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.
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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.

Esther 1:10, Question 1. Why does the verse mention that this event happened on the seventh day?

י בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי כְּטוֹב לֵבהַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיָּיִן אָמַר לִמְהוּמָן בִּזְּתָא חַרְבוֹנָא בִּגְתָא וַאַבַגְתָא

10. On the seventh day, when the heart of the king was like it was gratified1 with wine, he said to Mehuman, Biz’sa, Charvonah, Bigsa, and Avgasa, Zeysar, and Charkas – seven chamberlains who serve before the face of King Achashverosh –

  • Since the verse does not specify for what “the seventh” is a modifier, the Talmud (Megillah 12b) answers that this day was Shabbos, the Sabbath. The Sages famously continue there to contrast the drinking of idolaters to that of Jews. Whereas drunken idolaters discuss immodest topics in their stupor, Jews drinking at the Shabbos table tend to discuss Torah topics and sing praises to their Creator. In Rashi’s choosing to interpret this day as Shabbos as the “pashut p’shat” (simple understanding) he usually prefers in his commentary, we must wonder why just seeing this as a seventh day of the party is not so simple. One consideration brought up by the Torah Temimah is the article “the” which typically implies a specific occasion with which the reader is supposed to be familiar.
  • Rav Dovid Feinstein again reminds us here (as we’ve seen before) that Achashverosh was imitating the creation of earth, and therefore began his party on the first day of the week, with the intent of it ending on Shabbos.
  • Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi notes that the verse uncharacteristically does not begin with “vayehee” (“and it was”). Perhaps this is because, as noted above (see our first blog posting), such a statement would indicate a negative event occurring, and Vashti’s upcoming death, on the contrary, was the spark from which the Jews’ salvation began.

1Although “tov” is typically translated as “good,” in context here, it seems more appropriate to translate it “gratifying.”

Esther 1:8, Question 1. The drinking at Achashverosh’s party was according to which law?

ח וְהַשְּׁתִיָּה כַדָּת אֵין אֹנֵס כִּיכֵן יִסַּד הַמֶּלֶךְ עַל כָּלרַב בֵּיתוֹ לַֽעֲשׂוֹת כִּרְצוֹן אִישׁוָאִישׁ

8. And the drinking was like the law, no forcing, because so the king declared to all of the many greats of his house to do according to the wants of man and man.

  • It is possible to suggest, as the Midrash (Esther Rabba 2:13) does, that the Persians had detailed customs of behavior in regards to drinking. After all, cultures make ceremonies around those actions they hold dear. Achashverosh carefully kept these rules. Rabbi Avraham Chadida, however, makes the exact opposite comment; according to him, it was generally forbidden to become drunk before the king, and Achashverosh intended to change that custom to become a more popular leader.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) infers that Achashverosh was following the “laws” of the sacrifices – having more food than drink at his party, just as there is more meat than wine in the Beis HaMikdash (Temple) service (as, for example, the ratio of meat to wine described in the Torah for an olah offering in Bamidbar 28:12, 14). Rav Dovid Feinstein points to this as yet one more way in which Achashverosh was attempting to ape the Temple and its service.