Esther 8:3, Question 1. Why does Esther perform all of these actions?

ג וַתּוֹסֶף אֶסְתֵּר וַתְּדַבֵּר לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַתִּפֹּל לִפְנֵי רַגְלָיו וַתֵּבְךְּ וַתִּתְחַנֶּןלוֹ לְהַעֲבִיר אֶתרָעַת הָמָן הָאֲגָגִי וְאֵת מַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר חָשַׁב עַלהַיְּהוּדִים

3. And Esther added and spoke before the king. And she fell before his feet, and cried, and pleaded with him to annul the evil of Haman the Aggagite and his intentions that he intended on the Yehudim.

  •  The Maharal is troubled by the verse’s use of the word vatosef (“and she added”) when it does not initially seem that there is any conversation that is being continued here. He answers that this is a continuation of the previous verse in which Esther appointed Mordechai, seemingly verbally, as master of Haman’s estate.
  • M’nos HaLevi notes that the Talmud (Makkos 10b-11a) teaches that daber, the root of word vatidaber (“and she spoke”) implies a harsh language. He explains that Esther was speaking in a forceful and direct manner to the king, saying that Haman lied to him. She then regretted her boldness, and fell pleading for mercy.
  • According to the Malbim, Esther performs all of these actions because she tried various methods to convince Achashverosh – rhetoric, and logic, and emotion. As is well-known, when logic fails, the emotional appeal can still be effective.
  • As the M’nos HaLevi points out, the Talmud (Brachos 32b) teaches that since the time the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, only the gates of tears remain open.
  • In a famous comment on this verse, the Vilna Gaon teaches in the name of the Zohar that genuine crying always comes from the heart, and cannot be artificially manufactured. He also connects Esther’s behavior in this verse to various stages of the Jew’s regular prayer routine. He writes that vatosef (“and she added”) is a reference to Pesukei Dezimra (introductory verses of praise) because the Talmud (Brachos 32a) teachers that these were added by the Rabbis to help people concentrate during Shemoneh Esrei; vatidaber (“and she spoke”) is a reference to Shema (“verses in which we accept the authority of H-Shem”) because the Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 9a, 9b) teaches that the Shema has references to the Ten Commandments, the Asseres HaDibros, vatipol (“and she fell”) is a reference to nefilas apayim (“putting down the face,” or Tachanun), vateiv’k (“and she cried”) is a reference to tefilla (“the silent prayer, or Shemoneh Esrei”), and vatit’chanen (“and she pleaded”) is a reference to Elokai Nitzur (the additional prayers after tefillah). Esther’s act of pleading before the king, was also her pleading before the King of kings.
  • The Dena Pishra writes similarly that the verse references the king because Esther was really praying to H-Shem to spare the Jews.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that Esther did all of these actions because she saw the cause of Achashverosh’s previous behavior as passion due to anger. Now that she saw him calm down, she was concerned that he would return to his old, anti-Semitic self. She was really risking her life because his anger could have returned at any moment.

Esther 6:13 Question 6. Why do Haman’s advisers imply Haman fell before?

  • The Malbim explains Haman’s advisers’ words as implying that since Haman started falling already in his degrading display of honor to Mordechai, the natural inertia will cause him to continue to fall.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) interprets the verse’s double language of “nafol tipol” (“falling you will fall”) by noting that the Jewish people are compared both to the dust, and to stars. The Maharal asks on this Talmudic statement that, historically, every nation has ups and downs. When Babylonia, Greece, Rome, or any other nation sinned, H-Shem caused their civilizations to decline. He answers that the difference for the Jews is that H-Shem directly supervises their ascents and downfalls. Therefore the practical difference is how far up or down.
  • The Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 8) on Bireishis (1:28) says that man can fall to the lowest depths. There is no middle ground for the Jews; they either fall into the dust or rise to the stars.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes the Talmud (Brachos 4b) that there is a principle that H-Shem saves the Jews when they are at their lowest. H-Shem waits (kaviyachal, as it were) for the individual Jew or the nation to reach the dust, the lowest point. If a person sitting on the floor falls, that person may fall to the floor. But when one is sitting on the floor and falls, there is not place further to fall. It is at that point that H-Shem must raise that person to the stars.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the advisers pointed out to Haman that he himself said (Esther 6:11) that the honor received by Mordechai “ye’aseh” (“will be”) in the future tense. He thereby unwittingly cursed himself with Mordechai’s future success.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Ta’amei Esther, who quotes the M’nos HaLevi, who in turn quotes R’ Eliezer of Garmiza that the words nafol tipol are written complete, both with vuvs because Mordechai’s six (the gematria of vuv) actions including fasting, walking through the streets, crying, etc (Esther 4:1) parallel the six (the gematria of vuv) forms of suffering endured by Israel (Esther 4:3). Therefore, Nafol Mordechai and tipol the Jews. The Ginzei HaMelech explains by quoting a Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 34:8) that Moshe accepted upon himself the pain meant for others, and Mordechai did the same. Therefore, paining these kinds of leaders pains all of the Jews. By doing that, Haman is pinning himself against the combined power of the entire Jewish nation.
  • In a more Kabbalistic explanation, the Rema writes that this falling is actually the second fall, as in the days of Adam (Bireishis 3:15), when the Yeitzer HaRa fell the first time.
  • The Sha’aris Yosef quotes the Nachal Kedumim that Mordechai was a gilgul, reincarnation, of Yaakov, and Haman was a gilgul of Eisav. One of his proofs for this idea is that the verse (Bireishis 32:12) in which Yaakov prays for Heavenly assistance against Eisav, he says, “hatzileini na miyad” (“save me please from the hand”), which have initial letters that spell out Haman. Although Yaakov never physically fought Eisav, he did fight Eisav’s guardian angel. The verses describing this exchange (Bireishis 32:25-30) never explicitly names the victor, which prompts the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 77:3) to state that it would remain unclear who won except for the fact Eisav’s guardian angel had to go back and forth several times. Just as Eisav’s angel had to go back down, Haman’s advisers here are implying that, being a gilgul, Haman would similarly fall twice before Mordechai.

Esther 6:10, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh emphasize that Haman should follow every detail?

  • The Alshich writes that, in his desire to uncover the conspiracy he so fears, Achashverosh is emphatic that Haman should perform everything he suggested.
  • The Me’am Loez explains that the nature of a person who is forced to do something is to delay and ignore as many steps as possible.
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), once Haman saw that he would have to honor Mordechai in this degrading way, he suggested new methods of honoring him that would not detract from his own self-love, like naming a river or village after Mordechai. In an ironic twist, Achashverosh therefore stresses that Haman should follow every detail to include those other things Haman suggested, as well.
  • The Shaar Bas Rabbim writes that this phrase includes the crown. Although Achashverosh is not happy with the idea, even showing his disapproval, he nevertheless agrees to it reluctantly, not even able to say the word.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that H-Shem wanted Mordechai to be pampered with all of these honors for two reasons. First, on the Earthly level, Mordechai deserves reward for having saved the life of Achashverosh, allowing him to be pampered in palace luxury. Second, on the Heavenly plane, the Talmud (Gittin 62a) refers to scholars as royalty, deserving of the best in this life and the next.
  • In the spirit of the idea that the entire Purim story teaches us that H-Shem runs His world through mida kineged mida, M’nos HaLevi explains that when Mordechai first learned of the decree to annihilate the Jews, he is described (Esther 4:1) as putting on sackcloth, walking through the streets of Shushan, and crying bitterly. In reward for putting on the sackcloth, he is now to put on royal garments; in reward for walking through the streets, he is now to be escorted on the king’s horse; and in reward for his bitter cry, his greatness is to be proclaimed throughout the city.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle points out that the initial letters of the last three words in this verse “mikol asher dibarta” (“from all that you said”) spell out the word m’od (“much”). The Torah (Bireishis 15:1) describes Avraham’s – and by extension, every righteous person’s – reward as s’charcha harbeh m’od, “your reward will be very great.”
  • R’ Chaim Fasman once pointed out that the only part of the daily amida in which we request that somebody actually get something is in the prayer for the righteous, where we ask H-Shem that He give the righteous s’char, reward. The reason for this is that it is an inspirational kiddush H-Shem for all of us when we see the righteous rewarded.
  • The Targum Sheini, with its embedded commentary, says that Achashverosh told Haman a detailed list of the items which he was supposed to give to Mordechai, including Achashverosh’s Macedonian crown, Ethiopian sword, African cloak, and the horse he rode from the beginning of his reign named Shifrigaz. The gematria of Shifrigaz (300+10+80+200+3+7=600) is 600, the same as sheker (300+100+200=600), falsehood. Perhaps this alludes to the idea that wealth and honor are fleeting, impermanent things, as the verse in Koheles (6:2) says, “a man to whom G-d has given […] wealth and honor […] and yet G-d has not given him the opportunity to eat from it, […] this is futile and an evil disease.”

Esther 4:16, Question 3. Why and how are the Jews expected to fast for Esther specifically?

  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the reason Esther wanted the Jews to fast for her is, as it says in the Talmud (Baba Kama 92a), when we pray for someone else to have rachamim (“pity”), we earn rachamim, too.
  • R’ Dovid Chadida points out that Esther is really the only person in danger now. The Jews, after all, are only threatened in a year from this point. To answer why Esther wants the people to fast specifically for her, he quotes the Rambam’s commentary on the Mishna (Taanis 1:5) that a city can only establish a fast day for itself for one day. This only applies when it is a city in danger. However, when we pray for one person, the fast can last for multiple days.
  • The Me’am Loez brings another Mishnah (Taanis 2:1) that fasting alone is meaningless; the point is to pray, cry ,and perform teshuva (“repentance”).
  • Esther’s emphasis on fasting is to help the Jews realize that attending Achashverosh’s feast was the act for which they were to repent. Assuming she did not attend the feast, then, Ginzei HaMelech asks why Esther has to fast. He suggests the Jews went to the party because, on some level, they had a lack of faith in their relationship with H-Shem, thinking they were unworthy of His love and concern. According to the Ginzei HaMelech, Esther has been displaying a similar lack of faith in herself.
  • Incidentally, the Ben Ish Chai writes that she asked the Jews to fast eilai, for her, which can be spelled ayin (seventy) lee (“for me”), meaning that she, herself would only fast for seventy hours, which will be explained later, G-d Willing.

Esther 4:3, Question 4. Why does the verse mention six responses of the Jews?

  • The Jews responded to this news with a total of six actions: they mourned, fasted, cried, eulogized, and donned sack and ash. The M’nos HaLevi writes that there is significance to this number. These six actions correspond to the six days in which the Jews participated in Achashverosh’s party (see Esther 1:5). Indeed it was a seven-day party, and the Jews took a break from the last day because it was Shabbos.
  • Since the verse that describes Achashverosh’s party (1:4), the verse says the party lasted for many days (yamim rabim), and gives the number of days as 180, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz wonders why the phrase “yamim rabim” is not superfluous. He answers that this phrase refers to the kind of days they were, long summer days, concluding with Yom Kippur. This is the day on which no Jew sins. In fact, he adds that the gematria of the Satan (hasatan) is 364 (5+300+9+50), one less than the total amount of days in a solar year, indicating that the Evil Inclination has no hold on us for one days out of the year – Yom Kippur. Therefore, there were only six days for which the Jews needed to atone.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Sfas Emes views Megillas Esther as the beginning of the Oral Law. Mordechai was even a member of the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) that began the establishment of Rabbinic law. The Oral Law is represented by the number six, as that is the total number of Orders in the Mishnah – Seeds, Festivals, Women, Damages, Holy Items, Purity. The Jews mourned in six different ways in to show their new-found reverence for the Oral Law.
  • Interestingly, according to the Vilna Gaon, there are not six actions here, but five. In his understanding, the great mourning is not a separate action, but is one general action described with the remaining five detailed descriptions. According to him, these five correspond to the five actions Jews are supposed to take (Mishnah, Taanis 1:3-7) when they are suffering agriculturally.

Esther 4:1, Question 5. Why does the verse stress that Mordechai’s cry was “great and bitter?”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 15a) records an argument about what, exactly, Mordechai was calling out as he went through Shushan. One opinion there has it that he yelled out, “Haman is greater than Achashverosh” in order to arouse the king’s jealousy. The other opinion is that Mordechai yelled out, “The King above is greater than the king below” in a euphemistic fashion to imply that Achashverosh was attempting to usurp H-Shem’s Power.
  • Yalkut Shimoni writes that there is generally a difference between Jewish prayer and idolatrous prayer; whereas Chana’s prayer was quiet (Shmuel 1 1:13), Eisav’s prayer was a “great and bitter cry” (Bireishis 27:38). Like dogs that bark loudest when they have the least bite with which to threaten, an idol-worshiper’s prayer needs to be loud since it has the least spiritual power behind it.
  • Furthermore, Rav Eliyah Lopian suggests that, whereas physical people cry over physical phenomena, spiritual people cry about spiritual matters. Here, however, to counteract the possible spiritual effectiveness of Haman’s ancestor’s (Eisav) “great and bitter cry,” caused by the actions of Mordechai’s ancestor (Yaakov).
  • According to Yosek Lekach and the Vilna Gaon, Mordechai’s cry was inspired by his feeling responsible for the decree against the Jews. After all, his decision to refuse to bow to Haman, regardless of the logic, is what led directly to Haman’s anger with the Jews of Persia and beyond.
  • R’ Henach Leibowitz points out in his characteristic way that this should be a powerful lesson to us about how careful we must be to avoid hurting someone, even when we are in the right!
  • Taken as a unit, some commentators find great significance in the combination of these three motifs of the sackcloth, the city, and the crying. According to the Ginzei HaMelech, the loud voice represents Avraham because he spoke out powerfully against idolatry in a world filled with idols (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avoda Zara 1:3). The ash represents Yitzchak who allowed his father to symbolically sacrifice him. The sackcloth represents Yaakov, who mourned in sack upon being told of his son’s untimely death (Bireishis 37:33). Therefore, in a thoughtful, calculated action of spiritual symbolism, Mordechai used these to recall the merits of the forefathers, whose merits always protect their descendants.