Esther 8:16, Question 1. Why does the verse use the past tense form of hayta (”was”)?

טז לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשׂן וִיקָר

16. And to the Yehudim, there was light, and happiness, and joy, and glory/honor.

  • The Chida quotes from Midrash Eliyahu that when Haman threw lots to determine the best day to annihilate the Jews (Esther 3:7), he was happy because that was the month when Egypt experienced the ninth plague of darkness1. To his understanding of black magic, this meant that this was the opportune time to conquer the Jews. However, the Torah (Shemos 10:23) testifies that there was, indeed, light for the Jews. Since the Jews had “hayta” light at that historic juncture, Haman’s very source of joy was due to his misunderstanding.

1This calculation is based on the idea that each plague in Egypt lasted one month, including the preparation, warning, the plague itself, and the immediate aftermath. Since the tenth plague occurred in Nisan, the ninth plague should have occurred one month earlier, in Adar.

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Esther 8:6, Question 1. Why does Esther use a unique form of the word “eicha” (“how”)?

ו כִּי אֵיכָכָה אוּכַל וְרָאִיתִי בָּרָעָה אֲשֶׁריִמְצָא אֶתעַמִּי וְאֵיכָכָה אוּכַל וְרָאִיתִי בְּאָבְדַן מוֹלַדְתִּי

6. “Because how can I [be] and see the evil which my nation will find? And how can I [be] and see the destruction of my kin?”

  • According to the Alshich, by adding an extra letter ches to the word, eicha (“how”) – making it the unique word, eichicha – the Esther puts a stress on her utter misery over her perceived notion that anti-Semites had already begun attacking the Jews because of the first decree. After all, once they see that the Jews are not in the monarchy’s favor, they can presume that any acts of violence or harassment against them will go unpunished.
  • The Megillas Sesarim adds that Esther blamed herself for the origins of Haman’s decree. This is because Haman’s decree was seemingly a consequence for Mordechai’s not bowing down to Haman (Esther 3:5-6). Mordechai behaved this way while at the king’s gate, and he was only there to look out for Esther’s well-being (Esther 2:19). This is why Esther felt somewhat responsible for the resulting decree. This is the way of the righteous: to feel responsible for a situation despite the fact that they were forced into it and the fault clearly lies in others.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this is a second eicha; the first is Yirmiya’s prophetic work, Eicha, written during the destruction of first Beis HaMikdash, and second the is Esther’s, said during the threat of annihilation in exile if the king would not save the Jews.

Esther 6:11, Question 1. Why does the verse repeat the details of Haman’s actions?

יא וַיִּקַּח הָמָן אֶתהַלְּבוּשׁ וְאֶתהַסּוּס וַיַּלְבֵּשׁ אֶתמָרְדֳּכָי וַיַּרְכִּיבֵהוּ בִּרְחוֹב הָעִיר וַיִּקְרָא לְפָנָיו כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ

11. And Haman took the clothing and the horse, and dressed Mordechai. And he rode him in the street of the city. And he called before him, “So will be done to the man for whom the king desires his glory.”

  • Perhaps the verse’s repetitious detailing of Haman’s actions alludes to more information about the story, as both the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:4) detail in their own ways.
  • According to both sources, when Haman took the clothing and the horse to Mordechai, he found the sage teaching the laws of kemitza, the three fingersful amount of barley flour the kohanim would gather for the Temple offerings (Vayikra 2:2 and elsewhere). Rashi explains that Mordechai was discussing this topic specifically because it was the 16th of the month of Nissan, the beginning of the cycle of omer offerings.
  • According to the Ginzei HaMelech, they were specifically learning about the Omer in order to earn the merit to return to Eretz Yisroel in order to properly fulfill that mitzvah.
  • When Mordechai sees Haman coming, Mordechai warns his students to run away, but his students refuse. The Midrash has them respond that their fate should be the same as their rebbe’s. Mordechai wraps himself in a tallis, and begins to pray. While sitting and waiting for Mordechai to finish, Hamans asks the students what they are learning. They cry to him about missing the Beis HaMikdash, and explain that we would have had the kemitza of the mincha offerings to atone for us. Haman responds that this little three fingersful amount of flour pushed off the power of 10,000 loaves of silver.
  • A slight variant in the Midrash is that Haman is surprised that the worth of barley needed for kemitza was so little.
  • When Mordechai concludes praying, he tells Haman, “Wicked one! A slave who acquires something, does not his master own it?” In other words, since Mordechai was his master, the 10,000 loaves of silver Haman had offered Achashverosh for permission to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:9) did not even belong to Haman to give away.
  • Haman tells Mordechai to get up and get dressed and ride on the king’s horse. Mordechai tells him he must first have a haircut and bath before wearing the king’s crown. Since Esther had made a rule that all the barbershops and bathhouses were to be closed that day, Haman had to bathe Mordechai himself, and got scissors from his house to cut Mordechai’s hair.
  • According to the opinion that this was not the second day of Yom Tov, the Maharitz Chiyas writes that the Talmud (Moed Katan 13b) and Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 531:4) allow a person to take a haircut on Chol HaMoed (if this was not, indeed, the second day of Yom Tov) if it was impossible to get earlier, as for a prisoner released on Chol HaMoed.
  • Furthermore, the Derash Avraham writes that Mordechai could take a haircut and bath even on Yom Tov in order to save lives.
  • The Vilna Gaon asks how Esther could risk so much in having the bathhouses and barbershops closed. After all, she could not have had enough advanced notice to know this event would occur. Furthermore, Esther risked giving up the guarded secret of her Jewish background.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz answers that this was the second day of Yom Tov, so Esther calling Jewish barbers to stay home for Halachic reasons (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 495:2). Esther felt she needed to strengthen this Rabbinic law because the Persian Jews were generally reluctant to follow Rabbinic decrees.
  • While cutting the hair, Haman was groaning. Mordechai asked, “Why are you groaning?” Haman responded that someone like himself, who is so important to the king, should not be degraded into the post of barber. Mordechai told him, “Wicked one! Were you not a barber in Kartzum for 22 years?”
  • The Beirach Yitzchak asks about the significance of the length of time. He answers that the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 1:6), in his list of people disqualified from royalty, includes a barber. In his commentary on the Mishneh Torah, Rav Yosef Karo in Kesef Mishnah explains that barbers in bygone days were responsible for administrating numerous medical treatments, many of which were repulsive and unseemly (http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-unusual-ancient-medical-techniques).
  • The Kesef Mishnah further limits this restriction to barbers who do this as a profession, not just a hobby or as a favor for someone. Therefore, answers the Beirach Yitzchak, Haman’s being a barber for such a long time indicates that it was his profession, and he could not weasel out of the fact that he was not fit for the royalty to which he aspired.
  • Furthermore, adds the Ginzei HaMelech, Mordechai was telling Haman that, had he remained contentedly a barber in Kartzum, his life would continue in relative peace. However, now that he had been elevated and become corrupted by power, Haman’s life would end tragically. When it was time to get on the horse, Mordechai was too weak from fasting, and had to climb on Haman’s back to alight on the horse.
  • Since the fast was supposed to last for three days (Esther 4:16), the Chiddushei Rashash writes that Mordechai was still fasting on this, the fourth day, because he added an extra private day of fasting for himself. The reason may be that he felt responsible for the Jews’ plight since he instigated Haman’s hatred by not bowing to him (Esther 3:5).
  • Given the opportunity, Mordechai kicked Haman in the posterior. Haman complained that it says in the TaNaCh (Mishlei 24:17) that one should not rejoice over the downfall of one’s enemies. Mordechai responded that this is true regarding Jews. However, regarding gentiles, the Torah (Devarim 33:29) writes that we can rejoice. Ginzei HaMelech wonders why it seems from this story that Mordechai and Esther appear to be working together to increase Haman’s humiliation. The answer could be, as the Ramban (to Bireishis 12:6) writes, some physical action is always necessary for us to fulfill a Divine decree. Therefore, Esther and Mordechai are performing physical actions to acquire something from the spiritual events then occurring.
  • Then, Haman begins to lead Mordechai on a horse through the streets of Shushan. An earlier Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:7) points out that all of Rachel’s descendants are equal; just like Yosef rode in Pharoah’s second chariot through the streets of Mitzrayim (Bireishis 41:43), so too Mordechai.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:5) details what everyone was saying during this procession. Mordechai was saying the verses (Tehillim 30:1-4) which praise H-Shem for elevating him, and not allowing his enemy to defeat him. Mordechai’s students were singing the next verses (ibid. 5-6), praising H-Shem for the change in the course of history that He controls for the sake of His righteous followers. Haman was saying the next verses (ibid. 7-8) bemoaning his fall from power. Esther said the next verses (ibid. 9-10) praying for success in her mission to save the Jews. The rest of the Jewish people were saying the next verses (ibid. 11-12), celebrating the changing tide from fear to jubilation.
  • 27,000 young men led this procession, carrying pillows and golden cups and repeating Haman’s words that this is the reward for the man whom the king wishes to honor. The M’nos HaLevi explains that the purpose of these 27,000 young men was to continue this message after Haman’s voice inevitably gave out after a while.
  • Haman’s daughter, who was on a rooftop, dumped her chamber-pot upon her father, thinking he was Mordechai.
  • According to R’ Mendel Weinbach, the reason she had a chamber pot with her on the roof is that Haman had engineered Vashti’s end and the ensuing beauty contest with the goal of having the king marry his daughter. To avoid her becoming the queen, H-Shem cursed her with chronic diarrhea, so she hid from people on roof tops, always with her chamber pot. As Haman looked up to see who had done that, his daughter became ashamed, and she jumped off the roof.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that she did not recognize her own father was due to his voice becoming hoarse.
  • The Einei Yitzchak writes that another reason she may not have recognized her father is that Haman may have switched clothes with Mordechai in order to make sack-clothed Mordechai more presentable, and to ironically lessen his own embarrassment.

Esther 4:16, Question 1. Why does Esther ask Mordechai to gather the Jews?

טז לֵךְ כְּנוֹס אֶתכָּלהַיְּהוּדִים הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשָׁן וְצוּמוּ עׇלַי וְאַלתֹּאכְלוּ וְאַלתִּשְׁתּוּ שְׁלשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם גַּםאֲנִי וְנַֽעֲרֹתַי אָצוּם כֵּן וּבְכֵן אָבוֹא אֶלהַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר לֹאכַדָּת וְכַאֲשֶׁר אָבַדְתִּי אָבָדְתִּי

16. “Go gather all of the Yehudim found in Shushan and have them fast for me, and not eat, and not drink three days, night and day. Also I and my maidens will fast so. And so I will go to the king, which is not like the law. And as I will be destroyed, I will be destroyed.”

  • According to Me’am Loez, Esther wanted to bring the Jews together in order to contradict Haman’s slander in Esther 3:5 that the Jews were not unified.
  • According to Vidibarta Bam, the sale of Yosef is one opinion in the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:25) for the Jews’ existence to be threatened. Unity for that prayer would be the correction of this sale.
  • According to Nachal Eshkol, the gematria of kinos (“gather”) (20+50+6+60= 136) is the same as kol, (“voice”) (100+6+30= 136). The voice is usually symbolic throughout Torah literature of prayer, and thus indicates that Esther also requested that the Jews pray for her, as is indicated in the fact that they did so in Esther 9:31.
  • Why, in fact, did the verse then not say explicitly that the Jews prayed? As Rav Avigdor Miller points out in Torah Nation, if the authors of Megillas Esther would write that the Jews prayed, they would also have to write to Whom they prayed. However, since Megillas Esther regularly performs mental acrobatics to avoid using H-Shem’s Name, it did not mention the Jews’ praying.
  • R’ Yechezkiel Levenstein quotes the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:19), which writes that after the decree against the Jews, the Torah dressed in widow’s garb, the angels cried, the sun and the moon dimmed, etc. Only the prayer of Mordechai, one man, could overturn the decree. Of course, prayer is powerful, but as the Maharal points out from the Talmud (Brachos 8a), prayer together in a gathering (at least a minyan) is amplified.

Esther 2:5, Question 5. Why does the verse call Mordechai a “Yimini?”

  • As noted earlier (three posts ago), the Talmud (Megillah 12b) states that Mordechai’s father was from the tribe of Benyamin. Rav Yitzchak Hutner adds that this is an important detail to the story because, when Haman becomes incensed at Mordechai’s refusal to bow to him (Esther 3:5), the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8) has Haman say, “All the tribes bowed to my ancestor, Eisav (Bireishis 33:3)! Why won’t you bow to me?” Mordechai answers, “All the tribes bowed except for Benyamin, for he was not yet born. Therefore, I need not bow to you.”
  • Another reason this is important is that Esther is related to Mordechai by being “daughter of his uncle” (Esther 2:7). Therefore, she too comes from the royal house of King Shaul, and may be prized by Achashverosh for this.
  • “Yimini” could also mean that Mordechai was right-leaning. In Kabbalistic thought, this means he had a focus on “chachmah” – masculine, logical, and linear knowledge – rather than “binah” – feminine, instinctual, global wisdom. With H-Shem’s help, this insight into Mordechai’s character will help us to better understand his argument with Esther (4:11-16) about the best way to combat the coming threat to Jewish survival.