Esther 7:8, Question 1. How and why does Haman fall on the bed?

ח וְהַמֶּלֶךְ שָׁב מִגִּנַּת הַבִּיתָן אֶלבֵּית ׀ מִשְׁתֵּה הַיַּיִן וְהָמָן נֹפֵל עַלהַמִּטָּה אֲשֶׁר אֶסְתֵּר עָלֶיהָ וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ הֲגַם לִכְבּוֹשׁ אֶתהַמַּלְכָּה עִמִּי בַּבָּיִת הַדָּבָר יָצָא מִפִּי הַמֶּלֶךְ וּפְנֵי הָמָן חָפוּ

8. And the king returned from the garden of his house to the house of the wine feast. And Haman is falling on the bed on which is Esther. And the king said, “Also to attack the queen with me in the house?!” The word went out from the mouth of the king, and Haman’s face was covered.

  • Rashi notes that people in those days reclined on beds or couches during meals, as was mentioned earlier (see Esther 1:16).
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) pointed out that during Achashverosh’s party in the beginning of the story, that the couches were designed to be equal in order to avoid jealousy. Here, ironically, the couch provokes the epitome of jealousy.
  • In a simple explanation of this verse, the Ibn Ezra writes that Haman was merely beseeching Esther, and fell from fear when Achashverosh entered.
  • Similarly, the Vilna Gaon states that because Haman was so deeply saddened, he could not stand.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein stresses that, had Haman been simply begging for his life, he would have been on the floor, so an explanation beyond the simple understanding is in order.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) is bothered by the verse’s use of the present tense nofal (“is falling”) instead of nafal (“fell”). It records that when Achashverosh returned from his garden, an angel was in the process of pushing Haman onto Esther’s bed. Achashverosh yelled, “Woah onto me in my house and woah onto me outside.”
  • R’ Avigdor Bonckek explains that the use of the present tense is meant to express the mental image in our minds like an ongoing event.
  • The Baal HaTurim, in his commentary on the Torah (Bereishis 48:2) points out the phrase “al hamita” (“on the bed”) is used in TaNaCh twice – here, and in reference to Yaakov giving his blessing to his grandchildren through Yosef, Menashe and Efrayim. This is meant to contrast the righteous, who lift themselves up even at their weakest moments (as Yaakov raised himself from his deathbed to bless his progeny), to the wicked, who fall even when they are at highest peak of their success (as Haman fell from the king’s grace).
  • The Talmud (Pesachim 100a) uses the phrase “hagam lichvosh es hamalka imi babayis” (“also to attack the queen with me in the house”) to criticize someone who follows the opinion of Rabbi A in the presence of Rabbi B when those opinions conflict. Similarly, Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story of the Klausenberger Rebbe who prayed one late afternoon at the grave of the tanna R’ Yehuda bar Ilai outside Meron in Eretz Yisrael. In the evening, the rebbe became unusually downcast. When he was asked about his sudden change of mood, he explained that the R’ Yehuda bar Ilai’s opinion was that mincha needed to be prayed earlier, and “hagam lichvosh es hamalka imi babayis!”
  • The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105a) tells us that a proof to the idea that the wicked Bilam performed magic through immoral acts is the fact that the Torah (Bamidbar 24:4) records that he called himself “fallen.” This bears a marked similarity to Haman’s situation in this verse, in which he falls. Falling onto a bed is a reference to falling into immorality.
  • The Maharal suggests that Haman fell over the bed because he could not see it due to his embarrassment. He refers us to the Talmud (Bava Metzia 59a) that teaches that embarrassed people behave clumsily.
  • Perhaps he could not see the bed because his inflated ego caused his head to be perpetually in the air, even as he is about to die.
  • The Ma’amar Mordechai points out that Haman knew that Achashverosh would get jealous if he saw Haman and Esther together, and, knowing that he was as good as dead already, he tried to take Esther down with himself.
  • The author of the website doreishtov.blogspot points out that the Talmud calls the holiday of Purim by the name, “Puraya,” which also means “bed” in Aramaic. He suggests that this event of Haman falling on Esther’s bed is more central to the story from which the holiday comes than the lots that Haman threw.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that Haman fell twice, once here, and again when his followers fall on the thirteenth of Adar. The Sfas Emes continues that these multiple falls were foreshadowed when Haman’s advisers said (Esther 6:13) “nafol tipol” (“falling you will surely fall”). The Sfas Emes concludes that this also foreshadows the ultimate downfall of Amalek at end of history as promised in the Torah (Bamidbar 24:20), it should be in our days.

Esther 5:10, Question 2. Why does Haman restrain himself?

  • As Rashi said above, Haman’s motivation was fear of retribution without the king’s explicit permission.
  • The reason for this is, ironically, his own participation in creating a law that women have to listen to their husbands (Esther 1:22). As the Malbim wrote there, the necessity to sign such a truism into law put into question any other otherwise immutable ideas. Even a minister being disrespected did not act without the king’s command.
  • According to Rebbetzin Heller, the reason Haman restrains himself is that a good retaliation requires careful planning.
  • The Baal HaTurim (on Bireishis 43:31) points out that the word vayisapek (“and he restrained himself”) is used only twice in TaNaCh. The first is where Yosef restrains himself from revealing himself to his brothers. Just as in the Yosef story, the predicament was precarious but ended positively, so too in this story, self-restraint leads to national joy for the Jews. The Ramban’s definition (on Vayikra 19:2) of becoming holy is to restrain oneself and not to over-indulge.

Esther 4:14, Question 2. Why does the verse use the word “revach” in reference to the Jews’ security?

In Bireishis (32:17), in the momentous meeting between Yaakov and Eisav, Yaakov tells the messengers with whom he famously sent gifts to place a “revach” (“space, comfort”) between each other. Baal HaTurim points out there that this word is used only twice in all of TaNaCh – there, and in our verse. He writes that this is a hint to the idea that Jews would need to resort to bribery in many societies to receive fairness in judgment. Esther’s succumbing to Achashverosh would be the act which would lead to the Jews’ salvation.

Esther 2:3, Question 1. Why does the verse contain the unusual phrase “appoint appointed ones?”

ג וְיַפְקֵד הַמֶּלֶךְ פְּקִידִים בְּכָלמְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶתכָּלנַעֲרָהבְתוּלָה טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה אֶלשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה אֶלבֵּית הַנָּשִׁים אֶליַד הֵגֶא סְרִיס הַמֶּלֶךְ שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים וְנָתוֹן תַּמְרוּקֵיהֶן

3. “And the king should appoint appointed ones in all the states of his kingdom and they should gather all of the young virgins who look good to Shushan the capital to the house of women, through Heigeh, eunuch of the king who guards the women and gives them their ointments.

  • This beauty contest extended over a large area. The final verses in Iyov (42:15) attest to the fact that “nowhere could more beautiful daughters [than Iyov’s daughters] be found.” The Talmud (Baba Basra 15b) notes that Iyov must have been a contemporary of Achashverosh’s, or else how could one know that there was nobody more beautiful? There must have been a beauty contest in which they were involved, and Achashverosh’s was the only one recorded. Since it would seem impossible to transport (and fit into the king’s harem) all of the beautiful women from the 127 states, the advisers told Achashverosh to appoint administrators in each state to choose the best to then send to the central competition in Shushan. This is much like beauty pageants and sports competitions in America today. They first choose the “best” of each state, and only then have them compete for the top prize in the nation. In Achashverosh’s individual states, administrators were appointed whose thorough knowledge of the local populace would seemingly better equip them to judge the qualities of the local contestants.
  • The Baal HaTurim writes in his commentary on Mikeitz (Bireishis 41:34) that the phrase, “appoint appointed ones,” is used only twice in TaNaCh. There, Pharaoh has Yosef collect grain, and his prudent behavior leads to his wealth and power. Here, Achashverosh collects women as trophies for his harem, and his over-indulgence and dehumanizing disrespect precipitates his eventual ruin.1 There is a fascinating book entitled Tzafnas Mordechai (and published as Links Beyond Time in English) that discusses numerous similar parallels between this story and that of Yosef.

1See 10:1 below and Talmud (Megillah 11a) which describes Achashverosh’s levying enormous taxes on his people, an act otherwise unnecessary unless his own wealth needed replenishing.

Esther 1:20, Question 1. Exactly which “word of the King” will be heard?

כ וְנִשְׁמַע פִּתְגָם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁריַֽעֲשֶׂה בְּכָלמַלְכוּתוֹ כִּי רַבָּה הִיא וְכָלהַנָּשִׁים יִתְּנוּ יְקָר לְבַעְלֵיהֶן לְמִגָּדוֹל וְעַדקָטָן

“And the word of the King will be heard (that he made in the entire kingdom) because great is she, and all the women will give supremacy to their husbands, from the great to the small.”

  • In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal writes that the “word of the king” means that Achashverosh the king will advertise the fact that he killed Vashti.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:10) teaches that phrase in hinting to the final redemption with the coming of Moshiach. It relates it to the King’s (H-Shem’s) decree (Shemos 17:14), which will finally be heard when all of the final vestiges of Amalek are eliminated. The Rokeach writes that the initial letters of the phrase here, “hee v‘chol hanashim yitnu” (“she, and all the women will give”) spells the Tetragrammaton four-letter name of H-Shem. This indicates that Achashverosh’s decree actually stems from H-Shem.
  • M’nos HaLevi notes from Rabbeinu Bachya on Bamidbar (1:51) that any instance (like here) of the Tetragrammaton spelled backwards indicates the use of H-Shem’s characteristic of judgment (midas hadin). This is the very characteristic He will utilize in conquering the influence of Amalek. Perhaps it is for this message of our positive future that, in his commentary on the Torah (Shemos 28:35), the Baal HaTurim notes that the word “venishma” (“and will be heard”), appears three times in TaNaCh: there, regarding, the garments of a Kohen ministering in the Temple, earlier (ibid. 24:7) regarding the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and in our verse regarding Achashverosh’s decree. According to the Baal HaTurim, this series of verses hints to the idea mentioned in the Talmud (Megillah 3b) that the mitzvah of hearing the Megillah on Purim takes precedence over learning Torah and prayer. Despite a verse regarding Torah (study) and a verse regarding the Temple (service), “the word of the King” (Megillah) will be heard. Indeed, in Halacha, despite the fact that Torah study generally has supremacy over all other mitzvos (Talmud, Shabbos 127a), Jews are enjoined to leave their Torah study to hear the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 687:2, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 7).