According to M’nos HaLevi, the verse calls Esther a queen to emphasize Haman’s jealousy. After all, Haman was upset that his daughter was not chosen to be the queen, effectively robbing Haman of more influence on Achashverosh.
Perhaps the verse also calls Esther a queen because, according to the Talmud (Kesubos 65a), women do not generally drink – especially together with men. However, Esther’s behavior can be excused as exceptional because her status in royalty makes her an exception to the rule.
Perhaps the verse is calling Esther a queen because she was engaged in the holy work of fulfilling a prophecy. The Midrash (Tanchuma 14) applies a verse (Bireishis 49:27) that “Benyamin is a wolf that captures; in the morning it will eat its prey and in the evening it will divide its spoils” to Esther’s actions. Esther “captured” Achashverosh and Haman by luring them to a party, and then pounced. She “ate her prey” by having Haman executed (Esther 7:10), and then “divided her spoils” by carving up Haman’s property (Esther 8:1).
- The Alshich says that the nation refers specifically to Benyamin, Mordechai’s ancestor.
- According to the Talmud (Megillah 13b), the nation to which Haman aims his hatred is the rabbis – the elite leadership of the nation. M’nos HaLevi tells us that killing the rabbis would leave the Jews as sheep without a shepherd. The Jewish nation cannot survive without Torah leadership. The Yad HaMelech says Haman did not want to kill out the Jews, but only wanted to kill out the rabbis. His intent would be to enrage the Jews over the death of the rabbis, and blame Mordechai. They would then kill Mordechai, themselves. Haman believed that, this way, they would deserve to be wiped out by H-Shem. This idea of causing the Jews to deserve their own destruction is nothing new. Both Bilaam and Haman attempted just such a strategy in the incident of the daughters of Moav (Bamidbar 25:1-3) and Achashverosh’s party (Esther 1:1-10), respectively.
- Why such hatred? Why did Haman so want to kill out the Jews? The Malbim and Akeidas Yitzchak posit that, since Mordechai refused to bow to him on religious grounds, Haman desired the death of that nation that followed those self-same tenets.
- In his Vedibarta Bam on Megillas Esther, Rabbi Bogomilsky brings that Haman realized that all of the Yehudim were an “am Mordechai” – a nation of Mordechais. Even if Haman were to eliminate that Mordechai who won’t bow to him, there will be other “Mordechais” who will pop up to do the same.
- Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer asks why, if Haman wanted everyone to bow to him, did he not simply decree that Mordechai have to do it. Seeing their leader doing so should inspire most people to ape that behavior. Rav Blazer answers that Jews are different. If we see our leader acting contrary to our beliefs, we feel disgusted by that leader, and want nothing to do with him.
- According to the Ben Ish Chai, he wanted to kill the Jews due to his slave status. As his master, Mordechai could take possession over everything Haman owned. With Mordechai dead, a relative or other heir would become lord over Haman’s assets, leaving him virtually powerless. As long as there is a Jew alive, Haman could not have power. Power-hungry to his core, Haman needed to be rid of all possible heirs to Mordechai’s property, and this included all of the Jews.
- The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8) teaches that, by answering that he is a Jew, Mordechai really intended to emphasize that, as a Jew, he is forbidden to worship anyone or anything besides H-Shem.
- Rav Shlomo Kluger says that “Mordechai’s words” indicate his reporting the plot of Bigsan and Seresh. Mordechai wanted to see if his demonstrated loyalty to the king would be enough to excuse him (and perhaps the other Jews) from this bowing.
- The Chasam Sofer says that the words “that he is a Yehudi” refers to Haman. As mentioned in the Talmud (Megillah 15a), Haman sold himself as a slave to Mordechai. Yalkut Shimoni (953) tells us there was rebellion against Achashverosh in one of his Indian states. Haman and Mordechai were chosen to command two of Achashverosh’s battalions. Due to his spending practices, Haman ran out of provisions. Mordechai, due to his righteous care for his resources (see Rashi to Bireishis 32:25 and Talmud, Chullin 91a), did not. Haman begged Mordechai for some of his rations, on condition that Mordechai sell himself to him as a slave, to which Haman agreed. Having nothing on which to write handy, Mordechai wrote the deed on his shoe, or armor he had on his feet. That being the case, a slave to a Jew who then goes free becomes Jewish, himself (Talmud, Chagigah 4a and brought down in Halachah in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 267:3-5, 11). According to the Chasam Sofer, then, Mordechai was saying that he does not have to bow down to him since Haman was once his slave. For that reason, according to the Midrash, every time Haman would pass by, Mordechai would point down to his shoe.
- The verse makes it sound as though the servants did not trust Mordechai, and Mi’archei Lev writes that Mordechai gave them reason to respond this way. After all, it was well-known that he was from Benyamin, but he aroused suspicion by saying he was a Yehudi.
- Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz writes that Haman felt confident about conquering Mordechai as he was from Benyamin. Here, Mordechai is pointing out that he comes from another tribe as well – Yehudah. Yehudah, being the tribe of Moshiach, is the great challenge to the power of Amalek. Mordechai represents the Yehudi who can conquer the power of evil. Rav Eibshutz also writes that Haman set up a test for Mordechai by one time coming out without a statue. Nevertheless, Mordechai still refused to bow to him. Even though Mordechai knew there was no statue, other people didn’t know, and this would constitute maaris ayin.
- 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.
כ אֵין אֶסְתֵּר מַגֶּדֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ וְאֶת–עַמָּהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה עָלֶיהָ מָרְדֳּכָי וְאֶת–מַאֲמַר מָרְדֳּכַי אֶסְתֵּר עֹשָׂה כַּֽאֲשֶׁר הָיְתָה בְאָמְנָה אִתּוֹ
20. And Esther did not reveal her lineage and her nation as Mordechai commanded her, and the instruction of Mordechai Esther did just as she did in being raised by him.
- Eitz Yosef writes that, earlier (2:10), before Esther was introduced to Achashverosh, Mordechai did not want the knowledge of Esther’s royal lineage to encourage the king to choose her (as we’ve said before). Now that she was already chosen, she no longer had this reason, and she refused to identify her royal stock out of modest humility.
- The Malbim writes that, despite the fact that she was no longer under Mordechai’s direct influence, and despite the many tactics of the king, she still refused to identify her people. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:12) comments that Esther’s silence was an innate, genetic family trait learned from Rachel, her ancestor. Rachel famously stayed silent in the face of her sister marrying her beloved Yaakov (see Bireishis 29:25 and Rashi there). Decades later, Rachel’s son, Benyamin, stayed silent about the sale of Yosef, despite mourning for his brother to the point of naming all of his ten sons after him (see Bireishis 46:21 and Rashi there). King Shaul, Rachel’s descendant, too, was silent (Shmuel 1 10:16) about being made king by the prophet Shmuel. The Midrash is teaching, therefore, that it was due to Esther’s lineage – her ancestral ability to stay silent in the face of adversity – that allowed her to stay silent now.
- The Ohel Moshe points out that silence is not always good. Although the Mishnah praises silence (Avos 1:17) as the best thing “for a body,” this seems to contradict the verse in Koheles (3:7) which states that “there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak.” The Alshich and Maharal both point out that the Mishnah specifically says silence is good for the body, meaning that silence is always good for the physical body, but silence is not always ideal for the soul. The Ohel Moshe concludes from this that all of Esther’s relatives praised in the Midrash for being silent were pure enough to know when to speak, and when to be silent.
- The Malbim contends that Esther, besides possessing health and beauty, also had great character because of her distinguished father. We know that he was a great man because it says in the Talmud (hinted at in Megillah 10b) that all prophets must have good genealogy.
- Another reason for her father to be mentioned here comes from the Maharal. He quotes the verse in the Torah (Bireishis 2:24) that says a man who finds his intended should cling to her. Maharal continues that a woman, too, clings to her husband after marriage. Therefore, Esther was connected to Mordechai up until this point, and will now have to cling to her new “husband,” Achashverosh.
- The Talmud (Megillah 13b) says that Esther’s ancestors Rachel, Benyamin, and Shaul were all able to keep secrets. This characteristic was passed down through Avichayil to Esther. Rav Chaim Kanievsky says this verse emphasizes this genetic link to secrecy. This is why Esther’s father was not mentioned earlier when her secrecy was first mentioned (2:10 above), because there, she was commanded to be secretive by Mordechai, and this verse is attesting to her innate ability to do so for this long period of time.
- As noted earlier (three posts ago), the Talmud (Megillah 12b) states that Mordechai’s father was from the tribe of Benyamin. Rav Yitzchak Hutner adds that this is an important detail to the story because, when Haman becomes incensed at Mordechai’s refusal to bow to him (Esther 3:5), the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8) has Haman say, “All the tribes bowed to my ancestor, Eisav (Bireishis 33:3)! Why won’t you bow to me?” Mordechai answers, “All the tribes bowed except for Benyamin, for he was not yet born. Therefore, I need not bow to you.”
- Another reason this is important is that Esther is related to Mordechai by being “daughter of his uncle” (Esther 2:7). Therefore, she too comes from the royal house of King Shaul, and may be prized by Achashverosh for this.
- “Yimini” could also mean that Mordechai was right-leaning. In Kabbalistic thought, this means he had a focus on “chachmah” – masculine, logical, and linear knowledge – rather than “binah” – feminine, instinctual, global wisdom. With H-Shem’s help, this insight into Mordechai’s character will help us to better understand his argument with Esther (4:11-16) about the best way to combat the coming threat to Jewish survival.
- In the Talmud’s lengthy exposition on this verse (Megillah 12b-13a), the Rabbis note that the verse seemingly mentions these ancestors of Mordechai out of order, skipping around generations. For example, Shimi was a distant descendant of Kish (Targum Sheini to Esther 2:5), not his son. The Rabbis therefore expound on these names as indicating Mordechai’s characteristics. He was the “son of Yair” in that he brightened (“hey’ir”) the eyes of the Jews to prayer; he was the “son of Shimi” in that his prayers were listened to (“shema”) by H-Shem; he was the “son of Kish” in that he knocked (“hikish”) at the Gates of Mercy. The Ohel Moshe asks the question: should not the fact that his prayers were listened to be more important – thus listed before – than his act of “brightening the eyes” of others to pray? After all, his prayers being answered saved the Jews! He answers that, indeed, as powerful as Mordechai’s prayers were, the combined power of the Jews he roused with his “great cry” (Esther 4:1) led to an unprecedented era of teshuva, return, whose cornerstone is prayer.
- But like every great man, he was not without his detractors and controversy. Another opinion in the Talmud there (Rava) states that the tribes would deflect from themselves responsibility for Mordechai’s seemingly causing Jewish existence to be threatened in the Purim story, as we will discuss (iy”H) when we get to it (in Esther 3:6). The Jews blamed Yehudah for King David’s (a member of Yehudah) not killing Shimi ben Geira (Shmuel 2 16:7-13 and Melachim 1 2:9), and they blamed Benyamin for King Shaul’s (a member of Benyamin) not killing Agag, ancestor of Haman. Interestingly, Rav Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz notes that Shaul is noticeably missing in this list of ancestors (see Shmuel 1 9:1). Possibly, this could be a way to avoid embarrassing Mordechai for this relation, especially in light of Shaul’s embarrassing failure to wipe out Amalek leading to the Purim story. Otherwise, Rav Alkabetz ventures to opine that Mordechai could be a “gilgul,” (“reincarnation”) of King Shaul.
- The Talmud (Megillah 12b) states that Mordechai’s mother was from the tribe of Yehudah, while his father was from Benyamin. Although the tribal ancestry was paternal, members of the two tribes would later vie over his heritage to take credit for Mordechai’s greatness. The Alshich teaches that the verse is stressing that his mother was from the royal house of Yehudah. Rav Yehonasan Eibshutz says there is a mystical reason for this. According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 99a), Haman’s female ancestor, Timna (see Bireishis 36:12 and Divrei HaYamim 1 1:36), also came from royal blood. Since, as Rav Elie Munk writes most cogently in Ascent to Harmony, “the division into masculine and feminine principles provides the pattern for all of creation” (80), the feminine aspect of Mordechai had to match the feminine aspect of Haman in order to defeat it. Therefore, Mordechai’s mother had to come from royalty to counter Haman.
- R’ Yochanan’s opinion in the Talmud (Megillah 12b) is that Mordechai actually was from Benyamin, but was called a Yehudi because he fought against idol worship. According to Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky (in Emes L’Yaakov), the name “Yehuda” is especially apt for someone who stands against idolatry because the first three letters of the name (yud, hey, and vuv) are letters that spell the Name of H-Shem that represents His mastery over all, and is thus a rejection of pagan beliefs. The Chida adds that the gematria of Mordechai HaYehudi (40+200+4+20+10+5+10+5+6+4+10=314) is the same as Sha-d-ai (300+4+10=314), the name of H-Shem that connotes His ability to keep things from growing out of control, as in “He who said “dai!” (“enough!”)” while creating the borders of the world (Talmud, Chagigah 12a). Therefore, He controls everything, and can turn everything around, as He does through Mordechai and Esther in the Purim story.
- The Sfas Emes gives three reasons for Mordechai’s being called “Yehudi,” all three relating the word in its guttural etymology to the word “echad,” (“one”). First, Mordechai was a “yachid,” (“a unique individual”) in that he saved an entire generation (see Midrash, Esther Rabbah 6:2). Second, he unified the Jewish people to counter Haman’s criticism that they were splintered in disunion (Esther 3:8). Finally, Mordechai sacrificed everything for H-Shem who is One, Echad (Devarim 6:4).