Esther 9:22, Question 4. What does the verse intend by “feasting and joy,” and why?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 7a) learns from the verse’s use of “feasting and joy” that there is a mitzva to drink ad d’lo yada, until one does not know the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai” on Purim. Although this a topic worthy of a much larger Halachic discussion, it should suffice for purposes of understanding this verse to note some varying opinions on this subject.
  • Indeed several Halachic deciders understand this literally as an injunction to become completely drunk on Purim, as is clear from the Rif (Megillah 3b) and the Tur (Orach Chaim 695:2).
  • Among others, the Peleh Yo’eitz warns that, obviously, this drinking should not be done to the point where one would miss any other mitzvos, including praying mincha with proper intent.
  • The Talmud (Pesachim 68b) teaches that holidays from the Torah should be be split evenly – half for H-Shem (i.e. with prayer, learning, etc.), and half for our own pleasure (i.e. eating, resting, etc.). However, even according to an earlier opinion there that all holidays should be completely for H-Shem, this verse’s use of the words “feasting and joy” require Purim to be completely for our pleasure.
  • The Abudraham notes that drinking is such a critical part of celebrating Purim because drinking plays a central role in Megillas Esther, including Vashti’s fall (Esther 1:10), Esther’s rise (Esther 2:18), [the decree to kill the Jews (Esther 3:15),] and Esther’s parties that led to Haman’s fall (Esther 7:1-10).
  • The Midrash Eliyahu writes that we celebrate Purim by drinking because the Talmud (Megillah 13b) relates that Haman slandered the Jews’ drinking practices when he told the king that if a fly were to touch a Jew’s cup, he would remove it and continue drinking. However, if the king were to touch a Jew’s cup, the Jew would throw the wine away, alluding to the Talmudic (Avodah Zarah 30a) law of yayin nesech.
  • The Nesivos Shalom (Purim 57-58) has a very unique reading of this Talmudic passage. He notes that the above cited teaching does not say “livsumei” (“to become intoxicated”) with wine, but rather “livsumei” in Purim. This means that one should get drunk from the day of Purim, itself, similar to the prophet’s (Yeshaya 51:21) description of being “drunk, but not from wine.” Through prayer, Torah study, and acts of kindness, Purim should cause a person to become so “drunk” on the elevated revelations of Purim that one cannot tell the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.”
  • Malbim writes that the joy mentioned in the verse parallels “feasting and joy,” while the holiday parallels the sending of gifts. This is so because the very purpose of our lives is to separate ourselves from the physical in an effort to focus on the spiritual. That is the very-same purpose of Yom Tov!
  • Similarly, in Horeb, Rav Hirsch writes that the physical rescue of the day deserved a physical enjoyment.
  • Similarly, in R’ Tzaddok HaKohen’s contrasting between Purim and Chanukah, he focuses on the fact that Chanukah was a struggle between different philosophies, wherein the Hellenists and Greeks did not care if the Jews lived or died as long as they accepted the Hellenistic worldview. Therefore, Jews celebrate Chanukah, which was a spiritual/philosophical victory, in a spiritual manner, with additions to the daily tefillah and the lighting of the chanukiya. Jews celebrate Purim, on the other hand, which was a physical victory, in a physical manner, with feasting and joy.
  • The Bach (Orach Chaim 670) focuses his distinguishing of the two days by noting that the entire Purim story was initiated by the Jews wrongly attending Achashverosh’s feast. He quotes a Braisa that says that the Chanukah story was perpetuated by the Jews’ lack of alacrity and laziness in fulfilling the tamid offering. Therefore, Purim is celebrating with a party to make up for our attending Achashverosh’s party, and Chanukah is celebrated with the lighting of Chanukah lights to make up for the neglecting of the constant fire of the tamid offering.
  • His son-in-law, the Taz (Orach Chaim 670:3), writes that Purim is an open miracle that saved our temporal lives, wheras Chanukah commemorates a relatively hidden, spiritual miracle in the oil lasting longer than expected. Their distinct commemorations, then, are accomplished through the public feasting of Purim and through the relatively private lighting of the Chanukah menorah, respectively.
  • The Sfas Emes adds that our physical pleasure on Purim is also due to the physical nature of Eisav’s (progenitor of Amalek) blessing that Yaakov (progenitor of the Jews) took from him (Bireishis 27:28-29). Furthermore, Yaakov’s attempt to take on Eisav’s physical role in the world is yet another reason for the custom to wear masks on Purim.
  • During a Purim seudah, the Satmar Rebbe once mentioned that one might have thought that Haman’s idol would make the threat to Jewish existence on Purim a spiritual one. However, the physical and spiritual aspects of a Jew are one and the same. After all, a physical body without a soul is a corpse. Accordingly, this is another reason for the custom to drink on Purim – to see beyond the superficial, and realize that our physical health is directly related to our spiritual health.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the mitzvos of the day are intended to make Purim a day of Heavenly purpose of spiritual growth, and not for selfish joy. He bears this out from the fact that the initial letters of the four mitzvos of the day – simcha, mishteh, yom tov, manos – can be seen as an acronym that spells out shamayim (Heaven).
  • Famously, the Ari z”l quotes the Tikkunei Zohar (21) that the holiness of Yom Kippur is due to its being a “yom kiPurim” (“a day like Purim”).
  • The Ohel Moshe suggests that Yom Kippur’s holiness depends on Purim because the Talmud (Taanis 30b) says Yom Kippur was the day on which Moshe came down Mt. Sinai with the second set of luchos (“tablets”). This receiving of the Torah was not complete until the Jews accepted the following of its commands in the days of Purim with the verse’s (Esther 9:27) words “kimu v’kiblu.”
  • On another level, R’ Yitzchak Hutner explains that Purim is similar to Yom Kippur because there is a need on both days to make things right with people. The Mishna (Yuma 8:9) teaches that a person does not gain atonement for the wrongs one caused to another unless one asks for forgiveness from that person. Similarly, on Purim, the sending of mishloach manos is supposed to engender feelings of unity and peace among the Jewish people. This is done in a spiritual manner – by begging for forgiveness – on Yom Kippur, and in a physical manner – by drinking and feasting together – on Purim. In this way, the two holidays compliment each other, and become one powerful entity.
  • On one particular Purim in the Warsaw ghetto, R’ Kolonimus Kalmish (Hy”d) approached a Jew who was understandably not feeling joyous in the midst of terrible atrocity. He told this Jew that the intent of the comparison between Purim and Yom K’Purim is that just like a Jew should feel like there is no choice on Yom Kippur, and one must fast, so too, on Purim, one has no choice – one must have simcha (“joy”)!

Esther 8:17, Question 1. What do these expressions of happiness signify in this verse?

יז וּבְכָלמְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה וּבְכָלעִיר וָעִיר מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דְּבַרהַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ מַגִּיעַ שִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשׂוֹן לַיְּהוּדִים מִשְׁתֶּה וְיוֹם טוֹב וְרַבִּים מֵֽעַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ מִתְיַהֲדִים כִּינָפַל פַּחַדהַיְּהוּדִים עֲלֵיהֶם

17. And in each every state, and in each and every city – any place where the word of the king and his law was revealed – there was happiness and joy to the Yehudim, a feast and holiday. And many from the nations of the land became Yehudim because the fear of the Yehudim fell upon them.

  • The Ksav Sofer points out that the repetition of “happiness and joy” in this verse connotes the high degree of happiness present on Purim due to re-acceptance of Torah (Esther 9:27).

  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle notes that these four expressions of happiness are intended to stand in marked contrast to the four expressions of sadness (Esther 4:3) – evel (“mourning”), tzom (“fasting”), bechi (“crying”), and misped (“eulogy”) – used earlier when knowledge of Haman’s decree became known.

  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that, taken together, the first letters of the words magiya simcha v’sasson la’Yehudim (“there was happiness and joy to the Yehudim”) form a rearranged acronym for shalom (“peace”). This is because joy and happiness is only fully realized in peace.

Esther 4:5, Question 3. Why does the verse say Esther sent Hasach “on” Mordechai instead of “to” Mordechai?

  • According to Beis Yaakov, Esther sent Hasach “on” Mordechai instead of “to” Mordechai as a sort of passive aggressive move since she was blaming him for the decree against the Jews. After all Haman was Mordechai’s slave. As such, Mordechai had the legal ability and responsibility to confiscate any purchases of his slave, especially here, where the purchase was the very life of the Jews.
  • Perhaps another action Esther blamed on Mordechai was his original refusal to bow to Haman.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle points out that the initial letters of the phrase “al mordechai l‘daas” (“on Mordechai to know”) are an acronym that spells out the word “amal” (“labor”), which usually represents the negative, human desire to do wrong. In other words, Esther was pointing out to Mordechai the spiritual cause of the current problem faced by the Jews.
  • Perhaps another reason for this unique turn of phrase is the verse’s attempt to demonstrate a proof that Daniel (if he is Hasach) is Mordechai’s superior.

Esther 3:8, Question 4. Why does Haman use both “scattered” and “dispersed” to describe the Jews?

  • Generally, the implication of the word “scattered” is that the object under discussion is weakened and no longer whole. On the contrary, the implication of the word “dispersed” is that the object retains its original strength, and has spread. Rav Dovid Feinstein writes that, by using the word “scattered,” Haman is implying to the king that the Jews should have assimilated into Persian culture by now, but they stubbornly refuse by making themselves “dispersed,” retaining their own culture.
  • Rabbi Naftali of Rofshutz writes that Haman also describes the Jews in this way to address Achashverosh’s concern that no other nation has been able to destroy the Jews – how could he dare try? Haman’s response to this would be to not worry about the Jews’ previous longevity. True, they used to be united as an “am echad,” but now they are scattered and therefore disjointed. Only Jewish unity can save the nation from exile.
  • The Malbim says that Haman is attempting to emphasize that these Jews – these vermin of evil influence, as was echoed in history – are everywhere. We don’t know where they are; they can be hiding everywhere. Even today, the average anti-Semite is under the impression that there are billions of Jews everywhere, and they own the banks, Hollywood, and the government, whereas the truth is that the Jews number merely 0.4% of the world’s population.
  • According to the Alshich, Haman is emphasizing that, as a minority, the Jews are virtually loners, and no other nation would come to their aid in their time of need.
  • Mystically, as mentioned previously, one of the purposes of life in this world is to gain sparks of holiness. Just as sparks are scattered, the Jews have been spread in exile to gather together these sparks. Therefore, the Sfas Emes writes, although the Jewish people are spread out to find these sparks as individuals, we mustn’t lose sight of the need to retain communal unity. Other Jews may need our help to find their intended sparks.
  • Rav Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the acronym of “mefuraz umeforad” (“scattered and dispersed”) spell out the word “mum” (“defect”). By saying this, Haman is attempting to prove to Achashverosh that the Jews are lacking, and can be defeated.
  • Emphasizing the positive in this statement, the Sfas Emes points out that although the Jews are spread out, weakened, and incomplete, they nevertheless do not intermarry, and attempt to identify with their Jewish roots.

Esther 2:7, Question 1. Why does the verse use the strange word “omein” (“nursed”) to describe Mordechai’s care for Esther?

ז וַיְהִי אֹמֵן אֶתהֲדַסָּה הִיא אֶסְתֵּר בַּתדֹּדוֹ כִּי אֵין לָהּ אָב וָאֵם וְהַנַּעֲרָה יְפַתתֹּאַר וְטוֹבַת מַרְאֶה וּבְמוֹת אָבִיהָ וְאִמָּהּ לְקָחָהּ מָרְדֳּכַי לוֹ לְבַת

7. And it was that he nursed Hadassah, she is Esther, daughter of his uncle because she did not have a father and mother, and she was a young woman of beautiful form and good appearance, and in the death of her father and her mother, Mordechai took her for himself as a daughter.

  • The Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 30:8) states that Mordechai nursed Esther. Men can sometimes lactate, although this is not usual (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=strange-but-true-males-can-lactate). A story in the Talmud (Shabbos 53b) tells of a poor man whose wife died, leaving him, unable to afford nurse-maid, to have to miraculously nurse his children himself. The Ben Ish Chai says that Mordechai did this in an attempt to keep her secret – even from the nurse-maids. Class participant CL suggests that maybe this is why she may have been green. Ben Ish Chai and the Rokeach point out that there should be a vuv in “dodo” (“her uncle”). Without the vuv, it spells “dado” (“his breast”), adding another proof to this idea of Mordechai’s nursing Esther.
  • The Ben Ish Chai says another reason for this is similar to the “reason” for the laws of kosher. A bird called a chasidah (often translated as “stork”) is one of the species considered not kosher (Vayikra 11:19). The rabbis wonder why a non-kosher bird would have such a holy name, “chasid” meaning “righteous.” They answer that the bird indeed does kindness, but only within its own kind, ignoring the needs of anything “different” (Talmud, Chullin 63a). But why would its name cause us to think that it should be kosher? This is because, in a way, we really are what we eat because we somehow absorb qualities from the attributes of the animals we consume (Ramban to Vayikra 11:13). We thus acquire characteristics from the person from whom we nurse.1 Therefore, the reason for this miracle was for Esther to gain Mordechai’s characteristics.
  • Ben Ish Chai also points out that “omein” and amen have the same letters, the acronym for “kel melech ne’eman” (“G-d, the Trustworthy King”). RoS says that Mordechai knew he had a mission, and he knew that Esther needed to acquire his intense faith in H-Shem.
  • Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg teaches that the word “omein” comes from the word, “uman,” a skilled craftsman. This teaches us that Mordechai not only taught Esther as any loving parent would, but actually trained her to expertly use her gifts (which we shall see) to reach the ultimate of their potential.

1See Sotah 12b regarding Moshe’s refusal to be nursed by Egyptian wet-nurses, necessitating his being nursed (and raised) by his natural mother (Shemos 2:7).

Esther 1:12, Question 1. Why does Vashti refuse to come to the king?

יב וַתְּמָאֵן הַמַּלְכָּה וַשְׁתִּי לָבוֹא בִּדְבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר בְּיַד הַסָּרִיסִים וַיִּקְצֹף הַמֶּלֶךְ מְאֹד וַחֲמָתוֹ בָּעֲרָה בוֹ

12. And Queen Vashti refused to come according to the words of the king that he sent through chamberlains; and the king became very incensed and his anger burned inside him.

  • M’nos HaLevi suggests that Vashti did not come when summoned because she was conceited. According to the Ben Yehoyada, quoted by Rav Dovid Feinstein, she was so conceited that she could not even imagine him punishing her as he had a right to do.
  • According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz, since the underlying reason for this party was to coerce the Jews to sin (see the second post on 1:8), this day was Shabbos and she figured there was no point in such a stunt if the Jews weren’t even there on Shabbos to sin. He also suggests that Vashti felt that her unclothed arrival to the feast would tempt the men present.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12b) suggests that the only reason she refused was because she suddenly became less beautiful. In fact, through the agency of the angel, Gavriel, Vashti had just then grown a tail and come down with a tzaraas skin affliction. How does the Talmud know this? Tosfos and Rashi quote a no-longer extant Yerushalmi which says that the language of the verse recalling Vashti’s punishment (Esther 2:1) is similar to the language in the verse that describes Uziyahu’s learning of his tzaraas (Divrei HaYamim 2 26:21). According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz, of all angels, it was Gavriel who performed this task because, according to the Talmud (Sotah 31a) and the Zohar (196a), it is this angel who best knows men’s thoughts. As such, he knew what evil lurked in Vashti’s brain, and was thus the ideal messenger of H-Shem’s displeasure. Why would Vashti get these particular defects? Ben Yehoyada suggests that one reason (listed in the Talmud, Arachim 16a) for incurring tzaraas is for having a conceited spirit. Ben Yehoyada says that this was yet another example of “mida kineged mida,” (“measure for measure”); since Vashti had the Jewish girls work naked on Shabbos, so, too, she was punished on Shabbos in a manner related to nudity. R’ Elazar of Germezia notes that the gematria of “and the Queen Vashti refused to come” is equal to the phrase “she was afflicted with tzaraas.”1 A tail is used by animals to cover themselves. People use clothes for that purpose. Vashti’s otherwise desire to perform in a contrary behavior earned her, mida kineged mida, a tail of an animal. The Aruch writes that Vashti did not literally grow a tail, but rather an appendage of some sort. This fits well with the idea that this “zanav” covered her front. Rav Schwab asks on this why it could not be a real tail like an animal? According to Rabbi Aaron Eli Glatt, the letters of “zanav” (zayin, nun, and beis) can be seen as an acronym for Zevil Merodach, Nebuchadnetzer, and Balshatzar – Vashti’s royal lineage about which she was so conceited.

1The principle of im hakollel allows for a mathematical error of one so that (1352) “ותמאן המלכה ושתי לבוא”  is legally equal to (1353)  “שפרחה צרעת”.