishes to honor.
  • R’ Jonathan Taub explains that the verse does not say bi’ish, (“in the man” as in the previous verse) but just ish (“man”) because that man who deserves the king’s favor needs nothing else.
  • Maharitz Dushinsky notes that Haman repeated this phrase because he wanted to see if Achashverosh would object to the word “desires.” The king should honor Mordechai for saving his life.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that one of the messages of Purim is that the King desires us. Yehoshua and Calev (Bamidbar 14:8) similarly tried to convince the Jewish people that if H-Shem desires us, nothing stands in our way.

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 4:7, Question 5. Why does the verse emphasize Mordechai’s telling Esther about the destruction of the Jews?

  • The Vilna Gaon writes that the verse emphasizes Mordechai’s telling Esther about the destruction of the Jews to clarify that the public documents vaguely informing Shushan to be ready actually intended the annihilation of the Jews.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz breaks apart the word “li’avdam” (“to destroy”) into the words “lo badam” (“not with blood”). In explanation, he cites the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:14) that relates the following allegorical anecdote:

[After the Satan convinced H-Shem to agree that Yisroel deserved destruction, and various levels of H-Shem’s servants respond,] Eliyahu (of Blessed Memory) ran in terror to the Patriarchs and Moshe son of Amram. And he said to them, “How long will the Patriarchs of old remain asleep? Are you not paying attention to the evils in which your children find themselves? The ministering angels, the sun, the moon, the stars and constellations, Heaven and Earth, and all the Heavenly servants are bitterly crying. And you are standing by, not paying attention?!” They said to him, “Why [were they found worthy of destruction]?” He said to them, “Because Yisroel enjoyed themselves at the feast of Achashverosh. Because of this, H-Shem decreed upon them a decree to annihilate them from the world, and to destroy their memory.” Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov said to him, “If they transgressed the Will of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and this decree is sealed, what are we able to do?” Eliyahu returned, and said to Moshe, “Trustworthy shepherd! How often have you stood in the breach for the sake of Yisroel, and nullified the decree against them to avoid their annihilation? As it is written, ‘Did not Moshe, His chosen, stand in the breach before Him to turn back His anger from destroying’ (Tehillim 106:23). How do you answer this evil?” […] Moshe said to him, “Is there anyone good in this generation?” [Eliyahu] said, “There is, and his name is Mordechai.” [Moshe] said to him, “Go and tell him that when he stands there to pray, and I from here, and he seeks mercy for them before the Holy One, Blessed is He…” [Eliyahu] said to him, “Trustworthy shepherd! It is already written, this letter of destruction of Yisroel!” Moshe said to him, “If it is written in clay, our prayers will be heard. And if it is written in blood, it is already done.” [Eliyahu] said, “It is written in clay.” Moshe our Teacher said to him, “Go and tell Mordechai.”

 R’ Eibshutz asks on this this story: What is the symbolic significance of the document being written in blood or clay? Why would a decree written in blood be irreversible? He explains that Adam was created from earth and soul (Bireishis 2:7). Clay is made from earth and the Torah testifies that blood is the essence of the nefesh, soul (Vayikra 17:14, see Ramban to Vayikra 17:11). Thus, clay represents the physical and blood represents the spiritual. In the Midrash, then, Moshe was asking Eliyahu if the decree against the Jews was written for physical reasons (i.e. their enjoying Achashverosh’s feast) or spiritual reasons (i.e. bowing to an idol of Nevuchadnetzer). Had it been for their spiritual rejection of H-Shem (G-d forbid!), the decree would stand. In our verse, Mordechai was telling Esther that the decree was “lo b’dam,” not written in blood, and thus had a physical root that could be reversed with the power of prayer1.

1It is unclear to the author why the cause should be unclear; the above-cited Midrash explicitly stated that the decree was written and sealed due to the Jews’ enjoying Achashverosh’s feast. Perhaps the question was regarding the Jews’ motivation in attending the feast, and is not related to the seeming worship of Nevuchadnetzer’s statue. Tzarich iyun.