Esther 9:19, Question 2. Why are there, in effect, two Purims?

  • The Ran notes that there is a concept (Bamidbar 15:16) that there is one Torah and one law for all Jews. In other words, there should ordinarily be only one day for all Jews to celebrate together. For this reason, Mendel Weinbach notes, usually, according to Halacha (Mishna Berura 688:12), where one spends Purim determines when one will celebrate it. For example, a Jew visiting a walled city temporarily nevertheless celebrates it there for purposes of achdus (“unity”).
  • R’ Betzalel haKohen of Vilna, however, writes that this distinction is meant to stress that Purim is a d’rabbanan (“rabbinic”) holiday, since the Torah’s (Devarim 13:1) prohibition to add to the given mitzvos only applies to d’oraisa (“Scriptural”) laws.
  • A story is told of a visitor from Bnei Brak in the home of R’ Shlomo Bloch in Yerushalayim. R’ Bloch invited him to drink at his Purim feast (on Shushan Purim), but since he had already drunk the previous day, the visitor argued that he had already fulfilled the mitzva of drinking on Purim. R’ Bloch retorted, “You may have fulfilled Purim, but you can still fulfill the mitzva of feeling another Jew’s joy.”
  • The Chasam Sofer gives another reason to have two days of Purim – to avoid bitul Torah. Since the Mishna (Avos 1:2) teaches that Torah is one of the three foundations upon which the world stands, if there were (chas v’Shalom) one moment when nobody was learning Torah, the world would cease to exist immediately. With the advent of Shushan Purim, while one group is drinking and celebrating, the other group can uphold the world by learning.

Esther 9:10, Question 3. Why did the Yehudim not take the spoils?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 7a) notes that one of the proofs that Megillas Esther was written with ruach hakodesh (see Introduction) is that no human writer could possibly know that the Jews did not take any spoils.
  • Rashi writes that the Jews had rights to the spoils, but decided to wave those rights, and give the spoils to the king in order to maintain friendly relations with the palace.
  • The Dena Pishra writes that they did not take spoils because they did not want others to think that the Jews’ motivation was financial.
  • In M’aarchei Lev, Rav Moshe Schwab writes that since this was the property of Amalek, it was forbidden to take, as was the case for Shaul (Shmuel 1 15:3). and this is why the Jews refrained from doing so here.
  • In fact, the Binyan Ariel and Nachal Eshkol write that the Jews’ self-control in this incident was a tikun for the sin of Shaul in sparing (Shmuel 1 15:9) Amalek’s property.
  • Interestingly, the M’lo HaOmer and Me’am Loez both note that the initial letters of the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth words of this verse, uvabeeza lo shalchu es (“and from their spoils they did not send”) can be rearranged to spell Shaul.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that the Jews took the spoils, but destroyed them in an effort to not benefit from the property.
  • However, R’ Yitzchak Yeruchem Diskin writes in Ohelim that Jews have an obligation to take the property of Amalek and destroy it, but did not do so here. The reason was that the Talmud (Megillah 16a) considers Haman to have been a slave. As such, he relinquished all rights to personal belongings. This includes his children. This also answers the question of how his grandchildren could study Torah in Bnei Brak if Amalek is never allowed to join the Jewish people. Such is not the case for his grandchildren because of his status of being a slave.
  • Megillas Seris adds another reason they did not take the spoils – they only had one day to kill Amalek, and they did not want to run the risk of missing the opportunity to fulfill this mitzva. In the course of performing a mitzva, they totally ignored anything ancillary to killing out their enemies.
  • The Gerrer Rebbe notes that matanos la’evyonim, the Halachic (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:4) injunction to donate to the poor on Purim is in honor of the impoverished Jews of the time not taking the spoils of their enemies, despite their needs.

Esther 7:7, Question 4. To what decision does Haman refer?

  • In a rather enigmatic comment, Rashi writes, “evil, hatred, and vengeance were decided.” Haman must have known that all negative things were being focused in his direction.
  • The Brisker Rav asks how Haman knew that evil was decided. He answers that the Targum translates Achashverosh’s asking (Esther 7:5) “ay zeh” as “where is he.” In other words, the decision to punish whoever was responsible for this evil decree was final, and only required the finding of the culprit.
  • The Ben Ish Chai answers that Haman knew bad things were in store for him because he had already been advised by his friends (Esther 6:13) that his situation was deteriorating. Besides that, Haman thought that his situation would regress because Zeresh and his advisers thereby made what the Talmud (Kesubos 8b) calls “an opening for the Satan,” – saying something that could allow the Heavenly accuser an opportunity to punish someone.
  • The Dena Pishra answered that the verse, once again, used the word melech to refer to the King, H-Shem, because Haman angered Him, and now was certain the time had come for retribution.
  • Both the Dena Pishra and R’ Moshe David Valle note that the last letters of the phrase “ki chalasa eilav hara” (“because he saw that evil was decided on him”) spell out H-Sem’s Name in order. As the Chida and Rabbeinu Bachya write, when H-Shem’s Name is encoded in order, it represents His quality of mercy. This hints to the fact that Haman must have realized that all comes from H-Shem.
  • Parenthetically,this fact does not automatically define him as righteous righteous. After all, instead of getting on his knees at this point in true repentance to H-Shem, he begs for his life from an earthly queen. However, perhaps his begging Esther for his life instead of Achashverosh indicates that he acknowledges her righteousness, and its accompanying power. This very act may be the one that earned him the merit of having descendants who the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) says learn Torah in Bnei Brak learn Torah.

Esther 5:9, Question 2. Why does the verse describe Haman’s joy in two ways?

  • The Alshich notes that, for someone who should be planning the details of his newly-signed decree to annihilate the Jews, Haman’s reaction is inappropriate, and is therefore another example of H-Shem guiding the behavior of people. H-Shem calmed Haman, giving him the opportunity to make mistakes only blasé, overly confident people make. H-Shem does not control our actions, but He can control our attitudes by removing our worries.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that joy refers to physical joy, and a good heart is an internal pleasure.
  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the two adjectives refer to two different attitudes simultaneously occurring in Haman’s mind. The first happiness came with his taking pride in the fact that only he was invited to private, royal feast. The other feeling was satisfaction from his meal. This was no mundane emotion, as we know that food has a powerful affect on behavior.
  • The Kedushas Levi notes that Scripture usually reserves this kind of phraseology of being satisfied for the righteous. Its use here for Haman seems unusual. The Tiferes Shlomo answers with a spiritual answer that the Talmud (Gitin 57b) says that Haman’s descendants learn Torah in Bnei Brak. Considering that Amalek cannot convert, and that Haman’s sons all die, this is indeed strange. Firstly, it is possible Haman’s sons had children before they were killed. As evil as he was, some of the holiness from the meal prepared by Esther rubbed off on him. Holiness never goes away. It can be mishandled, as potential can be ignored.

Esther 3:1, Question 2. Why does the king promote Haman?

  • Apparently basing itself on the idea that King here refers to H-Shem, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:1) cites a verse in Tehillim (37:20) to relate that H-Shem allowed for Haman to be elevated only in order for his fall to be all-the-more steep and painful. There is a parable told there of a horse, a donkey, and a pig. The farmer feeds the donkey and horse a limited amount, and feeds the pig without measure. One day, the horse asks the donkey, “We do actual work, yet are fed less. This is not fair!” The wise donkey tells the horse to be patient and realize that the pig is not well-fed for its own good, but to be fattened up to be eaten by the farmer.
  • In the next Midrash (ibid. 7:2) a story is told of a king who felt it beneath his dignity to kill a peasant, so he promotes him in order to execute him without degrading himself. Such is the case with Haman, made great only to be cut down the more painfully.
  • The Chida calculates that Haman was at the peak of his power for a total of seventy days. He sent out the letters to kill the Jews on the 13th of Nisan. Seventy days later, on the 23rd of Sivan, Mordechai sent out the letters for the Jews to rescue themselves. Similarly, there are seventy verses between this verse where Haman is elevated and the verse where Haman is hanged (7:10).
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that, by elevating Haman, H-Shem was rewarding him for his advice to rid the world of the evil Vashti.
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman was elevated at this point as a consequence for King Shaul’s (Mordechai and Esther’s ancestor) misdirected kindness in keeping Agag (Haman’s ancestor) alive.
  • Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (21) writes that Haman’s elevation is a reward for Agag’s sincere prayer when he was locked up in prison, awaiting his death. Because of this evil man’s last prayer, a ruler was destined to come from him, as is alluded to in the verse (Bamidbar 24:7), “and He raised from Agag his kingship.” Based on this, the Ginzei HaMelech asks, how could Haman, a thoroughly evil man only in power for 70 days, be considered a reward? He answers that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) teaches that Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah in Bnei Brak, truly a reward for anybody.
  • The Maharal writes that Haman is rewarded here instead of Mordechai because the righteous generally are not rewarded with wealth in this world, but accrue reward in the World to Come.
  • Rav Shmuel Aharon Rubin cites Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak in the Talmud (Megillah 11a), who applies the verse in Tehillim (124:2) that discusses H-Shem rescuing us from a man to the Purim story. Since kings have not free will of their own, he continues, H-Shem needed to elevate a man – since free will is the mark of humanity – to this position from which he could threaten the Jewish people. It is a bigger miracle that Pesach in that way because Pharaoh’s heart was Divinely hardened. Haman, on the other hand, could make his own decisions, and chose evil all the same.
  • The Vilna Gaon tells us that if Haman is Memuchan (as asserted before), the human king had reason to reward him, as well. After all, it was Haman who advised that Vashti should be removed. First, this advice allowed the king to marry Esther. Second, Esther helped save the king’s life from the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:21).
  • But if the motivation to elevate Haman came from Achashverosh for this, why did he not reward Mordechai? The Tirosh Vayitz’har writes that Achashverosh was unsure about Mordechai’s intention. Perhaps he was a part of the plot, after all. The only one he was sure of was Esther, so he rewarded her by elevating the man whose advice led to her being queen.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Kluger writes that, after surviving the assassination attempt, Achashverosh realized that he was at risk – especially from Haman – and knew that he needed to keep him close by. As the old saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
  • This is the exact opposite view from Chacham Tzvi, whose opinion is that Achashverosh mistrusted Haman and thought he conspired together with Esther to kill him. However, once Esther reported the assassination plot in Mordechai’s name – Mordechai being Haman’s arch rival – Achashverosh (thought he) knew that Haman was loyal.
  • According to the Malbim, the king simply forgot about Mordechai completely.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz notes that it makes little logical sense for Mordechai to have been so passed over, and instead condemned to die along with the other Jews. After all, he saved the king’s life when he had no need to. Therefore, this verse is yet another proof that it is impossible to understand the Purim story – or even Jewish history, in general – without the understanding that H-Shem miraculously protects His beloved people.