Esther 7:9, Question 1. Who is Charvona?

ט וַיֹּאמֶר חַרְבוֹנָה אֶחָד מִןהַסָּרִיסִים לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ גַּם הִנֵּההָעֵץ אֲשֶׁרעָשָׂה הָמָן לְמָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּרטוֹב עַלהַמֶּלֶךְ עֹמֵד בְּבֵית הָמָן גָּבֹהַּ חֲמִשִּׁים אַמָּה וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ תְּלֻהוּ עָלָיו

9. And Charvona, one of the eunuchs before the king, said, “Also, behold! Here is the tree that Haman made for Mordechai who said good regarding on the king. It is standing in Haman’s house fifty-cubit tall.” And the king said, “Hang him on it.”

  •  The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach propose that Charvona was simply one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to feast (Esther 6:14).
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), Charvona was an evil ally of Haman’s, intent on killing Mordechai. Once he saw that the plan would not succeed, he surrendered. This fits with the verse (Iyov 27:22) that allies of the wicked “will surely flee.”
  • The Dubno Maggid explains this with the following allegory: A blind beggar works with a young boy. One day, the boy stole the blind beggar’s wallet with 30 coins. When he saw the beggar crying pitiably, the boy returned the wallet saying, “I found the wallet with the 30 coins.” Instead of thanking the boy, the beggar began to beat the boy mercilessly for the theft. How did he know that the boy stole it? How else could the boy have known that there were 30 coins in the bag? Likewise, the Talmud knows that Charvona is evil because how else could he have known that the gallows were 50 amos tall if he were not in on the plot.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that Charvona noticed that Haman lost the ability to defend himself, and this emboldened him to speak up.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:9) lists what many of the angels and other Heavenly Beings were doing during the climax of the Purim story. It says that Eliyahu appeared like Charvona, and said the words attributed to him in this verse.
  • Another Midrash (Yalkut 1059) and the Ibn Ezra concur that Charvona is Eliyahu.
  • The Alshich adds that another proof that Charvona is Eliyahu is that the verse describes him as “before the king,” and Eliyahu is certainly a minister of the King of kings.
  • Interestingly, the song, “Shoshanas Yaakov,” sung on Purim after the public reading of Megillas Esther ends with the words, “v’gam Charvona zachur latov” (“and also Charvona should be remembered for good”). Charvona is the only person who shares the epithet, “zachur latov” with Eliyahu.
  • When Charvona is mentioned earlier (Esther 1:10), he is the third in a list of the king’s chamberlains/eunichs. The M’nos HaLevi notes that the name is spelled with a letter aleph at the end there, and with a letter hey at the end here. He explains that when Charvona was on the side of evil, his name is spelled with an aleph. When he repents, and is Eliyahu, it is spelled with a hey.
  • In an explanation, R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this name ending with an aleph means destruction in Aramaic. With a hey, it is a composite of “charav boneh” (“destroy, build”). In the process of true repentance, he was rebuilding that which he had earlier wanted to destroy – namely, Mordechai.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya, in his commentary on the Torah writes that he was called Charvona because he helped destroy Haman.
  • The Chasam Sofer and R’ Dovid Feinstein both say that with an aleph, it is the gentile Aramaic; with a hey, it is Hebrew, so it is Jewish.

Esther 7:7, Question 2. Why does the verse mention the garden?

  • Yossipon writes that Achashverosh went to the garden to confirm the information he just acquired with Mordechai.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) writes that this verse specifically mentions Achashverosh’s garden because Achashverosh’s was equally angry in his return as he was in leaving the room. What angered him while he was away was the sight of angels who looked to him like people. One Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:9) adds that it was the angel, Michael, and another Midrash (Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 50) says that they looked like specific people – namely, Haman’s sons. These angels were cutting down the trees of his garden. Astonished that they would be cutting perfectly good trees from his own garden, Achashverosh asked them,” What are you doing?!” They responded, “Haman ordered us to do this.”
  • The Vilna Gaon asks why the story would require this entire incident with the angels. This is an especially cogent question when one considers the Aggadic story’s element of seeming dishonesty; after all, Haman did not order anyone to cut the king’s trees. He answers that H-Shem is treating Haman like he treated the Jews, mida kineged mida, measure for measure. Just as Haman maligned the Jews (Esther 3:8), H-Shem treated him the same way, having angels lying about Haman.
  • The Maharal adds that they looked like Haman’s sons cutting down good trees to show Achashverosh what kind of person Haman is. After all, the Jews, who are compared to trees, are good, and undeserving of being cut down.

Esther 6:6, Question 1. Why does the verse stress that Haman “came in?”

ו וַיָּבוֹא הָמָן וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ מַהלַעֲשׂוֹת בָּאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ וַיֹּאמֶר הָמָן בְּלִבּוֹ לְמִי יַחְפֹּץ הַמֶּלֶךְ לַעֲשׂוֹת יְקָר יוֹתֵר מִמֶּנִּי

6. And Haman came in. And the king said to him, “What to do in the man whom the king desires in glorifying him?” And Haman said in his heart, “To whom does the king desire glory more from me?”

  • The Dena Pishra writes that the verse stresses that Haman “came in” because he came in on his own, without being summoned. He was concerned that he would otherwise look suspicious and he heard voices speaking within. His attempt to not look suspicious probably backfired as such attempts often do.
  • M’nos HaLevi writes that Achashverosh perceived this as rudeness on Haman’s part, and this is why he does not inquire into the reason for his visit. The Shaarei Bina notes that this verse and the previous verse say “yavo” (“came in”) twice because it includes the two accompanying angels that accompany us. The Talmud (Brachos 60a) teaches that all people are accompanied by angels.
  • It is certainly strange that Haman would have deserved such a entourage. Authorities such as R’ Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook wonder why we sing “Shalom Aleichem” to these accompanying angels every Friday night (Talmud, Shabbos 119b) if we no longer deserve their company, either. He answers that the holiness of Shabbos makes up for our own deficiencies in the areas of holiness, so the angels still accompany us on Friday nights.
  • R’ Yaakov Emden, however, believes that angels accompany all people, not just the holiest. As an example, he cites the Talmud (Taanis 11a) that says that those who are so evil that they disregard the suffering of their own communities cause their accompanying angels to testify against them.
  • Class Participant ID suggested another possible reason for Haman to deserve accompanying angels: they were there because Haman’s visit was actually intended in Heaven to benefit Mordechai, so he was unknowingly performing a mitzvah.

Esther 5:3, Question 1. Why does Achashverosh ask two questions of Esther?

ג וַיֹּאמֶר לָהּ הַמֶּלֶךְ מַהלָּךְ אֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה וּמַהבַּקָּשָׁתֵךְ עַדחֲצִי הַמַּלְכוּת וְיִנָּתֵן לָךְ

3. And the king said to her, “What is for you, Esther the Queen, and what is your request? Until half of the kingdom, and I will give it to you.”

  • R’ Mendel Weinbach writes that, since angels just appeared, Achashverosh realized something of tremendous import was happening. He was therefore asking Esther what important thing she had to say.
  • The Vilna Gaon and Malbim write that Esther broke the law to appear before the king, and she looked weak. Those, then, were the subjects of Achashverosh’s questions: what is happening that you felt compelled to break the law, and why are you looking ill? He likely surmised that either the queen is bothered by something, or she is petitioning the king on behalf of someone else.
  • Class Participant RS suggests that the return of the king’s eyesight compelled him to wonder about the significance of the unfolding events.

Esther 5:2, Question 2. Why does Esther specifically win “chein” (“favor” or “grace”) in Achashverosh’s eyes?

  • The Malbim writes that, due to his great love for her, Achashverosh never intended to apply the death penalty to Esther even for this transgression of approaching him unbidden. This great love, added to her humble aspect as she approached him, gave her additional grace in his eyes.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes that, as she was approaching the king, the castle was surrounded by idols, and she was unable to pray. When she movingly asked H-Shem why prayer – her only comfort and strength – was taken from her, H-Shem blessed her with additional favor.
  • Class participant YL suggested that the verse’s use of the word “king” instead of Achashverosh’s name indicates that the verse is discussing the favor Esther received from H-Shem.
  • The Talmud there further states that three angels encountered Esther at this time. One raised her neck. Another hung a string of kindness on her. The third stretched out Achashverosh’s scepter.1
  • The Maharal suggests that there were three angels present because each angel can perform one job at a time. Although these angels all seem to be doing the same thing, the Maharal explains that one angel was there to inspire Achashverosh love Esther, another was there to inspire Esther to love Achashverosh, and the third was there to unify them into a unit.
  • Class participant RS suggested that perhaps Esther earned these three angels for her three days of fasting.
  • Rav Dovid Feinstein suggests that, although Achashverosh indeed saw grace/favor in Esther upon their initial meeting (see Esther 2:17), this feeling seemingly slipped away as it may tend to do, but returned at this moment.
  • Ora v’Simcha quotes the Yalkut Shimoni (1056:5) that Achashverosh became blind upon meeting Esther. This explains why Achashverosh stopped searching for a wife at that point, why he did not proof-read Haman’s letter, and why he did not know he was sleeping with a sheid. At this meeting, however, the sight of Esther allowed the king to regain his eyesight.

1 The Vilna Gaon uses the language of the verse, itself, to demonstrate the need for the angels’ intervention. The verse should have said the active “ka’asher ra’a” (“when he saw”), but instead says “kir’ot” (“when seen by the king”) in the passive voice to allude to the assistance he received from angels. Similarly, the verse’s use of the passive “na’asa chein” (“she received favor”) is unusually passive since TaNaCh typically says this phrase in the more active “matza chein” (“he found favor”). Again, the angel holding up Esther’s head made her a passive participant in earning Achashveosh’s recognition. Finally, the verse’s seemingly unnecessary detail about the scepter being in Achashverosh’s hand shows that the scepter was originally at most long enough for the king to be able to hold it “in his hand.” If she was in the courtyard, the only way she could have reached it is if it was long enough for her to physically reach, which explains the purpose of the third angel.

Esther 5:2, Question 1. Why does the verse use the word “vayehi” (“and it was”) here?

ב וַיְהִי כִרְאוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶתאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה עֹמֶדֶת בֶּֽחָצֵר נָשְׂאָה חֵן בְּעֵינָיו וַיּוֹשֶׁט הַמֶּלֶךְ לְאֶסְתֵּר אֶתשַׁרְבִיט הַזָּהָב אֲשֶׁר בְּיָדוֹ וַתִּקְרַב אֶסְתֵּר וַתִּגַּע בְּרֹאשׁ הַשַּׁרְבִיט

2. And it was, when seen by the king was Esther the Queen standing in the courtyard, she received favor/grace in his eyes, and the king extended to Esther the gold scepter that was in his hand. And Esther came closer, and she touched the head of the scepter.

  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 10b-11a), the use of the the word “vayehi” indicates a negative event. In its simplest meaning, this was certainly a negative event for Esther, as she was risking both her life and her relationship with Mordechai by approaching the king unannounced.
  • The Maharal adds that this meeting was also bad for Achashverosh. Citing a Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni (1056) that an angel turned Achashverosh’s face towards Esther, the Maharal writes that this is bad for Achashverosh because the only thing we have in this world is our free choice. Once it is taken away, even momentarily, by an angel, we lose something of our humanity, making this a negative event, indeed.
  • Rabbi Avraham Sutton writes that H-Shem always saves us at our lowest point. Following Esther’s life of being an orphan, being raised in secret, being forced into the king’s harem, being chosen to be his wife, everything in her life seemed to her to be in a progressively worsening spiral. At this point, risking her life to save the Jews, she can be said to be at the lowest point in her life.

Esther 4:13, Question 1. Why does the verse use the word “lihashiv” (to reply) instead of “lihashlech” (to send)?

יג וַיֹּאמֶר מָרְדֳּכַי לְהָשִׁיב אֶלאֶסְתֵּר אַלתְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּיתהַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּלהַיְּהוּדִים

13. And Mordechai said to reply to Esther, “Do not imagine in your soul to escape the house of the king from all the Yehudim.

According to M’nos HaLevi, since Mordechai and Esther were using angels as their messengers, there was no longer the need for secrecy as implied by the word, “lihashlech” (“to send”). Angels do not need to be sent.