Esther 7:10, Question 3. Why does the king’s fury subside?

  • According to the Ibn Ezra, Achashverosh was angry from the time he woke up from his drunken stupor after following Haman’s decree to rid himself of Vashti (Esther 2:1) until Haman was ultimately hanged.
  • The Me’am Loez explains the subsiding of the king’s fury as calm that returned to the universe.
  • This is because, as the Sfas Emes writes, when Amalek is in power, H-Shem is more noticeable through His characteristic of din, judgment. This is similar to what Rashi writes in his commentary on Torah (Shemos 17:16).
  • Haman’s end brought with it a sense of peace. The Talmud in several places (Rosh HaShanah 12a, Sanhedrin 108b, Zevachim 113b) points out that regarding the Flood, the verse (Bireishis 8:1) says “vayishku mayim” (“and the water subsided”) when the waters cooled down, whereas the phrase in this verse is “v’chamas hamelech shichacha” (“and the fury of the king subsided”). The contrast in phrasing implies that the flood waters were hot to match the burning passions of the licentious people of that time, mida kineged mida.
  • Parenthetically, perhaps another connection between the flood and Haman’s downfall is the Midrashic opinion (Yalkut Shimoni 6:1056) that Haman built the gallows from the beams of Noach’s ark.
  • Interestingly, shachacha (“subsided”) is a unique word in TaNaCh. R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume IV, 319) comments that the word, shachach is phonetically related to shagag, (“not by choice”). In other words, the king’s anger was not something Achashverosh put effort into controlling. It came and subsided without any input from him.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) considers that the unique spelling of shacha with an extra letter chuf to read shachacha is due to the fact that two angers were cooled; one belonged to the King of the Universe and the other belonged to Achashverosh. Also, Achashverosh calmed down about the situation of Esther, and the situation of Vashti.
  • As Rashi explains, Achashverosh was doubly angry because Haman was seemingly responsible for the death of Vashti, and was now a threat to Esther.
  • The Maharsha emphasizes that Achashverosh was still angry from that point (Esther 2:1), chronologically almost a decade earlier.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that Achashverosh had held himself responsible for Vashti’s fate all of this time, but now realizes that he was deceived and manipulated.
  • The Vilna Gaon says that the king whose fury subsided was H-Shem, King of the World. This may refer to the Zohar (III 133a), which translates the verse (Tehillim 144:15) that describes the Jewish people as “ha’am shekacha Lo,” or as “the nation that calms Him,” implying that the Jewish people have a tremendous power, if only we were to utilize it.
  • The Zer Zahav writes that Esther’s not forgiving Haman finally caused Shaul to be forgiven for taking unwarranted pity on Agag, Haman’s ancestor.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Shir Ma’on quotes the Sha’aris Yisroel that quotes the great scholars who lived through the Chmielnicki Massacres of 5408-5409 (1648-1649 CE), which was one of the worst attempts at the genocide of the Jewish people in our history. They note that the large letter ches (Esther 1:6) and the large letter suf (Esther 9:29). Together, the letters spell out tach, a Hebrew way to reference the year 5408. This means that the massacre was a manifestation of Haman’s evil decree.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech heard from others the contention that the Chmielnicki Massacre was not the end of the effects of Haman’s decree. Rather, the Holocaust of tasha, 5705 (1945 CE), was the final manifestation of Haman’s decree. He proves this from the unique spelling of shachacha; since H-Shem was “calmed” about the Jewish people twice – once in tach, and once in tasha. There is proof of this in the mispar katan of the word shachacha (300+20+20+5=345= 12= 3) being the same as the mispar katan of tasha (400+300+5=705 = 12= 3). H-Shem is no longer anger.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech also quotes from Rav Michel Weissmandel that there is a hint to this in the traditional sizes of the letters in the list of Haman’s sons (Esther 9:7-9) as found in the Megillas Esther. The letters suf (400), shin (300), and zayin (7) there are smaller than the surrounding text, which refer to the year tashaz (1946 CE), the year in which ten Nazi officers were hanged at the Nuremberg Trials. There is also a large letter vuv (6), alluding to the sixth officer, Julius Streicher, who shouted “Purim Fest 1946” as he was being led to the gallows, despite the hanging taking place on Hoshana Rabba, the holiday on which the Zohar (III 31b-32a) says H-Shem judges the gentile nations. There was another Nazi who was supposed to be executed that day, Herman Goring, who committed suicide in his cell. He is likened to Haman’s daughter, who also killed herself. The comparison is extenuated by the fact that Goring famously enjoyed wearing women’s clothing.
  • Furthermore, the gematria of shachacha is the same as Moshe (40+300+5=345) because even good leaders are taken when H-Shem chooses to punish a generation. As the Talmud (Brachos 62b) teaches, a plague takes away the greatest of the generation together with the masses. Indeed, a storm sweeps away the good grain together with the chaff.
  • According to the Nachal Eshkol, another reason this gematria corresponds to Moshe is because the Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:2) says that yet another reason the Jews were saved from genocide was in the merit of Moshe. His merit should continue to be with us, and rescue us finally from this exile, bimheira biyameinu.

Esther 7:7, Question 3. Why does Haman approach Esther?

  • According to Megillas Sefer, Haman was saying to Esther that if she forgives him, Achashverosh will, too.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Haman tried to tell Esther that he didn’t know that the Jews were her people.
  • The Meshech Chochmo writes that Haman realized that the invitations came from Esther, so she is the one with the most power.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Haman tried to convince Esther that he put her in this position of power by getting rid of Vashti, so she owed him a favor. The Malbim posits that perhaps Haman would not have approached her under any normal conditions, but she was the only one left, so he tried his alternative (Plan B) excuses on her. Seeing that she is a woman, and particularly a Jewish woman, he was hoping she would show Haman mercy.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Esther fought the urge to be merciful, unlike Shaul with Agag. She accomplished this by having been exposed to Haman. In this way, she emotionally hated what she was intellectually commanded to hate. Similarly, first the verse (Devarim 25:17) commands us to remember Amalek, and only then (Devarim 25:19) to destroy it. First, one is required to have the emotion, and then to perform the act.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that, on a spiritual level, this act of Esther’s was a tikkun (“repair”) for Shaul’s error of allowing Agag to live. The Zer Zahav adds that Haman’s begging was a great test for Esther’s sense of improperly placed mercy. After all, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 2:1) writes that the ideal way to demonstrate complete repentance is to be faced with the same challenge, and to nevertheless overcome it, and this was almost a direct parallel to the story of Shaul and Agag.

Esther 7:5, Question 1. Why does the verse mention Achashverosh speaking twice?

ה וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ וַיֹּאמֶר לְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה מִי הוּא זֶה וְאֵיזֶה הוּא אֲשֶׁרמְלָאוֹ לִבּוֹ לַעֲשׂוֹת כֵּן

5. And King Achashverosh said and he said to Esther the queen, “Who is he? And where is he who fills his heart to do like this?”

  • According to the Ibn Ezra, Achashverosh repeats himself due to agitation and excitement.
  • The Midrash Lekach Tov says there was an implied conversation here: Achashverosh asked his guards, “who did this?” The response was, “Haman.” Achashverosh responds with, “He couldn’t have…”
  • Similarly, the Alshich writes that Achashverosh spoke twice to ask whether Esther meant him or Haman, or whether she was accusing both of them.
  • The Vilna Gaon says that he spoke twice because he was speaking about the two different topics Esther brought up, he request and her plea. Regarding the former, he was asking who would kill Esther; regarding the latter, he was asking who would kill a nation.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) explains that Achashverosh would previously usually speak to Esther through an interpreter. Now that she tells him that she is Jewish, and a descendant of King Shaul – and thus also royal – he speaks to her directly, as is fitting for nobles. For all of this time, he did not respect her as an equal.
  • M’nos HaLevi adds that this interpretation also explains why the verse uses the otherwise seemingly redundant word, hamalka (“the queen”).
  • Rebbetzin Heller writes that Achashverosh spoke directly to Esther to further humiliate Haman.
  • R’ David Feinstein points out that this genealogy also explains Haman’s hate for Esther. After all, Shaul had spared Agag, and people tend to hate those to whom they feel beholden. He references the Talmud (Chullin 139b) that asks for an allusion to Haman in the Torah. It answers there that it is in the verse (Bireishis 3:11) “did you eat from the tree?,” wherein the word “hamin” (“from the”) is spelled with the same letters as “Haman.” Since this story highlights the very essence of man’s ingratitude, it is a fitting allusion.
  • Both R’ Moshe David Valle and the Brisker Rav say that Achashverosh is speaking twice because he indeed spoke twice, from both ends of his mouth – what he said to Haman while making the deal (Esther 3:9), and what he said to Esther now.
  • The Kedushas Levi quotes the AriZal’s explanation of the Talmudic idea (Sukkah 27b) that a person should see one’s rebbi on Shabbos and Yom Tov. He explains that being close to one’s rebbi allows their holiness to rub off. Based on this, the Kedushas Levi writes that even though Achashverosh hated the Jews, he seems to care about them in this verse due to the direct communication with Esther has allowed for some of her holiness to rub off on him.

Esther 4:13, Question 3. What does Mordechai think Esther is thinking regarding her security?

  • Rashi’s simple explanation is that Mordechai thinks Esther believes she will be safe in the palace on the day of the massacre. Rabbi Avigdor Bonchek, however, sees in Rashi’s words an irony that Esther’s safety can only be guaranteed through self-sacrifice.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Mordechai thought that Esther was under the impression that her volunteering herself to Achashverosh was one of the carnal sins for which one should sacrifice one’s life rather than sin, even for the sake of others.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 157:1) requires a city under siege to refuse to give up any resident requested for execution by the attacking army. This is the case if this oppressive army does not specify their victim. However, if they they want a specific person, the community must give that person up to save themselves, since that person is threatened either way. This is only true when that person is threatened along with everyone else. Mordechai thinks Esther considers herself to be in this latter situation, safely tucked away in the palace.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Mordechai was saying that H-Shem will save His people, as He always does. However, if Esther acts selfishly, she will not be among the other Jews.
  • Similarly, due to the fact that Mordechai mentions the king’s palace, and every mention of the word “king” is a reference to H-Shem, R’ Dovid Moshe Valle adds that the King can reach anywhere.
  • R’ Elisha Gallico notes that, in fact, Esther was actually in more danger staying in the palace. The reason for this, explains the Maharal, is that considering Achashverosh’s virulent hate for the Jews, Esther is safer away from the man who signed the edict to annihilate her nation. The Maharal compares this to living inside a basket with a snake. This is even moreso the case if Esther thinks of herself as an individual, and thus lacking the power of the united nation.
  • The Alshich says that, in Mordechai’s estimation, the root of Esther’s mission was to fix King Shaul’s error of allowing Agag to live.
  • According to Ginzei HaMelech, this is the reason why Mordechai is giving Esther such strong rebuke here; Esther needs to know that the only reason she was in that position was for this goal. Furthermore, Ginzei HaMelech points out that Torah is honest. Here, since Megillas Esther was written by Esther, herself, she nevertheless did not censor out this scene in which she looks weak. The Ginzei HaMelech furthermore adds that this case it was not appropriate to stay private.
  • R’ Menachem Ziemba was asked before the Warsaw ghetto uprising if the Chassidim should be involved in the fighting. He answered that it is indeed a mitzvah to give up one’s life when given the choice between death or their faith. When given no such choice, it is a mitzvah to fight.
  • According to the Kisei Shlomo, Mordechai was telling Esther she was responsible for Hasach’s death, and thus more invested now in the rescue of the Jews.
  • Rav Yitzchak Hutner writes in Pachad Ytizchak that when Person A needs something, and decides to also pray for Person B who also needs that, this makes Person A’s prayer more effective (Talmud, Baba Kama 92a). Rav Hutner explains that this principle works because prayer is stronger if it is performed with the whole heart (Talmud, Sotah 5b), meaning that it is more strongly felt. Therefore, Mordechai is telling Esther that she needs the same rescue as the Jews. In other words, she was already intent on praying for the Jews; what Mordechai wanted Esther to realize was that she was in the same precarious situation. Realizing that she also needs H-Shem to rescue her would cause Esther to feel that prayer with her whole heart, making her prayer stronger, and thus more effective.

Esther 3:7, Question 2. Why does Haman feel the need to cast lots?

  • Haman’s motivation for casting lots depends on what those lots were. According to the Vilna Gaon, Haman wanted to see when his plan would be most spiritually effective. He wanted to find the time that the Jews were at their spiritual weakest. He found Adar appealing because the Jews had no Holy Day for which to prepare, and no special merit to protect them, so were thus spiritually weak then. If that is the case, why then was Haman not successful? Because, says the Vilna Gaon, “ein mazal b’Yisroel” (“Jews have no [effects of] constellations”) (Talmud, Shabbos 156a). What this means is that, with Torah, Jewish people can channel the natural astrological influence of the horoscope.
  • If these lots are like our contemporary dice, opposite sides add up to seven. One is opposite to six, four is opposite to three, etc. Midrash Talpios says that, instead of numbers, Haman’s dice have Hebrew letters. Therefore, in gematria, if there is an aleph on one side, its opposite side had a vuv. Haman cast the dice three times. The dice read aleph, then gimmel, then gimmel again. This spells “Agag,” king of Amalek conquered by King Shaul (as mentioned previously). On the bottom of that combination would be a vuv, daled, and daled. A combination of these letters spells “David,” and Haman thought this meant Agag would succeed against David. In other words, Haman was under the impression that the lots he rolled predicted his victory over the Jews.
  • Ben Ish Chai says that Haman was so arrogant that he did not even consider the letters spelling out David. Rather, Haman was too busy noticing that the gematria of David (4+6+4) is 14, with a mispar katan1 of five. The mispar katan of Haman’s name is also five (5+40+50=95).
  • According to Rabbi Yehonason Eibshutz, Haman’s lottery consisted of his writing on separate papers all of the days of the year. After he chose a particular date (Adar 13th), he wanted to verify that this was not just a random date. He then got twelve papers with the twelve months of the year. That paper matched up to Adar. Class participant RS pointed out that the days of the solar year are also 365, which also has a mispar katan equal to Haman’s name.
  • Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi says Haman realized that the Jews were weak and in exile. He threw lots to find his one spiritual strength in relation to the spiritual strength of the Jewish people.

1A “mispar katan” is a form of gematria in which one adds all the numerals in a number until one arrives at a one-numeral number. For instance, the mispar katan of 19 is 1+9, which is 10. Since this is not a single-numeral number, the process is repeated with these numerals thus: 1+0, until one arrives at 1. Therefore, the mispar katan of 19 is 1.

Esther 3:1, Question 2. Why does the king promote Haman?

  • Apparently basing itself on the idea that King here refers to H-Shem, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:1) cites a verse in Tehillim (37:20) to relate that H-Shem allowed for Haman to be elevated only in order for his fall to be all-the-more steep and painful. There is a parable told there of a horse, a donkey, and a pig. The farmer feeds the donkey and horse a limited amount, and feeds the pig without measure. One day, the horse asks the donkey, “We do actual work, yet are fed less. This is not fair!” The wise donkey tells the horse to be patient and realize that the pig is not well-fed for its own good, but to be fattened up to be eaten by the farmer.
  • In the next Midrash (ibid. 7:2) a story is told of a king who felt it beneath his dignity to kill a peasant, so he promotes him in order to execute him without degrading himself. Such is the case with Haman, made great only to be cut down the more painfully.
  • The Chida calculates that Haman was at the peak of his power for a total of seventy days. He sent out the letters to kill the Jews on the 13th of Nisan. Seventy days later, on the 23rd of Sivan, Mordechai sent out the letters for the Jews to rescue themselves. Similarly, there are seventy verses between this verse where Haman is elevated and the verse where Haman is hanged (7:10).
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that, by elevating Haman, H-Shem was rewarding him for his advice to rid the world of the evil Vashti.
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman was elevated at this point as a consequence for King Shaul’s (Mordechai and Esther’s ancestor) misdirected kindness in keeping Agag (Haman’s ancestor) alive.
  • Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (21) writes that Haman’s elevation is a reward for Agag’s sincere prayer when he was locked up in prison, awaiting his death. Because of this evil man’s last prayer, a ruler was destined to come from him, as is alluded to in the verse (Bamidbar 24:7), “and He raised from Agag his kingship.” Based on this, the Ginzei HaMelech asks, how could Haman, a thoroughly evil man only in power for 70 days, be considered a reward? He answers that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) teaches that Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah in Bnei Brak, truly a reward for anybody.
  • The Maharal writes that Haman is rewarded here instead of Mordechai because the righteous generally are not rewarded with wealth in this world, but accrue reward in the World to Come.
  • Rav Shmuel Aharon Rubin cites Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak in the Talmud (Megillah 11a), who applies the verse in Tehillim (124:2) that discusses H-Shem rescuing us from a man to the Purim story. Since kings have not free will of their own, he continues, H-Shem needed to elevate a man – since free will is the mark of humanity – to this position from which he could threaten the Jewish people. It is a bigger miracle that Pesach in that way because Pharaoh’s heart was Divinely hardened. Haman, on the other hand, could make his own decisions, and chose evil all the same.
  • The Vilna Gaon tells us that if Haman is Memuchan (as asserted before), the human king had reason to reward him, as well. After all, it was Haman who advised that Vashti should be removed. First, this advice allowed the king to marry Esther. Second, Esther helped save the king’s life from the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:21).
  • But if the motivation to elevate Haman came from Achashverosh for this, why did he not reward Mordechai? The Tirosh Vayitz’har writes that Achashverosh was unsure about Mordechai’s intention. Perhaps he was a part of the plot, after all. The only one he was sure of was Esther, so he rewarded her by elevating the man whose advice led to her being queen.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Kluger writes that, after surviving the assassination attempt, Achashverosh realized that he was at risk – especially from Haman – and knew that he needed to keep him close by. As the old saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
  • This is the exact opposite view from Chacham Tzvi, whose opinion is that Achashverosh mistrusted Haman and thought he conspired together with Esther to kill him. However, once Esther reported the assassination plot in Mordechai’s name – Mordechai being Haman’s arch rival – Achashverosh (thought he) knew that Haman was loyal.
  • According to the Malbim, the king simply forgot about Mordechai completely.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz notes that it makes little logical sense for Mordechai to have been so passed over, and instead condemned to die along with the other Jews. After all, he saved the king’s life when he had no need to. Therefore, this verse is yet another proof that it is impossible to understand the Purim story – or even Jewish history, in general – without the understanding that H-Shem miraculously protects His beloved people.

Esther 2:11, Question 3. What was Mordechai hoping to accomplish by visiting the courtyard of the harem?

  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:8), Mordechai had two purposes in visiting Esther. One was to answer her questions about whether she was considered a niddah, woman having her monthly period. One of the lessons from this is that we must always make the best of our situations. No, Esther’s situation was not ideal, but even there – in the king’s harem – she cared about maintaining her spiritual state.
  • Mordechai’s other reason listed in the Midrash (ibid.) was to make sure Esther was not the victim of witchcraft from the other women in the harem, who were seemingly desperate to become the future queen. If they were so desperate to avoid marrying Achashverosh earlier, why would they now perform witchcraft to accomplish just that? Perhaps living in a harem for the rest of their lives was that much worse a fate. Perhaps this is what the Ibn Ezra and Vilna Gaon mean when they say Mordechai visited Esther to heal her. As great as he was, he may have possessed power to remove the effects of any curses placed on Esther.
  • Alshich says Mordechai was concerned that Esther, being a descendant of King Shaul, was going through this tragedy to make up for Shaul’s sin of letting Agag – and thus Amalek – survive.
  • Rav Moshe Meir Weiss takes Mordechai’s checking on his wife every single day without fail, as a lesson for all husbands. He mentions that one of his congregants asked him once to daven for the congregant’s wife while she was having a procedure because the husband would be at work at that time, and unable to be in shul. Rav Weiss responded, “How can you be going to work if your wife is going to the doctor?!” That is a reason to take the day off.