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.

Esther 4:7, Question 5. Why does the verse emphasize Mordechai’s telling Esther about the destruction of the Jews?

  • 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.