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.
One might think that the reason for Mordechai’s refusal to bow is the low regard with which the Torah holds worship of anyone or anything outside of H-Shem. According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8), however, Mordechai admits that bowing down to a person in-and-of-itself is not wrong. For example, Yaakov and his family bowed seven times to Haman’s ancestor, Eisav (Bireishis 33:3). In fact, Mordechai deflects criticism of his not acting likewise with Eisav’s descendant by citing his ancestry from Benyamin, who had not yet been born during this incident. The Maharal adds that, in reward for this, Benyamin inherited the part of Eretz Yisroel where the Kodesh Kedoshim (Holy of Holies) of the Beis HaMikdash would stand. Mordechai was concerned that bowing to Haman would cause him to lose his connection with the Shechinah (the Divine Presence), just as the Shechinah left the Kodesh Kedoshim when the Jews no longer deserved her.
In Michtav M’Eliyahu, R’ Eliyahu Dessler writes that Mordechai’s defiance can teach us to attack our Yetzer Hara head-on without a kernel of compromise. Any capitulation can lead to a downward spiral of spiritual loss.
The Malbim writes that Mordechai did not bow down to Haman to avoid ascribing divinity to him. In an era when people ascribed godliness to their rulers and the rulers’ courts, Mordechai felt compelled to demonstrate his variance with heaping any possible blandishments of divinity upon Haman.
Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi writes that the command to bow to Haman referred to two different groups of people – regular subjects of the king, and higher-ups sitting at the gates of the king. Mordechai did not fit into either category. As a Jew, he was not a citizen of the realm. At the same time, as an adviser of the king, he sat at the king’s gate, and was not one to pass there.
The Kedushas HaLevi says there were two different commands – first, everybody had to bow down. Second, Mordechai, as a favor to Esther, was ordered to not bow.
The Shelah HaKodesh quotes an argument in the Talmud (Megillah 12a) regarding the reason the Jews deserved death in this time period. One opinion is because they bowed to idols. The other reason is that they attended Achashverosh’s party. The Shelah continues that Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman served as a spiritual tikkun (or repair) for the Jews’ capitulating to bow to the idol of Nebuchadnetzer, and Esther’s eating seeds to avoid eating non-kosher food in Achashverosh’s palace (as mentioned previously) served as a tikkun for the Jews’ enjoying themselves at Achashverosh’s party. Together, their actions saved the Jews from the decree against them.
This verse is quoted throughout Rabbinic literature – including the Talmud (Chulin 104b), the Mishnah (Avos 6:6), and Tanna D’vei Eliyahu – as proof of the importance of quoting one’s sources. It says, “one who says a thing in the name of the speaker brings redemption to the world.” This is not mere intellectual honesty, and there must be a deeper relationship between quoting in a speaker’s name and redeeming the world.
The Imrei Emes writes that when you give Torah, you get Torah back. When you teach in somebody else’s name, you receive that person’s Torah in return.
Rav Shimon Schwab quotes the Talmud (Yevamos 97a) that when you quote the words of a Torah scholar, his lips move in the grave. This leads to redemption because, as the Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 98) says, when two people say the same thing, that is the end of argument. Symbolically, when you and that scholar are saying the same thing, that is the definition of the end to argument. As class participant CL pointed out, disunity destroyed the Beis HaMikdash, and it shall be rebuilt (speedily, in our time) through the unity Jews gain from sharing in the Torah of those who came before us.
The Maharal in Derech Chaim points out that the root of an original thought comes from the soul of the person saying it. By repeating somebody else’s original thought, you are replanting the root back from where it came. That, too, is redemption because the definition of redemption is putting things back to their ideal state.
In Pachad Yitzchak, Rav Yitzchak Hutner quotes the Talmud’s (Brachos 17a) prayer that we want to do H-Shem’s Will, but exile restrains us. Rav Hutner continues that, on a personal level, exile means when a soul cannot grow and feels restrained. Therefore, redemption is bringing action back into the soul’s potential. By reporting Mordechai’s words – which are all Torah – Esther brings about the redemption of the Purim story, and eventually leads to the building of the Second Temple.
Rav Shmuel de Ozeida writes that, if Mordechai learned of this plot through prophecy, of course he had to do something with that knowledge. After all, one does not learn information through prophecy for naught.
Midrash Panim Acheirim posits that Mordechai reported this plot for three reasons:
By getting in the good graces of the king, Mordechai hoped to win permission to rebuild the Temple.
More generally, being liked by the king, Mordechai would be able to have influence for the sake of Jewish causes.
More practically, he had to do this in order to not be blamed for this plot. Although this would be neither the first nor last time a Jew is scapegoat in political intrigue, this is especially true according to the Ma’amar Mordechai’s opinion mentioned before that the plotters had originally attempted to sway Mordechai into joining their conspiracy.
The Ben Ish Chai brings from the Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 39:12) that it is the duty of a Jew to save the world. Jewish advisers to foreign kings throughout our history have rescued them from impending doom whenever possible. Mordechai could not turn his back to this ancient tradition. Furthermore, writes the Ben Ish Chai, anybody would do similarly, at the least in order to avoid suspicion. The Maharal and the Me’am Loez both quote the Mishnah (Avos 3:2) that a Jew should pray for the peace in the government because anarchy and unrestrained progressive change can be dangerous.
8. And the drinking was like the law, no forcing, because so the king declared to all of the many greats of his house to do according to the wants of man and man.
It is possible to suggest, as the Midrash (Esther Rabba 2:13) does, that the Persians had detailed customs of behavior in regards to drinking. After all, cultures make ceremonies around those actions they hold dear. Achashverosh carefully kept these rules. Rabbi Avraham Chadida, however, makes the exact opposite comment; according to him, it was generally forbidden to become drunk before the king, and Achashverosh intended to change that custom to become a more popular leader.
The Talmud (Megillah 12a) infers that Achashverosh was following the “laws” of the sacrifices – having more food than drink at his party, just as there is more meat than wine in the Beis HaMikdash (Temple) service (as, for example, the ratio of meat to wine described in the Torah for an olah offering in Bamidbar 28:12, 14). Rav Dovid Feinstein points to this as yet one more way in which Achashverosh was attempting to ape the Temple and its service.
The fifth noun mentioned in this verse is the unique term, tiferes. The Talmud (Megillah 12a) notes that the word is used by the Torah (as in Shemos 28:2) in connection to the clothing of the kohanim, the priests. This is one of the proofs suggested by the Talmud that Achashverosh used the items – and even the clothes – of the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in celebrating its demise at this feast.