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”)!

Esther 9:19, Question 2. Why are there, in effect, two Purims?

  • The Ran notes that there is a concept (Bamidbar 15:16) that there is one Torah and one law for all Jews. In other words, there should ordinarily be only one day for all Jews to celebrate together. For this reason, Mendel Weinbach notes, usually, according to Halacha (Mishna Berura 688:12), where one spends Purim determines when one will celebrate it. For example, a Jew visiting a walled city temporarily nevertheless celebrates it there for purposes of achdus (“unity”).
  • R’ Betzalel haKohen of Vilna, however, writes that this distinction is meant to stress that Purim is a d’rabbanan (“rabbinic”) holiday, since the Torah’s (Devarim 13:1) prohibition to add to the given mitzvos only applies to d’oraisa (“Scriptural”) laws.
  • A story is told of a visitor from Bnei Brak in the home of R’ Shlomo Bloch in Yerushalayim. R’ Bloch invited him to drink at his Purim feast (on Shushan Purim), but since he had already drunk the previous day, the visitor argued that he had already fulfilled the mitzva of drinking on Purim. R’ Bloch retorted, “You may have fulfilled Purim, but you can still fulfill the mitzva of feeling another Jew’s joy.”
  • The Chasam Sofer gives another reason to have two days of Purim – to avoid bitul Torah. Since the Mishna (Avos 1:2) teaches that Torah is one of the three foundations upon which the world stands, if there were (chas v’Shalom) one moment when nobody was learning Torah, the world would cease to exist immediately. With the advent of Shushan Purim, while one group is drinking and celebrating, the other group can uphold the world by learning.

Esther 9:17, Question 2. Why does the celebration require both feasting and joy?

  • In his introduction to Yosef Lekach, Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi notes that a significant difference between Chanukah and Purim is that one is not required to celebrate Chanukah with a feast, per se. Since there were Jews still perishing in battle on Chanukah, we cannot institute a national feast. On Purim, however, the celebration requires both feasting and joy because not one single Jew died.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, we need both actions to celebrate both the spiritual renewal, and the physical safety.
  • The Sfas Emes emphasizes this by noting that, grammatically, the verse uses the word v’aso (“and he made”), implying that H-Shem made this into a day of joy and celebration.
  • R’ Yitzchak Hutner notes that any holiday from the Written Torah requires a degree of joy, as the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yom Tov 6:18) makes clear. The holidays from the Oral Torah require drinking. Since this holiday contains aspects of both the Written and Oral Torahs, Purim requires both joy and feasting.

Esther 8:16, Question 3. Why is ora (“light”) written with a seemingly extra letter hey and sasson (“joy”) spelled incompletely (without a letter vuv)?

  • In explaining how ora (“light”) represents Torah, the Ben Ish Chai writes that ora is written with a hey because it means ohr hey, or the light of H-Shem.
  • Rav Tzaddok HaKohen writes that ora is written with a letter hey because the verse intends it to be feminine since the Torah being described here is specifically Torah she’bal peh (“the Oral Law”). As Rashi (on Mishlei 1:8) writes, the Torah she’bal peh is represented by the feminine. Rav Mordechai Gifter explains that this is because the rabbis know the natural foibles of their people in the same way that a mother considers the nature of her son.
  • From the time the Jews ignored Mordechai (the leading rabbi of the generation) by attending Achashverosh’s party until they re-accepted the Oral Torah with the words (Esther 9:27) “kimu v’kiblu” (“they took and they accepted”), the Jews of that period were struggling with Torah she’bal peh, and its necessary rabbinic accompaniments.
  • Similarly, the Midrash Yerushalmi interprets yikar as denoting the judges, who were also the rabbis.
  • Midrash Chaseros v’Yitaros writes that sasson (“joy”) is spelled incomplete (without a vuv) because no joy can be complete until Moshiach comes and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheira biyameinu.
  • R’ Chaim Kanievsky writes that it is written incompletely because circumcision, which this represents, has an element of pain. He notes that sasson is spelled completely in the next verse (Esther 8:17) because we should strive to add to the joy of Purim as though nothing is missing, as the Halacha (Biur Halacha 695, dh “ad d’lo yada”) states explicitly regarding the custom to become inebriated on Purim.

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.