Esther 9:22, Question 4. What does the verse intend by “feasting and joy,” and why?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 7a) learns from the verse’s use of “feasting and joy” that there is a mitzva to drink ad d’lo yada, until one does not know the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai” on Purim. Although this a topic worthy of a much larger Halachic discussion, it should suffice for purposes of understanding this verse to note some varying opinions on this subject.
  • Indeed several Halachic deciders understand this literally as an injunction to become completely drunk on Purim, as is clear from the Rif (Megillah 3b) and the Tur (Orach Chaim 695:2).
  • Among others, the Peleh Yo’eitz warns that, obviously, this drinking should not be done to the point where one would miss any other mitzvos, including praying mincha with proper intent.
  • The Talmud (Pesachim 68b) teaches that holidays from the Torah should be be split evenly – half for H-Shem (i.e. with prayer, learning, etc.), and half for our own pleasure (i.e. eating, resting, etc.). However, even according to an earlier opinion there that all holidays should be completely for H-Shem, this verse’s use of the words “feasting and joy” require Purim to be completely for our pleasure.
  • The Abudraham notes that drinking is such a critical part of celebrating Purim because drinking plays a central role in Megillas Esther, including Vashti’s fall (Esther 1:10), Esther’s rise (Esther 2:18), [the decree to kill the Jews (Esther 3:15),] and Esther’s parties that led to Haman’s fall (Esther 7:1-10).
  • The Midrash Eliyahu writes that we celebrate Purim by drinking because the Talmud (Megillah 13b) relates that Haman slandered the Jews’ drinking practices when he told 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 Talmudic (Avodah Zarah 30a) law of yayin nesech.
  • The Nesivos Shalom (Purim 57-58) has a very unique reading of this Talmudic passage. He notes that the above cited teaching does not say “livsumei” (“to become intoxicated”) with wine, but rather “livsumei” in Purim. This means that one should get drunk from the day of Purim, itself, similar to the prophet’s (Yeshaya 51:21) description of being “drunk, but not from wine.” Through prayer, Torah study, and acts of kindness, Purim should cause a person to become so “drunk” on the elevated revelations of Purim that one cannot tell the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.”
  • Malbim writes that the joy mentioned in the verse parallels “feasting and joy,” while the holiday parallels the sending of gifts. This is so because the very purpose of our lives is to separate ourselves from the physical in an effort to focus on the spiritual. That is the very-same purpose of Yom Tov!
  • Similarly, in Horeb, Rav Hirsch writes that the physical rescue of the day deserved a physical enjoyment.
  • Similarly, in R’ Tzaddok HaKohen’s contrasting between Purim and Chanukah, he focuses on the fact that Chanukah was a struggle between different philosophies, wherein the Hellenists and Greeks did not care if the Jews lived or died as long as they accepted the Hellenistic worldview. Therefore, Jews celebrate Chanukah, which was a spiritual/philosophical victory, in a spiritual manner, with additions to the daily tefillah and the lighting of the chanukiya. Jews celebrate Purim, on the other hand, which was a physical victory, in a physical manner, with feasting and joy.
  • The Bach (Orach Chaim 670) focuses his distinguishing of the two days by noting that the entire Purim story was initiated by the Jews wrongly attending Achashverosh’s feast. He quotes a Braisa that says that the Chanukah story was perpetuated by the Jews’ lack of alacrity and laziness in fulfilling the tamid offering. Therefore, Purim is celebrating with a party to make up for our attending Achashverosh’s party, and Chanukah is celebrated with the lighting of Chanukah lights to make up for the neglecting of the constant fire of the tamid offering.
  • His son-in-law, the Taz (Orach Chaim 670:3), writes that Purim is an open miracle that saved our temporal lives, wheras Chanukah commemorates a relatively hidden, spiritual miracle in the oil lasting longer than expected. Their distinct commemorations, then, are accomplished through the public feasting of Purim and through the relatively private lighting of the Chanukah menorah, respectively.
  • The Sfas Emes adds that our physical pleasure on Purim is also due to the physical nature of Eisav’s (progenitor of Amalek) blessing that Yaakov (progenitor of the Jews) took from him (Bireishis 27:28-29). Furthermore, Yaakov’s attempt to take on Eisav’s physical role in the world is yet another reason for the custom to wear masks on Purim.
  • During a Purim seudah, the Satmar Rebbe once mentioned that one might have thought that Haman’s idol would make the threat to Jewish existence on Purim a spiritual one. However, the physical and spiritual aspects of a Jew are one and the same. After all, a physical body without a soul is a corpse. Accordingly, this is another reason for the custom to drink on Purim – to see beyond the superficial, and realize that our physical health is directly related to our spiritual health.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the mitzvos of the day are intended to make Purim a day of Heavenly purpose of spiritual growth, and not for selfish joy. He bears this out from the fact that the initial letters of the four mitzvos of the day – simcha, mishteh, yom tov, manos – can be seen as an acronym that spells out shamayim (Heaven).
  • Famously, the Ari z”l quotes the Tikkunei Zohar (21) that the holiness of Yom Kippur is due to its being a “yom kiPurim” (“a day like Purim”).
  • The Ohel Moshe suggests that Yom Kippur’s holiness depends on Purim because the Talmud (Taanis 30b) says Yom Kippur was the day on which Moshe came down Mt. Sinai with the second set of luchos (“tablets”). This receiving of the Torah was not complete until the Jews accepted the following of its commands in the days of Purim with the verse’s (Esther 9:27) words “kimu v’kiblu.”
  • On another level, R’ Yitzchak Hutner explains that Purim is similar to Yom Kippur because there is a need on both days to make things right with people. The Mishna (Yuma 8:9) teaches that a person does not gain atonement for the wrongs one caused to another unless one asks for forgiveness from that person. Similarly, on Purim, the sending of mishloach manos is supposed to engender feelings of unity and peace among the Jewish people. This is done in a spiritual manner – by begging for forgiveness – on Yom Kippur, and in a physical manner – by drinking and feasting together – on Purim. In this way, the two holidays compliment each other, and become one powerful entity.
  • On one particular Purim in the Warsaw ghetto, R’ Kolonimus Kalmish (Hy”d) approached a Jew who was understandably not feeling joyous in the midst of terrible atrocity. He told this Jew that the intent of the comparison between Purim and Yom K’Purim is that just like a Jew should feel like there is no choice on Yom Kippur, and one must fast, so too, on Purim, one has no choice – one must have simcha (“joy”)!
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Esther 9:10, Question 1. Why does the verse repeat that there were ten sons of Haman?

יעַשֶׂרֶת בְּנֵי הָמָן בֶּןהַמְּדָתָאצֹרֵר הַיְּהוּדִים הָרָגוּ וּבַבִּזָּהלֹא שָׁלְחוּ אֶתיָדָם

10.The ten sons of Haman son of Hamdasa, tormentor of the Yehudim, were killed. And from their spoils they did not send their hands.

  • According to Rashi, the verse repeats that these were the ten sons of Haman because they were evil, and each tried to prevent the Jews from rebuilding the Beis HaMikdash. As governors and dignitaries, they did whatever they could to prevent the Jews from returning to the Holy Land.
  • This is accented by the Talmudic (Megillah 16b) custom is for the reader of Megillas Esther on Purim to read all of the names and “the ten sons of Haman” in our verse in one breath.
  • R’ Yosef Rosen of Rogochov explains the old custom (Orach Chaim 690) of the reader pausing at this point and congregation reading all of the names of Haman’s sons during the public reading, as well. He explains that ideally, everyone should be reading the Megillah on their own. Of course, we can all fulfill our obligation by hearing someone else’s reading, but how can we fulfill an obligation of “one breath” unless we read it in one breath, ourselves?

Esther 8:1, Question 2. Why does Achashverosh give this to Esther?

  • It seems problematic that Achashverosh gave Haman’s property to Esther since the Mechilta (on Shemos 17:14) says Amalek – of which Haman descended – is to be completely destroyed together with its property, so nobody should ever say they gained from Amalek.
  • Esther may have been allowed Haman’s property because the Rabbeinu Bachya (on Bishalach) answers that this Mechilta only refers to possessions obtained in the course of war.
  • In Vedibarta Bam, Rabbi Bogamilsky points out from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 48b) that such property actually belongs to Achashverosh.
  • Similarly, the Talmud (Gittin 38a) teaches that the Jews were allowed the possessions of Moav and Amon because Sichon had already conquered them previously.
  • Given that Esther was allowed Haman’s property, the Alshich writes that Achashverosh gave it to her because the kingdom did not need Haman’s house, after all. This is especially true if Haman destroyed his own home by utilizing its crossbeam in the building of his gallows.
  • The Alshich adds that the decree to kill out the Jews had not yet been revoked, and Achashverosh wanted to show that Esther and Mordechai were exempt.
  • On the other hand, the Yad HaMelech says that the king did this so that those who knew of the decree would not harm the Jews, effectively annulling the decree.
  • The M’nos HaLevi explains that Achashverosh gave her the property to reassure Esther, that although she had seen him angry that day, the anger was not directed at her.
  • The Malbim writes that this was Haman’s property, which should belong to Achashverosh after his rebellious behavior. However, in a continued effort to salvage his honor, Achashverosh wanted to show that Haman was really going against the queen and her people. Accordingly, the verse emphasizes that Haman was the tzorer (“antagonizer”) of the Yehudim.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech explains that Achashverosh’s main concern was his security, especially around Haman’s presumed allies. He therefore said Haman tried to seduce the queen, and therefore owed her money. A similar incident occurred when Avimelech took Sarah, and then gave Avraham money (Bireishis 20:14) as a testament of Sarah’s virtue.
  • The Vilna Gaon quotes a verse (Koheles 2:26) that a person who deserves H-Shem’s Pleasure receives wisdom, intelligent, and joy, but a sinner must constantly accumulate. The Talmud (Megillah 10b) says that this verse applies to Mordechai because the wicked Haman accrued the very wealth through which the righteous prospered.
  • The Maharal asks why the righteous should prosper from the efforts of the wicked. After all, should the righteous not prosper from their own efforts? He answers that the wicked work and work tirelessly to gain more wealth because they are never satisfied. The righteous are easily satisfied, so they do not have to go through the grunt work of acquiring wealth.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains this as yet another example of mida kineged mida “measure for measure” because Haman wanted to take what was most precious to Esther – the lives of her people. Therefore, he lost what was most precious to him – his money.
  • The Me’am Loez says that another example of mida kineged mida is that since Haman wanted to hang Mordechai in his house, Haman’s hanging occurred in what is now Mordechai’s house.
  • Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller adds that Achashverosh took the property because Haman was Mordechai’s slave. According to Jewish law, the property always really belonged to Haman’s master, Mordechai. With the property comes Haman’s identity. She suggests that taking over someone’s identity is another reason  for the custom to masquerade on Purim.

Esther 7:10, Question 2. Why does the verse emphasize that Haman prepared the gallows on which he dies?

  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, the verse emphasizes that Haman prepared the gallows on which he dies because if the wood of the gallows was made from the beams of the Beis HaMikdash, and the Halacha as brought down by the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shegagos 9:1) would not allow Mordechai to make use of it. However, since the wood of this beam has already been used by Haman, this removed its sanctity, making it usable to kill him.
  • According to the Ora V’Simcha the gematria of ha’eitz (“the tree”) (5+70+90=165) is the same as Haman (5+40+50=95) + 70. Seventy are the number of days Haman was in power. According to the Chida, seventy is also the number of verses between Haman’s rise to power (Esther 3:1) until his downfall (Esther 7:10). Finally, seventy is also the gematria of yayin (“wine”) (10+10+50=70). The very wine with which Haman intended to seduce the Jews of Persia to sap them of their spiritual power is what led to his undoing. This may be yet another reason for the Talmudic custom (Megillah 7b) to drink an unusually large amount of wine on Purim.
  • R’ Yechezkiel Levenstein writes that many people recognize that their suffering comes from their own sins, but they do not realize that the sin, itself, creates the punishment.

Esther 7:5, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh seem surprised by the decree he permitted less than a week earlier?

  • R’ Moshe David Valle writes that Achashverosh seems surprised by the decree he permitted less than a week earlier simply because H-Shem created forgetfulness (see the Dubno Maggid’s explanation of Devarim 32:18). Being able to forget can sometimes be a blessing.
  • Similarly, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz says it was the king’s foolishness that caused him to forget. Accordingly, this is another root of the custom to drink ad d’lo yada on Purim (Megillah 7b).
  • The Beis HaLevi writes that Achashverosh did not know that the decree was meant to destroy the Jews, but thought it was supposed to only assimilate them. After all, the word l’avdam could mean “cause them to be lost.” This is why Haman emphasized the Jews’ strangeness (Esther 3:8-9). The solution for “fixing” a group of people who are “weird” is to acculturate them into society. Also, this is the reason Haman said (Esther 3:11) “la’asot bo” (“to do with”) rather than “la’asot lo” (“to do to”) the Jews. This implied that if the Jews refused, they would be punished, but the punishment was not the focus. However, in the decree he wrote (Esther 3:13), Haman emphasized the punishment. This is why Esther (Esther 7:4) first notes this punishment in her plea to the king.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes the Be’er Yosef that there was a fundamental difference between Haman and Achashverosh – Haman knew that the king was only interested in having the Jews conform to his society’s norms, but he likewise knew that the Jews would sacrifice their lives to avoid conversion. For many Jews, an order to change was a death sentence for the Jews. This is the way he put on a show that left Achashverosh in a state of confusion.
  • R’ Avraham Yehoshua Heshel (the Apter Rav) tells a story about the time of R’ Sherira Gaon (father of R’ Hai Gaon) of Pumbedisa (906-1006 CE). There were two brothers fighting over their late father’s estate. One got a Torah scroll actually written by Ezra the Scribe, while the other brother got everything else in the estate. Parenthetically, it is a beautiful thing that the one who got all of the father’s possessions would be willing to give them up for a Torah scroll. Be that as it may, one evil man who thought it was ridiculous that the brothers were fighting over what he considered nothing more that a large parchment with ink on it, came into shul at night and scratched out the letter ayin in the word vi’avadetem (“and you shall serve”) in the verse (Shemos 23:25), and wrote an aleph in its place, turning the word into vi’avadetem (“and He will destroy you”). When this change was discovered, the owner of the scroll fell ill. He then had a dream in which his father appeared. His father told him the culprit will lose his eye because of the verse (Shemos 21:24) “ayin tachat ayin” (“an eye for an eye”) can be homiletically interpreted as an eye in place of a letter ayin. Since the scroll’s owner was concerned lest another scribe fix a scroll written by Ezra, the father calmed him by saying that Ezra in Heaven would fix it. Indeed, the next morning, the recovered owner came to shul, and together with the congregation was astounded to find the scroll in its original form. The Apter Rav brings this story as proof that Achashverosh really wanted the Jews to be subservient to him, but Haman used the word li’avdem to intentionally mislead the king into signing a decree to kill them all.

Esther 6:13, Question 1. What exactly does Haman tell his friends and family happened, and why?

יג וַיְסַפֵּר הָמָן לְזֶרֶשׁ אִשְׁתּוֹ וּלְכָלאֹהֲבָיו אֵת כָּלאֲשֶׁר קָרָהוּ וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ חֲכָמָיו וְזֶרֶשׁ אִשְׁתּוֹ אִם מִזֶּרַע הַיְּהוּדִים מָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר הַחִלּוֹתָ לִנְפֹּל לְפָנָיו לֹאתוּכַל לוֹ כִּינָפוֹל תִּפּוֹל לְפָנָיו

13. And Haman related to Zeresh his wife and to all his loved ones all that chanced him. And his wise ones and Zeresh his wife said to him, “If Mordechai is from the seed of the Yehudim, that which you have begun to fall before him, you will not succeed him, since you will continue to fall before him…”

  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that Haman could not have been telling his friends and family about what happened that day since the fanfare with which it was performed made the day’s events common knowledge. Therefore, he must have been giving them a short history lesson.
  • The Maharal writes that Megillas Esther speeds up in pace during events to indicate the rushing feeling of geulah (“redemption”), may it come soon.
  • The Kefalim L’Toshiya writes that Haman told the events of the day, but stressed his own important role in the king’s advice. It could have sounded something like this: “I came to the king when he couldn’t sleep. He needed advice, and to whom did he turn? Me. He couldn’t wait – as soon as I walked in, instead of asking me how I was doing, he right away asked me what he should do. I gave him advice and he listened immediately. He didn’t ask anyone else for a second opinion. He listened to my advice. Not only that, but he wouldn’t even entrust anyone else with this job. He picked me to extend his thanks to somebody.” The point of telling them all of this is that Mordechai no longer has a leverage with the king, as Mordechai himself had feared; therefore Haman thinks his plan is going to work. As the verse continues, Haman’s advisers disagree.
  • The Yosef Lekach points out that the verse uses the phrase “kol asher karahu” (“all that chanced him”) because Haman viewed all the preceding events as matters of chance.
  • Rebbetzin Heller notes that the same expression was used by Mordechai earlier (Esther 4:7), where he emphasized how all historical events flow together for a reason. Even things we see as chance occurrences actually fit together intentionally in a puzzle designed and arranged by H-Shem. Haman’s use of the phrase has the exact opposite meaning.
  • As the Ohel Moshe reminds us, being from Amalek, Haman represents the nation that the Torah (Devarim 25:18) describes as “asher karcha baderech” (“that chanced upon you on the road”). Amalek sees all events – event the Exodus from Mitzrayim – as chance.
  • The Malbim adds that Haman was merely reassuring his friends and family that the embarrassing events of the day were but just chance, and not a consequence of his planned request to hang Mordechai, which hadn’t yet occurred.
  • At a Purim seudah once, the Ben Ish Chai noted that there was a custom then among women to shave their heads when in mourning, so this verse uses the word vayisaper (usually translated as “told” or “related”) which can also mean “and he sheared” to imply that Haman sheared the heads of the women in his home at this time.

Esther 6:1, Question 2. Why does the verse describe the king’s sleep as “shaken?”

  • Me’am Loez writes that this was the first time Achashverosh felt anything like insomnia, and he was therefore greatly concerned. Since this strange, out of the ordinary event transpires in this verse, perhaps this is the reason for the custom (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 690:15, Mishnah Berurah 690:52) to read this verse in a unique tune1.
  • The Midrash writes that Achashverosh had trouble sleeping because he was afraid Haman would try to kill him.
  • R’ Rephael Shapiro of Volozhin wonders why the crux of the Purim miracle hangs on this seeming lie; after all, Haman was not planning on killing the king at this point. He answers that Achashverosh saw in his dream that Haman wanted to kill Esther’s husband. What he did not know was that Esther’s actual husband was not Achashverosh, but Mordechai.
  • Since every reference to the “king” is really a reference to the King of Kings – H-Shem – the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:1) continues that H-Shem was “awakened” from His throne of Glory. How could H-Shem, who neither sleeps nor slumbers (Tehillim 121:4) have been sleeping? The Midrash explains that H-Shem can be said to be “sleeping” when the Jews are not living up to the standard set for them, as it says elsewhere in Tehillim (78:65). Torah Temimah explains that H-Shem ignores our needs sometimes, and only prayer and repentance can “awaken” Him.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) cites an argument about which king’s sleep was disturbed. The first opinion says it was H-Shem’s “sleep.” The second opinion is that the sleep of both the upper world and the lower world was disturbed. The third opinion is that it was Achashverosh’s sleep, and that it was due to his concern over the nature of the relationship between Esther and Haman, as she had intended by inviting Haman to her feast (see below). Achashverosh thus becomes concerned that nobody seems to be saving him.
  • Interestingly, Rashi uncharacteristically quotes both the miraculous and natural interpretations of this verse. R’ Avigdor Bonchek writes that Rashi does so to emphasize that the main theme of Megillas Esther is that the true, miraculous nature of things is constantly concealed within seemingly everyday events. Maharal points out that this can be seen in the verse’s choice of calling Him/him “king” without mentioning Achashverosh’s name. If the verse is discussing H-Shem, it is fitting to call Him King. If the verse is discussing Achashverosh, it must be that he was concerned about kingly, political affairs.
  • Furthermore, Maharsha notes that any instant in TaNaCh in which someone’s sleep is disturbed, the next verse explains the reason. For example, when Yaakov had a dream about the ladder, the next verse (Bireishis 28:10) explains why. Also, when Pharoah had his prophetic, confusing dreams about cows, the next verse (Bireishis 41:1) explains the reason. This verse’s lack of explanation leads one to conclude that something else is going on – namely, H-Shem’s “sleep” is also being “disturbed.”
  • Based on the fact that the root of “nadidah” (“shaking”) is “nada,” R’ Mendel Weinbach points out that the verse’s use of two letter daleds indicates that there were two disturbances – one in the Heavens and one on Earth. The Midrash Abba Gurion writes that the angel, Gavriel, kept Achashverosh awake telling him, “do good for the one who did good to you.”
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that “nadidah” can be read as “nadad Hey,” or “H-Shem Stirred.” He writes it can also be read as “fifty (gematria of the letter nun) dadah.” Since “dadah” can be seen as the root of “edadeim” (“movement”) in Tehillim (42:5), Ben Ish Chai writes that fifty moved Achashverosh. Specifically, he quotes the Ari Z”l that the first verse in Shema contains twenty-five letters. Since we typically say Shema twice every evening and twice every morning, these fifty letters (twenty-five letters repeated) Mordechai was saying came to protect Mordechai. These fifty letters saved Mordechai from the fifty amos of the gallows Haman prepared, zeh l’umas zeh.

1 The classically given answer for this custom is because this verse is the one in which there is a turnabout – when obviously good things are in store for the Jews.