Therefore, the unfortified Yehudim in the unfortified cities made the
fourteenth day of the month of Adar [a day of] joy, feasting, and
holiday, and from sending gifts a man to his fellow.
According to Rashi, quoting the Talmud (Megillah 2b) “unfortified cities” are those that were not surrounded by walls in the days of Yehoshua.
The Ziv HaMinhagim writes that this definitely includes only Yerushalayim. There is a doubt regarding Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beit Sha’an, Gush Khaloav, Hebron, Haifa, Tiberias, Jaffa, Lod, Gaza, Acco, Safed, Ramleh, and Shechem.
R’ Ovadya of Bartenura explains that the times of Yehoshua are the reference point for the definition of walled cities in order to remind us of the root hatred of Amalek is their attacking us when we were leaving Mitrzrayim, when they battled Yehoshua.
The Sfas Emes adds that, by recalling Yerushalayim, we remember that the purpose of Purim was the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.
The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:10 and a number of other Midrashim) teaches that the turnaround mentioned in this verse refers to all of Haman’s plans – from the queen whom Haman installed for more power taking his power, to the tree he prepared for Mordechai becoming the one on which he was hanged, to the wealth he gathered becoming Mordechai’s property, to the honors he wanted being given to his enemy, to the date Haman picked for the Jews’ extermination becoming the date of their success – absolutely everything backfiring.
The Kol Reena points out that the reason for Haman’s thinking of Adar as the ideal month to wipe out the Jews was that Moshe died on that month. Ironically, Moshe’s merits are what protected them.
R’ Hutner notes that even the misuse of Temple vessels (Esther 1:7) in order to show that it would never be rebuilt was turned around because the Purim story led to the Beis Hamikdash being rebuilt.
The Dubno Maggid writes that this turnaround shows how much hate Haman had. After all, the Talmud (Brachos 7a) teaches that we can see the evil that Bilam intended from the diametric opposite good with which he blessed the Jews. Here, too, Haman’s hate can be seen from the positive turnaround that resulted.
The Maharal notes a principle of physics that when one throws a rock against a wall, it bounces back somewhat. One could measure the level of Haman’s hate from the force with which Haman was punished. As the Torah (Devarim 19:19) commands regarding false witnesses, Haman got back an equal measure of what he intended against the Jewish people.
The Dubno Maggid also writes that Haman’s failed decree exposed the Jews’ enemies, who likely gathered arms in preparation for the attack, and this effectively made it easier to expose these Jew haters. Similarly, Yehu gathered together worshipers of Baal by promising a demonstration of his tremendous worship as a ruse to capture them and punish them for idolatry (Melachim 2 10:19).
R’ Shmuel Aharon Rubin writes that when the Talmud (Megillah 10b) says “we were slaves, but H-Shem did not abandon us,” it is in relation to the Purim story. He explains that we were like slaves because the Talmud (Kiddushin 36a) says that the Jews are called the children of H-Shem when they fulfill His Will, and are called slaves when they do not. The Jews’ attendance at Achashverosh’s feast demonstrates that they were not fulfilling H-Shem’s directive, but He nevertheless “did not abandon” the Jews.
R’ Hutner adds that since the existence of the Jews is without limit, rejoicing on Purim is also without limit. There is a famous story of a friend of mine who had gone missing the day after Purim. He was eventually found on a Sunday night after he had fallen on a hike on Friday. Without nutrition since Friday, he was only able to survive because the day previous was Purim, and the person sitting next to him at the Purim seudah kept piling food onto his plate to encourage him to eat without restraint in fulfillment of the above dictum.
Rashi translates the unusual verb misyahadim as “converted.” Seemingly, because of their fear of Jewish reprisal, many gentiles converted to Judaism.
Agaddas Bireishis (15) explains that non-Jews always want to convert to Judaism whenever the Jews are fulfilling their responsibilities to H-Shem.
The Alshich points out that this shows a sharp contrast between the Jews and gentiles. When faced with annihilation, the Jews strengthened their faith with teshuva (“repentance”), whereas the gentiles abandoned the empty faiths of their powerless gods.
The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why this contrast occurred at this point, and not in Moshe’s time. In other words, one would expect a lot more converts during the Jews’ exodus and miraculous stay in the desert. He answers that there were so few converts in Moshe’s time because the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) teaches that the Jews were coerced then to accept the Torah. One needs to feel inspired to inspire others, as the Jews felt at the end of the Purim story.
The Ralbag disagrees with Rashi’s translation, and suggests that they did not convert, but merely pretended to be Jews.
The Vilna Gaon explains that they did not really convert because they would have been motivated by fear.
After all, Meseches Geirim (1:7) writes that if a person’s motivation for conversion to Judaism is women, love, or fear, their act is not considered a real conversion.
Interestingly, according to R’ Moshe Dovid Valle, Mordechai accepted even the insincere converts, just as had Moshe when accepting the eruv rav, Egyptians who converted to Judaism insincerely when they saw that the Jews were successfully and miraculously leaving Egypt. According to him, their descendants caused problems during second Beis HaMikdash.
However, according to M’nos HaLevi, they were not accepted because the Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) writes that converts can be difficult to the Jews. He continues that these gentiles nevertheless dressed in Jewish clothing. The Sfas Emes notes that this is yet another source for the custom to masquerade on Purim.
In Likkutei Sichos, the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that “am ha’aretz” can represent the “basic, fundamental human.” In other words, basic human behavior like sleeping, eating, etc. are obviously applicable to both Jews and gentiles, alike. The actions are the same, but there are different attitudes. For instance, a Jew is required to eat with appreciation and with intent to have a closer bond with H-Shem, to sleep in order to better perform mitzvos the next day, etc. Therefore, even in base, human behaviors, these particular gentiles acted like Jews.
In explaining how ora (“light”) represents Torah, the Ben Ish Chai writes that ora is written with a hey because it means ohrhey, or the light of H-Shem.
Rav Tzaddok HaKohen writes that ora is written with a letter hey because the verse intends it to be feminine since the Torah being described here is specifically Torah she’bal peh (“the Oral Law”). As Rashi (on Mishlei 1:8) writes, the Torah she’bal peh is represented by the feminine. Rav Mordechai Gifter explains that this is because the rabbis know the natural foibles of their people in the same way that a mother considers the nature of her son.
From the time the Jews ignored Mordechai (the leading rabbi of the generation) by attending Achashverosh’s party until they re-accepted the Oral Torah with the words (Esther 9:27) “kimu v’kiblu” (“they took and they accepted”), the Jews of that period were struggling with Torah she’bal peh, and its necessary rabbinic accompaniments.
Similarly, the Midrash Yerushalmi interprets yikar as denoting the judges, who were also the rabbis.
Midrash Chaseros v’Yitaros writes that sasson (“joy”) is spelled incomplete (without a vuv) because no joy can be complete until Moshiach comes and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheira biyameinu.
R’ Chaim Kanievsky writes that it is written incompletely because circumcision, which this represents, has an element of pain. He notes that sasson is spelled completely in the next verse (Esther 8:17) because we should strive to add to the joy of Purim as though nothing is missing, as the Halacha (Biur Halacha 695, dh “ad d’lo yada”) states explicitly regarding the custom to become inebriated on Purim.
The Malbim writes that Esther’s two conditions refer to separate factors. The first, “seeing evil” refers to possible anti-Jewish attacks before the decree date. The second, “seeing the destruction” refers to people perhaps not believing the second (erstwhile unmentioned) document, and attacking the Jews nevertheless.
In Nachal Eshkol, the Chida explains that Esther is telling the king that – having not been present during the meeting that spawned Haman’s decree – she does not know if, by using the term li’avdam (Esther 3:9), Achashverosh meant to enslave or kill the Jews. On that basis, can’t bear evil (enslavement) nor the destruction (killing) of the Jews.
The Vilna Gaon notes that the verse uses the word, eicha (“how”) twice – once for the first Beis HaMikdash, and the second for the second Beis HaMikdash. Indeed, Esther was mourning for two things – the potential destruction of the Jews in exile from the first Beis HaMikdash, and the inevitable destruction of the Jews of the future if they do not learn from their past mistakes.
Contrary to the previous opinions, the Yosef Lekach writes that Esther is not worried the people will be destroyed. After all, H-Shem already promised never to kill them out (Vayikra 26:44). However, there was no such promise about individual families, and that was a cause of concern for Esther. The Jewish people would survive, but Esther’s second eicha indicates that she worries about her future progeny surviving.
Perhaps she had good reason to worry, since Mordechai had threatened her offspring with as much when he convinced her to approach the king (Esther 4:14), and it is a well-known Talmudic (Kesubos 103b) dictum that what the righteous speak, H-Shem fulfills.
The Beis HaLevi (on his commentary to Ki Sisa) writes that by using “my nation,” Esther refers to those who would not renounce their Judaism if that is what Achashverosh is planning to do. By saying “my kin,” Esther refers to those people who would (chas v’shalom) give up their Judaism to save their lives.
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.
3. And Esther added and spoke before the king. And she fell before his feet, and cried, and pleaded with him to annul the evil of Haman the Aggagite and his intentions that he intended on the Yehudim.
The Maharal is troubled by the verse’s use of the word vatosef (“and she added”) when it does not initially seem that there is any conversation that is being continued here. He answers that this is a continuation of the previous verse in which Esther appointed Mordechai, seemingly verbally, as master of Haman’s estate.
M’nos HaLevi notes that the Talmud (Makkos 10b-11a) teaches that daber, the root of word vatidaber (“and she spoke”) implies a harsh language. He explains that Esther was speaking in a forceful and direct manner to the king, saying that Haman lied to him. She then regretted her boldness, and fell pleading for mercy.
According to the Malbim, Esther performs all of these actions because she tried various methods to convince Achashverosh – rhetoric, and logic, and emotion. As is well-known, when logic fails, the emotional appeal can still be effective.
As the M’nos HaLevi points out, the Talmud (Brachos 32b) teaches that since the time the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, only the gates of tears remain open.
In a famous comment on this verse, the Vilna Gaon teaches in the name of the Zohar that genuine crying always comes from the heart, and cannot be artificially manufactured. He also connects Esther’s behavior in this verse to various stages of the Jew’s regular prayer routine. He writes that vatosef (“and she added”) is a reference to Pesukei Dezimra (introductory verses of praise) because the Talmud (Brachos 32a) teachers that these were added by the Rabbis to help people concentrate during Shemoneh Esrei; vatidaber (“and she spoke”) is a reference to Shema (“verses in which we accept the authority of H-Shem”) because the Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 9a, 9b) teaches that the Shema has references to the Ten Commandments, the Asseres HaDibros, vatipol (“and she fell”) is a reference to nefilas apayim (“putting down the face,” or Tachanun), vateiv’k (“and she cried”) is a reference to tefilla (“the silent prayer, or Shemoneh Esrei”), and vatit’chanen (“and she pleaded”) is a reference to Elokai Nitzur (the additional prayers after tefillah). Esther’s act of pleading before the king, was also her pleading before the King of kings.
The Dena Pishra writes similarly that the verse references the king because Esther was really praying to H-Shem to spare the Jews.
The Ginzei HaMelech writes that Esther did all of these actions because she saw the cause of Achashverosh’s previous behavior as passion due to anger. Now that she saw him calm down, she was concerned that he would return to his old, anti-Semitic self. She was really risking her life because his anger could have returned at any moment.
According to the Ben Ish Chai, the verse emphasizes that Haman prepared the gallows on which he dies because if the wood of the gallows was made from the beams of the Beis HaMikdash, and the Halacha as brought down by the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shegagos 9:1) would not allow Mordechai to make use of it. However, since the wood of this beam has already been used by Haman, this removed its sanctity, making it usable to kill him.
According to the Ora V’Simcha the gematria of ha’eitz (“the tree”) (5+70+90=165) is the same as Haman (5+40+50=95) + 70. Seventy are the number of days Haman was in power. According to the Chida, seventy is also the number of verses between Haman’s rise to power (Esther 3:1) until his downfall (Esther 7:10). Finally, seventy is also the gematria of yayin (“wine”) (10+10+50=70). The very wine with which Haman intended to seduce the Jews of Persia to sap them of their spiritual power is what led to his undoing. This may be yet another reason for the Talmudic custom (Megillah 7b) to drink an unusually large amount of wine on Purim.
R’ Yechezkiel Levenstein writes that many people recognize that their suffering comes from their own sins, but they do not realize that the sin, itself, creates the punishment.
6. And Esther said, “A man who is an adversary and an enemy, this evil Haman.” And Haman was bewildered from before the king and the queen.
It is especially puzzling that Esther calls Haman an “ish” (“man”) since, as R’ Dovid Feinstein points out, it usually signifies an important person. In this case, he writes, Haman is called an “ish” because he thought highly of himself.
The Dubno Maggid writes that the word ish followed by an adjective indicates a central aspect of the subject’s character. Esther is therefore answering both of Achashverosh’s questions from above; who the person is and why he is doing it. As proof of this idea, the Dubno Maggid quotes the verse in the Torah that first describes Eisav1 (Bireishis 25:27), in which he is called an “ish sadeh” (“man of the field”). In other words, the field is an intrinsic part of Eisav’s being. Therefore, Haman’s main characteristic is that he is a “tzar v’oivev,” an enemy. Amalek hates the Jews for no reason. The Dubno Maggid brings the allegory of a glutton who goes around a party, eating left-overs after party is over. He is not hungry. Similarly, the Torah (Devarim 25:18) testifies that when Amalek attacked the Jews, they went after the “weak ones.” Also, in Tehillim (137:7), King David prophecies that the Temple would be destroyed “to its foundation.” The Romans were not satisfied with the Temple burning – they wanted the Temple more than destroyed.
1It is interesting to note that Eisav is the ancestor of Amalek, and thus Haman.