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.
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Esther 6:14, Question 1. Why does the verse stress that the king’s servants arrived while Haman’s advisers were still speaking with him?

יד עוֹדָם מְדַבְּרִים עִמּוֹ וְסָרִיסֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ הִגִּיעוּ וַיַּבְהִלוּ לְהָבִיא אֶתהָמָן אֶלהַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁרעָשְׂתָה אֶסְתֵּר

14. They were still speaking with him, and the eunuchs of the king arrived. And they rushed to bring Haman to the drinking party that Esther made.

  • The M’nos HaLevi and Malbim write that the verse stresses that the king’s eunuchs arrived while Haman’s advisers were still speaking with him because this is an example of hashgacha pratis, H-Shem’s supervision of the world on a seemingly minor scale. As such, Haman did not get the sound advice from his advisers.
  • R’ Eliezer Ashkenazi and the Malbim write that this is how Charvonah learned of the gallows (see Esther 7:9 below).
  • The Dubno Maggid asks that, since Haman’s advisers were wise, why did they not consider this an opening for the Satan, based the Talmudic (Kesubos 8b) principle of al tiftach peh l’satan – not saying something that would give the Heavenly accuser an opportunity to do something unfavorable? He explains that they had planned to conclude their remarks with the good side, but the eunuchs’ sudden arrival interrupted them.
  • The Degel Machaneh Efrayim adds that, as soon as the advisers questioned if Mordechai were Jewish, H-Shem sent Achashverosh’s servants as an answer. This is because He answers prayers even before they are uttered, as it says in Yeshaya (65:24) “od heim midabrim vaAni eshma” (“while they were speaking, and I heard”). All of this is possible because, unlimited by the dimension of time, H-Shem knows what we will do before we do it.

Esther 3:7, Question 2. Why does Haman feel the need to cast lots?

  • Haman’s motivation for casting lots depends on what those lots were. According to the Vilna Gaon, Haman wanted to see when his plan would be most spiritually effective. He wanted to find the time that the Jews were at their spiritual weakest. He found Adar appealing because the Jews had no Holy Day for which to prepare, and no special merit to protect them, so were thus spiritually weak then. If that is the case, why then was Haman not successful? Because, says the Vilna Gaon, “ein mazal b’Yisroel” (“Jews have no [effects of] constellations”) (Talmud, Shabbos 156a). What this means is that, with Torah, Jewish people can channel the natural astrological influence of the horoscope.
  • If these lots are like our contemporary dice, opposite sides add up to seven. One is opposite to six, four is opposite to three, etc. Midrash Talpios says that, instead of numbers, Haman’s dice have Hebrew letters. Therefore, in gematria, if there is an aleph on one side, its opposite side had a vuv. Haman cast the dice three times. The dice read aleph, then gimmel, then gimmel again. This spells “Agag,” king of Amalek conquered by King Shaul (as mentioned previously). On the bottom of that combination would be a vuv, daled, and daled. A combination of these letters spells “David,” and Haman thought this meant Agag would succeed against David. In other words, Haman was under the impression that the lots he rolled predicted his victory over the Jews.
  • Ben Ish Chai says that Haman was so arrogant that he did not even consider the letters spelling out David. Rather, Haman was too busy noticing that the gematria of David (4+6+4) is 14, with a mispar katan1 of five. The mispar katan of Haman’s name is also five (5+40+50=95).
  • According to Rabbi Yehonason Eibshutz, Haman’s lottery consisted of his writing on separate papers all of the days of the year. After he chose a particular date (Adar 13th), he wanted to verify that this was not just a random date. He then got twelve papers with the twelve months of the year. That paper matched up to Adar. Class participant RS pointed out that the days of the solar year are also 365, which also has a mispar katan equal to Haman’s name.
  • Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi says Haman realized that the Jews were weak and in exile. He threw lots to find his one spiritual strength in relation to the spiritual strength of the Jewish people.

1A “mispar katan” is a form of gematria in which one adds all the numerals in a number until one arrives at a one-numeral number. For instance, the mispar katan of 19 is 1+9, which is 10. Since this is not a single-numeral number, the process is repeated with these numerals thus: 1+0, until one arrives at 1. Therefore, the mispar katan of 19 is 1.

Esther 3:2, Question 4. Why does Mordechai not do this like everyone else?

  • One might think that the reason for Mordechai’s refusal to bow is the low regard with which the Torah holds worship of anyone or anything outside of H-Shem. According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8), however, Mordechai admits that bowing down to a person in-and-of-itself is not wrong. For example, Yaakov and his family bowed seven times to Haman’s ancestor, Eisav (Bireishis 33:3). In fact, Mordechai deflects criticism of his not acting likewise with Eisav’s descendant by citing his ancestry from Benyamin, who had not yet been born during this incident. The Maharal adds that, in reward for this, Benyamin inherited the part of Eretz Yisroel where the Kodesh Kedoshim (Holy of Holies) of the Beis HaMikdash would stand. Mordechai was concerned that bowing to Haman would cause him to lose his connection with the Shechinah (the Divine Presence), just as the Shechinah left the Kodesh Kedoshim when the Jews no longer deserved her.
  • In Michtav M’Eliyahu, R’ Eliyahu Dessler writes that Mordechai’s defiance can teach us to attack our Yetzer Hara head-on without a kernel of compromise. Any capitulation can lead to a downward spiral of spiritual loss.
  • The Malbim writes that Mordechai did not bow down to Haman to avoid ascribing divinity to him. In an era when people ascribed godliness to their rulers and the rulers’ courts, Mordechai felt compelled to demonstrate his variance with heaping any possible blandishments of divinity upon Haman.
  • Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi writes that the command to bow to Haman referred to two different groups of people – regular subjects of the king, and higher-ups sitting at the gates of the king. Mordechai did not fit into either category. As a Jew, he was not a citizen of the realm. At the same time, as an adviser of the king, he sat at the king’s gate, and was not one to pass there.
  • The Kedushas HaLevi says there were two different commands – first, everybody had to bow down. Second, Mordechai, as a favor to Esther, was ordered to not bow.
  • The Shelah HaKodesh quotes an argument in the Talmud (Megillah 12a) regarding the reason the Jews deserved death in this time period. One opinion is because they bowed to idols. The other reason is that they attended Achashverosh’s party. The Shelah continues that Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman served as a spiritual tikkun (or repair) for the Jews’ capitulating to bow to the idol of Nebuchadnetzer, and Esther’s eating seeds to avoid eating non-kosher food in Achashverosh’s palace (as mentioned previously) served as a tikkun for the Jews’ enjoying themselves at Achashverosh’s party. Together, their actions saved the Jews from the decree against them.

Esther 2:18, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh give these gifts to all of the states?

  • Rav Elisha Gallico says Achashverosh gave these gifts to the states to reward them for their gifting him with their most beautiful women, and to compensate them for the loss of such talent.
  • The Vilna Gaon says that he gave to everyone because the king did not know which nation to thank for Esther, so covered his bases by rewarding all of the states.
  • Since the Jews were not a distinct state, Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi writes, they were the only people still paying full taxes. Accordingly, this is the reason why Haman will later offer to cover the costs of killing off the Jews (3:9), since their extermination would have a negative impact on the king’s coffers.

Esther 2:4, Question 1. Why do the advisers stress that the new queen will be instead of/ under Vashti?

ד וְהַנַּעֲרָה אֲשֶׁר תִּיטַב בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ תִּמְלֹךְ תַּחַת וַשְׁתִּי וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן

4. “And the young woman who is good in the king’s eyes will rule under/ instead of Vashti.” And the matter was good in the eyes of the king, and he did so.

  • According to Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi, the advisers stress that the new queen would be lesser in stature from Vashti. This would benefit the king, as he may have felt somewhat inferior to Vashti, having come into royalty from common stock (as we said in previous blogs), whereas Vashti was born into royalty (as we also said in previous blogs).
  • Indeed, as the Yalkut Shimoni (Esther 2) points out, Achashverosh found a woman who was indeed “good in the king’s eyes,” – Esther being good in the eyes of the King of Kings.

Esther 1:22, Question 1. Why did the books have to be written in different languages?

כב וַיִּשְׁלַח סְפָרִים אֶלכָּלמְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶלמְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה כִּכְתָבָהּ וְאֶלעַם וָעָם כִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ לִהְיוֹת כָּלאִישׁ שׂרֵר בְּבֵיתוֹ וּמְדַבֵּר כִּלְשׁוֹן עַמּוֹ

22. And he sent books to all the states of the King – to each state according to its script and to each nation according to its language – that each man should rule in his home and speak the language of his nation.

  • The Vilna Gaon relates that residents of Achashverosh’s 127 states spoke different languages because Sancherev mixed up the locals populaces he conquered. This is because a Frenchman and his descendants forcibly removed to Romania by a conquering ruler are less likely to rebel. After all, for what heritage are they fighting?
  • In Yosef Lekach, Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi writes that Achashverosh wrote his decree in different languages in order to ingratiate himself to his subjects. Much like the Soviet Union had the languages of all the republics on the rubles, Achashverosh attempted to show how much he cared for his subjects.
  • The Malbim writes that Achaverosh chose to write the decree in multiple languages to pointedly tell the people that, despite the fact that they lived in Persia, they were ruled by him alone. He was telling them that he was more special than the nation from which he comes.