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.

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Esther 1:13, Question 1. Who are these wise men Achashverosh approached and what does it mean that they “know the times?”

יג וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לַחֲכָמִים יֹדְעֵי הָעִתִּים כִּיכֵן דְּבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ לִפְנֵי כָּליֹדְעֵי דָּת וָדִין

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.