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 3:12, Question 1. Why is Haman seemingly in a hurry to write this document?

יב וַיִּקָּרְאוּ סֹפְרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם בּוֹ וַיִּכָּתֵב כְּכָלאֲשֶׁרצִוָּה הָמָן אֶל אֲחַשְׁדַּרְפְּנֵיהַמֶּלֶךְ וְאֶלהַפַּחוֹת אֲשֶׁר ׀ עַלמְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה וְאֶלשָׂרֵי עַם וָעָם מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה כִּכְתָבָהּ וְעַם וָעָם כִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ בְּשֵׁם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרשׁ נִכְתָּב וְנֶחְתָּם בְּטַבַּעַת הַמֶּלֶךְ

12. And the scribes of the king were called in on the first month, on the thirteenth of it. And it was written like all that Haman commanded to the lieutenant governors of the king and to the governors of each state, and to the officials of each nation, each state as was written nation and nation like its language in the name of King Achashverosh did he write and seal with the ring of the king.

  • Especially since the decree was only to go into effect in eleven months, it seems strange for Haman to have been in such a rush to get the document written. According to the Malbim, Haman rushed the letter’s publication so that Achashverosh would not have discovered his true intent – the annihilation of a people.
  • The Chida and R’ Dovid Feinstein write that Haman was in a hurry because of the date, the thirteenth of Nisan. Due to the fact that the first twelve days of Nisan would give the Jews the spiritual merit of the princely gifts (Bamidbar 7:11-83) and the next days of Nisan would give the Jews the merits of the mitzvos of Pesach, this was the most inauspicious day for the Jews. Haman, seemingly a believer and practitioner in prognostication, wanted to publish this letter on a day when its goal would contain the fewest potential spiritual impediments.

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.

Esther 2:5, Question 2. Why does the verse call Mordechai a “Yehudi?”

  • 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).

Esther 1:18, Question 2. Why does Memuchan scare Achashverosh with both “disrespect” and “anger?”

  • According to the Vilna Gaon, both statements refer to the king. He should have felt disrespected by Vashti’s calling him the son of a stable boy, and he should have felt angered for the sake of the monarchy. This dual, personal/ political point of view fits nicely with the Chida’s explanation of the severity of the punishment Memuchan is about to suggest (see previous blogs).
  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:8), there is a kind of anger leads to disrespect, and a kind of disrespect that leads to anger. In this particular case, according to Memuchan, Vashti’s actions would cause both. This is the case on the earthly plane. On the spiritual plane, the Midrash continues, since Vashti’s father disrespected H-Shem’s holy vessels (as mentioned earlier), this caused H-Shem to focus His anger upon Vashti. On the subject of H-Shem being “angry” at someone for something their parents did (Shemos 20:5), the Talmud (Sanhedrin 27b) states that this is the case only when the child follows in the said parent’s path of evil, which is certainly true in the case of Vashti (as mentioned in previous blogs).

Esther 1:17, Question 2. What reasons does Memuchan give for severely punishing Vashti?

The Chida writes that Memuchan argues that Vashti’s actions would be a bad influence on women, and would lead to social upheaval from within the home. The Malbim writes that his argument had more to do with political upheaval resulting from a perceived weakness in the king if he does not act. Taken together, the situation would be quite similar to the political and social climate in the wake of the feminist movement in America. For all of its positive intentions and contributions (equal pay for equal work, etc.), it seems the increase in unwed mothers and divorce since that time certainly indicates a level of instability. That being the case, one can ponder what one would do had one the ability to pinpoint the very moment feminism started, and stop it in its tracks. Certainly, this instability is not what Achashverosh would have wanted.

Esther 1:4, Question 3. Does the number of days the party lasted have any significance?

As is typical of Torah texts, the Megillah offers rare details, so the enumeration of the length of the party seems odd. Furthermore, since the verse already testifies to its lasting “many days,” the actual number of days seems all the more redundant. In his brilliant Ginzei HaMelech, Rabbi Eliezer Ginzburg brings the Vilna Gaon from his allegoric “al Derech Remez” commentary on Esther. The entire story of Esther, according to the Vilna Gaon, is an allegory for the struggle between one and one’s evil inclination, Yetzer Hara. On this verse, the Vilna Gaon quotes a Midrash that the phrase “many days” is indicative of pain. The Vilna Gaon proves from the Talmud (Shabbos 89b) that there are potentially 180 days out of the year when a person would not even consider sin, and those are the “many days of pain for the Yetzer Hara.” Rabbi Ginzberg posits that the monicker “many days of pain” can be equally applied to the other half of the year, the 180 days of pain for the the person fighting the Yetzer Hara, as the evil one “watches over the righteous, seeking his death” (Tehillim 37:32). How can a man be successful in this struggle? Rabbi Ginzburg suggests (from Toras haChida, Tazria 12:3) that there are 180 hours from the birth of a baby boy until it is appropriate to give him a bris. For those 180 hours, the father of the boy is too anxious about the mitzvah before him to even consider sin. In the merit of the 180 hours when the Yetzer Hara has no grasp on the father before the bris, both the father and the boy can be shielded from the Yetzer Hara for all of the difficult 180 days of the year for all the years of their lives.