Esther 8:9, Question 4. Why does the verse mention both the script and the language?

  • Rashi explains that the verse uses the words kiksavam (“like their writing”) and chilshonam (“like their language”) to refer to the written letters and spoken sounds of the language, respectively. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 22a) deduces from this verse proof that neither the Hebrew script nor spoken language has ever changed.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that one reason for this was for the illiterate Jews who may otherwise become incensed over the knowledge of the gentile decree, and might react violently. The idea was that the scholars who read the decree would be able to calm the restless rabble.
  • Furthermore, as the Talmud (Shabbos 12b) teaches, angels only understand Hebrew.
  • According to Rebbetzin Heller, keeping the language is an additional merit that helped rescue the Jews. As the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 32:5) teaches, even the Jews in Mitzrayim, although they maintained next to no Jewish observance, had the merit of retaining their language. This dedication to Jewish “culture” demonstrated the people’s desire to retain a bond with their Creator.
  • The Yerushalmi (Megillah 2:1) learns from this verse that the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim must be read in Hebrew. This is brought down as the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 690:8-9).
  • Class Participant BR suggested that the intent of this may have been to keep the secret messages and lessons of Megillas Esther hidden exclusively for the Jewish people.

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.