- Both the M’nos HaLevi and Yosef Lekach write that Esther stresses that it was Haman’s thoughts in order to encourage the king that having the decree nullified would not be a slight to his honor, since it was Haman’s idea – not his own.
- The M’nos HaLevi also points out Esther was stressing that what Haman said (Esther 3:9) was not what he meant – so she wants the king to annul Haman’s actual intentions.
- On a more mystical plane, the Sfas Emes teaches that Amalek affects Yisroel’s thoughts. Amalek’s cooling effect mentioned in the Torah (Devarim 25:18) is the cooling of what should be the Jews’ emotionally enthusiastic performance of H-Shem’s commands.
ו וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר אִישׁ צַר וְאוֹיֵב הָמָן הָרָע הַזֶּה וְהָמָן נִבְעַת מִלִּפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַמַּלְכָּה
6. And Esther said, “A man who is an adversary and an enemy, this evil Haman.” And Haman was bewildered from before the king and the queen.
- It is especially puzzling that Esther calls Haman an “ish” (“man”) since, as R’ Dovid Feinstein points out, it usually signifies an important person. In this case, he writes, Haman is called an “ish” because he thought highly of himself.
- The Dubno Maggid writes that the word ish followed by an adjective indicates a central aspect of the subject’s character. Esther is therefore answering both of Achashverosh’s questions from above; who the person is and why he is doing it. As proof of this idea, the Dubno Maggid quotes the verse in the Torah that first describes Eisav1 (Bireishis 25:27), in which he is called an “ish sadeh” (“man of the field”). In other words, the field is an intrinsic part of Eisav’s being. Therefore, Haman’s main characteristic is that he is a “tzar v’oivev,” an enemy. Amalek hates the Jews for no reason. The Dubno Maggid brings the allegory of a glutton who goes around a party, eating left-overs after party is over. He is not hungry. Similarly, the Torah (Devarim 25:18) testifies that when Amalek attacked the Jews, they went after the “weak ones.” Also, in Tehillim (137:7), King David prophecies that the Temple would be destroyed “to its foundation.” The Romans were not satisfied with the Temple burning – they wanted the Temple more than destroyed.
1It is interesting to note that Eisav is the ancestor of Amalek, and thus Haman.
יג וַיְסַפֵּר הָמָן לְזֶרֶשׁ אִשְׁתּוֹ וּלְכָל–אֹהֲבָיו אֵת כָּל–אֲשֶׁר קָרָהוּ וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ חֲכָמָיו וְזֶרֶשׁ אִשְׁתּוֹ אִם מִזֶּרַע הַיְּהוּדִים מָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר הַחִלּוֹתָ לִנְפֹּל לְפָנָיו לֹא–תוּכַל לוֹ כִּי–נָפוֹל 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.
ז וַיַּגֶּד–לוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי אֵת כָּל–אֲשֶׁר קָרָהוּ וְאֵת ׀ פָּרָשַׁת הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר אָמַר הָמָן לִשְׁקוֹל עַל–גִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיְּהוּדִיים [בַּיְּהוּדִים] לְאַבְּדָם
7. And Mordechai told him all that happened to him and the account of the silver that Haman said to weigh out on the king’s treasury in the Yehudim to annihilate them.
- According to M’nos HaLevi, when the verse says that Mordechai related to Hasach “what happened to him,” it means that Mordechai told him absolutely everything – his refusal to bow to Haman, the Jews’ sin, and even the answer from the three students cited earlier.
- Megillas Sesarim points out that Mordechai emphasized that this was happening to him personally because he felt responsible for this turn of events. Therefore, due to the Talmudic concept of “ein kateigor naaseh sineigor” (“the prosecutor cannot be the defender”) (see Rosh HaShanah 26a), Mordechai needed Esther to act in his stead.
- Other commentators focus on alternative meanings to the Hebrew word karahu, “what happened to him.” For instance, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:5) writes that Mordechai was telling Esther that a descendant of the nation that which karcha, “happened upon” (Devarim 25:18) the Jewish people in the desert, had launched an attack. That verse is explicitly about Amalek, ancestor of Haman. This is important, writes the Ginzei HaMelech, because Mordechai was indicating that the Jewish people were being punished by a specific enemy for a specific sin. In other words, since H-Shem gave Amalek permission, as it were, to attack the Jews for their laxity in Torah study (see Rashi to Shemos 17:8), Mordechai recognized that the solution to Haman’s threat was to infuse the Jewish people with a rejuvenated alacrity.
- Besides the cause, this word also alludes to the manner in which this threat may be annulled – nature. The Ohel Moshe quotes the Yismach Yisroel that every battle between the Jewish people and Amalek involved nature. In the first battle, Moshe’s ordering Yehoshua to draft men to fight (Shemos 17:9) showed a stark contrast to the miraculous defeat of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds. The constant battle against Amalek cannot be miraculous, since H-Shem would never command us to perform something we naturally could not do.
- The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:5) also opines that in the words “what happened to him,” Mordechai was referring to the dream he dreamed ten years earlier, alluding to the Jewish people facing mortal danger1.
- According to the Torah Temimah, the reason Mordechai received this message in the form of a dream is because dreams generally feel as though they are b’mikra, a natural happenstance occurrence.
1The entire text of the Midrash gives the details of the dream: Behold! There was a great, strong noise and terror on the land, and fear and trembling on all its inhabitants. And behold, two great dragons, and they yelled at each other and waged war. And after hearing their voices, the nations of the land fled. And behold! Among them was one small nation. And all of the other nations rose up against the small nation to destroy its memory from the land. On that day, there was darkness over the entire world, and they bothered the small nation greatly, and they cried out to H-Shem. And the dragons warred with violent hate, and there was nothing separating them. And Mordechai saw: Behold! One small spring of water passed between these two dragons, and separated between them, from the war that they were fighting. And the spring strengthened. It flowed as strongly as the great [Mediterranean] sea. It spilled over the entire land. And he saw the sun shining over the entire land and bringing light to the world. The small nation was rising. And the big nations were brought low. And Behold! There was peace and truth throughout on the entire land.
Many commentators, the Rambam included, believe that numbers have no significance in the Torah. According to them, the main purpose served by numerology and gematria is pedagogic; they can serve as mnemonic learning tools to help students better remember key information. In the philosophy of the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:46), a particular number of sacrifices is mentioned in reference to one sacrifice over another only to emphasize its seriousness. If we were to ask why a particular number is used rather than another number, we could never be satisfied. In our case here, had Haman offered 9,000 loaves of silver, would we not ask why that number? Moreover, would we not be able to think of a great many powerful reasons? Despite this, the vast majority of opinions accord with the idea that numbers do have symbolic significance throughout the Written and Oral Torahs. Especially in a book like Megillat Esther, which we have seen is densely coded to add levels of meaning, numbers seem to play a significant role in understanding the text1.
- The Vilna Gaon says here that the significance of this number of Haman’s offer is that it is a monstrously huge amount. A shekel is 0.8 ounces of silver. A loaf (or bar) of silver is 30,000 shekels, or 24,000 ounces of silver. Therefore, Haman’s 10,000 loaves of silver are equal to 24,000,000 ounces, or 750 tons, of silver. Class participant JS calculated that such an amount would be equivalent to $941,280,000 in 2012 standards.
- According to Ibn Ezra, this is amplified. He considers this an abbreviated phrase, and that the money offered by Haman is 100,000 loaves of silver.
- Rav Dovid Feinstein says Haman offered this particular amount because he projected this to be the cost of killing off the Jews.
- The Targum translates this verse as “100 times their amount.” What is meant is probably related to the Talmud (Megillah 13b) that states that H-Shem, for Whom time does not exist, gave the Jews the law of giving the half-shekel (Mishnah, Shekalim 1:1) to counteract the effect of Haman’s offer.
- According to Ben Ish Chai, this ratio is alluded to in a blessing for the Jews (Vayikra 26:8) that “one hundred of you will pursue ten thousand.”
- According to the Rambam, such is the power of a mitzvah that each Jew’s individual half-shekel is enough to outweigh the worth of any number of loaves of silver, or anything else.
- According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), upon confronting Mordechai before leading him though the city on the king’s horse (6:11 below), Haman himself acknowledges to Mordechai that the half-shekel given by the Jews overpowered his offer to the king.
- According to Tosvos on that page (d.h. “Vidachei”), the half-shekel given by the Jews leaving Egypt equaled exactly the 10,000 loaves of silver. Tosvos, however, note there is a difficulty with the math. Otherwise, why would the half-shekel of 600,000 men aged 20-70 leaving Egypt, which should equal 300,000 shekels, be comparable to 10,000 loaves of silver, or 30,000 shekels?
- Rav Yaakov Emden’s solution to this problem is to point out that in earlier manuscripts of Tosvos, it does not say “chetzi shekel” (“half-shekel”), but the acronym “Ch’Sh,” which could mean “chamishim shekel” (“fifty shekel”). When fifty shekel are multiplied by 600,000, the result is 30,000,000 shekel, the value of Haman’s offer.
- The Bach answers Tosvos’s math problem by explaining that in an average lifetime of seventy years (see Tehillim 90:10), a man will give a half-shekel fifty times between the ages of twenty and seventy, or twenty-five shekels. 600,000 men giving twenty-five shekels would be 15,000,000 shekels. These 15,000,000 shekels divided by 1500 shekalim (the value of a Beis HaMikdash loaf) would be exactly 10,000 loaves.
- Rabbeinu Bachya (on Shemos 38:25) and the Torah Temimah answer Tosvos’s math problem differently. According to them, the half-shekel given by the Jews in the desert was a dedication of money representing the valuation of their own worth. According to the Torah (Vayikra 27:2), each man is worth 50 shekels. All 600,000 men donating their own worth of 50 shekels each would be worth 30,000,000 shekels. These 30,000,000 divided by the 3000 totals 10,000. When they actually gave this half-shekel, the Torah testifies (Shemos 38:25) that this silver totaled one hundred loaves, plus one thousand seven hundred seventy-five shekels. Therefore, Haman’s loaves were one hundred times more than the hundred loaves of the Jews leaving Egypt. Furthermore, the number of Jews contributing is given in the next verse (ibid. 26) as 603,550. The additional 1755 shekels were given by the 3550 people.
- Rabbi Aryeh Naiman reminds us that the whole purpose of the half-shekel was to an indirect form of census-taking. The more direct form, actually counting individuals is a sure recipe for plague, as the Torah (Shemos 30:12) warns. Rashi there explains that because of “ayin hara” (“the evil eye”). The evil eye is caused by people being jealous of what others possess. When Person A becomes jealous, he begins to question why Person B deserves the luxury Person A desires. In Heaven, too, where the Heavenly angels mirror our behavior (see Nefesh HaChaim 1:7), they also begin to question why Person B deserved that object. After all, who is truly worthy of all the blessings bestowed upon us by H-Shem? It is only through the Chesed (kindness) of H-Shem that we are not judged more harshly. He, in His Mercy, over-values our merits, and temporarily overlooks our deficiencies to give us the opportunity to improve (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:5). When the Heavenly court focuses on one person due to our jealousy, that person’s good fortune will be restrained. Rashi (on Shemos 30:12) points out that this taking of a person out of the general populace and examining him or her with more scrutiny is the cause of plague. Incidentally, in the laws of kashrus, too, Rabbi Naiman points out, if a drop of milk falls into a pot of beef stew, the milk would probably be nullified in the majority. However, if that drop is recognizable still, even if the pot were the size of football stadium, the milk would not be nullified, since there is a rule (Talmud, Zevachim 73b) that one cannot nullify what is recognizable. Regarding people, too, without a community, one does not have the merits of the community with which to stand judgment. Regarding the half-shekel, everybody – rich and poor – gave the same amount (Shemos 30:15). Also, everybody gave one half of a shekel, rather than a complete amount. In a symbolic sense, Person A’s half-shekel was made “whole” only with Person B’s contribution. In the desert, the shekels were used to cast the sockets of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) (see Rashi to Shemos 30:16). Each individual socket was used as the base for the beam just like each individual in a community helps make a foundation for everyone else. When there were later censuses taken, the half-shekels were used to fund communal offerings (see Rashi to Shemos 30:15). Interestingly, Amalek first attacked the Jewish people (Shemos 17:8) when the Jews began to speak in first-person, individual language (ibid. 3). Amalek gains strength when Jews lose focus of their nationhood. Rabbi Naiman quotes R’ Yeshayahu Horowitz as saying that Haman’s claim to Achashverosh is that the Jewish people are vulnerable because they do not care about their national identity. Only then can Haman’s 10,000 loaves overpower their offerings. This is why it was so important for the Jews to unify in order to nullify Haman’s decree.
- Another answer comes from Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld who brings the Vilna Gaon in Kol Eliyahu on the Talmud (Kiddushin 12a) that dates in Persia were once worth more than silver. If silver was so devalued, Haman’s 10,000 loaves were indeed equal to the Jews’ contribution in the desert.
- Rabbi Zev Reichman quotes Rabbi Moshe Wolfson with an interesting question; assuming the 600,000 people’s half-shekel pieces correspond with 10,000 loaves of silver, what does Haman make of the extra 1775 shekel pieces given by the extra 3550 people in the census? There were people of the tribe of Dan who walked through the desert worshiping idols, oblivious to the open miracles all around them. In fact, when Amalek attacked, their victims were these “nechshalim” (“stragglers”) (Devarim 25:18). According to the Maharal (Gevuras H-Shem), the 600,000 is a symbolic number. It represents perfection. The remaining 3550 represent the people lacking in their spiritual perfection. Amalek attacks those very people because they sense their weakness. Haman, too, ignores their contribution because, in his estimation, the G-d of the Jews should not care about them. Indeed, his silver loaves match the contributions of the 600,000. But it was the 1775 shekels of the Jews Haman thought G-d forgot that outmatched Haman’s offering, and effectively rescued the Jews. Incidentally, the gematria for the Hebrew word “kikar” (“loaf”) (20+20+200=240) equals exactly the gematria of Amalek (70+40+30+100).
- On another level, the Rabbeinu Bachya writes that Haman’s 10,000 loaves of silver were meant to counter the power of the Ten Commandments since Haman’s word “eshkol” (“will be weighed out”) can be broken up into “eish” (“fire”) and “kol” (“voice/sound”). Fire and sounds marked the giving of the Ten Commandments (Shemos 19:18-19).
- The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Jews of Achashverosh’s reign, confident that the Temple would be rebuilt, were accruing funds for that purpose. The money they gathered were called adrochanya, worth two shekel. 600,000 representative number of Jews gathering these 800 loaves for the twelve years of Achashverosh’s reign would be 9600 loaves of silver, 400 less than Haman’s. This is why the Jews needed from that Nisan to the next Adar to gather 800 more loaves. This totaled 10,400. The additional 400 represent the 400 men who came with Eisav when he met up with Yaakov (Bereishis 33:1). According to Kabbalistic literature, this number thus represents 400 forces of impurity. This extra number of loaves overpower Haman – descendant of Eisav.
- The Steipler Gaon asks why this number has to match at all. After all, Haman is evil, and the charity given by the Jews is pure. When Yaakov met up with Eisav, he told him he had lived with Lavan (Bereishis 32:5) as a sign of humility. He was saying that he lived with Lavan, but did not learn from him (see Rashi there). What could Yaakov learn from the evil Lavan? Enthusiasm. Yaakov should have learned to perform mitzvos with the same enthusiasm with which Lavan sinned. The Steipler says that the Jews’ gifts need to match up mathematically with Haman’s offer because the Jews, too, need to match his enthusiasm for hate in order to overpower it. In short, as is true in various areas of Jewish philosophy, R’ Gedalya Schorr brings up that there needs to be a certain amount of good to balance out the bad, a concept known as “zeh l’umas zeh” (“this instead of this”, a phrase borrowed from Koheles 7:14). One could imagine spirituality as a bottle. This bottle is always full. Like all other things in nature, spirituality abhors a vacuum. So, if there is less holiness in that bottle, evil will take up that space so that the bottle is complete. The same zeh l’umas zeh dichotomy exists in all areas of life – love and hate, beauty and ugliness, kindness and meanness, etc.2
1 Otherwise, why does the text mention Achashverosh’s party lasting for 180 days? Why does the text mention the day of the party on which Vashti was killed? Why does the text mention the number of Achashverosh’s officers? Why does the text name and number certain months? Why does the text mention the number of Haman’s sons)? Why does the text mention the number of Persians killed by the Yehudim?
2This idea helps explain why prophecy ended when H-Shem fulfilled the Rabbis’ prayer to remove the desire for idol worship from the world (Talmud, Yoma 69b). Prophecy and idol worship, after all, are just different sides of the same coin.