Esther 9:27, Question 1. Why does the verse mention establishing before accepting?

כז קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלֻ הַיְּהוּדִים ׀ עֲלֵיהֶם ׀ וְעַלזַרְעָם וְעַל כָּלהַנִּלְוִים עֲלֵיהֶם וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר לִהְיוֹת עֹשִׂים אֵת שְׁנֵי הַיָּמִים הָאֵלֶּה כִּכְתָבָם וְכִזְמַנָּם בְּכָלשָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה

27. The Yehudim established and accepted on themselves and on their seed and on all who join them, and not to pass over the being of having done these two days as their writing and as their times each and every year.

  • On a simple level, the Maharal writes that the verse mentions establishing before accepting because the Jews established in the year following the Purim story that which they had already accepted in the year of the event.
  • In his commentary on the Torah (Bireishis 6:18), the Ramban explains this phrasing to indicate that the Jews accepted upon themselves and their descendants for perpetuity that which they had already placed upon themselves previously.
  • In a later comment on the Torah (Devorim 27:26), however, the Ramban adds that this verse means that the Jews accepted that Torah and all of her mitzvos are true.
  • The Talmud (Shevuos 39a) quotes the verse in the Torah (Devorim 29:13-14) in which H-Shem establishes a covenant with all of the Jews at that time, and forever. The Talmud then uses the present verse’s phrase of “kimu v’kiblu” (“they established and accepted”) to explain how we could know that future generations of Jews accepted to take on any future, additional mitzvos.
  • The Talmud (Megilla 7a, Makkos 23b) teaches that the Heavenly court established above what was accepted by the Jews below.
    • R’ Shmuel Aharon Rubin explains that this means that Heaven confirmed the earthly ruling – like witnesses – giving it legitimacy.
    • Kol Eliyahu notes that this is the idea behind the Talmud’s (Megilla 7a) proof that Megillas Esther is written with Ruach HaKodesh (see Introduction). Otherwise, how would Mordechai and Esther have known that Heaven accepted the Jews’ pronouncement?
  • The Talmud (Shabbos 88a) tells the story of the Jews’ accepting the Torah at Har Sinai. Once they accepted the Torah with the words (Shemos 24:7) “naaseh v’nishmah” (“we will do and we will listen”), H-Shem lifted a mountain over them, and threatened to drop it over them if they would not accept the Torah. What was the reason for this if they had just done exactly that?
    • Tosfos answers that the Jews accepted the Written Torah with complete enthusiasm, but not the Oral Torah. They re-accepted the Torah in the conclusion of Megillas Esther, when the verse (Esther 9:27) writes “kimu v’kiblu” (“they established accepted”). Many commentators are bothered by the implied coercion in this tactic.
    • Firstly, Rashi (on the Talmud there) notes that the coercion was intended for the Jews to use as defense in the future to lessen any punishment. A Jew thereby always has a ready excuse in the Heavenly court that he never accepted the Torah’s responsibilities willingly.
    • The Sfas Emes notes that the word order parallels “naaseh v’nishmah” (“we will do and we will listen”) (Shemos 24:7). Tosfos explains that, after accepting the Torah, the Jews got scared by the fires around the mountain, and back-paddled, taking back their promise.
    • The Maharal (Tiferes Yisroel 32) argues on Tosfos, saying that the message H-Shem imparted on the Jewish people for the rest of history by holding the mountain over them was that the Torah was not simply a subject that they could accept or not, at their whim – rather, the entire world was only made for the purpose of our serving the Torah, and rejecting it (chas v’Shalom) was not a viable option within the scope of our prerogative. Their re-acceptance in the time of Purim, therefore, was an act of consenting to these terms. The Maharal quotes the Midrash (Tanchuma, Noach 3) that the Jews at Mt. Sinai only accepted the Written Law. This did not include the effort, discipline, study, and observance of the Oral Law. The Maharal continues that coercion was necessary to show the world that accepting the Torah was not just a nice gesture to voluntary accept, but a necessary part of life for the world’s continued existence.
    • However, the Ramban and the Ran learn this passage as H-Shem threatening the Jews that if they do not accept the Torah, they would not receive Eretz Yisroel. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105a) quotes the prophet (Yechezkiel 20:32) that “what comes to your mind shall definitely not occur; in that which you say, ‘We will be like the nations, like the families of the lands, to serve wood and stone.’” The Talmud explains that – like the other nations of the world – once the Jews were no longer in their land, they felt that they were no longer responsible to keep Torah. They realized the error of this philosophy after the Purim miracle, leading to their re-acceptance of the Torah.
    • The Ritva points out that such is just the weak argument of the heretic. The Talmud’s statement means that even if there was coercion, it was re-accepted on Purim.
    • In the “Drashos” section of Oneg Yom Tov, the author writes that just as a marriage could theoretically be annulled by a precondition, so too one could argue that the Jews accepted the Torah at Sinai under the precondition of receiving the land of Israel. This precondition was annulled by the Jews’ renewed acceptance in Persia.
    • The Torah Temimah and the Rayach Dodayim both point out that the word order of “established and accepted” implies that one should first accept, and only then fulfill the Torah.
    • The Chofetz Chaim writes that the generation of the desert was not reluctant to accept the Torah, but was merely concerned about the difficulties to be endured by future generations of Jews keeping the Torah through their future exiles. They knew that the Torah’s many mitzvos would effectively alienate us from our surrounding neighbors. Purim proves that the Jews can keep the Torah even in the most hostile of environments. As the Sages say, the Torah protects us and rescues us. The Torah is not counterproductive to our survival in exile – quite the opposite; the Torah is our key to continued existence.
    • The Dubno Maggid quotes a Talmudic (Yerushalmi Megilla 1:5) debate between H-Shem and the gentile nations. The nations ask, “why did You not lift mountain over our heads? We would have accepted the Torah, too!” In response, the Dubno Maggid tells a parable about two fathers who come to a doctor with their two sons. Both boys refuse to eat, the first one being sick, and the other who is weaning. The doctor tells the father of the sick boy to keep his son away from food and that will force him to eat on his own when he becomes hungry. The doctor tells the father of the weaning boy to force open the boy’s mouth, and to stuff the most delicious foods into it. When the fathers showed surprise regarding the two different suggestions for seemingly the same ailment, the doctor explained that the sick child’s body is repulsed by food, and he needs to stay away from food that can otherwise cause him harm. The weaning child, however, has never had solid food before, and must be force-feed in order to taste food’s sweetness. Like the sick boy, H-Shem knew that the that the gentiles would not appreciate Torah anyway, so He kept it away from them. Furthermore, similar to a weaning boy, the Jewish people were simply unaccustomed to Torah, and needed to be somewhat forced into accepting it. After experiencing its sweetness, the Jews would naturally choose to continue on the right path.
    • In the view of the Sfas Emes, during the first acceptance, the Jews only accepted the Torah verbally – not in hearts, as is hinted to by our singer (Tehillim 78:36) “they tried to trick Him with their mouths.” The situation was very different in Persia, where their hearts were completely invested. He also notes that, just like first acceptance followed the defeat of Amalek, so too in Persia.
    • R’ Yisroel Simcha Schorr notes that, interestingly, the Mishna’s three day allowance to publicly read Megillas Esther for Purim (Megilla 1:1) parallel the three days of preparation the Jews needed to receive the Torah.
    • Perhaps all of this is why, as R’ Dovid Feinstein writes, anyone who wants to join Jews must first accept Purim.
    • Rav Shach writes in Mach’shavos Mussar that, since Purim is an appropriate time to re-accept the Torah, it should be celebrated with learning – not drunken revelry.
    • R’ Henoch Leibowitz notes that at the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, since so much time (49 days) passed since miracles in Mitzrayim, it was difficult for person to wake oneself up.
    • On these points, Tefillas Chana says that the Jews accepted the Torah because they realized that everything, even nature, is from H-Shem.
    • R’ Yaakov Kaminetsky explains the significance of this acceptance of Torah. Miracles are, after all, easy to accept as G-dly, but seeing H-Shem’s guiding Hand in nature leaves a far more lasting impression.

Esther 6:12, Question 1. Why does the verse emphasize that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate?

יב וַיָּשָׁב מָרְדֳּכַי אֶלשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן נִדְחַף אֶלבֵּיתוֹ אָבֵל וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ

12. And Mordechai returned to the gate of the king. And Haman was propelled to his house mourning, and with a covered head.

  • It seems doubly strange for the verse to say Mordechai returned to the palace, when our commentary on the previous verse made clear the Haman found Mordechai in the house of study. According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and the Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:6), the verse emphasizes that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate instead of into because Mordechai returned to wearing sackcloth and fasting.
  • Rashi’s explaining that Mordechai returned to mourning seems to not be his pashut pshat, simple explanation.
  • The Maharsha clarifies that Mordechai could not enter the king’s gate wearing sackcloth because of their rules of propriety in those days, so he could only come as far as the gate, itself. Therefore, Mordechai, having been mourning in sackcloth for the last several days could not be said to be returning to a place where he could not have previously been.
  • R’ Avigdor Bonchek explains that being paraded on a horse emboldened Mordechai to defy Achashverosh’s law by going to gate in sackcloth.
  • The Targum writes that Mordechai returned to serving on the Sanhedrin at this point, a position that is described in TaNaCh (see Bireishis 19:1, Devarim 21:19, Ruth 4:1) as being positioned “at the gate.”
  • The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4) teaches that the verse says Mordechai returned because he is humble. There is a humility in accepting one’s place, as is said of Avraham whom the Torah (Bireishis 18:33) describes as having “returned to his place” after speaking with H-Shem.
  • R’ Henoch Leibowitz notes that the Torah (Devarim 30:8) promises us that H-Shem will return us to our Land only after we suffer from our enemies. Rav Leibowitz explains that the lesson is that a person’s prayer in times of rescue should be equal in power and intensity to that with which one prays in times of troubles. The very purpose of our troubles is to increase our attachment to H-Shem. The proper method for this is to follow Rabbeinu Bachya’s advice (on Shemos 2:23) when he says that one’s prayer is the most intense in times of difficulty and that, therefore, it is incumbent on a person to remember that feeling of intensity, and bottle up that feeling of pain in order to pray strongly in the brighter future that the troubles do not return. At our most desperate, we should try to encapsulate the emotion to use in better times.
  • He quotes R’ Naftoli Tropp, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin writes that a famous piyut said on Yom Kippur calls us all dalim, poor. Even the rich should recall that all is H-Shem’s and they only have their riches only by the grace of G-d.
  • The Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai usually wore sackcloth during davening, and then changed for court. At this point, Mordechai did not change because he felt his prayers were unsuccessful, and not answered. This is because his riding on a horse did not manifestly spell out the redemption of the Jews. The Jews were still threatened.
  • Rebbetzin Heller points out that, being G-d focused, Mordechai didn’t care if Achashverosh loved or honored him. This event did not change Mordechai’s humility.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Mordechai still felt guilty about causing the threat to Jewish existence by refusing to bow down to Haman. True teshuvah comes from the feeling of being unworthy of kindness from H-Shem. He concludes that one should never be too confident in this.
  • The Iyun Yaakov points out that, on the political side, Mordechai had anticipated using his saving Achashverosh’s life as leverage when begging Achashverosh to save the Jews – not just a pony ride around town. Disappointed by the loss of his ace in the hole, Mordechai’s only remaining means to save the Jews is to pray to H-Shem.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes the Brisker Rav, R’ Yitzchak Zev HaLevi Soloveitchik that in his reporting the goings-on to Esther earlier (Esther 4:5-16), Mordechai was unwilling to get out of his sackcloth for even one moment and even requiring Hasach as an intermediary because prayer and emunah are the main tools for salvation.
  • The Ohel Moshe also brings R’ Yehonason Eibshutz who quotes the Talmud (Brachos 5b) that a prisoner does not free himself. Somebody else needs to help somebody out. Similarly, Mordechai, once he sees himself rescued, returned to pray for the other Jews. Similarly,
  • R’ Dovid Bleicher of Novordok notes that Mordechai had his own needs met, but kept praying for the Jews because he had worked on himself to feel as if he was still under the threat of death.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:12) states that a true Jewish leader does not stop fasting until the prayers are answered.
  • The Maharal notes that Mordechai was not satisfied by this honor because Achasherosh did not come to thank him, himself. He had no reason to think that Achashverosh felt actual gratitude. After all, as R’ Elie Munk points out in his commentary on Chumash (Vayikra 7:30), of all the offerings, the only one which the Torah describes as having to be brought “by his own hands” is the shelamim (peace offering) because it is brought as a way to thank H-Shem, and “when expressing one’s gratitude, it is proper to do it personally.”
  • Parenthetically, he also quotes this as the reason brought by Abudraham for the congregation to say the blessing of Modim (thanksgiving) during the repetition of the Amidah prayer, since the congregational leader cannot express the gratitude of another person.
  • The Maharal also says in a few places (Nesivos Olam) that simcha (joy) comes from shleimus (completeness). Here, too, Mordechai cannot be content since the Jews are still under the threat of annihilation, and are thus incomplete.
  • Perhaps the simplest explanation to why Mordechai returned to his place can be gleaned from a story told about R’ Yechezkel Abramsky. While discussing Megillas Esther with his rebbetzin, he asked her what Mordechai could have been thinking while riding on the horse. She answered, “This type of foolishness is for drunkards. I wish this will be over soon, so I can return to learning Torah!”

Esther 3:2, Question 5. Why are Mordechai’s actions described in the future tense?

  • In regard to the Song at the Sea, Rashi on Shemos (15:1) teaches that a letter “yud” in front of a verb indicates the intent of the subject. In the Sfas Emes’s understanding of this verse, Mordechai’s actions indicate that he would not bow. It was an impossibility for him, so remotely distant from his normative code and conduct. The Chofetz Chaim teaches that this, too, teaches the important of avoiding compromising morals.
  • The Sfas Emes also teaches that this verse is prophetically promising that, in every generation, there will be someone who will not bow. Jews have and always will have at least one person who keeps to what is true. Ultimately, this is going to be Moshiach, may he come soon.