Esther 5:2, Question 3. What does the gold scepter represent?

  • The Maharal and Me’am Loez write that Achashverosh’s scepter simply represented his rule over the land, and that Esther was under Achashverosh’s protection.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes the length to which it was stretched was either from two amos1 to twelve, or to sixteen, or to twenty-four amos, or to sixty amos, or two hundred amos. Midrash Socher Tov (on Tehillim 22:27) writes that it grew sixty-two amos.
  • Either way, the Maharsha says the reason why this scepter needed to be extended at all is because Esther was weak from her three straight days of fasting, and the scepter was otherwise too far away. He adds that these are not random numbers: he notes that the word “vayoshet” (“and he stretched out”) is the twelfth word in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to twelve amos; “sharvit” (“scepter”) is the sixteenth word in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to sixteen amos; there are a total of twenty-four words in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to twenty-four amos; there are sixty letters in the verse before the word “sharvit,” hinting to the idea that it grew to sixty amos.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the length that the scepter became is not as significant as how much it grew. Therefore, if it started out as two and grew to twelve, that means it grew ten amos. The significance of ten is that the Mishnah (Avos 5:1) teaches that H-Shem created the world with ten utterances. Therefore, this miracle was supposed to intimate to Achashverosh that killing the Jews would be like destroying the world, which was made for the holy pursuits of the Jewish people (see Midrash, Bireishis Rabbah 1:2). If it started out as two and grew to sixteen, that means it grew fourteen amos. That is the gematria of David (4+6+4=14), the man responsible for beginning the construction of the Temple. If it started out as two and grew to twenty-four, that means it grew twenty-two amos. This is the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet, with which is written the Torah that itself protects the Jewish people. If it started out as two and grew to sixty, that means it grew fifty-eight amos. This is the gematria of chein (8+50=58), or grace, which means Esther’s prayers to find grace were being favorably answered. If it started out as two and grew to two hundred, that means it grew one hundred and ninety-eight amos. This is the gematria of H-Shem’s Havaya Name (10+5+6+5=26) added to the Elokim Name (1+30+5+10+40=86) twice. This indicates that Esther had aroused H-Shem’s Characteristic of Mercy. The Ben Ish Chai concludes that all of these numbers should not seem contradictory, but were separate growths that literally occurred.
  • Not counting the opinion of the Midrash Socher Tov, the scepter grew five different times because there are five different levels of redemption – v’hotzaisee (“and I will take you out”) (Shemos 6:6), v’hitzaltee (“and I will rescue you”) (ibid.), v’gaaltee (“and I will redeem you”) (ibid.), and v’lakachtee (“and I will take accept you”) (Shemos 6:7), and v’hayvaysee (“and I will bring you”) (Shemos 6:8) – and in the merit of the five Books of the Torah2.

1One ama is approximately two feet.

2The Ben Ish Chai makes a similar observation regarding Mordechai’s five clothes (Esther 8:15). He writes that our verse shows Esther’s reward, and that later verse parallels this one to show Mordechai’s reward.

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Esther 4:7, Question 5. Why does the verse emphasize Mordechai’s telling Esther about the destruction of the Jews?

  • The Vilna Gaon writes that the verse emphasizes Mordechai’s telling Esther about the destruction of the Jews to clarify that the public documents vaguely informing Shushan to be ready actually intended the annihilation of the Jews.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz breaks apart the word “li’avdam” (“to destroy”) into the words “lo badam” (“not with blood”). In explanation, he cites the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:14) that relates the following allegorical anecdote:

[After the Satan convinced H-Shem to agree that Yisroel deserved destruction, and various levels of H-Shem’s servants respond,] Eliyahu (of Blessed Memory) ran in terror to the Patriarchs and Moshe son of Amram. And he said to them, “How long will the Patriarchs of old remain asleep? Are you not paying attention to the evils in which your children find themselves? The ministering angels, the sun, the moon, the stars and constellations, Heaven and Earth, and all the Heavenly servants are bitterly crying. And you are standing by, not paying attention?!” They said to him, “Why [were they found worthy of destruction]?” He said to them, “Because Yisroel enjoyed themselves at the feast of Achashverosh. Because of this, H-Shem decreed upon them a decree to annihilate them from the world, and to destroy their memory.” Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov said to him, “If they transgressed the Will of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and this decree is sealed, what are we able to do?” Eliyahu returned, and said to Moshe, “Trustworthy shepherd! How often have you stood in the breach for the sake of Yisroel, and nullified the decree against them to avoid their annihilation? As it is written, ‘Did not Moshe, His chosen, stand in the breach before Him to turn back His anger from destroying’ (Tehillim 106:23). How do you answer this evil?” […] Moshe said to him, “Is there anyone good in this generation?” [Eliyahu] said, “There is, and his name is Mordechai.” [Moshe] said to him, “Go and tell him that when he stands there to pray, and I from here, and he seeks mercy for them before the Holy One, Blessed is He…” [Eliyahu] said to him, “Trustworthy shepherd! It is already written, this letter of destruction of Yisroel!” Moshe said to him, “If it is written in clay, our prayers will be heard. And if it is written in blood, it is already done.” [Eliyahu] said, “It is written in clay.” Moshe our Teacher said to him, “Go and tell Mordechai.”

 R’ Eibshutz asks on this this story: What is the symbolic significance of the document being written in blood or clay? Why would a decree written in blood be irreversible? He explains that Adam was created from earth and soul (Bireishis 2:7). Clay is made from earth and the Torah testifies that blood is the essence of the nefesh, soul (Vayikra 17:14, see Ramban to Vayikra 17:11). Thus, clay represents the physical and blood represents the spiritual. In the Midrash, then, Moshe was asking Eliyahu if the decree against the Jews was written for physical reasons (i.e. their enjoying Achashverosh’s feast) or spiritual reasons (i.e. bowing to an idol of Nevuchadnetzer). Had it been for their spiritual rejection of H-Shem (G-d forbid!), the decree would stand. In our verse, Mordechai was telling Esther that the decree was “lo b’dam,” not written in blood, and thus had a physical root that could be reversed with the power of prayer1.

1It is unclear to the author why the cause should be unclear; the above-cited Midrash explicitly stated that the decree was written and sealed due to the Jews’ enjoying Achashverosh’s feast. Perhaps the question was regarding the Jews’ motivation in attending the feast, and is not related to the seeming worship of Nevuchadnetzer’s statue. Tzarich iyun.

Esther 4:7, Question 4. Why is the word “baYihudim” written with an extra letter “yud?”

  • In answering this question, R’ Dovid Feinstein reminds us that the Talmud (Menachos 29b) says that H-Shem made Olam HaBa (the World to Come) using a yud. Therefore, Mordechai was saying that, in threatening the extermination of the Jews, the people who believed in the World to Come, Haman was actually attempting to subvert the authority of Heaven.
  • The Maharal writes that, by writing the word “baYihudim” with an extra letter “yud,” Mordechai was indicating the kind of Jews affected by Haman’s decree. The first yud represents the Jews in general, and the second yud represents those Jews willing to sacrifice their lives to sanctify G-d if the need arises.
  • The Tzemach Tzedek takes this idea one step further. In the beginning of Creation, H-Shem created within mankind two yetzarim (inclinations) (see Rashi to Bireishis 2:7). Haman, after all, did not discriminate – he wanted to kill all Jews, good or bad. Interestingly, later when the Jews are saved, the verse (Esther 9:15) spells out Yehudim with two yuds again to testify concerning them that the spirit of teshuva that enveloped the Jews at that time made it so the yetzer for evil had no affect on them.

Esther 1:6 Question 2. Why does the Megillah use unusual language to describe Ahashverosh’s wealth?

Perhaps the Megillah uses these unusual terms to emphasize the importance of Torah sheBal Peh, the Oral Law. Without the Talmud (Megillah 12a) assigning definitions for these terms, we would be clueless as to their meanings. According to Rav, “chur” are crocheted draperies, whereas Shmuel holds that they were white draperies. “Karpas” is seen there as a contraction of “karim shel pasim,” or fine wool cushions. The Sages derive from the interchanging of a letter “hey” with “ches” that “bahat” is a stone that is much sought-after. One opinion posits that it radiated light independently. The Sages then offer a number of definitions for “dar” and “sochares.” One opinion is that it is numerous rows of stones. Another opinion is that it is a rare, coastal stone called “darra” that illuminated the feast to the brightness of midday. The final and most unique interpretation in the Talmud is that it is a proclamation that freed businessmen of taxes for the duration of the party. Either way, Achashverosh’s party, according to the Maharal in Ohr Chadash, was meant to mirror the act of creation in Achaverosh’s lame attempt at parroting the Creator. The precious stones are like the precious Earth, the light of the “bahat” is like the light from the heavens, and even the relaxing of taxation mimicked H-Shem’s power of providing the needs of every living thing. The Maharal adds that Achashverosh’s use of kelayim (wool and linen) mixtures and his wearing the priestly clothes further copies Creation as the Beis HaMikdash, the Holy Temple, which contained these as well, is seen by the Midrash as a microcosm of Creation.

 

  1. Why does the Megillah use unusual language to describe Ahashverosh’s wealth?