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”)!
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Esther 9:19, Question 4. Why does the verse use different expressions for this holiday?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 5b) explains each of the different expressions for this holiday to mean a different method for celebrating the day. Simcha (“joy”) is interpreted as not giving eulogies (in the event of a death); v’mishteh (“and feasting”) is interpreted as prohibiting fasting; and v’yom tov (“and the holiday”) is interpreted as prohibiting work on Purim. Later, the Talmud (Megillah 7a) interprets the phrase mishloach manos (“sending gifts”) as the requirement to send through a messenger at least two kinds of food to at least one friend.
  • The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 2:15) writes that even two poor people are required to send another poor person some food to fulfill their obligations.
  • The Trumas HaDeshen writes that the exchange of food is intended to make sure everyone has enough for the feast.
  • M’nos HaLevi writes that we send gifts to promote friendship because achdus (“unity”) rescued the Jews.
  • The Midrash HaGadol on Devarim points out that this demonstrates the greatness of chesed because we were rescued because of it.
  • Ginzei HaMelech writes that we use a messenger because this shows achdus (“unity”) in requiring another person to get involved in this mitzva. Similarly, he points out, this is why Megillas Esther always uses Yehudim for Jews, since the root of that word is echad, one. Furthermore, the giving of gifts through messengers acts as an additional tikkun for Yaakov’s giving gifts (Bireishis 32:14-17) to Eisav, the ancestor of Amalek, through messengers.
  • The Vilna Gaon and Midrash Shmuel note that the Jews’ celebrating in this way parallels the three parts of Haman’s plan (Esther 3:13); the joy serves to counteract Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews, the feasting serves to counteract Haman’s plan to kill the Jews, and the Yom Tov serves to counteract Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that, eventually, Purim was not accepted as a full Yom Tov because that would keep people from performing the other mitzvos of Purim.

Esther 8:1, Question 1. Why does the verse stress that this happened on “that day?”

א בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא נָתַן הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ לְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה אֶתבֵּית הָמָן צֹרֵר הַיְּהוּדִיים [הַיְּהוּדִים] וּמָרְדֳּכַי בָּ֚א לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ כִּיהִגִּידָה אֶסְתֵּר מַה הוּאלָהּ

1. On that day, the King Achashverosh gave to Esther the Queen the house of Haman, oppressor of the Yehudim. And Mordechai came before the king because Esther related to him what he was to her.

  • According to the Alshich, the verse stresses that this event occurred on “that day” to emphasize that this was the same day that Haman was hanged.
  • Yosef Lekach points out that this all happened in one day because Haman’s decree to eradicate the Jews was to be fulfilled “in one day” (Esther 3:13), so mida kineged mida (“measure for measure”), Haman’s death and this event occurred in one day.
  • In fact, the Dena Pishra writes that the property was given before Haman’s death so that he would realize that his wealth did not save him. Class Participant YML suggests that perhaps the lesson was not for Haman, but for the reader to learn that wealth does not help on the day of death.
  • According to Ma’amar Mordechai, H-Shem inspired Achashverosh to do this immediately so that he would not change his mind, as he had done often in the past.
  • In the Maharal’s perspective, this occurred immediately after Haman’s hanging to show that there is a causal relationship between Mordechai’s wealth (Esther 8:2) and Haman’s death (Esther 7:10).
  • The Vilna Gaon points out that when things are going well, they happen in a  single day, but bad days are in plural. Besides the psychological effect of time seeming to “fly when you’re having fun,” there is a deeper spiritual reason for this, as well. This sort of feeling encourages depression, which is the most powerful ally of the Yetzer HaRa (“Evil Inclination”).
  • The Midrash Shmuel notes that on the very day Haman fell, Mordechai rose. This is a fulfillment of the prophecy mentioned in the Torah (Bireishis 25:23) regarding Yaakov (ancestor of Mordechai) and Eisav (ancestor of Haman) that one would fall as one would rise.

Esther 6:13 Question 6. Why do Haman’s advisers imply Haman fell before?

  • The Malbim explains Haman’s advisers’ words as implying that since Haman started falling already in his degrading display of honor to Mordechai, the natural inertia will cause him to continue to fall.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) interprets the verse’s double language of “nafol tipol” (“falling you will fall”) by noting that the Jewish people are compared both to the dust, and to stars. The Maharal asks on this Talmudic statement that, historically, every nation has ups and downs. When Babylonia, Greece, Rome, or any other nation sinned, H-Shem caused their civilizations to decline. He answers that the difference for the Jews is that H-Shem directly supervises their ascents and downfalls. Therefore the practical difference is how far up or down.
  • The Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 8) on Bireishis (1:28) says that man can fall to the lowest depths. There is no middle ground for the Jews; they either fall into the dust or rise to the stars.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes the Talmud (Brachos 4b) that there is a principle that H-Shem saves the Jews when they are at their lowest. H-Shem waits (kaviyachal, as it were) for the individual Jew or the nation to reach the dust, the lowest point. If a person sitting on the floor falls, that person may fall to the floor. But when one is sitting on the floor and falls, there is not place further to fall. It is at that point that H-Shem must raise that person to the stars.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the advisers pointed out to Haman that he himself said (Esther 6:11) that the honor received by Mordechai “ye’aseh” (“will be”) in the future tense. He thereby unwittingly cursed himself with Mordechai’s future success.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Ta’amei Esther, who quotes the M’nos HaLevi, who in turn quotes R’ Eliezer of Garmiza that the words nafol tipol are written complete, both with vuvs because Mordechai’s six (the gematria of vuv) actions including fasting, walking through the streets, crying, etc (Esther 4:1) parallel the six (the gematria of vuv) forms of suffering endured by Israel (Esther 4:3). Therefore, Nafol Mordechai and tipol the Jews. The Ginzei HaMelech explains by quoting a Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 34:8) that Moshe accepted upon himself the pain meant for others, and Mordechai did the same. Therefore, paining these kinds of leaders pains all of the Jews. By doing that, Haman is pinning himself against the combined power of the entire Jewish nation.
  • In a more Kabbalistic explanation, the Rema writes that this falling is actually the second fall, as in the days of Adam (Bireishis 3:15), when the Yeitzer HaRa fell the first time.
  • The Sha’aris Yosef quotes the Nachal Kedumim that Mordechai was a gilgul, reincarnation, of Yaakov, and Haman was a gilgul of Eisav. One of his proofs for this idea is that the verse (Bireishis 32:12) in which Yaakov prays for Heavenly assistance against Eisav, he says, “hatzileini na miyad” (“save me please from the hand”), which have initial letters that spell out Haman. Although Yaakov never physically fought Eisav, he did fight Eisav’s guardian angel. The verses describing this exchange (Bireishis 32:25-30) never explicitly names the victor, which prompts the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 77:3) to state that it would remain unclear who won except for the fact Eisav’s guardian angel had to go back and forth several times. Just as Eisav’s angel had to go back down, Haman’s advisers here are implying that, being a gilgul, Haman would similarly fall twice before Mordechai.

Esther 6:5, Question 3. Why does the king tell his youths to let Haman come in?

  • According to Yad HaMelech, the king tell his officers to let Haman come in because Achashverosh wants to see how long Haman will wait. Therefore, he did not want them to show him in, but rather let him enter on his own.
  • Perhaps another reason for this phraseology is that the last word in this verse matches the first word in the next verse. This phenomenon helps to stress the immediacy of Haman’s entrance and upcoming downfall.
  • Also, the gematria of the word yavo (“let him come in”) (10+2+6+1=19) is the same as that of oyev (“enemy”) (1+6+10+2=19). This indicates that the king has begun to recognize Haman as his foe. The two words even contain the same letters.
  • Perhaps another approach to understanding the use of this word here may be the method used by Rabbeinu Bachya, Vilna Gaon, and others who say that the true meaning of a word can be garnered from its first appearance in the Torah. In the first usage of yavo (Bireishis 32:9), Yaakov plans his potentially dangerous meeting with Eisav, Haman’s ancestor in both the genetic and ethical sense of the word. Achashverosh is therefore coming to terms with the idea that Haman represents the constant enemy of the Jews.

Esther 4:16, Question 5. Why does Esther require three days of fasting?

  • R’ Avigdor Miller points out that fasting for three days is difficult, and accomplished an unprecedented amount of teshuva.
  • The Talmud (Yevamos 121b) uses this verse to inform us that it is difficult, although not miraculous to be without food for that long.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:7) writes that these three days corresponded with the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nisan, which included the first day of Pesach. When questioned regarding why Pesach should be foregone, Esther pointed out that there would be no Pesach if the Jews were wiped out.
  • The M’nos HaLevi quotes from the Yalkut Shimoni that these three days were the 14th, 15th, and 16th of Nisan. The Ohel Moshe points out that the main difference is whether or not the Jews of Persia had the second Seder.
  • The Maylitz Yosher writes that the Jews were expected to fast on Pesach in order to shock them into realizing the seriousness of their predicament.
  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the three days correspond to three sins regarding which Esther expects to be guilty: eat non-kosher food, submit herself to Achashverosh, and partial complicity in the death of Hasach.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya writes that H-Shem only challenges tzaddikim for three days. For example, when Avraham went to potentially sacrifice his son, he found Mount Moriah in three days (Bireishis 22:4). Also, when the brothers were taken by Yosef, they were imprisoned for three days (Ibid. 42:18). Furthermore, Yonah remained inside the big fish that swallowed him for three days (Yonah 2:1). R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the three sections of the Written Law (Torah, Nevi’im, and Kesuvim) were given to three groups of Jews (Kohanim, Levi’im, and Yisroelim) for which they needed to prepare for three days (Shemos 19:11).
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Torah affects us on three different levels: thought, speech, and action. Therefore, Esther was telling Mordechai that the Jews need to prepare these three days to perform honest repentance through thought, speech, and action.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Vilna Gaon (on Bireishis 27:13) that when Rivka told the nervous Yaakov to place the blame of his upcoming deception “eilai” (“on me”), this word can be an acronym for Eisav, Lavan, and Yosef. Those may be the greatest of Yaakov’s tests in life, that came along with the blessing he gets from his father.
  • Also, the Ginzei HaMelech points out that these are three different types of people: Eisav represents a glutton; Lavan represents idolatry, and Yosef represents the challenge of intermarriage. These same three issues are the ones for which Jewish existence was threatened in the Purim story. Pri Tzedek quotes from the Zohar on Chukas that the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, represent three characteristics: kindness, awe, and truth. These are the polar opposites of the three characteristics which, according to the Mishnah (Avos 4:21), destroy one’s life: jealousy, lust, and honor. During these three days, then, Esther wanted the Jews to perfect themselves in these three areas.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that three days is 72 hours, and this is the gematria of chesed, (“kindness”) (8+60+4=72). Therefore, the Jews were supposed to spend these days evoking H-Shem’s Kindness.
  • R’ Avraham Sutton points out that 72 is also the gematria of H-Shem’s four-letter Name when each letter is spelled out with all the yuds included ([10+6+4]+[5+10]+[6+10+6]+[5+10]=72).

Esther 4:14, Question 2. Why does the verse use the word “revach” in reference to the Jews’ security?

In Bireishis (32:17), in the momentous meeting between Yaakov and Eisav, Yaakov tells the messengers with whom he famously sent gifts to place a “revach” (“space, comfort”) between each other. Baal HaTurim points out there that this word is used only twice in all of TaNaCh – there, and in our verse. He writes that this is a hint to the idea that Jews would need to resort to bribery in many societies to receive fairness in judgment. Esther’s succumbing to Achashverosh would be the act which would lead to the Jews’ salvation.