6. “Because how can I [be] and see the evil which my nation will find? And how can I [be] and see the destruction of my kin?”
According to the Alshich, by adding an extra letter ches to the word, eicha (“how”) – making it the unique word, eichicha – the Esther puts a stress on her utter misery over her perceived notion that anti-Semites had already begun attacking the Jews because of the first decree. After all, once they see that the Jews are not in the monarchy’s favor, they can presume that any acts of violence or harassment against them will go unpunished.
The Megillas Sesarim adds that Esther blamed herself for the origins of Haman’s decree. This is because Haman’s decree was seemingly a consequence for Mordechai’s not bowing down to Haman (Esther 3:5-6). Mordechai behaved this way while at the king’s gate, and he was only there to look out for Esther’s well-being (Esther 2:19). This is why Esther felt somewhat responsible for the resulting decree. This is the way of the righteous: to feel responsible for a situation despite the fact that they were forced into it and the fault clearly lies in others.
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this is a second eicha; the first is Yirmiya’s prophetic work, Eicha, written during the destruction of first Beis HaMikdash, and second the is Esther’s, said during the threat of annihilation in exile if the king would not save the Jews.
As we shall see in the next verse (Esther 6:4), Haman was on his way to the king. According to Tehilla l’Dovid, the officers used the word imo (“with him”) in regard to Mordechai instead of using his name so that Haman would not know that he is on the brink of losing power.
The Me’am Loez writes that the officers were saying that rewards were indeed given, but not to the one deserving them.
It is also said in name of the Chacham Tzvi that the Talmud (Sotah 11b) teaches that when Yosef’s brothers showed Yaakov the shirt they removed from their brother, they said “is this your son’s shirt?” (Bireishis 37:32) without mentioning Yosef’s name. Yaakov realized from their subconscious inability to say his name that they hated him, and hinted to his knowledge that they were responsible for Yosef’s disappearance. From this, the Chacham Tzvi writes that Achashverosh’s advisers used the pronoun imo instead of naming Mordechai because they hated him.
In a speech once before the Polish Parliament, a famous anti-Semite said, “we’ve done enough for the Jews.” R’ Meir Shapiro responded that this statement helped clarify our verse. It is enough for the Jew to be left alone by the gentiles. Therefore, Achashverosh’s advisers were telling the king that he had performed the greatest deed for Mordechai – he did nothing for him, thereby leaving him alone.
The Kedushas Levi notes that the word “milfanav” (“before him”) seems redundant. He writes that Achashverosh was even worse than Haman in his anti-Semitism. Why would Achashverosh change his mind regarding the Jews? He writes that Mordechai was telling Esther that the Shechinah, H-Shem’s Presence, would enter with her, and this would impress Achashverosh.
The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:24) uses this verse to contrast Jewish prophecy from gentile prophecy. Gentile prophecy is vague to the point that all they see is, for instance “killing,” and they do not know if they will be doing the killing, or if they will be killed. As an example, the Midrash tells the following parable:
A man is walking on the road. When his legs begin to hurt, he says, “If only I had one donkey…” Just as he says this, a Roman whose she-donkey just gave birth passes by him. The Roman sees the man and orders him to carry the donkey colt on his shoulders. The man says, “I asked, but did not ask correctly.” This is the prophecy of the gentile nations. They are vaguely instructed to “be ready,” (Esther 3:14) but they did not know if they were to be ready to kill or be killed. Jewish prophecy is explicit, as when it says, “…to allow the Yehudim to prepare for this day to avenge themselves from their enemies” (ibid. 8:13).
The Malbim explains that this is a copy for the regular people. According to him, the letters sent out previously (Esther 3:12) to the governors and lieutenant governors were sealed, so even they did not know what was happening.
The Vilna Gaon disagrees, and writes that the officials knew what was happening, but the general populace was kept in the dark. The Vilna Gaon and Malbim agree, however, that these copies mentioned here, like contemporary movie posters, intentionally revealed very little in order to better surprise the Jews. Quite literally, these public copies might only say, “Be prepared…”
The Me’am Loez writes that very little was revealed because Achashverosh and Haman feared that some fanatical Jew-haters might have acted prematurely, spoil the surprise, and accidentally allow some Jews to escape annihilation.
Parenthetically, there is an interesting story about the Maharil Diskin. After he passed away, his students poured over his unpublished work in hopes of finding material for publication. A note fell out of one book. It read: “tefillah b’kavanah u’bipeirush, udvidah d’chamor,” which means “prayer with intent and explanation, story of the donkey.” For a long time, the students did not know what this meant. Upon asking R’ Raphael Katennellenbogen, he explained this note referred to the above parable. When people pray, they need to be as detailed as possible. Prayer require thought and understanding. If one prays for wealth, for instance, it would be wise to mention as many specific details as possible in order to get the wealth you actually seek, and not something different.
Going along with his theory that Achashverosh was under the mistaken impression that Haman had no genocidal intentions, Malbim writes that Achashverosh’s removal of his ring, Haman’s genealogy, and even Haman’s title here of “enemy of the Jews” are all meant to describe Haman in contrast to Achashverosh, who was in no way culpable for the decree to exterminate the Jews.
The Vilna Gaon writes that Haman is simply called “enemy of the Jews” because he did not explicitly name the nation he wanted to kill. Therefore, the verse uses this appellation to clarify his intent.
According to R’ Dovid Feinstein, this phrase is meant to indicate Haman’s new role – that of solver of the Jewish Problem.
The GraMad (R’ Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik) adds that this title is Haman’s only redeeming quality for Achashverosh.
Another reason he is called “tzorer haYehudim” (“enemy of the Jews”) is “tzorer” can also mean “binding” (see Bereishis 42:39 and Chullin 107b). Iturei Torah says that this indicates that it was Haman who bound the erstwhile “scattered and dispersed” (Esther 3:9) Jews together into a unified front at this point. Parenthetically, the reason “tzorer” can mean both enemy and binding is because, like the two definitions for the English word “rival,” one would need to be connected in a relationship with someone in order to have a deep feeling – even hate – for that person.
The Ginzei HaMelech writes that this verse mentions Haman’s genealogy to indicate that Achashverosh knew to whom exactly he was giving full reign. He knew Haman’s entire geneology, and all of the Jew-hatred in his DNA. He nevertheless gave him the ring, and all of the power that came with it.
Generally, the implication of the word “scattered” is that the object under discussion is weakened and no longer whole. On the contrary, the implication of the word “dispersed” is that the object retains its original strength, and has spread. Rav Dovid Feinstein writes that, by using the word “scattered,” Haman is implying to the king that the Jews should have assimilated into Persian culture by now, but they stubbornly refuse by making themselves “dispersed,” retaining their own culture.
Rabbi Naftali of Rofshutz writes that Haman also describes the Jews in this way to address Achashverosh’s concern that no other nation has been able to destroy the Jews – how could he dare try? Haman’s response to this would be to not worry about the Jews’ previous longevity. True, they used to be united as an “am echad,” but now they are scattered and therefore disjointed. Only Jewish unity can save the nation from exile.
The Malbim says that Haman is attempting to emphasize that these Jews – these vermin of evil influence, as was echoed in history – are everywhere. We don’t know where they are; they can be hiding everywhere. Even today, the average anti-Semite is under the impression that there are billions of Jews everywhere, and they own the banks, Hollywood, and the government, whereas the truth is that the Jews number merely 0.4% of the world’s population.
According to the Alshich, Haman is emphasizing that, as a minority, the Jews are virtually loners, and no other nation would come to their aid in their time of need.
Mystically, as mentioned previously, one of the purposes of life in this world is to gain sparks of holiness. Just as sparks are scattered, the Jews have been spread in exile to gather together these sparks. Therefore, the Sfas Emes writes, although the Jewish people are spread out to find these sparks as individuals, we mustn’t lose sight of the need to retain communal unity. Other Jews may need our help to find their intended sparks.
Rav Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the acronym of “mefuraz umeforad” (“scattered and dispersed”) spell out the word “mum” (“defect”). By saying this, Haman is attempting to prove to Achashverosh that the Jews are lacking, and can be defeated.
Emphasizing the positive in this statement, the Sfas Emes points out that although the Jews are spread out, weakened, and incomplete, they nevertheless do not intermarry, and attempt to identify with their Jewish roots.
The Alshich and Malbim both point out that H-Shem inspired the king to arrange for Mordechai to be recorded and not rewarded at this point in order to prepare for the future rescue of the Jewish people (as we shall see when we get to 6:2-10 later).
Since the verse is written in a passive voice, with no explicit mention of an author for this book of chronicles, the Me’am Loez quotes a Rashi to Ezra (4:7) that Achashverosh’s scribes were Haman’s sons, and they did not want to write this into the king’s chronicles1. Therefore, continues the Me’am Loez, this writing must be seen as miraculous.
Taking another perspective to this verse, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:14), teaches that the behaviors written down in the books of flesh and blood are all-the-more-so written in the Books of H-Shem. After all, everything we do is written in the book of H-Shem (Mishnah, Avos 2:1), and that Book will be read to us in the end of our days (after 120 years), and we will have to give excuses for the things we have done. The Torah Temimah adds that, in contrast to a human book, the “Author” of this Book knows all (and is forgiving), so will record all of the important factors that led to our decisions.
The Rema in Machir Yayin writes that being “written in the book of chronicles” gives a person the power of “shamor” (“guard”) and “zachor” (“remember”). These are the two verbs used in the Ten Commandments regarding observance of Shabbos (in Shemos 20:8 and Devarim 5:12). They are also a reference to H-Shem’s relationship with the Jewish people, whom He “guards” from troubles and “remembers” for blessing, meaning He cares about us constantly. In other words, the Rema may be saying that the way to grow in a Jewish life is to keep a “cheshbon hanefesh” (“spiritual journal”) that chronicles one’s behavior and thoughts – whether good or bad. Writing things down is the way to grow in our relationship with H-Shem.
1Considering the opinion shared by Yalkut Shimoni and Yossipon that Haman was the instigator of this rebellion (as we said in the last post), Haman’s sons had ample motivation to cut this piece of history out of the chronicles, in addition to their hate for Mordechai and chronic anti-Semitism.
13. And the king said to the wise men who know the times – since such is the way of the king before all those who know knowledge and justice.
According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b), the wise men whom the king approached after being insulted by his wife were none other than the Jewish Sages. The idea that they “know the times” means that our Sages are in control of the times and can have a hand in the calendar by, for instance, adding a thirteenth month (Adar Sheini) by declaring a leap year when necessary to balance the lunar months with the solar seasons (see Talmud, Sanhedrin 11b). Relevant to Tu B’Shvat this week, in the laws of orlah, a tree’s fruit cannot be eaten during the first three years of its life (Vayikra 19:23). The Sages’ ability to mandate a thirteenth month forces a farmer to wait an entire month longer for a tree to turn three years-old. We allude to this rabbinic power in our prayers. In the Musaf prayer of Shabbos (a day which cannot be set by the Sages) we say, “Blessed are You, H-Shem, Who sanctified the Shabbos,” whereas in the Musaf prayer of a Yom Tov (a day which can be set by the Sages) we say “Blessed are You, H-Shem, Who sanctified Israel and the times,” alluding to the fact that Israel can affect the calendar. Both the Ibn Ezra and Rav Dovid Feinstein add that, on a more mystical plane, the Sages were equally aware of astrology and which times have which spiritual energies (and how best to use these) as learned from Sefer Yetzira (Chapter 5).1
Rav Yehonoson Eibshutz writes that Achashverosh was hoping that the Sages, knowing these spiritual times as they do, would find that Vashti’s mazal (cosmic, spiritual influence) would allow her to live.
On a practical level, the Ben Ish Chai writes that the Sages could find ways to excuse any crime. For reasons too complex to explain here2, they were trained to do so because a unanimous decision would expatiate a perpetrator. In order to find a way to discredit a given exhibit of evidence, the Sages needed to then be completely aware of situations to best judge them.
As the Malbim writes, the Sages knew best how to apply laws to situations. The Maharal adds that a Sage, a righteous person by definition, always knows how to act under a given situation.
According to the Talmud (ibid.) the Sages found a way to not give advice because they realized that they were in a bind, a Catch-22. On the one hand, telling him to kill her as is expected of an insulted monarch may backfire and cause more Jew-hatred. On the other hand, sparing her meant subjecting Jewish women to untold humiliation under Vashti’s evil hands. To get out of having to give advice in this matter, the Sages simply pointed out that they could not judge capital cases ever since the Temple was destroyed. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss reminds us that one of the recurring themes of Megillas Esther is mida kineged mida, measure for measure. Here, Vashti’s halting the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash effectively ended her own life. Had there been a Temple, and it accompanying Sanhedrin, the Sages would have been able to pardon her.
1 My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yisroel Simcha Schorr, shlita, would often remind us that Pesach came before the exodus from Egypt. The time, itself, had the strength needed for an exodus. This is why Lot offered matzos to his visiting angels in Nisan (Bireishis 19:3, see Rashi there) before there was even an exodus to obligate the eating of matza. From the time of Creation, that time had the spiritual energy to be a vehicle for the Egyptian exodus.
2See Talmud (Sanhedrin 17a) for the details of this rule.