- The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:9) suggests a number of reasons for this verse’s repeating Esther’s description. One opinion (that of R’ Yuda) is that people considered Esther an icon (work of art representing a person) and was liked by all.
- Another opinion (R’ Nechemya’s) agrees that, in comparison to other women, Esther was the most beautiful.
- However, the Rabbis there say that Esther found favor in the eyes of the “upper ones and the lower ones.” In other words, she was liked by angels and men, as it says in Mishlei (3:4) “be’eyney elohim v’adam” (“in the eyes of angels and men”). Torah Temimah explains that people care about appearances, but angels care about character. They saw in Esther that she was gentle and had a pure character. We can perhaps add that there are people who become beautiful through their beautiful characteristics.
- The Talmud (Megillah 7a and 13a) says people found a kinship with Esther because she looked as though she could belong to any nation. Ben Yehoyada says the reason for this was miraculous, and its purpose was in order for people to not be able to know that this girl raised in Mordechai’s house was of a particular group – namely, Jewish. Although some want to assert that Esther’s green color (as we’ve mentioned before) may have been a beautiful, olive complexion, this favorable view is not the way the Talmud (Megillah 15a) understands Esther’s color. Her being green effectively removed her from the Talmud’s list there of the four most beautiful women in history. The Vilna Gaon wonders why the Talmud could suggest that Esther was pallid and green if the verse (2:7) itself testifies to her beauty. He answers that Esther was indeed beautiful at one point, but turned pale from sadness having to endure Achashverosh’s harem.
- The Pri Tzedek writes in his commentary on Shemos that there are different levels of love, with “chein” (“favor”) meaning a love without reason, and that is the appreciation Esther received from the people around her.
יב וַתְּמָאֵן הַמַּלְכָּה וַשְׁתִּי לָבוֹא בִּדְבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר בְּיַד הַסָּרִיסִים וַיִּקְצֹף הַמֶּלֶךְ מְאֹד וַחֲמָתוֹ בָּעֲרָה בוֹ
12. And Queen Vashti refused to come according to the words of the king that he sent through chamberlains; and the king became very incensed and his anger burned inside him.
- M’nos HaLevi suggests that Vashti did not come when summoned because she was conceited. According to the Ben Yehoyada, quoted by Rav Dovid Feinstein, she was so conceited that she could not even imagine him punishing her as he had a right to do.
- According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz, since the underlying reason for this party was to coerce the Jews to sin (see the second post on 1:8), this day was Shabbos and she figured there was no point in such a stunt if the Jews weren’t even there on Shabbos to sin. He also suggests that Vashti felt that her unclothed arrival to the feast would tempt the men present.
- The Talmud (Megillah 12b) suggests that the only reason she refused was because she suddenly became less beautiful. In fact, through the agency of the angel, Gavriel, Vashti had just then grown a tail and come down with a tzaraas skin affliction. How does the Talmud know this? Tosfos and Rashi quote a no-longer extant Yerushalmi which says that the language of the verse recalling Vashti’s punishment (Esther 2:1) is similar to the language in the verse that describes Uziyahu’s learning of his tzaraas (Divrei HaYamim 2 26:21). According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz, of all angels, it was Gavriel who performed this task because, according to the Talmud (Sotah 31a) and the Zohar (196a), it is this angel who best knows men’s thoughts. As such, he knew what evil lurked in Vashti’s brain, and was thus the ideal messenger of H-Shem’s displeasure. Why would Vashti get these particular defects? Ben Yehoyada suggests that one reason (listed in the Talmud, Arachim 16a) for incurring tzaraas is for having a conceited spirit. Ben Yehoyada says that this was yet another example of “mida kineged mida,” (“measure for measure”); since Vashti had the Jewish girls work naked on Shabbos, so, too, she was punished on Shabbos in a manner related to nudity. R’ Elazar of Germezia notes that the gematria of “and the Queen Vashti refused to come” is equal to the phrase “she was afflicted with tzaraas.”1 A tail is used by animals to cover themselves. People use clothes for that purpose. Vashti’s otherwise desire to perform in a contrary behavior earned her, mida kineged mida, a tail of an animal. The Aruch writes that Vashti did not literally grow a tail, but rather an appendage of some sort. This fits well with the idea that this “zanav” covered her front. Rav Schwab asks on this why it could not be a real tail like an animal? According to Rabbi Aaron Eli Glatt, the letters of “zanav” (zayin, nun, and beis) can be seen as an acronym for Zevil Merodach, Nebuchadnetzer, and Balshatzar – Vashti’s royal lineage about which she was so conceited.