Esther 4:1, Question 3. Why does Mordechai dress in sack and ashes?

  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Mordechai dressed in sack and ashes because the Talmud (Moed Katan 26a) writes that one should tear one’s clothing when one hears bad tidings.
  • Yosef Lekach adds that Mordechai’s sensitive emotions allowed him to feel the pain of the potential threat of genocide, that he mourned as if people had already died.
  • Seeing as nobody was allowed to enter the king’s gate dressed in such a manner (see Esther 4:2 below), the P’dus Yaakov writes that, by doing so, Mordechai was indicating that his rightful place was with the people rather than with the king.
  • In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, Mordechai is compared to the king of Ninveh (Yona 3:6), who is praised for immediately donning sack and ash upon hearing that H-Shem planned to destroy his city for their erstwhile evil behavior.
  • It is possible that, by using ash, Mordechai was invoking the merits of the Jewish forefathers. R’ Elazar of Germiza writes that Mordechai chose ash to recall before H-Shem the merit of our forefather, Avraham. After all, Avraham risked his life to prove the truth of monotheism by being thrown into a flaming furnace. In recognizing H-Shem’s Mercy in saving his life, he later called himself no more than “dust and ash” (Bereishis 18:27). According to the Targum, Mordechai was invoking the merit of another forefather, Yitzchak. Because he laid himself down on an altar dutifully prepared to be slaughtered like a sacrifice by his father (ibid. 22:9), H-Shem credits him with remaining as ash on the sacrificial altar. Finally, Mordechai invoked the merit of Yaakov, who wore sack after the sale of Yosef (ibid. 37:34). The Maharal notes that the verse in Tehillim (20:2) invokes “the G-d of Yaakov” in that fervent prayer for salvation because Yaakov was the forefather whose difficult life deserved more of H-Shem’s Mercy.
  • R’ Elazar Shach points out that the Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 84:19) teaches that the Jews of Egypt wore sack before their miraculous redemption. By tapping into this ancient tradition, Mordechai was showing his faith in H-Shem and the Torah.
  • On a more mystical note, R’ Raphael Moshe Luria writes that Adam and Chava before the sin wore “ohr” (light, spelled aleph-vuv-reish), but were demoted to the status of needing to wear “ohr” (skin, spelled ayin-vuv-reish) as a result of the sin. Based on R’ Moshe Cordevero, Rav Luria continues with the idea that garments of light help one to serve H-Shem, and this is why one was not allowed to enter the “king’s” gate when not properly dressed. Doctors must shed their suits to don scrubs, rubber gloves, and bouffant caps for surgery. The soul, too, must shed the Divine light in which she is dressed to don the hazmat suit that is the earthly body to utilize the physical world in a continued effort to fulfill H-Shem’s Will. In our analogy, the difference between the soul and the doctor is that the soul’s skin automatically turns into light with the achieving of a spiritual goal.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech brings down from the AriZal that the gematria of “sak” (sack, 300+100=400) is an allusion to the four hundred officers whom Esav commands in his meeting with Yaakov (Bereishis 33:1). Kabbalistically, these themselves represent the four hundred powers of tuma, or manners in which impurity can enter our lives. He brings from the Imrei David that wearing sackcloth [perhaps through its ability to instill humility] gives one the ability to fend off impurity.
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Esther 1:12, Question 1. Why does Vashti refuse to come to the king?

יב וַתְּמָאֵן הַמַּלְכָּה וַשְׁתִּי לָבוֹא בִּדְבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר בְּיַד הַסָּרִיסִים וַיִּקְצֹף הַמֶּלֶךְ מְאֹד וַחֲמָתוֹ בָּעֲרָה בוֹ

12. And Queen Vashti refused to come according to the words of the king that he sent through chamberlains; and the king became very incensed and his anger burned inside him.

  • M’nos HaLevi suggests that Vashti did not come when summoned because she was conceited. According to the Ben Yehoyada, quoted by Rav Dovid Feinstein, she was so conceited that she could not even imagine him punishing her as he had a right to do.
  • According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz, since the underlying reason for this party was to coerce the Jews to sin (see the second post on 1:8), this day was Shabbos and she figured there was no point in such a stunt if the Jews weren’t even there on Shabbos to sin. He also suggests that Vashti felt that her unclothed arrival to the feast would tempt the men present.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12b) suggests that the only reason she refused was because she suddenly became less beautiful. In fact, through the agency of the angel, Gavriel, Vashti had just then grown a tail and come down with a tzaraas skin affliction. How does the Talmud know this? Tosfos and Rashi quote a no-longer extant Yerushalmi which says that the language of the verse recalling Vashti’s punishment (Esther 2:1) is similar to the language in the verse that describes Uziyahu’s learning of his tzaraas (Divrei HaYamim 2 26:21). According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz, of all angels, it was Gavriel who performed this task because, according to the Talmud (Sotah 31a) and the Zohar (196a), it is this angel who best knows men’s thoughts. As such, he knew what evil lurked in Vashti’s brain, and was thus the ideal messenger of H-Shem’s displeasure. Why would Vashti get these particular defects? Ben Yehoyada suggests that one reason (listed in the Talmud, Arachim 16a) for incurring tzaraas is for having a conceited spirit. Ben Yehoyada says that this was yet another example of “mida kineged mida,” (“measure for measure”); since Vashti had the Jewish girls work naked on Shabbos, so, too, she was punished on Shabbos in a manner related to nudity. R’ Elazar of Germezia notes that the gematria of “and the Queen Vashti refused to come” is equal to the phrase “she was afflicted with tzaraas.”1 A tail is used by animals to cover themselves. People use clothes for that purpose. Vashti’s otherwise desire to perform in a contrary behavior earned her, mida kineged mida, a tail of an animal. The Aruch writes that Vashti did not literally grow a tail, but rather an appendage of some sort. This fits well with the idea that this “zanav” covered her front. Rav Schwab asks on this why it could not be a real tail like an animal? According to Rabbi Aaron Eli Glatt, the letters of “zanav” (zayin, nun, and beis) can be seen as an acronym for Zevil Merodach, Nebuchadnetzer, and Balshatzar – Vashti’s royal lineage about which she was so conceited.

1The principle of im hakollel allows for a mathematical error of one so that (1352) “ותמאן המלכה ושתי לבוא”  is legally equal to (1353)  “שפרחה צרעת”.