12. And the king said to Esther the Queen, “In Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man and the ten sons of Haman. In the remaining states of the king, what did they do? What do you ask and it will be given you. And what do you request more and it will be done.”
In the first half of this verse, the tone seems to imply that Achashverosh was upset about the casualties. In fact, the Midrash Lekach Tov writes that Achashverosh was actually upset about his dead citizens, but H-Shem controls leaders, as the verse (Mishlei 21:1) teaches that the hearts of kings are in the Hands of H-Shem.
R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that the tone of the second half of the verse certainly sounds as though Achashverosh seems unaffected by this loss of life.
The Talmud (Megillah 16b) describes this sudden change of heart as an angel “slapping him on his lips.”
R’ Mendel Weinbach suggests that such a slap has this effect because Achashverosh suddenly felt Heaven did not want him speaking in an upset manner toward Esther. It literally hurt to speak the way he had been.
Interestingly, the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 92:7) notes this verse as one of ten kal v’chomer (“a fortiori”) arguments in TaNaCh. In other words, if the Jews killed 500 people in Shushan, how much more likely did they kill more elsewhere!
In fact, the Alshich points out that Achashverosh must have been thinking that if so many were killed in Shushan – where the informed public was ready for a fight – how much more-so in other parts of the kingdom!
On the other hand, the M’nos HaLevi quotes R’ Gakon’s opinion that the bloodthirsty Achashverosh was disappointed that such a relatively small number of his people were killed after the Jews had from Pesach until Adar 13th to prepare for battle. This is why he asked if he could do more to help.
Malbim explains that Achashverosh did not know there would be so many Jew-haters. From a place of genuine concern, he offers Esther more help.
According to the Midrash, the Jews killed the enemies inside their houses with the sword, but killed those who were outside with other methods. Those who were hiding needed to be brought out to the battlefield.
The Alshich explains that some gentiles openly threatened the Jews, while others harbored hate privately. Each group received a punishment commensurate with their behavior – some were wounded with the sword, some were killed, and yet others were destroyed together with their possessions.
The Maharal points out that hitting the enemies with the sword could potentially kill them, and once they are killed, they may need to be buried. But once they are destroyed, the enemies are gone.
R’ Moshe Katzenellenbogen writes that, in big cities, Jews could only kill bigger, more obvious enemies. In the smaller cities, the Jews stripped the weaker leaders of their power and humiliated them.
The Vilna Gaon explains these three methods were utilized at different stages of the battle. During the first stage, the Jews used swords, then graduated to burning those hiding out of the buildings, and finally arrested the residents.
The Ben Ish Chai points out that the rearranged initial letters (not counting the article letter vuv‘s) of makas cherev vi’hereg vi’avdal (“striking of the sword, and killed, and destroyed”) spell out the word emcheh (“I will destroy”). H-Shem (Shemos 17:14) uses this very word in His promise to eradicate Amalek, the nation responsible for this massacre. He also points out that these three expressions parallel Haman’s plan (Esther 3:13) to kill, destroy, and annihilate the Jews. The Jews merited to overcome this triple fate by fasting for three days (Esther 4:16).
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the destruction in this verse refers to the Jews destroyed the property of their enemies. This was done to demonstrate that their intent was not to conquer the wealth of others. Perhaps this was also intentionally contrary to Achasverosh’s order (Esther 4:11) in order to have the excuse that they could not take the possessions, since they were destroyed.
Malbim points out from the next verse (Esther 8:16) that specifies that the Jews were happy, that this verse seems to imply that the non-Jews were happy. In reference to this, he quotes the verse (Mishlei 29:2) that the elevation of the righteous brings gladness to the people.
The Ben Ish Chai and the Ksav Sofer point out that the verse uses two expressions, tzahala (shouting) and simcha (joy), in describing Shushan’s happiness. One is for the happiness the general population felt about the death of Haman, and the other was for the happiness they felt over Mordechai’s honors.
Megillas Sesarim explains these two expressions as describing “the brightening of the face and the joy of the heart.” In other words, there were two different feelings: one was a physical show of joy and the other was an internal feeling of joy.
The Ibn Ezra writes that tzahala is a cognate of the Hebrew word for brightness. He explains that the verse uses it here in the sense of the hopefulness of a person sitting in darkness when the light begins to shine.
Maamar Mordechai writes that people are usually unsure of new, untested officials. Here, nobody was nervous because Mordechai was a known and trusted entity.
Class Participant YML suggests that maybe other ethnic minorities in the kingdom felt encouraged when they saw that even a Jew could be elevated in Achashverosh’s kingdom.
R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the entire city of Shushan was happy that a Jew was elevated because Jews are often instrumental in commerce, and their security would thus presage a country’s financial security. Many countries in history that exiled its Jewish population had to deal with major financial crises immediately afterward.
Dina Pishra writes that the verse is using hyperbole to describe the salvation of the Jews being so complete that even the stones of the city were rejoicing.
On a deeper level, the Ginzei HaMelech writes that this does not have to be seen as hyperbole. Rather, as the R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzzato in Mesillas Yesharim (Chapter 1) explains, the entire world was given to man for its proper usage, and is thus physically affected by mankind’s spiritual behavior. This is the reason for the world to have been destroyed by the Flood when the people sinned. Here, too, the world, and Shushan specifically, rejoiced as a byproduct of man’s spiritual elevation.
Yosef Lekach writes that Shushan’s joy is described as a contrast to Mordechai’s worries. His concern was the Midrashic (Bireishis Rabba 84:3) statement that “there is no rest for the righteous.” He anticipated that this time of peace and contentment meant to him that he had to find more positive actions to perform and new evils to combat.
15. And Mordechai left from before the king wearing royalty: Ticheiles, and white, and a great gold crown, and a shroud, fine linen, and purple. And the city of Shushan was shouting and happy.
According to the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) this verse is the second of four verses read aloud by the congregation during the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim.
The Midrash Shmuel quotes the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) that one who flees honor has honor thrust upon him, and the opposite is true of one who pursues honor. When Haman wanted to wear the royal clothes (Esther 5:6-8), he received nothing. In contrast, Mordechai, who asked for nothing, received the honor of wearing the royal clothes.
The Alshich notes that this is the first time in the story that Mordechai is dressed regally. Before, he was wearing sackcloth and ash, but Mordechai is now confident about the fate of the Jews. The Alshich continues that Mordechai had to display this confidence at this point because Haman’s decree was vague in other locations but explicit in Shushan, so Mordechai needed to demonstrate that the Jews were indeed in Achashverosh’s favor.
In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, it says that Mordechai became the king of the Jews. Perhaps this means that Mordechai received the authority that the Jews are supposed to give to their rabbis. The Talmud (Gittin 62a) even calls rabbis kings.
After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he sent them back to Canaan with word of his stature in Mitzrayim. At that point (Bireishis 45:22), he gifted the half-brothers with one pair of clothes each, but he gave his full brother Binyamin five pairs of clothes. The Talmud (Megillah 16b) writes that he did this in order to hint to these clothes that Mordechai, Binyamin’s descendants, would wear.
R’ Dovid Feinstein wonders why Yosef would choose this point in time to make such an allusion. He explains that Yosef intended to demonstrate to his brothers his very real appreciation for their act of selling him to slavery. A fired employee who finds a job even better than his previous boss’s may even want to thank his boss for releasing him from employment. Similarly, the righteous Yosef felt gratitude for his brothers’ part in his success and growth. By alluding to the Purim story, he foresaw that Jewish history would be a series of epochs filled with times that seemed to be the most hopeless transforming into the most productive.
The Maharil Diskin points out that there are not five items, but only four: ticheiles, white, a crown, and a shroud. He quotes the Talmud (Zevachim 18b) that defines butz as linen. Argaman implies wool. Since the two sewn together in one garment would be a violation of shatnez (“mixture of wool and linen,” see Vayikra 19:19, Devarim 22:11, and Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 298-304), Mordechai was actually wearing two separate shrouds of these materials.
The M’nos HaLevi notes that the first verse to mention Mordechai by name (Esther 2:5) and the first to be customarily read aloud during the public readings of Megillas Esther on Purim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) gives him several descriptions: Yehudi, Mordechai, ben Yair, ben Shimi, and ben Kish, He explains that “Yehudi” is a reference to kingship because Jewish royalty must come from that tribe (Bireishis 49:8-11). The Talmud (Chulin 139b) says “Mordechai” is a reference to myrrh, an ingredient in the Mishkan’s incense. This is paralleled in the ticheiles, which was an ingredient in the Mishkan’s covers (Shemos 26:1). According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b-13a), Mordechai earned his appellation of “son of Yair” by enlightening (hey’ir) the Jewish people regarding prayer, which is paralleled in the white clothes he wears. He is called the “son of Shimi” because his own prayers were heard (shema) by H-Shem. This is paralleled in the crown which represents the King of king’s powerful reaction to the requests of the righteous. He is called the “son of Kish” because he knocked (hikish) at the Gates of Mercy. This is paralleled in the linen and purple because they are the colors of nobility – those precious few who are allowed into the Palace.
linen and purple
The Vilna Gaon writes that all of these article are also related to the clothing one should wear during prayer. He writes that the royalty relates to the talis worn when we pray; ticheilis relates to the ticheilis-dyed fringes of the tzitzis; the white relates to the undyed white fringes of the tzitzis; the crown relates with the head tefillin; the wool robe relates to the straps of the head tefillin; and the purple relates to the arm tefillin.
Rav Galico also related to Mordechai’s clothes here to his and Shushan’s earlier actions. In reward for his having previously worn sackcloth (Esther 4:1), he now wears royalty; in reward for putting ash (Ibid.) on his head, he now wears a crown; in reward for Shushan being worried and confused about Haman’s decree (Esther 3:15), it is now happy.
The Rema adds that there are four aspects make a man’s life complete: wealth, health, perfection of character, and knowledge of and closeness to H-Shem. Mordechai acquired all of these, as can be seen from this verse: wealth relates to royalty, health relates to ticheiles, character development relates to humble linen, and knowledge and faith is related to the crown.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 180-1) writes that purple is historically symbolic of royalty. Ticheiles, on the other hand, represents a humble recognition of “the limits of our horizon.”
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the Jews were expected to plunder the wealth of the gentiles because of mida kineged mida (“measure for measure”). After all, Haman’s decree (Esther 3:13) included gentiles plundering the valuable of their Jewish victims.
However, the Malbim points out that, as opposed to Haman’s letters, these letters did not imply that the plundering was to take place after the enemy was killed out. Rather, they only had one day! This is because Haman gave plenty of time to plunder in order to help motivate the hordes. Mordechai, on the other hand, did not need to do this since survival is the greatest motivator.
Class Participant YML suggested that if this letter were written by Achashverosh, it is possible he only gave them one day out of his anti-Semitic desire to give the Jews less than what they were entitled to receive.
Aside for Mordechai’s desire to send these letters in Sivan for the reasons mentioned above, the Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai waited for Haman’s couriers to return from their original mission (Esther 3:13). Utilizing the same couriers would add legitimacy to Mordechai’s letter.
The Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 100:6) writes that H-Shem rewarded the gentiles for mourning Yaakov for 70 days (Bireishis 50:3) by giving them these 70 days between the 13th of Nisan and the 23rd of Sivan to do teshuva.
R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes that a common calculation in the Torah is a day for a year, as when the Jewish people were punished (Bamidbar 14:17) with 40 years of delaying their entry into the Holy Land for their believing the spies who traversed the land for 40 days. Therefore, he writes, these 70 days were for the Jews to perform teshuva in gratitude for H-Shem’s saving their lives, which the verse (Tehillim 90:10) says lasts an average of 70 years.
Similarly, the Vilna Gaon explains that the Jews were scared about their fate for these 70 days to get an atonement for the 70 years of exile which they had caused upon themselves.
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that these 70 days represented the 70 nations of the world were allowed to think that they were in control of the fate of the Jews.
6. “Because how can I [be] and see the evil which my nation will find? And how can I [be] and see the destruction of my kin?”
According to the Alshich, by adding an extra letter ches to the word, eicha (“how”) – making it the unique word, eichicha – the Esther puts a stress on her utter misery over her perceived notion that anti-Semites had already begun attacking the Jews because of the first decree. After all, once they see that the Jews are not in the monarchy’s favor, they can presume that any acts of violence or harassment against them will go unpunished.
The Megillas Sesarim adds that Esther blamed herself for the origins of Haman’s decree. This is because Haman’s decree was seemingly a consequence for Mordechai’s not bowing down to Haman (Esther 3:5-6). Mordechai behaved this way while at the king’s gate, and he was only there to look out for Esther’s well-being (Esther 2:19). This is why Esther felt somewhat responsible for the resulting decree. This is the way of the righteous: to feel responsible for a situation despite the fact that they were forced into it and the fault clearly lies in others.
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this is a second eicha; the first is Yirmiya’s prophetic work, Eicha, written during the destruction of first Beis HaMikdash, and second the is Esther’s, said during the threat of annihilation in exile if the king would not save the Jews.