- The Malbim explains Haman’s advisers’ words as implying that since Haman started falling already in his degrading display of honor to Mordechai, the natural inertia will cause him to continue to fall.
- The Talmud (Megillah 16a) interprets the verse’s double language of “nafol tipol” (“falling you will fall”) by noting that the Jewish people are compared both to the dust, and to stars. The Maharal asks on this Talmudic statement that, historically, every nation has ups and downs. When Babylonia, Greece, Rome, or any other nation sinned, H-Shem caused their civilizations to decline. He answers that the difference for the Jews is that H-Shem directly supervises their ascents and downfalls. Therefore the practical difference is how far up or down.
- The Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 8) on Bireishis (1:28) says that man can fall to the lowest depths. There is no middle ground for the Jews; they either fall into the dust or rise to the stars.
- R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes the Talmud (Brachos 4b) that there is a principle that H-Shem saves the Jews when they are at their lowest. H-Shem waits (kaviyachal, as it were) for the individual Jew or the nation to reach the dust, the lowest point. If a person sitting on the floor falls, that person may fall to the floor. But when one is sitting on the floor and falls, there is not place further to fall. It is at that point that H-Shem must raise that person to the stars.
- The Ben Ish Chai writes that the advisers pointed out to Haman that he himself said (Esther 6:11) that the honor received by Mordechai “ye’aseh” (“will be”) in the future tense. He thereby unwittingly cursed himself with Mordechai’s future success.
- The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Ta’amei Esther, who quotes the M’nos HaLevi, who in turn quotes R’ Eliezer of Garmiza that the words nafol tipol are written complete, both with vuvs because Mordechai’s six (the gematria of vuv) actions including fasting, walking through the streets, crying, etc (Esther 4:1) parallel the six (the gematria of vuv) forms of suffering endured by Israel (Esther 4:3). Therefore, Nafol Mordechai and tipol the Jews. The Ginzei HaMelech explains by quoting a Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 34:8) that Moshe accepted upon himself the pain meant for others, and Mordechai did the same. Therefore, paining these kinds of leaders pains all of the Jews. By doing that, Haman is pinning himself against the combined power of the entire Jewish nation.
- In a more Kabbalistic explanation, the Rema writes that this falling is actually the second fall, as in the days of Adam (Bireishis 3:15), when the Yeitzer HaRa fell the first time.
- The Sha’aris Yosef quotes the Nachal Kedumim that Mordechai was a gilgul, reincarnation, of Yaakov, and Haman was a gilgul of Eisav. One of his proofs for this idea is that the verse (Bireishis 32:12) in which Yaakov prays for Heavenly assistance against Eisav, he says, “hatzileini na miyad” (“save me please from the hand”), which have initial letters that spell out Haman. Although Yaakov never physically fought Eisav, he did fight Eisav’s guardian angel. The verses describing this exchange (Bireishis 32:25-30) never explicitly names the victor, which prompts the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 77:3) to state that it would remain unclear who won except for the fact Eisav’s guardian angel had to go back and forth several times. Just as Eisav’s angel had to go back down, Haman’s advisers here are implying that, being a gilgul, Haman would similarly fall twice before Mordechai.
- According to Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer (50) Haman intended for Achashverosh to provide the clothing he wore at his coronation. As can be seen in museums around the world, the clothes worn at a coronation or even presidential inauguration are important, and become part of the culture.
- The Yosef Lekach explains that these could not just be any clothes, but had to be special and were likely kept in storage for important occasions like this.
- R’ Avraham Chadidah writes enigmatically that Haman meant to imply to Achashverosh that his providing the clothes would show that he is a kind, generous man.
- R’ Dovid Holtzer explains that the logic behind this depends on how the king defines himself. Achashverosh, from his original invitation of the rich and poor to his party (Esther 1:5), defines himself as a nice, generous person. Similarly, the nuance of clothing defines oneself. The clothing one wears defines one’s political beliefs, religious concerns, cultural status, etc. Therefore, dressing like Achashverosh can make you like Achashverosh in character.
- On a more mystical level, R’ David Valle writes that the idea of a king’s clothing refers to the King above rewarding the righteous below. He writes that such rewards come from the forty-five letter Name of H-Shem. Forty-five is also the gematria of the word kacha (“like so”) referring to this reward in the next verse (Esther 6:9) and the gematria of adam (“man”), meaning that H-Shem always rewards the righteous, even when it is not manifestly apparent to us with our limited vision.
- The Ma’amar Mordechai writes that the tree was supposed to be 50 amos tall to enable Haman to see Mordechai hanging while still at Esther’s party. The reason we can be certain that Mordechai would be more visible under that condition is that the Talmud (Eruvin 2b) teaches that the windows in kings’ palaces are no higher than 50 amos.
- The Vilna Gaon teaches that the gallows certainly needed to be tall enough for Harbona to point to it (Esther 7:9). This is because of the Talmudic principle (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 26a) that hearing is not comparable to seeing.
- According to the Ben Ish Chai, Zeresh is advising Haman that if he gets irritated, he can simply look up and get in a good mood because Mordechai will hang from the tree seen everywhere.
- According to Yalkut Shimoni (1054), besides throwing lots (purim) to decide on the best date to kill all of the Jews (Esther 3:7), Haman also threw lots to decide on the best species of tree to use in making this gallows. However, throughout TaNaCh, the Jews are compared to many different kinds of trees, so he decided on a cedar because Jews are not compared to it. The reason for this is that the cedar can be shattered by the wind.
- Both the Yalkut Shimoni and the Midrash Abba Gorion continue that Haman could not find such a tall beam, so his son Parshandasa, governor of the area of Mt. Ararat, the area where Noach’s ark landed (Bireishis 8:4), gave him beam of Noach’s teivah, which would have been 50 amos long (Bireishis 6:15).
- Rabbi Dovid Feinstein explains that the wood was from Noach’s teivah to show that killing Mordechai was important for humanity, as his refusal to bow down to Haman disturbed the “Great Chain of Being,” society’s understanding of the social hierarchy.
- However, the Binyan Shlomo quotes the Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer (Chap. 50) that the wood taken from Holy of Holies1.
- The Maharal notes that the teiva and the Beis HaMikdash both represent Olam HaZeh, the terrestrial world. Essentially, the idea of the Beis HaMikdash is that items of this world can be taken and elevated to greatness. Similarly, the teiva saved this physical world from destruction during the Deluge. Haman was attempting to conquer that mystical power that holds control over this world. This is what it means that Haman made of himself an object of worship, which is one of the reasons Mordechai had refused to bow to him. It is interesting to note that another connection between the teivah and the Beis HaMikdash is hidden in gematria. The gematria of ararat (1+200+200+9=410) is the same as the amount of years the first Temple stood.
- In his usual, mysterious style, Rav Moshe David Valle writes that the 50 amos refer to the 50 gevuros (powers) of the yad hachazaka (“the strong Hand”), all of them combining against Haman. Perhaps this is a reference to the Haggadah in which Rabbi Yosi haGelili asks, “How do we know the Egyptians were struck with ten plagues in Mitzrayim and 50 at the sea?” In reply, he contrasts the verse (Shemos 8:15) in which Pharaoh’s magicians recognized the plagues as “the finger of G-d” with the verse (Shemos 14:31) describing Israel’s recognizing G-d’s might after drowning the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds, “and Israel saw the great Hand.” If one finger represents the plagues, of which there where ten, then a hand with its five fingers would be five times greater, or 50. Therefore, the 50 amos of the gallows demonstrate H-Shem’s anger with Haman.
- According to the Sfas Emes, when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Bireishis 3:6), good and evil became confused. Kabbalistically, this resulted in 49 gates of tumah (impurity) which parallel 49 gates of kedusha (holiness). When the Talmud (Chulin 139b) states that Adam’s eating from the tree (Bireishis 3:11) is an allusion to Haman, it is because Amalek (represented by Haman), is the force that causes this confusion (the Hebrew word for confusion, safek (60+80+100=240) has the same gematria as Amalek (70+40+30+100=240). To know clearly what is right, and have not doubts at all, one needs to be above one’s area of control by leaping above to the 50th gate, a place Amalek cannot exist. Moshe’s raising his hands during the Jews’ war with Amalek (Shemos 17:11) hints to the idea of rising above one’s vantage point. Chiddushei HaRim brings this idea of confusing good with evil as another reason for the custom to drink wine on Purim ad d’lo yada.
1 Most commentators give the source for this measurement as Yechezkel 40:15, which describes the length of the boards used in the Third Temple. Being that this Temple has unfortunately not been built yet (unless this was attempted before, as Rabbi Ken Spiro suggests in his “Crash Course in Jewish History”), perhaps the intended source is Shemos 27:12-13, which describes the Mishkan’s width rather than length.
- The M’nos HaLevi writes that the wicked are simply never satisfied.
- The Talmud (Megillah 15b) says Haman was called a slave who sold himself for bread, referring to the famous Midrash the Haman sold himself into slavery to Mordechai when the two of them were generals and the supplies with which the king entrusted Haman ran out.
- How do Mordechai’s actions take away from Haman’s list of honors? Rashi writes that Haman forgot about his honor whenever he saw Mordechai. R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this occurs naturally to most people when we are insulted.
- The Malbim, consistent in his view, Haman is saying that it is not worthy of his prestige to kill Mordechai.
- In Sichos Mussar, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz writes that physical things are attainable. Honor, however, is not real, is not physical, and is completely in one’s perspective and imagination. Since it is not real, honor can never be realized.
- The Ginzei HaMelech brings from the Ne’os Desheh that the last letters of “zeh einenu shava lee” (“this is not worth anything for me”) spell out H-Shem’s Name backwards. According to the Zohar (and quoted by Rabbeinu Bachya in his commentary to Bamidbar), any time the Torah contains H-Shem’s Name backwards, it means He is upset. The Ginzei HaMelech explains that ingratitude (like the kind that Haman is showing here) always angers H-Shem.
- The Talmud (Chulin 139b) asks where Haman can be found in the Torah. It responds by quoting the verse in Bereishis (3:11), “hamin ha’eitz” (“from the tree”). R’ Aaron Kotler asks, what is the Talmud really asking; after all, Haman in found in Megillas Esther, every time we shout, “boo!” He explains that the Talmud is asking where Haman’s characteristic of ingratitude is in the Torah. Adam, after being given everything in the paradise known as Gan Eden, ends up disregarding his only restriction by eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That lack of appreciation is Haman in the Torah.
- 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.
- According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Mordechai dressed in sack and ashes because the Talmud (Moed Katan 26a) writes that one should tear one’s clothing when one hears bad tidings.
- Yosef Lekach adds that Mordechai’s sensitive emotions allowed him to feel the pain of the potential threat of genocide, that he mourned as if people had already died.
- Seeing as nobody was allowed to enter the king’s gate dressed in such a manner (see Esther 4:2 below), the P’dus Yaakov writes that, by doing so, Mordechai was indicating that his rightful place was with the people rather than with the king.
- In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, Mordechai is compared to the king of Ninveh (Yona 3:6), who is praised for immediately donning sack and ash upon hearing that H-Shem planned to destroy his city for their erstwhile evil behavior.
- It is possible that, by using ash, Mordechai was invoking the merits of the Jewish forefathers. R’ Elazar of Germiza writes that Mordechai chose ash to recall before H-Shem the merit of our forefather, Avraham. After all, Avraham risked his life to prove the truth of monotheism by being thrown into a flaming furnace. In recognizing H-Shem’s Mercy in saving his life, he later called himself no more than “dust and ash” (Bereishis 18:27). According to the Targum, Mordechai was invoking the merit of another forefather, Yitzchak. Because he laid himself down on an altar dutifully prepared to be slaughtered like a sacrifice by his father (ibid. 22:9), H-Shem credits him with remaining as ash on the sacrificial altar. Finally, Mordechai invoked the merit of Yaakov, who wore sack after the sale of Yosef (ibid. 37:34). The Maharal notes that the verse in Tehillim (20:2) invokes “the G-d of Yaakov” in that fervent prayer for salvation because Yaakov was the forefather whose difficult life deserved more of H-Shem’s Mercy.
- R’ Elazar Shach points out that the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 84:19) teaches that the Jews of Egypt wore sack before their miraculous redemption. By tapping into this ancient tradition, Mordechai was showing his faith in H-Shem and the Torah.
- On a more mystical note, R’ Raphael Moshe Luria writes that Adam and Chava before the sin wore “ohr” (light, spelled aleph-vuv-reish), but were demoted to the status of needing to wear “ohr” (skin, spelled ayin-vuv-reish) as a result of the sin. Based on R’ Moshe Cordevero, Rav Luria continues with the idea that garments of light help one to serve H-Shem, and this is why one was not allowed to enter the “king’s” gate when not properly dressed. Doctors must shed their suits to don scrubs, rubber gloves, and bouffant caps for surgery. The soul, too, must shed the Divine light in which she is dressed to don the hazmat suit that is the earthly body to utilize the physical world in a continued effort to fulfill H-Shem’s Will. In our analogy, the difference between the soul and the doctor is that the soul’s skin automatically turns into light with the achieving of a spiritual goal.
- The Ginzei HaMelech brings down from the AriZal that the gematria of “sak” (sack, 300+100=400) is an allusion to the four hundred officers whom Esav commands in his meeting with Yaakov (Bereishis 33:1). Kabbalistically, these themselves represent the four hundred powers of tuma, or manners in which impurity can enter our lives. He brings from the Imrei David that wearing sackcloth [perhaps through its ability to instill humility] gives one the ability to fend off impurity.
טז וַיאמֶר מְומֻכָן [מְמוּכָן] לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַשָּׂרִים לֹא עַל–הַמֶּלֶךְ לְבַדּוֹ עָוְתָה וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה כִּי עַל–כָּל–הַשָּׂרִים וְעַל–כָּל–הָעַמִּים אַשֶׁר בְּכָל–מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ
16. And Memuchan said before the king and the ministers, “Not the king alone has Vashti the Queen wronged. Rather, all of the ministers and all the peoples in the states of Achashverosh.”
- The Talmud (Megillah 12b) interprets Memuchan’s jumping ahead of the other advisers as a display of his insolence. A wiser man would have waited to give his advice after greater people had spoken.
- The Talmud goes on there to identify Memuchan as Haman. As such, Rashi there interprets his name to mean “prepared” – prepared for the death of Vashti and himself. The Ben Ish Chai notes that a hint to this idea is the fact that the gematria of “Memuchan” is equal to that of “eitz” (160), the tree on which Haman was hanged1. A “tree” may also refer to the Talmudic statement (Chulin 139b): Where is there an allusion to Haman in the Torah? In the verse (Bereishis 3:11) “did you eat from the tree?,” wherein the word “hamin” (“from the”) is spelled with the same letters as “Haman.” This occurred in the story of Adam and Chava’s temptation to eat the fruit in Gan Eden, and since (as we shall see be”H in our last blog on this verse next week) the Vilna Gaon believes Haman to be representative of the Evil Inclination, it is a fitting allusion.
- The Midrash (Esther Rabba 4:6) asks why Memuchan was so eager to have Vashti killed, and offers three reasons: she slapped him in the face, Memuchan’s wife was not invited to the party, and because Memuchan wanted his daughter to be able to marry the king. All three reasons are really one, with each moving further from practical predictability; he wanted more influence over the king. Memuchan wanted to yield his own influence, his wife’s influence through the queen, and (more indirectly) the theoretical influence of his daughter as a queen.
- We must however, contend with another Talmudic opinion regarding the identity of Memuchan. The Yerushalmi quotes the Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer as saying that Memuchan was the prophet, Daniel. On the one hand, Memuchan’s advice is evil and murderous. On the other hand, it is ridding the world of the evil Vashti2, a sworn enemy of the Jews. Therefore, it is “Haman-advice” in its evil means and “Daniel-advice” in its simultaneous beneficial ends.
- In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal writes that there are seven advisers present before Achashverosh at this point. There are similarly seven major constellations (as they were understood then), the seventh being me’adim (Mars), which represents bloodshed and has a numerical value of 95. This is the same gematria as Haman and Daniel.
- The Maharsha adds that the unscrambled, initial letters in the words in Tehillim 22:21, which are interpreted as Esther’s prayer for rescue from the Jews’ fate at the hands of Haman (see our tenth blog), “mey’cherev nafshi mi’yad kelev yichidasi” form the name, Memuchan.