Esther 8:16, Question 3. Why is ora (“light”) written with a seemingly extra letter hey and sasson (“joy”) spelled incompletely (without a letter vuv)?

  • In explaining how ora (“light”) represents Torah, the Ben Ish Chai writes that ora is written with a hey because it means ohr hey, or the light of H-Shem.
  • Rav Tzaddok HaKohen writes that ora is written with a letter hey because the verse intends it to be feminine since the Torah being described here is specifically Torah she’bal peh (“the Oral Law”). As Rashi (on Mishlei 1:8) writes, the Torah she’bal peh is represented by the feminine. Rav Mordechai Gifter explains that this is because the rabbis know the natural foibles of their people in the same way that a mother considers the nature of her son.
  • From the time the Jews ignored Mordechai (the leading rabbi of the generation) by attending Achashverosh’s party until they re-accepted the Oral Torah with the words (Esther 9:27) “kimu v’kiblu” (“they took and they accepted”), the Jews of that period were struggling with Torah she’bal peh, and its necessary rabbinic accompaniments.
  • Similarly, the Midrash Yerushalmi interprets yikar as denoting the judges, who were also the rabbis.
  • Midrash Chaseros v’Yitaros writes that sasson (“joy”) is spelled incomplete (without a vuv) because no joy can be complete until Moshiach comes and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheira biyameinu.
  • R’ Chaim Kanievsky writes that it is written incompletely because circumcision, which this represents, has an element of pain. He notes that sasson is spelled completely in the next verse (Esther 8:17) because we should strive to add to the joy of Purim as though nothing is missing, as the Halacha (Biur Halacha 695, dh “ad d’lo yada”) states explicitly regarding the custom to become inebriated on Purim.

Esther 8:16, Question 2. What do these different expressions signify?

  • According to Malbim, since the previous verse (Esther 8:15) testifies to the fact that everybody was happy, the various expressions in this verse underscore the fact that the Jews were especially joyous.
  • Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 405) writes that this verse demonstrates that the Jews could now survive any difficulty in history because they “preserved their own light and joy.”
  • The Rambam (Perakim Hatzlacha, Chapter 2) emphasizes that all of the good that the Jews received was due to their return to Torah. Based on this, the Binyan Shlomo points out that it is a very praiseworthy custom to learn Torah on the holiday of Purim (see Rema, Orach Chaim 695:2).
  • The Sharis Yosef teaches that objects going from darkness to light is yet another source for the custom to wear costumes on Purim.
  • The Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) writes that this description mirrors how the Jews will be redeemed with the coming of Moshiach.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16b) interprets this verse’s expressions thus: light is Torah; happiness is Yom Tov; joy is circumcision; and glory is tefillin.
  • Rashi comments on the Talmud that Haman made decrees forbidding Jews from fulfilling these mitzvos. The Yad HaMelech points out that Jews may have neglected circumcision at that time, as they sometimes have done on times of persecution to pass as non-Jews.
  • The Megillas Sesarim writes that Mordechai’s wearing tefillin earlier (Esther 8:15) put that mitzva back in vogue.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab finds it impossible for the Jews to have been successfully banned from these mitzvos, en masse. Rather, he explains that the Jews at that time studied Torah, but without light; they commemorated holidays, but without happiness; they performed circumcisions, but without joy; they wore tefillin, but without glory. Without caring, without thinking, and without these precious mitzvos affecting their souls.
  • Rav Yehonason Eibshutz points out that it is a natural, human reaction for the emotional impact of an event to fade in subsequent anniversaries of that event. For instance, as happy as a child’s birthday celebration may be, it pales in comparison to the happiness felt at the actual successful birth. However, when that event is attached to a mitzva that is repeated every year, the original happiness felt at the event is retained (and perhaps enhanced) with the performance of the mitzva. This is the reason for the Talmud to equate happiness with Yom Tov; with each occurrence of Purim, its mitzvos reignite its accompanying joy.
  • The Sfas Emes asks a fundamental question: why does the verse uses metaphors instead of explicitly writing that the Jews garnered Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin? He answers that, with the miracle of Purim, the Jews recognized the real nature of light, happiness, joy, and glory; light comes from Torah, happiness comes from Yom Tov, joy comes from circumcision, and glory comes from tefillin.
  • The Ohr Gedalyahu adds that all of these misapplied emotions point to the Jews’ ancient battle against Amalek, a nation described (Devarim 25:17) as having cooled us. Amalek wins when Jews perform mitzvos without an accompanying fire of emotion. He quotes the Sefer Yetzira that the month of Adar is represented by the letter kuf, meaning kedusha (“holiness”), which he defines as keeping something special and invigorating.
  • The Ohel Moshe similarly writes that simcha (“happiness”) is the antidote to Amalek’s cooling effect. The Vilna Gaon notes that all four of these mitzvos – Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin – are regularly called osos (“signs”) and eidus (“testimonies”). He explains that these all testify that there is one G-d, and that the Jewish people are uniquely His people. He adds that taking the first letters (roshei teivos) of the words ora (“light”), simcha (“happiness”), sasson (“joy”), and yikar (“glory”) – aleph, sin, sin, and yud respectively – produces a gematria (1+300+300+10=611) equal to that of Torah (400+6+200+5=611). He continues by quoting a cryptic Talmudic tale (Sukkah 48b) about a character named Sasson speaking with another named Simcha. In this piece of Aggadeta, the two are trying to outdo each other by quoting verses throughout TaNaCh in which one or the other appears first. When Sasson and Simcha finally consult with Rebbe Abahu, he tells them that if a person has a water flask but never fills it, but merely keeps it next to him, he will die of thirst.
  • The Vilna Gaon’s explanation is beyond the author’s erudition and the scope of this work, but the Shem M’Shmuel explains that conversation by distinguishing between the exact spiritual nature of these two almost synonymous emotions, happiness and joy. He writes that happiness is the emotion felt after careful planning yields a successful result, whereas joy is the emotion felt when one experiences an unexpected windfall. The debate between Sasson and Simcha, then, is whether success is better felt in the former type of situation, or the latter. For instance, should an organization carefully plan its charitable giving, or bypass the planning and initiate the giving as quickly and haphazardly as possible? Having one necessarily means lacking the other. Rebbe Abahu’s allegoric answer, then, is that there needs to be spiritual content (water) inside the emotion (water flask) to gain anything beyond failure (thirst). Therefore, in our verse, the Jews had both emotions – happiness from the prearranged success, and joy from the unexpected success.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why the great mitzvah of teshuva (“repentance”) seems missing in this list of mitzvos the Jews are performing. After all, the Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that Achashverosh giving his signet ring to Haman created the greatest wave of teshuva in history. He answers that exactly these mitzvos are actual teshuva! Sitting around feeling sorry is not genuine repentance; improving our performance of H-Shem’s service is how we return to Him.

Esther 6:8, Question 4. Why does Haman stress that these items be “brought?”

  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that Haman stressed that these be “brought” because he wanted a great amount of people to be involved with fetching the items, and then handed over by Achashverosh. This is because the more individuals involved in bringing something, the more honor there is inherent in it. This is why many people are involved in carrying the Olympic torch to begin those ceremonies. In Halacha, too, there is great honor in being one of the people who bring a baby boy in for his circumcision (see Rema on Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 265:11). This was Haman’s plan to increase the honor he felt was due to him.

Esther 3:8, Question 5. Why does Haman stress that Jewish laws are different from the laws of others?

  • Many cultures in large nations like Achashverosh’s would have their own unique set of rules, customs, and even mores. Here, Haman is stressing that Jewish laws not only different, but even antagonistic to the laws of the land. According to the Talmud (Megillah 13b), Haman is complaining that the Jews “won’t eat our food, won’t marry from us, won’t marry to us.” Haman even uses his knowledge of Jewish law to defame Judaism. He tells the king that if a fly were to touch a Jew’s cup, he would remove it and continue drinking. However, if the king were to touch a Jew’s cup, the Jew would throw the wine away. Alluding to the law of yayin nesech (see Talmud, Avodah Zarah 30a), Haman is telling the king that the Jews view the Persians as unclean (see the Targum Sheini).
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman is saying the Jews view their own laws as superior, and therefore even trumping, the king’s gentile law. On one hand, he is right. Although the Talmud in numerous places (Gittin 10b, Baba Kama 113a, Baba Basra 54b, Nedarim 28a) notes a concept called “dina d’malchusa dina” (“the law of the kingdom is the law”) which means is that Jews are expected to follow the laws of the lands in which we find ourselves, this is only true as long as those laws do not directly contradict Jewish law.
  • On the other hand, as Megillas Sefer learns, Haman is saying that the Jews even go to the extreme measure of mutilating their sons (through circumcision) to avoid intermarrying with the gentiles around us. Poor, little innocent children are cut for their parents’ religious fanaticism. Interestingly, had it not been a command, its cruelty would make it abhorrent. Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 385) writes, “In exile, in disrepute, tiny to behold, yet always conspicuous, it is a nation which calls attention to itself, prods others into action and yet, despite its dispersal, manages to preserve its unique heritage and even to transmit it from one generation to the other.”
  • The Targum Sheini writes that Haman’s criticism of the Jews here was that the Jews “have warm water in winter and cold water in summer.” The Ben Ish Chai explains that Haman is saying the Jews focus on physical pleasure. He also says notes that the Jews manipulate their own calendars from twenty-nine to thirty days, depending on when they want Rosh Chodesh to fall out. In Haman’s estimation, these designations are arbitrary and to the Jews’ own benefit.

Esther 3:7, Question 5. Why does the lot fall on the month of Adar?

  • Maamar Mordechai points out that, when the Jews were in Egypt, the ten plagues occurred for one month each. That being the case, the second to last plague, that of darkness, happened one month before Passover, which would mean it fell in Adar. Haman assumed the darkness was a plague that hurt the Jews since so many of them died then (see Rashi to Shemos 10:22 and 13:18). After all, four fifths of the Jews died in Egypt because they did not believe in their upcoming rescue. H-Shem killed these unfortunates during the plague of darkness to avoid the Egyptians seeing this, and assuming the Jews’ G-d is no longer with them.1 The Jews in Persia, by attending Achashverosh’s party, indicated that they, too, lost faith in their redemption, and this is why the lots falling on Adar so pleased Haman.
  • Adar is also the month when Moshe died. According to the Talmud (Megillah 13b), Haman knew this because it is so written in the end of Devarim (34:8) and can be calculated from the book of Yehoshua. According to our tradition, the seventh of Adar, his date of death, is also his date of birth. Rabbi Mendel Weinbach writes that Haman did not know this because, as opposed to his date of birth, his date of death is only found in the Oral Torah.
  • The Abudraham calculates that Adar 13 would mark the end of the seven-day mourning period (shiva) for Moshe. According to the Maharsha, that seven-day period of mourning continues in some mystical way the merits of the mourned. After that point, the dead only receive merit of others step up to take over their spiritual roles. Interestingly, Rabbi Dovid Feinstein notes that, Moshe having been born on 7 Adar, his bris (circumcision) would have been on 14 Adar, Purim!2

1It bespeaks a certain callousness that the Egyptians seemed not to notice the sudden disappearance of several million people.

2However, since Moshe was born complete and circumcised (Talmud, Sotah 12a), his bris would only require a symbolic pin-prick of blood called “hatafas dam bris” (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 262:1 and 264:1), and this procedure would not be help on a Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 260:2 and 263:1). Therefore, Moshe’s symbolic bris was held on the following day, Shushan Purim.

Esther 3:3, Question 1. Why does the verse use seemingly Halachic language?

ג וַיֹאמְרוּ עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁרבְּשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְמָרְדֳּכָי מַדּוּעַ אַתָּה עוֹבֵר אֵת מִצְוַת הַמֶּלֶךְ

3. And the servants of the king who were at the gate of the king said to Mordechai, “Why are you ignoring the command of the king?”

  • By using otherwise Halachic language like “oveir” (“ignore”) and “mitzvah” (“command”), and even substituting “the king” instead of Achashverosh, the verse may be alluding to Mordechai’s transgressing a Jewish rule – specifically, the rule of “dina d’malchusa dina” (“the law of the kingdom is the law”). In other words, a Jew is responsible by Torah law to adhere to the national and local laws of the place where that Jew resides (see Talmud, Nedarim 28a).
  • Furthermore, the Me’am Loez notes that the servants considered this law binding, and whenever people make up their own laws and definitions, this is the very essence of Avodah Zarah, idolatry.
  • We should also remember that when we fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah, we are listening to the laws of the King. These are not just old customs we do for the sake of cultural continuation. Indeed, if circumcision were anything less than a command of the King, perhaps California would not be so far off the mark for suggesting a law to make the act illegal, branded as child mutilation (http://www.cnn.com/2011/10/02/health/california-circumcision-law/index.html).
  • The king’s servants seemed to have taken it upon themselves to question Mordechai. When somebody stands up against a prevailing cultural phenomenon, people following the norm are challenged, and have the ingrained need to bring the wandering sheep back into the flock to justify their own behavior.

Esther 1:1, Question 4. Where are Hodu and Cush, and why does it matter?

There is an argument in the Talmud (Megillah 11a) regarding whether Hodu and Cush are near each other or far apart. Either way, the Talmud concludes, Achashverosh’s conquest of them was indicative of his great power. If they were far apart, the phrase “from Hodu and until Cush” shows that his kingdom was large geographically. If they were close, “from Hodu and until Cush” shows that his powerful influence was just as strong in Hodu and Cush as it was in the more far-flung provinces of his kingdom. This is unlike even more recent dictatorships like the Soviet Union, where the government’s anti-religious laws were far more influential in the capital, Moscow, than far-away Tashkent. Whereas Moscow Jews did not by and large get circumcisions, did not eat kosher, and could not learn basic Jewish traditions, the situation was markedly different for the Jews of Tashkent and its surrounding environs. The Rema famously writes that the two opinions in the Talmud are not necessarily contradictory. He writes that the distance from Point A to Point B on a sphere depends largely on which direction the line is going. If two people are next-door neighbors, and one takes the long route around the globe to reach the other, that person traveled an unnecessarily circuitous path, covering far more ground. This, according to the Rema, is indicative of the sheer size of Achashverosh’s kingdom – it covered all the the known world.