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 7:9, Question 1. Who is Charvona?

ט וַיֹּאמֶר חַרְבוֹנָה אֶחָד מִןהַסָּרִיסִים לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ גַּם הִנֵּההָעֵץ אֲשֶׁרעָשָׂה הָמָן לְמָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּרטוֹב עַלהַמֶּלֶךְ עֹמֵד בְּבֵית הָמָן גָּבֹהַּ חֲמִשִּׁים אַמָּה וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ תְּלֻהוּ עָלָיו

9. And Charvona, one of the eunuchs before the king, said, “Also, behold! Here is the tree that Haman made for Mordechai who said good regarding on the king. It is standing in Haman’s house fifty-cubit tall.” And the king said, “Hang him on it.”

  •  The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach propose that Charvona was simply one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to feast (Esther 6:14).
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), Charvona was an evil ally of Haman’s, intent on killing Mordechai. Once he saw that the plan would not succeed, he surrendered. This fits with the verse (Iyov 27:22) that allies of the wicked “will surely flee.”
  • The Dubno Maggid explains this with the following allegory: A blind beggar works with a young boy. One day, the boy stole the blind beggar’s wallet with 30 coins. When he saw the beggar crying pitiably, the boy returned the wallet saying, “I found the wallet with the 30 coins.” Instead of thanking the boy, the beggar began to beat the boy mercilessly for the theft. How did he know that the boy stole it? How else could the boy have known that there were 30 coins in the bag? Likewise, the Talmud knows that Charvona is evil because how else could he have known that the gallows were 50 amos tall if he were not in on the plot.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that Charvona noticed that Haman lost the ability to defend himself, and this emboldened him to speak up.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:9) lists what many of the angels and other Heavenly Beings were doing during the climax of the Purim story. It says that Eliyahu appeared like Charvona, and said the words attributed to him in this verse.
  • Another Midrash (Yalkut 1059) and the Ibn Ezra concur that Charvona is Eliyahu.
  • The Alshich adds that another proof that Charvona is Eliyahu is that the verse describes him as “before the king,” and Eliyahu is certainly a minister of the King of kings.
  • Interestingly, the song, “Shoshanas Yaakov,” sung on Purim after the public reading of Megillas Esther ends with the words, “v’gam Charvona zachur latov” (“and also Charvona should be remembered for good”). Charvona is the only person who shares the epithet, “zachur latov” with Eliyahu.
  • When Charvona is mentioned earlier (Esther 1:10), he is the third in a list of the king’s chamberlains/eunichs. The M’nos HaLevi notes that the name is spelled with a letter aleph at the end there, and with a letter hey at the end here. He explains that when Charvona was on the side of evil, his name is spelled with an aleph. When he repents, and is Eliyahu, it is spelled with a hey.
  • In an explanation, R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this name ending with an aleph means destruction in Aramaic. With a hey, it is a composite of “charav boneh” (“destroy, build”). In the process of true repentance, he was rebuilding that which he had earlier wanted to destroy – namely, Mordechai.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya, in his commentary on the Torah writes that he was called Charvona because he helped destroy Haman.
  • The Chasam Sofer and R’ Dovid Feinstein both say that with an aleph, it is the gentile Aramaic; with a hey, it is Hebrew, so it is Jewish.

Esther 7:8, Question 3. Why is Haman’s face covered?

  • In his Sherashim, the Radak translates the word chafu as “fell,” as Haman was described before (Esther 6:12).
  • Targum and the Vilna Gaon translate chafu as “despondent or disappointed.”
  • The Ibn Ezra, however, sees the word as an active verb, meaning that somebody – in this case, Achashverosh’s servants – did this to him. This is due to their recognizing the king’s displeasure.
  • The Alshich explains that it was a Persian custom to cover the face of a capital offender.
  • In another example of mida kineged mida (“measure for measure”), the Me’am Loez cites an earlier verse (Esther 1:19) that this custom of covering was Haman’s own idea.
  • The Brisker Rav says that this detail was necessary because Charvona was at the end of the list of chamberlain advisers listed earlier (Esther 1:10), so he would have been too intimidated to speak against Haman earlier. With Haman’s face covered, he is able to speak, as he does in the next verse.

Esther 6:14, Question 2. Why does Achashverosh send his eunuchs to perform this task?

  • According to the Alshich, Achashverosh sent his eunuchs to perform this task rather than officers to indicate his displeasure with Haman. It paralleled Vashti’s perception of being disrespected when she was summoned to appear before the king by use of eunuchs (Esther 1:10).