Esther 7:10, Question 3. Why does the king’s fury subside?

  • According to the Ibn Ezra, Achashverosh was angry from the time he woke up from his drunken stupor after following Haman’s decree to rid himself of Vashti (Esther 2:1) until Haman was ultimately hanged.
  • The Me’am Loez explains the subsiding of the king’s fury as calm that returned to the universe.
  • This is because, as the Sfas Emes writes, when Amalek is in power, H-Shem is more noticeable through His characteristic of din, judgment. This is similar to what Rashi writes in his commentary on Torah (Shemos 17:16).
  • Haman’s end brought with it a sense of peace. The Talmud in several places (Rosh HaShanah 12a, Sanhedrin 108b, Zevachim 113b) points out that regarding the Flood, the verse (Bireishis 8:1) says “vayishku mayim” (“and the water subsided”) when the waters cooled down, whereas the phrase in this verse is “v’chamas hamelech shichacha” (“and the fury of the king subsided”). The contrast in phrasing implies that the flood waters were hot to match the burning passions of the licentious people of that time, mida kineged mida.
  • Parenthetically, perhaps another connection between the flood and Haman’s downfall is the Midrashic opinion (Yalkut Shimoni 6:1056) that Haman built the gallows from the beams of Noach’s ark.
  • Interestingly, shachacha (“subsided”) is a unique word in TaNaCh. R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume IV, 319) comments that the word, shachach is phonetically related to shagag, (“not by choice”). In other words, the king’s anger was not something Achashverosh put effort into controlling. It came and subsided without any input from him.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) considers that the unique spelling of shacha with an extra letter chuf to read shachacha is due to the fact that two angers were cooled; one belonged to the King of the Universe and the other belonged to Achashverosh. Also, Achashverosh calmed down about the situation of Esther, and the situation of Vashti.
  • As Rashi explains, Achashverosh was doubly angry because Haman was seemingly responsible for the death of Vashti, and was now a threat to Esther.
  • The Maharsha emphasizes that Achashverosh was still angry from that point (Esther 2:1), chronologically almost a decade earlier.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that Achashverosh had held himself responsible for Vashti’s fate all of this time, but now realizes that he was deceived and manipulated.
  • The Vilna Gaon says that the king whose fury subsided was H-Shem, King of the World. This may refer to the Zohar (III 133a), which translates the verse (Tehillim 144:15) that describes the Jewish people as “ha’am shekacha Lo,” or as “the nation that calms Him,” implying that the Jewish people have a tremendous power, if only we were to utilize it.
  • The Zer Zahav writes that Esther’s not forgiving Haman finally caused Shaul to be forgiven for taking unwarranted pity on Agag, Haman’s ancestor.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Shir Ma’on quotes the Sha’aris Yisroel that quotes the great scholars who lived through the Chmielnicki Massacres of 5408-5409 (1648-1649 CE), which was one of the worst attempts at the genocide of the Jewish people in our history. They note that the large letter ches (Esther 1:6) and the large letter suf (Esther 9:29). Together, the letters spell out tach, a Hebrew way to reference the year 5408. This means that the massacre was a manifestation of Haman’s evil decree.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech heard from others the contention that the Chmielnicki Massacre was not the end of the effects of Haman’s decree. Rather, the Holocaust of tasha, 5705 (1945 CE), was the final manifestation of Haman’s decree. He proves this from the unique spelling of shachacha; since H-Shem was “calmed” about the Jewish people twice – once in tach, and once in tasha. There is proof of this in the mispar katan of the word shachacha (300+20+20+5=345= 12= 3) being the same as the mispar katan of tasha (400+300+5=705 = 12= 3). H-Shem is no longer anger.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech also quotes from Rav Michel Weissmandel that there is a hint to this in the traditional sizes of the letters in the list of Haman’s sons (Esther 9:7-9) as found in the Megillas Esther. The letters suf (400), shin (300), and zayin (7) there are smaller than the surrounding text, which refer to the year tashaz (1946 CE), the year in which ten Nazi officers were hanged at the Nuremberg Trials. There is also a large letter vuv (6), alluding to the sixth officer, Julius Streicher, who shouted “Purim Fest 1946” as he was being led to the gallows, despite the hanging taking place on Hoshana Rabba, the holiday on which the Zohar (III 31b-32a) says H-Shem judges the gentile nations. There was another Nazi who was supposed to be executed that day, Herman Goring, who committed suicide in his cell. He is likened to Haman’s daughter, who also killed herself. The comparison is extenuated by the fact that Goring famously enjoyed wearing women’s clothing.
  • Furthermore, the gematria of shachacha is the same as Moshe (40+300+5=345) because even good leaders are taken when H-Shem chooses to punish a generation. As the Talmud (Brachos 62b) teaches, a plague takes away the greatest of the generation together with the masses. Indeed, a storm sweeps away the good grain together with the chaff.
  • According to the Nachal Eshkol, another reason this gematria corresponds to Moshe is because the Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:2) says that yet another reason the Jews were saved from genocide was in the merit of Moshe. His merit should continue to be with us, and rescue us finally from this exile, bimheira biyameinu.

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 5:14, Question 1. Why were the gallows specifically 50 cubits?

  • The Ma’amar Mordechai writes that the tree was supposed to be 50 amos tall to enable Haman to see Mordechai hanging while still at Esther’s party. The reason we can be certain that Mordechai would be more visible under that condition is that the Talmud (Eruvin 2b) teaches that the windows in kings’ palaces are no higher than 50 amos.
  • The Vilna Gaon teaches that the gallows certainly needed to be tall enough for Harbona to point to it (Esther 7:9). This is because of the Talmudic principle (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 26a) that hearing is not comparable to seeing.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Zeresh is advising Haman that if he gets irritated, he can simply look up and get in a good mood because Mordechai will hang from the tree seen everywhere.
  • According to Yalkut Shimoni (1054), besides throwing lots (purim) to decide on the best date to kill all of the Jews (Esther 3:7), Haman also threw lots to decide on the best species of tree to use in making this gallows. However, throughout TaNaCh, the Jews are compared to many different kinds of trees, so he decided on a cedar because Jews are not compared to it. The reason for this is that the cedar can be shattered by the wind.
  • Both the Yalkut Shimoni and the Midrash Abba Gorion continue that Haman could not find such a tall beam, so his son Parshandasa, governor of the area of Mt. Ararat, the area where Noach’s ark landed (Bireishis 8:4), gave him beam of Noach’s teivah, which would have been 50 amos long (Bireishis 6:15).
  • Rabbi Dovid Feinstein explains that the wood was from Noach’s teivah to show that killing Mordechai was important for humanity, as his refusal to bow down to Haman disturbed the “Great Chain of Being,” society’s understanding of the social hierarchy.
  • However, the Binyan Shlomo quotes the Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer (Chap. 50) that the wood taken from Holy of Holies1.
  • The Maharal notes that the teiva and the Beis HaMikdash both represent Olam HaZeh, the terrestrial world. Essentially, the idea of the Beis HaMikdash is that items of this world can be taken and elevated to greatness. Similarly, the teiva saved this physical world from destruction during the Deluge. Haman was attempting to conquer that mystical power that holds control over this world. This is what it means that Haman made of himself an object of worship, which is one of the reasons Mordechai had refused to bow to him. It is interesting to note that another connection between the teivah and the Beis HaMikdash is hidden in gematria. The gematria of ararat (1+200+200+9=410) is the same as the amount of years the first Temple stood.
  • In his usual, mysterious style, Rav Moshe David Valle writes that the 50 amos refer to the 50 gevuros (powers) of the yad hachazaka (“the strong Hand”), all of them combining against Haman. Perhaps this is a reference to the Haggadah in which Rabbi Yosi haGelili asks, “How do we know the Egyptians were struck with ten plagues in Mitzrayim and 50 at the sea?” In reply, he contrasts the verse (Shemos 8:15) in which Pharaoh’s magicians recognized the plagues as “the finger of G-d” with the verse (Shemos 14:31) describing Israel’s recognizing G-d’s might after drowning the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds, “and Israel saw the great Hand.” If one finger represents the plagues, of which there where ten, then a hand with its five fingers would be five times greater, or 50. Therefore, the 50 amos of the gallows demonstrate H-Shem’s anger with Haman.
  • According to the Sfas Emes, when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Bireishis 3:6), good and evil became confused. Kabbalistically, this resulted in 49 gates of tumah (impurity) which parallel 49 gates of kedusha (holiness). When the Talmud (Chulin 139b) states that Adam’s eating from the tree (Bireishis 3:11) is an allusion to Haman, it is because Amalek (represented by Haman), is the force that causes this confusion (the Hebrew word for confusion, safek (60+80+100=240) has the same gematria as Amalek (70+40+30+100=240). To know clearly what is right, and have not doubts at all, one needs to be above one’s area of control by leaping above to the 50th gate, a place Amalek cannot exist. Moshe’s raising his hands during the Jews’ war with Amalek (Shemos 17:11) hints to the idea of rising above one’s vantage point. Chiddushei HaRim brings this idea of confusing good with evil as another reason for the custom to drink wine on Purim ad d’lo yada.

1 Most commentators give the source for this measurement as Yechezkel 40:15, which describes the length of the boards used in the Third Temple. Being that this Temple has unfortunately not been built yet (unless this was attempted before, as Rabbi Ken Spiro suggests in his “Crash Course in Jewish History”), perhaps the intended source is Shemos 27:12-13, which describes the Mishkan’s width rather than length.

Esther 5:6, Question 1. Why does the verse specify that this is a drinking party?

ו וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְאֶסְתֵּר בְּמִשְׁתֵּה הַיַּיִן מַהשְּׁאֵלָתֵךְ וְיִנָּתֵן לָךְ וּמַהבַּקָּשָׁתֵךְ עַדחֲצִי הַמַּלְכוּת וְתֵעָשׂ

6. And the king said to Esther in the drinking party, “What is your request and it will be given you, and what is your petition? Until half of the kingdom, and it will be done.”

  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that this is not the first wine party in Megillas Esther. In fact, after Haman and Achashverosh sign the decree meant to threaten Jewish existence, the verse (Esther 3:15) writes that they drank together. At that party something happened that this party will help to undo. Besides this, the verse there says that the city of Shushan was left bewildered. Among the reasons for this confusion is that the Jews were not privy to the content of the decree. They were left unclear as to the veracity of the inevitable rumors that this decree intended their demise. The Ben Ish Chai writes that this party, providing the tikkun to the previous party in the manner of “zeh l’umas zeh,” will leave no confusion.
  • The Kotzker Rebbe writes that we are all supposed to remember that H-Shem listens to our requests not only when we are praying in a holy environment, but also when we are sitting at a table, eating and drinking in the measured way in which we are instructed. This is why H-Shem, the King in our verse tells Esther, who represents the Jews, that He will do what she requests. This is one reason why we request in Birkas HaMazon a number of things besides sustenance.
  • The Dubno Maggid adds that King David unified his requests with his goals (see Tehillim 27:4). The Talmud (Avodah Zara 19a) says that one should do mitzvos for their own sake. This is what Dovid was doing. This is particularly relevant in the area of prayer because the Talmud (Brachos 20a) calls Yerushalayim “the hill towards which all mouths are directed.” We all have different mouths – or requests – but they are all for the same goal. Everything we want should be for the sake of our personal relationships with H-Shem.

Esther 4:11, Question 5. Why does Esther emphasize that she had not been summoned for thirty days?

  • Megillas Sesarim says Esther was arguing here that her not being summoned in the last thirty days was indicative of the fact that she soon would have to be requested.
  • R’ Yaakov of Dubno gives the opposite answer – since Achashverosh had not called her in thirty days, Esther feared that he had lost interest in her.
  • Kisei Shlomo writes that Esther realized that the Jews’ salvation would really not come from her, but through their own teshuvah. She therefore picked the large number of days to buy time for the Jews to repent on their own.
  • The Maharal quotes from the Talmud (Brachos 58b) that a person who is reunited with a friend after thirty days says the blessing of Shechechiyanu. The Maharal explains that the reason for this is the intense joy brought about by the cessation of the absence. In other words, Esther emphasized that she had not been summoned for thirty days to clarify that when Achashverosh will actually summon her after so long a separation, his emotional state will be far more amenable to her suggestions.
  • According to Rav Yitzchak Hutner, this entire conversation justifies the custom of drinking on Purim ad d’lo yada, up to the point that one does not know the distinction between “blessed is Mordechai” and “cursed in Haman” (Talmud, Megillah 7b). He explains that, during the rest of the year, we are warned against digging deep into the secrets of the world, like the material from which the Earth was made, the symbolic meaning of Yechezkiel’s vision of H-Shem’s chariot and retinue, etc. On Purim, however, the point of drinking is to break down our inhibitions, open our minds, and reach levels of intellectual understanding to which we are not usually privy. On Purim, too, we are able to enter the courtyard of the King, and He will allow us to comprehend that which we were otherwise not invited to understand.

Esther 3:15, Question 2. Why do Haman and Achashverosh drink together at this point?

  • Dena Pishra writes that Achashverosh and Haman sat down to drink to finalize their deal.
  • Eyney Ha’Eyda, on the other hand, writes that Haman here attempted to get Achashverosh drunk to keep him from changing his mind, as he is liable to do. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we drink on Purim.
  • The fact that Achashverosh is drinking at this point is one of Malbim’s strongest proof that he did not know what was going on. Otherwise, he should worry at least, but certainly not have a drink!
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle brings a proof against the idea that Achashverosh was blissfully ignorant of Haman’s plans. He notes that the gematria of Haman (5+40+50=95) is equal to “hamelech” (“the king”) (5+40+20+30=95). Therefore, he writes, they were equal in their evil and equal in their joy.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 63a) that the Jewish court is not allowed to eat on a day it passes the death sentence on someone. The reason for this is that the court should not celebrate the taking of a human life. The fact that Haman and Achashverosh are drinking at this point is evidence that they are cheerful, thinking that they are doing the world a favor. Like many evil people in history, they allowed their good intentions to perform the worst of actions in the Machiavellian delusion that the ends justify the means.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:21) writes that this drink-fest is a consequence of Yosef’s brothers sitting down to eat after throwing him into the potentially deadly pit (Bereishis 37:25). In one view, the entire Purim story is a tikkun for the sale of Yosef. The only reason we could be punished for the sins of our ancestors is if we continue to repeat the same mistakes (Rashi to Shemos 20:5). The main sin of the brothers was that they lacked love for their brother. Again, this is why unity is one of the themes of Megillas Esther.

Esther 3:14, Question 1. Why does the text use such an unusual word for a copy?

יד פַּתְשֶׁגֶן הַכְּתָב לְהִנָּתֵן דָּת בְּכָלמְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה גָּלוּי לְכָלהָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת עֲתִדִים לַיּוֹם הַזֶּה

14. A copy/summary of the writing was to given as the law in each state revealing to all the nations to be ready for this day.

  • The Aramaic word, “pas’shegen” (“copy” or “summary”), is only used thrice in TaNaCh, and all three times are in Megillas Esther (here, 4:8, and 8:13). The Vilna Gaon writes that the plan to kill the Jews was supposed to be secret. Perhaps the word, too, is supposed to indicate this secrecy with its obscurity.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:13) writes that, as soon as Mordechai learned of the decree, he saw three schoolchildren, and he asked them what they were learning. Somehow, it seems, what schoolchildren learn somehow indicates what is going on in the world. The first child quoted a verse from Mishlei (3:25) “Do not fear sudden terror or the darkness of the wicked when it comes.” The second student quoted a verse from Yeshaya (8:10) “Advise together and nothing, speak a word and it will not occur, because G-d is with us.” The third student quoted another verse from Yeshaya (46:4) “Until your old age, I am He. Until your hoary age, I remain. I made and I hear. I carry and I deliver.”1 Upon hearing this, Mordechai felt great joy. This Midrash teaches that, as long as the Jewish people are learning, they can still be saved – especially the Torah of schoolchildren (Talmud, Shabbos 119b).
  • The Maharal explains that the greatest impediments for evil people are righteous people, H-Shem, and their own evil. Based on this, these three verses reference these three groups. The first verse concerns righteous people because the righteous do not fear anything besides H-Shem. The second verse concerns H-Shem because people in the verse are already conspiring together, and the only thing stopping their evil is that “G-d is with us.” The third verse is related to the evil person befuddling him/ herself because evil people are under the impression that they are in charge of their destinies.
  • Perhaps “pas’shegen” is used thrice in Megillas Esther to show that three principle actors will undermine Haman’s plan – the righteous Mordechai and Esther, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and even Haman, himself.
  • Based on the translation of “pas’shegen” as “copy,” Class Participant CRL suggested that perhaps there was a copy of Haman’s decree in Heaven indicating H-Shem’s approval of the threat on Jewish survival.
  • The gematria of the word “pas’shegen” (80+400+300+3+50=833) is equal to “hishavtanu” (“that we swore”) (5+300+2+400+50+6=833) (Yehoshua 2:17). Also, with the principle of im hakollel (see #47 above and footnote there) its gematria is equivalent to “mishbetzos” (“settings”) (40+300+2+90+400=832), used in the manufacture of the priestly garb of the Kohen (Shemos 28:13). Perhaps this alludes to the reason for the threat on Jewish existence at this time (Talmud, Megillah 12a). The swearing may allude to the bowing to Nevuchadnetzer’s idol in swearing allegiance to him. The settings may be a reference to the party because the clothing of the Kohen is what Achashverosh wore at his feast.
  • The gematria of “pas’shegen” is also the same as the entire verse regarding Noach’s drunken debasement (Bereishis 9:20), which has obvious parallels to the Purim story.

1Interestingly, there is a custom to say these verses together in this same order after Aleinu at the end of all three daily prayer services.