Esther 8:1, Question 2. Why does Achashverosh give this to Esther?

  • It seems problematic that Achashverosh gave Haman’s property to Esther since the Mechilta (on Shemos 17:14) says Amalek – of which Haman descended – is to be completely destroyed together with its property, so nobody should ever say they gained from Amalek.
  • Esther may have been allowed Haman’s property because the Rabbeinu Bachya (on Bishalach) answers that this Mechilta only refers to possessions obtained in the course of war.
  • In Vedibarta Bam, Rabbi Bogamilsky points out from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 48b) that such property actually belongs to Achashverosh.
  • Similarly, the Talmud (Gittin 38a) teaches that the Jews were allowed the possessions of Moav and Amon because Sichon had already conquered them previously.
  • Given that Esther was allowed Haman’s property, the Alshich writes that Achashverosh gave it to her because the kingdom did not need Haman’s house, after all. This is especially true if Haman destroyed his own home by utilizing its crossbeam in the building of his gallows.
  • The Alshich adds that the decree to kill out the Jews had not yet been revoked, and Achashverosh wanted to show that Esther and Mordechai were exempt.
  • On the other hand, the Yad HaMelech says that the king did this so that those who knew of the decree would not harm the Jews, effectively annulling the decree.
  • The M’nos HaLevi explains that Achashverosh gave her the property to reassure Esther, that although she had seen him angry that day, the anger was not directed at her.
  • The Malbim writes that this was Haman’s property, which should belong to Achashverosh after his rebellious behavior. However, in a continued effort to salvage his honor, Achashverosh wanted to show that Haman was really going against the queen and her people. Accordingly, the verse emphasizes that Haman was the tzorer (“antagonizer”) of the Yehudim.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech explains that Achashverosh’s main concern was his security, especially around Haman’s presumed allies. He therefore said Haman tried to seduce the queen, and therefore owed her money. A similar incident occurred when Avimelech took Sarah, and then gave Avraham money (Bireishis 20:14) as a testament of Sarah’s virtue.
  • The Vilna Gaon quotes a verse (Koheles 2:26) that a person who deserves H-Shem’s Pleasure receives wisdom, intelligent, and joy, but a sinner must constantly accumulate. The Talmud (Megillah 10b) says that this verse applies to Mordechai because the wicked Haman accrued the very wealth through which the righteous prospered.
  • The Maharal asks why the righteous should prosper from the efforts of the wicked. After all, should the righteous not prosper from their own efforts? He answers that the wicked work and work tirelessly to gain more wealth because they are never satisfied. The righteous are easily satisfied, so they do not have to go through the grunt work of acquiring wealth.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains this as yet another example of mida kineged mida “measure for measure” because Haman wanted to take what was most precious to Esther – the lives of her people. Therefore, he lost what was most precious to him – his money.
  • The Me’am Loez says that another example of mida kineged mida is that since Haman wanted to hang Mordechai in his house, Haman’s hanging occurred in what is now Mordechai’s house.
  • Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller adds that Achashverosh took the property because Haman was Mordechai’s slave. According to Jewish law, the property always really belonged to Haman’s master, Mordechai. With the property comes Haman’s identity. She suggests that taking over someone’s identity is another reason  for the custom to masquerade on Purim.

Esther 6:12, Question 1. Why does the verse emphasize that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate?

יב וַיָּשָׁב מָרְדֳּכַי אֶלשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן נִדְחַף אֶלבֵּיתוֹ אָבֵל וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ

12. And Mordechai returned to the gate of the king. And Haman was propelled to his house mourning, and with a covered head.

  • It seems doubly strange for the verse to say Mordechai returned to the palace, when our commentary on the previous verse made clear the Haman found Mordechai in the house of study. According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and the Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:6), the verse emphasizes that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate instead of into because Mordechai returned to wearing sackcloth and fasting.
  • Rashi’s explaining that Mordechai returned to mourning seems to not be his pashut pshat, simple explanation.
  • The Maharsha clarifies that Mordechai could not enter the king’s gate wearing sackcloth because of their rules of propriety in those days, so he could only come as far as the gate, itself. Therefore, Mordechai, having been mourning in sackcloth for the last several days could not be said to be returning to a place where he could not have previously been.
  • R’ Avigdor Bonchek explains that being paraded on a horse emboldened Mordechai to defy Achashverosh’s law by going to gate in sackcloth.
  • The Targum writes that Mordechai returned to serving on the Sanhedrin at this point, a position that is described in TaNaCh (see Bireishis 19:1, Devarim 21:19, Ruth 4:1) as being positioned “at the gate.”
  • The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4) teaches that the verse says Mordechai returned because he is humble. There is a humility in accepting one’s place, as is said of Avraham whom the Torah (Bireishis 18:33) describes as having “returned to his place” after speaking with H-Shem.
  • R’ Henoch Leibowitz notes that the Torah (Devarim 30:8) promises us that H-Shem will return us to our Land only after we suffer from our enemies. Rav Leibowitz explains that the lesson is that a person’s prayer in times of rescue should be equal in power and intensity to that with which one prays in times of troubles. The very purpose of our troubles is to increase our attachment to H-Shem. The proper method for this is to follow Rabbeinu Bachya’s advice (on Shemos 2:23) when he says that one’s prayer is the most intense in times of difficulty and that, therefore, it is incumbent on a person to remember that feeling of intensity, and bottle up that feeling of pain in order to pray strongly in the brighter future that the troubles do not return. At our most desperate, we should try to encapsulate the emotion to use in better times.
  • He quotes R’ Naftoli Tropp, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin writes that a famous piyut said on Yom Kippur calls us all dalim, poor. Even the rich should recall that all is H-Shem’s and they only have their riches only by the grace of G-d.
  • The Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai usually wore sackcloth during davening, and then changed for court. At this point, Mordechai did not change because he felt his prayers were unsuccessful, and not answered. This is because his riding on a horse did not manifestly spell out the redemption of the Jews. The Jews were still threatened.
  • Rebbetzin Heller points out that, being G-d focused, Mordechai didn’t care if Achashverosh loved or honored him. This event did not change Mordechai’s humility.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Mordechai still felt guilty about causing the threat to Jewish existence by refusing to bow down to Haman. True teshuvah comes from the feeling of being unworthy of kindness from H-Shem. He concludes that one should never be too confident in this.
  • The Iyun Yaakov points out that, on the political side, Mordechai had anticipated using his saving Achashverosh’s life as leverage when begging Achashverosh to save the Jews – not just a pony ride around town. Disappointed by the loss of his ace in the hole, Mordechai’s only remaining means to save the Jews is to pray to H-Shem.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes the Brisker Rav, R’ Yitzchak Zev HaLevi Soloveitchik that in his reporting the goings-on to Esther earlier (Esther 4:5-16), Mordechai was unwilling to get out of his sackcloth for even one moment and even requiring Hasach as an intermediary because prayer and emunah are the main tools for salvation.
  • The Ohel Moshe also brings R’ Yehonason Eibshutz who quotes the Talmud (Brachos 5b) that a prisoner does not free himself. Somebody else needs to help somebody out. Similarly, Mordechai, once he sees himself rescued, returned to pray for the other Jews. Similarly,
  • R’ Dovid Bleicher of Novordok notes that Mordechai had his own needs met, but kept praying for the Jews because he had worked on himself to feel as if he was still under the threat of death.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:12) states that a true Jewish leader does not stop fasting until the prayers are answered.
  • The Maharal notes that Mordechai was not satisfied by this honor because Achasherosh did not come to thank him, himself. He had no reason to think that Achashverosh felt actual gratitude. After all, as R’ Elie Munk points out in his commentary on Chumash (Vayikra 7:30), of all the offerings, the only one which the Torah describes as having to be brought “by his own hands” is the shelamim (peace offering) because it is brought as a way to thank H-Shem, and “when expressing one’s gratitude, it is proper to do it personally.”
  • Parenthetically, he also quotes this as the reason brought by Abudraham for the congregation to say the blessing of Modim (thanksgiving) during the repetition of the Amidah prayer, since the congregational leader cannot express the gratitude of another person.
  • The Maharal also says in a few places (Nesivos Olam) that simcha (joy) comes from shleimus (completeness). Here, too, Mordechai cannot be content since the Jews are still under the threat of annihilation, and are thus incomplete.
  • Perhaps the simplest explanation to why Mordechai returned to his place can be gleaned from a story told about R’ Yechezkel Abramsky. While discussing Megillas Esther with his rebbetzin, he asked her what Mordechai could have been thinking while riding on the horse. She answered, “This type of foolishness is for drunkards. I wish this will be over soon, so I can return to learning Torah!”

Esther 6:10, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh emphasize that Haman should follow every detail?

  • The Alshich writes that, in his desire to uncover the conspiracy he so fears, Achashverosh is emphatic that Haman should perform everything he suggested.
  • The Me’am Loez explains that the nature of a person who is forced to do something is to delay and ignore as many steps as possible.
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), once Haman saw that he would have to honor Mordechai in this degrading way, he suggested new methods of honoring him that would not detract from his own self-love, like naming a river or village after Mordechai. In an ironic twist, Achashverosh therefore stresses that Haman should follow every detail to include those other things Haman suggested, as well.
  • The Shaar Bas Rabbim writes that this phrase includes the crown. Although Achashverosh is not happy with the idea, even showing his disapproval, he nevertheless agrees to it reluctantly, not even able to say the word.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that H-Shem wanted Mordechai to be pampered with all of these honors for two reasons. First, on the Earthly level, Mordechai deserves reward for having saved the life of Achashverosh, allowing him to be pampered in palace luxury. Second, on the Heavenly plane, the Talmud (Gittin 62a) refers to scholars as royalty, deserving of the best in this life and the next.
  • In the spirit of the idea that the entire Purim story teaches us that H-Shem runs His world through mida kineged mida, M’nos HaLevi explains that when Mordechai first learned of the decree to annihilate the Jews, he is described (Esther 4:1) as putting on sackcloth, walking through the streets of Shushan, and crying bitterly. In reward for putting on the sackcloth, he is now to put on royal garments; in reward for walking through the streets, he is now to be escorted on the king’s horse; and in reward for his bitter cry, his greatness is to be proclaimed throughout the city.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle points out that the initial letters of the last three words in this verse “mikol asher dibarta” (“from all that you said”) spell out the word m’od (“much”). The Torah (Bireishis 15:1) describes Avraham’s – and by extension, every righteous person’s – reward as s’charcha harbeh m’od, “your reward will be very great.”
  • R’ Chaim Fasman once pointed out that the only part of the daily amida in which we request that somebody actually get something is in the prayer for the righteous, where we ask H-Shem that He give the righteous s’char, reward. The reason for this is that it is an inspirational kiddush H-Shem for all of us when we see the righteous rewarded.
  • The Targum Sheini, with its embedded commentary, says that Achashverosh told Haman a detailed list of the items which he was supposed to give to Mordechai, including Achashverosh’s Macedonian crown, Ethiopian sword, African cloak, and the horse he rode from the beginning of his reign named Shifrigaz. The gematria of Shifrigaz (300+10+80+200+3+7=600) is 600, the same as sheker (300+100+200=600), falsehood. Perhaps this alludes to the idea that wealth and honor are fleeting, impermanent things, as the verse in Koheles (6:2) says, “a man to whom G-d has given […] wealth and honor […] and yet G-d has not given him the opportunity to eat from it, […] this is futile and an evil disease.”

Esther 4:16, Question 5. Why does Esther require three days of fasting?

  • R’ Avigdor Miller points out that fasting for three days is difficult, and accomplished an unprecedented amount of teshuva.
  • The Talmud (Yevamos 121b) uses this verse to inform us that it is difficult, although not miraculous to be without food for that long.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:7) writes that these three days corresponded with the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nisan, which included the first day of Pesach. When questioned regarding why Pesach should be foregone, Esther pointed out that there would be no Pesach if the Jews were wiped out.
  • The M’nos HaLevi quotes from the Yalkut Shimoni that these three days were the 14th, 15th, and 16th of Nisan. The Ohel Moshe points out that the main difference is whether or not the Jews of Persia had the second Seder.
  • The Maylitz Yosher writes that the Jews were expected to fast on Pesach in order to shock them into realizing the seriousness of their predicament.
  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the three days correspond to three sins regarding which Esther expects to be guilty: eat non-kosher food, submit herself to Achashverosh, and partial complicity in the death of Hasach.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya writes that H-Shem only challenges tzaddikim for three days. For example, when Avraham went to potentially sacrifice his son, he found Mount Moriah in three days (Bireishis 22:4). Also, when the brothers were taken by Yosef, they were imprisoned for three days (Ibid. 42:18). Furthermore, Yonah remained inside the big fish that swallowed him for three days (Yonah 2:1). R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the three sections of the Written Law (Torah, Nevi’im, and Kesuvim) were given to three groups of Jews (Kohanim, Levi’im, and Yisroelim) for which they needed to prepare for three days (Shemos 19:11).
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Torah affects us on three different levels: thought, speech, and action. Therefore, Esther was telling Mordechai that the Jews need to prepare these three days to perform honest repentance through thought, speech, and action.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Vilna Gaon (on Bireishis 27:13) that when Rivka told the nervous Yaakov to place the blame of his upcoming deception “eilai” (“on me”), this word can be an acronym for Eisav, Lavan, and Yosef. Those may be the greatest of Yaakov’s tests in life, that came along with the blessing he gets from his father.
  • Also, the Ginzei HaMelech points out that these are three different types of people: Eisav represents a glutton; Lavan represents idolatry, and Yosef represents the challenge of intermarriage. These same three issues are the ones for which Jewish existence was threatened in the Purim story. Pri Tzedek quotes from the Zohar on Chukas that the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, represent three characteristics: kindness, awe, and truth. These are the polar opposites of the three characteristics which, according to the Mishnah (Avos 4:21), destroy one’s life: jealousy, lust, and honor. During these three days, then, Esther wanted the Jews to perfect themselves in these three areas.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that three days is 72 hours, and this is the gematria of chesed, (“kindness”) (8+60+4=72). Therefore, the Jews were supposed to spend these days evoking H-Shem’s Kindness.
  • R’ Avraham Sutton points out that 72 is also the gematria of H-Shem’s four-letter Name when each letter is spelled out with all the yuds included ([10+6+4]+[5+10]+[6+10+6]+[5+10]=72).

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.

Esther 4:1, Question 5. Why does the verse stress that Mordechai’s cry was “great and bitter?”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 15a) records an argument about what, exactly, Mordechai was calling out as he went through Shushan. One opinion there has it that he yelled out, “Haman is greater than Achashverosh” in order to arouse the king’s jealousy. The other opinion is that Mordechai yelled out, “The King above is greater than the king below” in a euphemistic fashion to imply that Achashverosh was attempting to usurp H-Shem’s Power.
  • Yalkut Shimoni writes that there is generally a difference between Jewish prayer and idolatrous prayer; whereas Chana’s prayer was quiet (Shmuel 1 1:13), Eisav’s prayer was a “great and bitter cry” (Bireishis 27:38). Like dogs that bark loudest when they have the least bite with which to threaten, an idol-worshiper’s prayer needs to be loud since it has the least spiritual power behind it.
  • Furthermore, Rav Eliyah Lopian suggests that, whereas physical people cry over physical phenomena, spiritual people cry about spiritual matters. Here, however, to counteract the possible spiritual effectiveness of Haman’s ancestor’s (Eisav) “great and bitter cry,” caused by the actions of Mordechai’s ancestor (Yaakov).
  • According to Yosek Lekach and the Vilna Gaon, Mordechai’s cry was inspired by his feeling responsible for the decree against the Jews. After all, his decision to refuse to bow to Haman, regardless of the logic, is what led directly to Haman’s anger with the Jews of Persia and beyond.
  • R’ Henach Leibowitz points out in his characteristic way that this should be a powerful lesson to us about how careful we must be to avoid hurting someone, even when we are in the right!
  • Taken as a unit, some commentators find great significance in the combination of these three motifs of the sackcloth, the city, and the crying. According to the Ginzei HaMelech, the loud voice represents Avraham because he spoke out powerfully against idolatry in a world filled with idols (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avoda Zara 1:3). The ash represents Yitzchak who allowed his father to symbolically sacrifice him. The sackcloth represents Yaakov, who mourned in sack upon being told of his son’s untimely death (Bireishis 37:33). Therefore, in a thoughtful, calculated action of spiritual symbolism, Mordechai used these to recall the merits of the forefathers, whose merits always protect their descendants.

Esther 4:1, Question 3. Why does Mordechai dress in sack and ashes?

  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Mordechai dressed in sack and ashes because the Talmud (Moed Katan 26a) writes that one should tear one’s clothing when one hears bad tidings.
  • Yosef Lekach adds that Mordechai’s sensitive emotions allowed him to feel the pain of the potential threat of genocide, that he mourned as if people had already died.
  • Seeing as nobody was allowed to enter the king’s gate dressed in such a manner (see Esther 4:2 below), the P’dus Yaakov writes that, by doing so, Mordechai was indicating that his rightful place was with the people rather than with the king.
  • In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, Mordechai is compared to the king of Ninveh (Yona 3:6), who is praised for immediately donning sack and ash upon hearing that H-Shem planned to destroy his city for their erstwhile evil behavior.
  • It is possible that, by using ash, Mordechai was invoking the merits of the Jewish forefathers. R’ Elazar of Germiza writes that Mordechai chose ash to recall before H-Shem the merit of our forefather, Avraham. After all, Avraham risked his life to prove the truth of monotheism by being thrown into a flaming furnace. In recognizing H-Shem’s Mercy in saving his life, he later called himself no more than “dust and ash” (Bereishis 18:27). According to the Targum, Mordechai was invoking the merit of another forefather, Yitzchak. Because he laid himself down on an altar dutifully prepared to be slaughtered like a sacrifice by his father (ibid. 22:9), H-Shem credits him with remaining as ash on the sacrificial altar. Finally, Mordechai invoked the merit of Yaakov, who wore sack after the sale of Yosef (ibid. 37:34). The Maharal notes that the verse in Tehillim (20:2) invokes “the G-d of Yaakov” in that fervent prayer for salvation because Yaakov was the forefather whose difficult life deserved more of H-Shem’s Mercy.
  • R’ Elazar Shach points out that the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 84:19) teaches that the Jews of Egypt wore sack before their miraculous redemption. By tapping into this ancient tradition, Mordechai was showing his faith in H-Shem and the Torah.
  • On a more mystical note, R’ Raphael Moshe Luria writes that Adam and Chava before the sin wore “ohr” (light, spelled aleph-vuv-reish), but were demoted to the status of needing to wear “ohr” (skin, spelled ayin-vuv-reish) as a result of the sin. Based on R’ Moshe Cordevero, Rav Luria continues with the idea that garments of light help one to serve H-Shem, and this is why one was not allowed to enter the “king’s” gate when not properly dressed. Doctors must shed their suits to don scrubs, rubber gloves, and bouffant caps for surgery. The soul, too, must shed the Divine light in which she is dressed to don the hazmat suit that is the earthly body to utilize the physical world in a continued effort to fulfill H-Shem’s Will. In our analogy, the difference between the soul and the doctor is that the soul’s skin automatically turns into light with the achieving of a spiritual goal.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech brings down from the AriZal that the gematria of “sak” (sack, 300+100=400) is an allusion to the four hundred officers whom Esav commands in his meeting with Yaakov (Bereishis 33:1). Kabbalistically, these themselves represent the four hundred powers of tuma, or manners in which impurity can enter our lives. He brings from the Imrei David that wearing sackcloth [perhaps through its ability to instill humility] gives one the ability to fend off impurity.