Esther 7:9, Question 1. Who is Charvona?

ט וַיֹּאמֶר חַרְבוֹנָה אֶחָד מִןהַסָּרִיסִים לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ גַּם הִנֵּההָעֵץ אֲשֶׁרעָשָׂה הָמָן לְמָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּרטוֹב עַלהַמֶּלֶךְ עֹמֵד בְּבֵית הָמָן גָּבֹהַּ חֲמִשִּׁים אַמָּה וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ תְּלֻהוּ עָלָיו

9. And Charvona, one of the eunuchs before the king, said, “Also, behold! Here is the tree that Haman made for Mordechai who said good regarding on the king. It is standing in Haman’s house fifty-cubit tall.” And the king said, “Hang him on it.”

  •  The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach propose that Charvona was simply one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to feast (Esther 6:14).
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), Charvona was an evil ally of Haman’s, intent on killing Mordechai. Once he saw that the plan would not succeed, he surrendered. This fits with the verse (Iyov 27:22) that allies of the wicked “will surely flee.”
  • The Dubno Maggid explains this with the following allegory: A blind beggar works with a young boy. One day, the boy stole the blind beggar’s wallet with 30 coins. When he saw the beggar crying pitiably, the boy returned the wallet saying, “I found the wallet with the 30 coins.” Instead of thanking the boy, the beggar began to beat the boy mercilessly for the theft. How did he know that the boy stole it? How else could the boy have known that there were 30 coins in the bag? Likewise, the Talmud knows that Charvona is evil because how else could he have known that the gallows were 50 amos tall if he were not in on the plot.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that Charvona noticed that Haman lost the ability to defend himself, and this emboldened him to speak up.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:9) lists what many of the angels and other Heavenly Beings were doing during the climax of the Purim story. It says that Eliyahu appeared like Charvona, and said the words attributed to him in this verse.
  • Another Midrash (Yalkut 1059) and the Ibn Ezra concur that Charvona is Eliyahu.
  • The Alshich adds that another proof that Charvona is Eliyahu is that the verse describes him as “before the king,” and Eliyahu is certainly a minister of the King of kings.
  • Interestingly, the song, “Shoshanas Yaakov,” sung on Purim after the public reading of Megillas Esther ends with the words, “v’gam Charvona zachur latov” (“and also Charvona should be remembered for good”). Charvona is the only person who shares the epithet, “zachur latov” with Eliyahu.
  • When Charvona is mentioned earlier (Esther 1:10), he is the third in a list of the king’s chamberlains/eunichs. The M’nos HaLevi notes that the name is spelled with a letter aleph at the end there, and with a letter hey at the end here. He explains that when Charvona was on the side of evil, his name is spelled with an aleph. When he repents, and is Eliyahu, it is spelled with a hey.
  • In an explanation, R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this name ending with an aleph means destruction in Aramaic. With a hey, it is a composite of “charav boneh” (“destroy, build”). In the process of true repentance, he was rebuilding that which he had earlier wanted to destroy – namely, Mordechai.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya, in his commentary on the Torah writes that he was called Charvona because he helped destroy Haman.
  • The Chasam Sofer and R’ Dovid Feinstein both say that with an aleph, it is the gentile Aramaic; with a hey, it is Hebrew, so it is Jewish.

Esther 6:4, Question 3. Why does the verse mention that the gallows were prepared “for him?”

Gallows

  • Besides stressing that the verse mention that the gallows were prepared “for him,” R’ Shlomo Kluger in Ma’amar Mordechai points out that in order to be consistent with Zeresh’s advice earlier (Esther 5:14), the verse should have written “asher asa lo” (“that he made for him”) instead of “asher heichin lo” (“that he prepared for him”).
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) explains that the gallows Haman had built were prepared in the ironic sense that they would unintentionally be used for his own hanging.
  • The Vilna Gaon explains that, as opposed to something whose purpose changes, the gallows were never meant for Mordechai at all, and were always for Haman. Some things historically had an intended purpose, and were then appropriated for some other use. T.N.T., for instance, was meant to be used solely for construction. Its being adopted for use in war so traumatized its inventor, Alfred Nobel, that he developed the Nobel Peace Prize for those who allegedly bring peace to the world. These gallows, by contrast, from their inception, were always intended for Haman’s downfall.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the gallows had to be a perfect fit for Haman, since he and his sons all fit on the same gallows (see Targum Sheini to Esther 9:14). See attached chart.
  • According to the opinion that the gallows were made from the beams of the Beis HaMikdash, the Ben Ish Chai asks how Mordechai could have the right to use them as he will when he hangs Haman (Esther 7:10) since he would thereby desecrate these holy objects (Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 50). However, answers the Ben Ish Chai, Haman’s using the beams first took away their sanctity, preparing the beams for use in his own death.
  • Using Newtonian physics, the Maharal points out that if an object that is thrown at a wall drops straight down upon impact, this shows the amount of force applied by the thrower. However, if the object bounces back upon impact, this means the thrower applied more force, and it was only the wall’s strength that kept the object from its intended place. Similarly, in yet another example of mida kineged mida, what happened to Haman (and his sons) reflects the vehemence with which they planned to dispatch Mordechai.
  • According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz in Yaaros Dvash, Haman intended hang a completely different “him” – the king. After all, Haman had planned a conspiracy to take over the monarchy.
  • On a Halachic point, the Chasam Sofer notes that hachana (“preparation”) usually implies in the legal world preparing for the next days. In this case, where Haman prepared the gallows earlier that morning, why is this hachana for the same say? He answers that hachana for gentiles does not need to be for the next days since the Talmud describes them as “holech achar hayom,” that they follow a solar schedule, controlled by the sun.
  • The Belzer Rebbe adds that Halacha recognizes the need for mitzvos to have hachana; this is not true for sins. For example, consider how much planning you needed to put into learning right now, versus how much planning you would have needed to waste your time in front of a tv or computer screen, instead. Therefore, the gallows must have been for Haman since killing out the nation of Amalek is a mitzvah (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 6:4).

Esther 4:14, Question 4. Why does Mordechai say rescue will come from “another place?”

  • When Mordechai says rescue will come from “another place,” he means that rescue will come from H-Shem. He can be confident about this because the Yerushalmi (Simchos 8) quotes a verse (Vayikra 26:44) in saying that H-Shem promised that He would always rescue the Jews.
  • Therefore, the Kissey Shlomo and Dina Pishra write that H-Shem will find a way to rescue His people.
  • According to the Me’am Loez, one of the methods H-Shem could use in stopping Achashverosh is killing him through a rival nation. Mordechai is pointing out to Esther that, as queen, this method would be precarious for her; historically, fates worse than death can await a conquered queen.
  • The Chasam Sofer points out that Makom “place” can mean H-Shem, as we say in the phrase we use to comfort mourners.
  • R’ Moshe Meir Weiss points out that this is another example of Megillas Esther performing mental acrobatics to avoid using H-Shem’s Name.
  • R’ Shmuel Houminer asks why Mordechai is pushing Esther to perform this action. Did he not have faith in H-Shem. He answers that a person is required to have faith in H-Shem, but not trust specifically in his own method of achieving his goal.

Esther 4:7, Question 2. Why does the verse use the word “parashas?”

  • According to R’ Eliezer of Worms, the verse use the word “parashas” (“chapter”) to describe Haman’s meeting with Achashverosh in order to emphasize that this event was not just talk – a financial exchange took place, giving the event legal significance and legally binding consequences.
  • In fact, as the Divrei Shaul points out, Mordechai was communicating to Esther the fact that Achashverosh could not be easily bought off, since Haman had already given/ offered him money (see above 3:11).
  • As R’ Dovid Feinstein notes, Achashverosh’s refusal to accept the bribe only stresses the ferocity of his hate for the Jews, making this a very serious threat to Jewish existence, indeed. Convincing Achashverosh to change his mind would require nothing short of a miracle.
  • Parenthetically, According to Yaaros Dvash, the fact that Achashverosh refused the money was covered up by Haman in an attempt to deny people the opportunity to intercede on behalf of the Jews.
  • The Chasam Sofer writes that Mordechai’s giving the details of this entire episode here served a vital purpose later. In fact, Esther uses this event in detail to convince the king to save the Jews from Haman’s decree. In the Chasam Sofer’s view of the events, Achashverosh refused Haman’s money (see 3:11 above) because he reasoned that killing such a people was a worthwhile responsibility of his, and taking payment for this would be unethical. In Achashverosh’s mind, Haman’s offer and and his refusal were secret. Since Mordechai’s knowledge of this came through a Ruach HaKodesh-like dream, Mordechai kept the information under wraps to be used later, if necessary. Once Esther tells Achashverosh that her people had been “sold” (see 7:4 below), Achashverosh begins to suspect that Haman had libelously spread the rumor that he had, indeed, accepted Haman’s payment. Therefore, he responds by asking who would do such a thing (see 7:5 below). It seems improbable that Achashverosh had forgotten the entire incident, so he is asking who would spread such a rumor.
  • The Brisker Rav interprets the word “parasha” as being related to “lihafreesh” (“to set aside”). In his view, Mordechai was informing Esther of the money that was set aside, or designated for the purchase of killing out the Jews. Such money was legally binding, and eventually, Achashverosh’s only way out of the deal would have be to kill the “buyer” – Haman.
  • Alshich uses Rashi’s seemingly simple explanation that “parsha” means explanation to mean that Mordechai related all of the details of Haman’s and Achashverosh’s meeting, including the mystical interpretations for the reasons Haman had to offer 10,000 loaves of silver.
  • Finally, the Sfas Emes translates “parashas” to mean “sum,” emphasizing Haman’s generosity in contributing towards the kingdom. In view of the concept of “zeh l’umas zeh,” the Jews need to be generous with charity in order to counterbalance the generosity of our enemies.

Esther 3:10, Question 4. What is the significance of the Talmud’s pit analogy?

The Talmud (Megillah 14a) compares Achashverosh and Haman to two land owners. One has a giant mound of excess land. The other has a ditch in his field. The person who has a ditch wants land to fill in the field. The person with the dirt is looking for a ditch to dump his dirt. Simply put, this analogy indicates a symbiotic relationship between Achashverosh and Haman; the two need each other. Achashverosh has too many Jews, while Haman is looking for Jews to kill.

  • The Ben Ish Chai on the Talmud (in Sefer Benayahu) writes that this analogy means to indicate that, like the dirt-owner, Achashverosh did not accept Haman’s financial offer because he was doing him a favor ridding the nation of Jews.
  • R’ Meir Shapiro and the Chasam Sofer say that Achashverosh and Haman had different theories as to how to defeat the Jews. Achashverosh thought the best method for this was to invite them to his feast, elevate them, and watch as assimilation destroyed the Jews from within. Therefore, he built them up, like a mound. Haman, however, considered the best method degradation, making them low as if they were lower than a ditch1.
  • Similarly, R’ Mendel Weinbach writes that Achashverosh considered the Jews a threat to his power. After all, if the Jews were to rebuild their Temple, Achashverosh would lose some of his esteem. Therefore, to him, the Jews were respected, like a mound. In contrast, Haman considered the Jews disgusting and lowly, like a ditch. Rabbi Weinbach also writes that the mound and the ditch metaphors can be different ways for Jews to view assimilation. One way to avoid assimilation is to build up Jews like a mound, placing them on a pedestal by pointing out Jewish accomplishments to build up Jewish pride. Another way to avoid assimilation is to paint Jews as so different, so “uncool,” as to belong on a completely separate level, like a ditch.
  • In answering the question of why Achashverosh does not seem to be punished in the end of Megillas Esther, the Ben Ish Chai tells the following parable: two hooligans kidnap the king’s son. When the king refuses to pay their ransom, Hooligan A becomes incensed, and wants to kill the prince. Hooligan B feels this to be unnecessarily cruel, and they begin to argue. As they do, they are both captured. The king pardons Hooligan B for being kind to the prince, but Hooligan A is summarily burned for his evil intentions. Similarly, both Achashverosh and Haman are, indeed, evil. However, due to the respect Achashverosh will show the Jews (see 6:10 and 8:1-2 below), he will be treated in a kinder fashion.

1It is amazing how Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as dirty rodents on the one hand, and over-intellectual snobs on the other, ignoring the inherent contradiction in these estimations.

Esther 3:4, Question 5. What exactly is Mordechai’s claim?

  • 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.

Esther 2:1, Question 5. What does the verse mean that Achashverosh remembered what was decreed against Vashti?

  • If it is true that Achashverosh had his wife killed for refusing to display herself in the nude at his party, Achashverosh must have regretted such an extreme punishment for so minor an offense. Considering H-Shem’s consistent use of “mida kineged mida” (“measure for measure”), Achashverosh realized that Vashti’s misuse of Jewish servant girls on Shabbos precipitated in her punishment being dealt on Shabbos.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) tells us that she caused her Jewish maids to go around unclothed.
  • The Maharil Diskin asks why this has to be noted. Was it not bad enough that our sisters were forced to desecrate the Sabbath? Did their forced immodesty truly add to Vashti’s evil? He answers that Vashti’s participation in this was especially worthy of punishment because one can reason that poor servants surrounded by expensive goods may attempt to steal what their eyes see. One might think that nudity might thus be a legitimate way to curb theft, leaving potential thieves with less opportunity to hide their loot. (It has been reported that current manufacturers of illegal drugs use this very method with their employees.) However, it was especially evil of Vashti to force the Jewish girls to go unclothed on Shabbos because they would not have stolen, anyway, seeing as theft, coupled with the fact that carrying an object from one domain to another is forbidden on Shabbos (Mishnah, Shabbos 1:1), would have definitely prevented the girls from stealing.
  • Likkutei Anshei Sheim point out that the 180 day feast was held in the beginning of Vashti’s third year of being queen. This means that she had two full years (354 days twice) and the 180 days (354×2+180=888 days), which divided by seven, come out to be 127 Shabbosos (888/7 = 126.857143)1. For causing Jewesses to desecrate 127 Sabbaths, Vashti lost the reign over 127 states.
  • Tangentially, the Chasam Sofer adds that Vashti’s Sabbath desecration was part of the reason for the mystical custom (see Zohar on Bireishis 17b, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 297:4, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 8) to use myrtle leaves for the spices in the Havdalah service after Shabbos. Since “Hadassah” (Myrtle) was one of Esther’s names, her defeating Vashti’s influence was alluded to in the verses in Yeshaya that we read on fast days (55:13, 56:4), in which the myrtle succeeds “from under [or, instead of] the thorn-bush,” (see 2:4 and 2:17 below for similar verbiage) the thorn-bush being the prickly Vashti, who caused Jewish girls to sin on Shabbos.

1Mathematically, one can round up to 127, or perhaps we can consider the last seven days as an additional week. Perhaps Vashti’s not surviving the whole day would account for the fraction missing from the whole number.