Esther 8:15, Question 1. Why does Mordechai wear these items?

טו וּמָרְדֳּכַי יָצָא ׀ מִלִּפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת תְּכֵלֶת וָחוּר וַעֲטֶרֶת זָהָב גְּדוֹלָה וְתַכְרִיךְ בּוּץ וְאַרְגָּמָן וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן צָהֲלָה וְשָׂמֵחָה

15. And Mordechai left from before the king wearing royalty: Ticheiles, and white, and a great gold crown, and a shroud, fine linen, and purple. And the city of Shushan was shouting and happy.

  • According to the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) this verse is the second of four verses read aloud by the congregation during the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim.
  • The Midrash Shmuel quotes the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) that one who flees honor has honor thrust upon him, and the opposite is true of one who pursues honor. When Haman wanted to wear the royal clothes (Esther 5:6-8), he received nothing. In contrast, Mordechai, who asked for nothing, received the honor of wearing the royal clothes.
  • The Alshich notes that this is the first time in the story that Mordechai is dressed regally. Before, he was wearing sackcloth and ash, but Mordechai is now confident about the fate of the Jews. The Alshich continues that Mordechai had to display this confidence at this point because Haman’s decree was vague in other locations but explicit in Shushan, so Mordechai needed to demonstrate that the Jews were indeed in Achashverosh’s favor.
  • In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, it says that Mordechai became the king of the Jews. Perhaps this means that Mordechai received the authority that the Jews are supposed to give to their rabbis. The Talmud (Gittin 62a) even calls rabbis kings.
  • After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he sent them back to Canaan with word of his stature in Mitzrayim. At that point (Bireishis 45:22), he gifted the half-brothers with one pair of clothes each, but he gave his full brother Binyamin five pairs of clothes. The Talmud (Megillah 16b) writes that he did this in order to hint to these clothes that Mordechai, Binyamin’s descendants, would wear.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein wonders why Yosef would choose this point in time to make such an allusion. He explains that Yosef intended to demonstrate to his brothers his very real appreciation for their act of selling him to slavery. A fired employee who finds a job even better than his previous boss’s may even want to thank his boss for releasing him from employment. Similarly, the righteous Yosef felt gratitude for his brothers’ part in his success and growth. By alluding to the Purim story, he foresaw that Jewish history would be a series of epochs filled with times that seemed to be the most hopeless transforming into the most productive.
  • The Maharil Diskin points out that there are not five items, but only four: ticheiles, white, a crown, and a shroud. He quotes the Talmud (Zevachim 18b) that defines butz as linen. Argaman implies wool. Since the two sewn together in one garment would be a violation of shatnez (“mixture of wool and linen,” see Vayikra 19:19, Devarim 22:11, and Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 298-304), Mordechai was actually wearing two separate shrouds of these materials.
  • The M’nos HaLevi notes that the first verse to mention Mordechai by name (Esther 2:5) and the first to be customarily read aloud during the public readings of Megillas Esther on Purim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) gives him several descriptions: Yehudi, Mordechai, ben Yair, ben Shimi, and ben Kish, He explains that “Yehudi” is a reference to kingship because Jewish royalty must come from that tribe (Bireishis 49:8-11). The Talmud (Chulin 139b) says “Mordechai” is a reference to myrrh, an ingredient in the Mishkan’s incense. This is paralleled in the ticheiles, which was an ingredient in the Mishkan’s covers (Shemos 26:1). According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b-13a), Mordechai earned his appellation of “son of Yair” by enlightening (hey’ir) the Jewish people regarding prayer, which is paralleled in the white clothes he wears. He is called the “son of Shimi” because his own prayers were heard (shema) by H-Shem. This is paralleled in the crown which represents the King of king’s powerful reaction to the requests of the righteous. He is called the “son of Kish” because he knocked (hikish) at the Gates of Mercy. This is paralleled in the linen and purple because they are the colors of nobility – those precious few who are allowed into the Palace.

Esther 2:5

Esther 8:15

Yehudi royalty
Mordechai ticheiles
ben Yair white
ben Shimi crown
ben Kish linen and purple
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that all of these article are also related to the clothing one should wear during prayer. He writes that the royalty relates to the talis worn when we pray; ticheilis relates to the ticheilis-dyed fringes of the tzitzis; the white relates to the undyed white fringes of the tzitzis; the crown relates with the head tefillin; the wool robe relates to the straps of the head tefillin; and the purple relates to the arm tefillin.
  • Rav Galico also related to Mordechai’s clothes here to his and Shushan’s earlier actions. In reward for his having previously worn sackcloth (Esther 4:1), he now wears royalty; in reward for putting ash (Ibid.) on his head, he now wears a crown; in reward for Shushan being worried and confused about Haman’s decree (Esther 3:15), it is now happy.
  • The Rema adds that there are four aspects make a man’s life complete: wealth, health, perfection of character, and knowledge of and closeness to H-Shem. Mordechai acquired all of these, as can be seen from this verse: wealth relates to royalty, health relates to ticheiles, character development relates to humble linen, and knowledge and faith is related to the crown.
  • Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 180-1) writes that purple is historically symbolic of royalty. Ticheiles, on the other hand, represents a humble recognition of “the limits of our horizon.”
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Esther 5:14, Question 1. Why were the gallows specifically 50 cubits?

  • The Ma’amar Mordechai writes that the tree was supposed to be 50 amos tall to enable Haman to see Mordechai hanging while still at Esther’s party. The reason we can be certain that Mordechai would be more visible under that condition is that the Talmud (Eruvin 2b) teaches that the windows in kings’ palaces are no higher than 50 amos.
  • The Vilna Gaon teaches that the gallows certainly needed to be tall enough for Harbona to point to it (Esther 7:9). This is because of the Talmudic principle (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 26a) that hearing is not comparable to seeing.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Zeresh is advising Haman that if he gets irritated, he can simply look up and get in a good mood because Mordechai will hang from the tree seen everywhere.
  • According to Yalkut Shimoni (1054), besides throwing lots (purim) to decide on the best date to kill all of the Jews (Esther 3:7), Haman also threw lots to decide on the best species of tree to use in making this gallows. However, throughout TaNaCh, the Jews are compared to many different kinds of trees, so he decided on a cedar because Jews are not compared to it. The reason for this is that the cedar can be shattered by the wind.
  • Both the Yalkut Shimoni and the Midrash Abba Gorion continue that Haman could not find such a tall beam, so his son Parshandasa, governor of the area of Mt. Ararat, the area where Noach’s ark landed (Bireishis 8:4), gave him beam of Noach’s teivah, which would have been 50 amos long (Bireishis 6:15).
  • Rabbi Dovid Feinstein explains that the wood was from Noach’s teivah to show that killing Mordechai was important for humanity, as his refusal to bow down to Haman disturbed the “Great Chain of Being,” society’s understanding of the social hierarchy.
  • However, the Binyan Shlomo quotes the Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer (Chap. 50) that the wood taken from Holy of Holies1.
  • The Maharal notes that the teiva and the Beis HaMikdash both represent Olam HaZeh, the terrestrial world. Essentially, the idea of the Beis HaMikdash is that items of this world can be taken and elevated to greatness. Similarly, the teiva saved this physical world from destruction during the Deluge. Haman was attempting to conquer that mystical power that holds control over this world. This is what it means that Haman made of himself an object of worship, which is one of the reasons Mordechai had refused to bow to him. It is interesting to note that another connection between the teivah and the Beis HaMikdash is hidden in gematria. The gematria of ararat (1+200+200+9=410) is the same as the amount of years the first Temple stood.
  • In his usual, mysterious style, Rav Moshe David Valle writes that the 50 amos refer to the 50 gevuros (powers) of the yad hachazaka (“the strong Hand”), all of them combining against Haman. Perhaps this is a reference to the Haggadah in which Rabbi Yosi haGelili asks, “How do we know the Egyptians were struck with ten plagues in Mitzrayim and 50 at the sea?” In reply, he contrasts the verse (Shemos 8:15) in which Pharaoh’s magicians recognized the plagues as “the finger of G-d” with the verse (Shemos 14:31) describing Israel’s recognizing G-d’s might after drowning the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds, “and Israel saw the great Hand.” If one finger represents the plagues, of which there where ten, then a hand with its five fingers would be five times greater, or 50. Therefore, the 50 amos of the gallows demonstrate H-Shem’s anger with Haman.
  • According to the Sfas Emes, when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Bireishis 3:6), good and evil became confused. Kabbalistically, this resulted in 49 gates of tumah (impurity) which parallel 49 gates of kedusha (holiness). When the Talmud (Chulin 139b) states that Adam’s eating from the tree (Bireishis 3:11) is an allusion to Haman, it is because Amalek (represented by Haman), is the force that causes this confusion (the Hebrew word for confusion, safek (60+80+100=240) has the same gematria as Amalek (70+40+30+100=240). To know clearly what is right, and have not doubts at all, one needs to be above one’s area of control by leaping above to the 50th gate, a place Amalek cannot exist. Moshe’s raising his hands during the Jews’ war with Amalek (Shemos 17:11) hints to the idea of rising above one’s vantage point. Chiddushei HaRim brings this idea of confusing good with evil as another reason for the custom to drink wine on Purim ad d’lo yada.

1 Most commentators give the source for this measurement as Yechezkel 40:15, which describes the length of the boards used in the Third Temple. Being that this Temple has unfortunately not been built yet (unless this was attempted before, as Rabbi Ken Spiro suggests in his “Crash Course in Jewish History”), perhaps the intended source is Shemos 27:12-13, which describes the Mishkan’s width rather than length.

Esther 5:13, Question 2. How do Mordechai’s actions take away from Haman’s list of honors?

  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the wicked are simply never satisfied.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) says Haman was called a slave who sold himself for bread, referring to the famous Midrash the Haman sold himself into slavery to Mordechai when the two of them were generals and the supplies with which the king entrusted Haman ran out.
  • How do Mordechai’s actions take away from Haman’s list of honors? Rashi writes that Haman forgot about his honor whenever he saw Mordechai. R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this occurs naturally to most people when we are insulted.
  • The Malbim, consistent in his view, Haman is saying that it is not worthy of his prestige to kill Mordechai.
  • In Sichos Mussar, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz writes that physical things are attainable. Honor, however, is not real, is not physical, and is completely in one’s perspective and imagination. Since it is not real, honor can never be realized.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech brings from the Ne’os Desheh that the last letters of “zeh einenu shava lee” (“this is not worth anything for me”) spell out H-Shem’s Name backwards. According to the Zohar (and quoted by Rabbeinu Bachya in his commentary to Bamidbar), any time the Torah contains H-Shem’s Name backwards, it means He is upset. The Ginzei HaMelech explains that ingratitude (like the kind that Haman is showing here) always angers H-Shem.
  • The Talmud (Chulin 139b) asks where Haman can be found in the Torah. It responds by quoting the verse in Bereishis (3:11), “hamin ha’eitz” (“from the tree”). R’ Aaron Kotler asks, what is the Talmud really asking; after all, Haman in found in Megillas Esther, every time we shout, “boo!” He explains that the Talmud is asking where Haman’s characteristic of ingratitude is in the Torah. Adam, after being given everything in the paradise known as Gan Eden, ends up disregarding his only restriction by eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. That lack of appreciation is Haman in the Torah.

Esther 5:1, Question 1. Why does the verse say Esther wore “royalty?”

פרק ה

א וַיְהִי ׀ בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי וַתִּלְבַּשׁ אֶסְתֵּר מַלְכוּת וַתַּעֲמֹד בַּחֲצַר בֵּיתהַמֶּלֶךְ הַפְּנִימִית נֹכַח בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַמֶּלֶךְ יוֹשֵׁב עַלכִּסֵּא מַלְכוּתוֹ בְּבֵית הַמַּלְכוּת נֹכַח פֶּתַח הַבָּיִת

Chapter 5

1. And it was in the third day, and Esther dressed in royalty. And she stood in the courtyard of the inner house of the king, facing the house of the king. And the king was sitting on the seat of his royalty in the house of royalty facing the opening of the house.

  • M’nos HaLevi writes that Esther usually avoided wearing royal garb. From her humility and modesty, she did not want to wear any clothing that would demonstrate her accepting her role as queen. The Talmud (Megillah 15a) points out that the verse seems to be missing the word, “clothing.” Accordingly, Esther wore “royalty” not in the physical sense, but in the sense of her enveloping herself in the Holy Spirit – Ruach HaKodesh.
  • Iyun Yaakov wonders why this would occur now. After all, Esther is a prophetess, and one would imagine she was constantly connected to H-Shem’s Messages. He answers that this was a time of great hester Panim, of H-Shem hiding His Face, as it were. In response to the Talmud’s famous attempt to find the story of Esther alluded to in the Torah, the Talmud (Chulin 139b) quotes the verse “v’Anochi hastir astir Panai bayom hahu” (“And I will surely hide My Face from them on that day”) (Devarim 31:18). Since this was a time of great Divine concealment, and there was great doubt in the world, the Jews attempted to change things by fasting for three days, and praying to H-Shem, and managed to merit their prophetess receiving the Divine Presence.
  • The Vilna Gaon adds that there is a concept that the Divine Spirit only rests upon a person whose body is “broken down.” This means someone who wants spiritual growth needs to realize that one’s soul is more important than one’s body.
  • The Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 56:1) writes that the royalty referred to here is the royalty of Esther’s father’s house, being descendant from King Shaul. Preparing for her disobeying a royal edict to meet the king, she took with her the dignity and air of monarchy she inherited from her ancestry. This idea certainly supports the contention of the Malbim and M’nos HaLevi that Esther’s wearing “royalty” simply meant that she seemed regal to casual observers.
  • R’ Shlomo Kluger in Ma’amar Mordechai, says that Esther had been forced to be the queen, and at this point, she owned up to that responsibility. He points out that, from this verse and onwards, Esther is consistently called Queen Esther by the authors of Megillas Esther.
  • Pachad Yitzchak notes that this verse indicates that Esther became the queen of the Jewish people. Interestingly, the Jews can only fulfill the command to eradicate Amalek when they have a sovereign ruler (Talmud, Sanhedrin 20a), and Esther took on that role to enable this.
  • Rabbi Eliezer Ginzburg asks how she was given authority to be the queen. The Shem M’Shmuel (on Devarim 33:19) writes that the main function of a Jewish king or queen is to unite the Jewish people. Therefore, by enveloping herself in an intense love for the Jews, she took on the role of royalty, becoming what a royal is supposed to be.
  • Rav Ginzburg also quotes the Nefesh HaChaim (3:12) that even if there are other spiritual forces in the world, they will have no affect on a person who totally submits oneself to H-Shem’s sovereignty. There are numerous stories concerning the Rav of Brisk, Rav Yitzchak Soloveitchik, whose concentrating on this idea of “ein od milVado” (“there is nothing beside Him”) from the Nefesh HaChaim at different times rescued him from Russian conscription and Nazi persecution. Accordingly, this is the idea of royalty with which Esther adorned herself, making her impervious to any harm.
  • The Pachad Yitzchak notes that this is a rare example of Jewish royalty wearing non-Jewish garments, and this may be yet another reason for the custom of wearing masks and disguises on Purim.

Esther 1:16, Question 1. Why is Memuchan the first (and only) adviser to speak if he was mentioned last?

טז וַיאמֶר מְומֻכָן [מְמוּכָן] לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַשָּׂרִים לֹא עַלהַמֶּלֶךְ לְבַדּוֹ עָוְתָה וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה כִּי עַלכָּלהַשָּׂרִים וְעַלכָּלהָעַמִּים אַשֶׁר בְּכָלמְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ

16. And Memuchan said before the king and the ministers, “Not the king alone has Vashti the Queen wronged. Rather, all of the ministers and all the peoples in the states of Achashverosh.”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 12b) interprets Memuchan’s jumping ahead of the other advisers as a display of his insolence. A wiser man would have waited to give his advice after greater people had spoken.
  • The Talmud goes on there to identify Memuchan as Haman. As such, Rashi there interprets his name to mean “prepared” – prepared for the death of Vashti and himself. The Ben Ish Chai notes that a hint to this idea is the fact that the gematria of “Memuchan” is equal to that of “eitz” (160), the tree on which Haman was hanged1. A “tree” may also refer to the Talmudic statement (Chulin 139b): Where is there an allusion to Haman in the Torah? In the verse (Bereishis 3:11) “did you eat from the tree?,” wherein the word “hamin” (“from the”) is spelled with the same letters as “Haman.” This occurred in the story of Adam and Chava’s temptation to eat the fruit in Gan Eden, and since (as we shall see be”H in our last blog on this verse next week) the Vilna Gaon believes Haman to be representative of the Evil Inclination, it is a fitting allusion.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 4:6) asks why Memuchan was so eager to have Vashti killed, and offers three reasons: she slapped him in the face, Memuchan’s wife was not invited to the party, and because Memuchan wanted his daughter to be able to marry the king. All three reasons are really one, with each moving further from practical predictability; he wanted more influence over the king. Memuchan wanted to yield his own influence, his wife’s influence through the queen, and (more indirectly) the theoretical influence of his daughter as a queen.
  • We must however, contend with another Talmudic opinion regarding the identity of Memuchan. The Yerushalmi quotes the Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer as saying that Memuchan was the prophet, Daniel. On the one hand, Memuchan’s advice is evil and murderous. On the other hand, it is ridding the world of the evil Vashti2, a sworn enemy of the Jews. Therefore, it is “Haman-advice” in its evil means and “Daniel-advice” in its simultaneous beneficial ends.
  • In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal writes that there are seven advisers present before Achashverosh at this point. There are similarly seven major constellations (as they were understood then), the seventh being me’adim (Mars), which represents bloodshed and has a numerical value of 95. This is the same gematria as Haman and Daniel.
  • The Maharsha adds that the unscrambled, initial letters in the words in Tehillim 22:21, which are interpreted as Esther’s prayer for rescue from the Jews’ fate at the hands of Haman (see our tenth blog), “mey’cherev nafshi mi’yad kelev yichidasi” form the name, Memuchan.

1Memuchan would have to be spelled with a “yud” in the place of a “vuv” (which is acceptable on the level of remez) for ממיכןto be equal to עץ.

2Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss points out that Vashti is the only woman in TaNaCh with that unfortunate appellation.