12. And the king said to Esther the Queen, “In Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man and the ten sons of Haman. In the remaining states of the king, what did they do? What do you ask and it will be given you. And what do you request more and it will be done.”
In the first half of this verse, the tone seems to imply that Achashverosh was upset about the casualties. In fact, the Midrash Lekach Tov writes that Achashverosh was actually upset about his dead citizens, but H-Shem controls leaders, as the verse (Mishlei 21:1) teaches that the hearts of kings are in the Hands of H-Shem.
R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that the tone of the second half of the verse certainly sounds as though Achashverosh seems unaffected by this loss of life.
The Talmud (Megillah 16b) describes this sudden change of heart as an angel “slapping him on his lips.”
R’ Mendel Weinbach suggests that such a slap has this effect because Achashverosh suddenly felt Heaven did not want him speaking in an upset manner toward Esther. It literally hurt to speak the way he had been.
Interestingly, the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 92:7) notes this verse as one of ten kal v’chomer (“a fortiori”) arguments in TaNaCh. In other words, if the Jews killed 500 people in Shushan, how much more likely did they kill more elsewhere!
In fact, the Alshich points out that Achashverosh must have been thinking that if so many were killed in Shushan – where the informed public was ready for a fight – how much more-so in other parts of the kingdom!
On the other hand, the M’nos HaLevi quotes R’ Gakon’s opinion that the bloodthirsty Achashverosh was disappointed that such a relatively small number of his people were killed after the Jews had from Pesach until Adar 13th to prepare for battle. This is why he asked if he could do more to help.
Malbim explains that Achashverosh did not know there would be so many Jew-haters. From a place of genuine concern, he offers Esther more help.
Considering the Jews’ natural dislike of violence, this verse’s description that “they did to their enemies as they wanted,” seemingly without regard for the rules of engagement, appears strangely out of character.
Rav Yechezkiel Levenstein writes that the verse can be read as “they, the Jews, did to their enemies as they – the enemies – wanted,” or that they treated them with respect rather than killed them.
In a similar reading, the Alshich and the Vilna Gaon suggest that the verse can be read as “they did to their enemies as they – the enemies – wanted to do to them.”
Also, the Yosef Lekach writes that the Jews took the spoils in the small towns because “they, the Jews, did to their enemies as they (the Jews) wanted,” and not as Mordechai wanted.
According to the Midrash, the Jews killed the enemies inside their houses with the sword, but killed those who were outside with other methods. Those who were hiding needed to be brought out to the battlefield.
The Alshich explains that some gentiles openly threatened the Jews, while others harbored hate privately. Each group received a punishment commensurate with their behavior – some were wounded with the sword, some were killed, and yet others were destroyed together with their possessions.
The Maharal points out that hitting the enemies with the sword could potentially kill them, and once they are killed, they may need to be buried. But once they are destroyed, the enemies are gone.
R’ Moshe Katzenellenbogen writes that, in big cities, Jews could only kill bigger, more obvious enemies. In the smaller cities, the Jews stripped the weaker leaders of their power and humiliated them.
The Vilna Gaon explains these three methods were utilized at different stages of the battle. During the first stage, the Jews used swords, then graduated to burning those hiding out of the buildings, and finally arrested the residents.
The Ben Ish Chai points out that the rearranged initial letters (not counting the article letter vuv‘s) of makas cherev vi’hereg vi’avdal (“striking of the sword, and killed, and destroyed”) spell out the word emcheh (“I will destroy”). H-Shem (Shemos 17:14) uses this very word in His promise to eradicate Amalek, the nation responsible for this massacre. He also points out that these three expressions parallel Haman’s plan (Esther 3:13) to kill, destroy, and annihilate the Jews. The Jews merited to overcome this triple fate by fasting for three days (Esther 4:16).
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the destruction in this verse refers to the Jews destroyed the property of their enemies. This was done to demonstrate that their intent was not to conquer the wealth of others. Perhaps this was also intentionally contrary to Achasverosh’s order (Esther 4:11) in order to have the excuse that they could not take the possessions, since they were destroyed.
4. Because Mordechai was great in the house of the king, and his reputation went out in all of the states because the man Mordechai was becoming greater.
The Vilna Gaon explains that the verse stresses that Mordechai is growing in greatness because he kept growing in greatness gradually. This is because, as the Talmud Yerushalmi points out, the righteous do not become great overnight, but rather require much effort. As the verse (Mishlei 4:18) says, the way of the righteous holech va’or “increases its brightness.”
The Alshich adds that the governors and other political leaders at the time were especially nervous about Mordechai’s new power because he hanged Haman, and Haman was much more powerful than those governors, so their lives were especially cheap at the time.
Yosef Lekach writes that although Mordechai was not yet the viceroy, knowing the ways of the palace as they did, they recognized that Mordechai was on his way to that position.
Malbim notes that there are three major areas of political power: in the palace (chief of staff), domestically (governor), and in foreign affairs (Secretary of State). Mordechai reached greatness in all three of these areas, as the verse testifies by mentioning the beis hamelech (“house of the king”), kol medinos (“all of the states”), and holech v’gadol (“leaving [the country] and being great”).
Nachal Eshkol points out that some people are powerful, but they are relatively unknown by the general public. Mordechai, however, was both great in name and reputation.
In a simple explanation, the Alshich writes that the fear felt by the gentiles was the fear of being killed. This is the reason for the verse using the word nafal (“fell”). After all, the emotion of fear existed already because of Jews’ impending extermination, and it now “fell” onto the gentiles.
However, the Rema in Mechir Yayin interprets their fear specifically as that for the G-d of the Jews.
The Chasam Sofer explains that the “pachad Yehudim” (“fear of the Jews”) that inspired their conversion can be interpreted as fearing what the Jews fear, which is only H-Shem. Let us hope for the day to come soon on which, as the prophet (Yirmiya 33:9) promises us, all the peoples of the earth will fear and tremble over all the goodness and peace H-Shem establishes.
Rashi translates the unusual verb misyahadim as “converted.” Seemingly, because of their fear of Jewish reprisal, many gentiles converted to Judaism.
Agaddas Bireishis (15) explains that non-Jews always want to convert to Judaism whenever the Jews are fulfilling their responsibilities to H-Shem.
The Alshich points out that this shows a sharp contrast between the Jews and gentiles. When faced with annihilation, the Jews strengthened their faith with teshuva (“repentance”), whereas the gentiles abandoned the empty faiths of their powerless gods.
The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why this contrast occurred at this point, and not in Moshe’s time. In other words, one would expect a lot more converts during the Jews’ exodus and miraculous stay in the desert. He answers that there were so few converts in Moshe’s time because the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) teaches that the Jews were coerced then to accept the Torah. One needs to feel inspired to inspire others, as the Jews felt at the end of the Purim story.
The Ralbag disagrees with Rashi’s translation, and suggests that they did not convert, but merely pretended to be Jews.
The Vilna Gaon explains that they did not really convert because they would have been motivated by fear.
After all, Meseches Geirim (1:7) writes that if a person’s motivation for conversion to Judaism is women, love, or fear, their act is not considered a real conversion.
Interestingly, according to R’ Moshe Dovid Valle, Mordechai accepted even the insincere converts, just as had Moshe when accepting the eruv rav, Egyptians who converted to Judaism insincerely when they saw that the Jews were successfully and miraculously leaving Egypt. According to him, their descendants caused problems during second Beis HaMikdash.
However, according to M’nos HaLevi, they were not accepted because the Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) writes that converts can be difficult to the Jews. He continues that these gentiles nevertheless dressed in Jewish clothing. The Sfas Emes notes that this is yet another source for the custom to masquerade on Purim.
In Likkutei Sichos, the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that “am ha’aretz” can represent the “basic, fundamental human.” In other words, basic human behavior like sleeping, eating, etc. are obviously applicable to both Jews and gentiles, alike. The actions are the same, but there are different attitudes. For instance, a Jew is required to eat with appreciation and with intent to have a closer bond with H-Shem, to sleep in order to better perform mitzvos the next day, etc. Therefore, even in base, human behaviors, these particular gentiles acted like Jews.