Esther 6:2, Question 2. Why does the verse call the first conspirator Bigsana with an extra aleph?

  • The Alshich and M’nos HaLevi explain that the verse calls the first conspirator Bigsana with an extra letter aleph appended to his name because Haman’s son, to minimize Mordechai’s action, in describing the attempt on the king’s life, wrote “Bigsan o Seresh” (“Bigsan or Seresh”), as if Mordechai didn’t know which. If this were to be the case, then both were thereby punished and killed, one innocently so. Therefore, Mordechai would stand unworthy of reward. The angel, Gavriel, moved the letter vuv in between the names to the end of Bigsan’s name.

Esther 6:2, Question 1. Why does the verse describe the incident as “found?”

ב וַיִּמָּצֵא כָתוּב אֲשֶׁר הִגִּיד מָרְדֳּכַי עַלבִּגְתָנָא וָתֶרֶשׁ שְׁנֵי סָרִיסֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשֹּׁמְרֵי הַסַּף אֲשֶׁר בִּקְשׁוּ לִשְׁלֹחַ יָד בַּמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ

2. And it was found writing that Mordechai related on Bigsana and Seresh, two eunuchs of the king from the guards of the threshold who sought to send their arm at King Achashverosh.

  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 1:3), the verse describe the incident as “found” because, as bad as Achashverosh was, one good thing about Achashverosh was that he had everything recorded. One positive aspect of this is that he wrote both positive and negative events, a sign of humility. Another positive aspect of this is that writing down a chronicle of events helps a person grow spiritually (Pri Tzaddik, Chukas 4). After being inspired, the absence of a written record may cause that inspiration to disappear. There is an incident in which, as a young man, Rav Shlomo Brevda was walking in a poorly-maintained street when the street lights went out. He walked carefully, and when the lights cam back on, he found himself on the precipice of a large hole. He was inspired to pray the next morning with extra feeling and gratitude. However, when the next morning arrived, he found this inspiration gone like a deflated balloon. Upon asking several rabbis for an explanation of this phenomenon, he was directed to the Chazon Ish. After a rather lengthy bus ride to seek out this gadol’s advice, the Chazon Ish explained to him, “there is a special yetzer hara designed to deflate your inspiration immediately after a miracle.” One way to fight this and tap into your emotion is to write down that event.
  • The Malbim writes that Haman erased mention of Mordechai from the public document, and replaced any mention of him with his own name. Since he was unable to erase Mordechai’s name from the king’s private record, Achashverosh found it odd, if not suspicious, that Mordechai was the one who helped save him. This will help explain why his treatment of Haman and Mordechai from this point become the polar opposite of his treatment of them previously.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a), commenting on the abnormality that the verse says kasuv (“writing”) instead of kasav (“written”), which Rashi explains (there) means that it was being written anew teaches that Haman’s son, Shimshi, was attempting to erase Mordechai’s name, but the angel Gavriel was rewriting it. Interestingly, the Rokeach and M’nos HaLevi point out that the gematria of the first six words of our verse, “vayimazei chasuv asher heegeed Mordechai al” (6+10+40+90+1+20+400+6+2+1+300+200+5+3+10+4+40+200+4+20+10+70+30=1,472) is equal to this Talmud’s statement = “shimshi mochek v’Gavriel kosev” (300+40+300+10+40+6+8+100+6+3+2+200+10+1+30+20+6+400+2=1,484)1.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) continues that if something is written about the Jews below cannot be erased, how much more-so is this true in Heaven! In explanation, the Bobover Rebbe says this is hinting to H-Shem’s two books – one below and one above, mentioned in the Mishnah (Avos 2:20) in which H-Shem does His accounting for our behavior.
  • Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller stresses the tremendous effect of one human’s singular act written in a book leading the Jews to redemption. Accordingly, this is why the Rambam writes (Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:1) that just one good deed tips the scales for individual and for the whole world.

1I have yet to see a commentary explaining the apparent discrepancy of 22. Tzarich iyun.

Esther 6:1, Question 4. Why does the verse use the passive verb “nikra’im” (were read) instead of the active “koreem” (“read”)?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes that the verse uses the passive form of the verb (“were read”) because the pages of the book read themselves, since the king’s servant did not want to.
  • The Maharal explains that the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 545, and see Ezra 4:8 with Rashi there) writes that the palace scribe was one of Haman’s sons. Therefore, explains the Maharal, since he changed all references to Mordechai to say Haman, this was only true in the public book. In the private book, the king would notice the obvious inconsistencies, and would therefore have more reason to suspect Haman of conspiring against him.
  • Targum Sheini writes that the scribe did not erase Mordechai’s name, but merely skipped over his name. Therefore, the angel Gavriel turned the pages to the missing text, and the pages read themselves.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz asks why such a miracle was necessary. He answers that the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) writes that the Jews accepted the Torah at Har Sinai with the words “naaseh v’nishmah” (“we will do and we will listen”). After this, H-Shem lifted a mountain over them, and threatened to drop it over them if they would not accept the Torah. What was the reason for this if they had just done exactly that? Tosfos answers that the Jews accepted the Written Torah with complete enthusiasm, but not the Oral Torah. They re-accepted the Torah in the conclusion of Megillas Esther, when the verse (Esther 9:27) writes “kimu v’kiblu” (“they took and they accepted”). It became clear to the Jews that their downfall was caused in the beginning of the Purim story, where they ignored the words of the great leader, Mordechai. For this reason, these words which were not written down were given orally, mida kineged mida. Perhaps it is for this reason that this miracle happened on the second night of the Pesach holiday, since its observance is totally rabbinic.
  • As a proof of this phenomenon, the Rokeach points out that the words “hayamim viyihyu nikarim” (“days [Chronicles]. And they were read”) (5+10+40+10+40+6+10+5+10+6+50+100+200+1+10+40=543) have the same gematria as lomed kee hayu nikrayim me’atzmam (“we learn that they read themselves”) (30+40+4+20+10+5+10+6+50+100+200+1+10+40+40+70+90+40+40=806).
  • R’ Yitzchak Hutner writes that we can learn a fundamental philosophical rule from this verse. Namely, in life, we do not really accomplish anything; H-Shem just makes it look to us as if we do things. As a proof, he quotes the phrase (Vayikra 11:38) “kee yiton” (“if he placed”), which the Talmud (Bava Metzia 22b) says could be pronounced “kee yutan” (“if it was placed”) in the passive voice because despite a person’s intent to do something, the final act is completed only through H-Shem. We are all vessels, and H-Shem is the real Doer in this world.

Esther 6:1, Question 2. Why does the verse describe the king’s sleep as “shaken?”

  • Me’am Loez writes that this was the first time Achashverosh felt anything like insomnia, and he was therefore greatly concerned. Since this strange, out of the ordinary event transpires in this verse, perhaps this is the reason for the custom (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 690:15, Mishnah Berurah 690:52) to read this verse in a unique tune1.
  • The Midrash writes that Achashverosh had trouble sleeping because he was afraid Haman would try to kill him.
  • R’ Rephael Shapiro of Volozhin wonders why the crux of the Purim miracle hangs on this seeming lie; after all, Haman was not planning on killing the king at this point. He answers that Achashverosh saw in his dream that Haman wanted to kill Esther’s husband. What he did not know was that Esther’s actual husband was not Achashverosh, but Mordechai.
  • Since every reference to the “king” is really a reference to the King of Kings – H-Shem – the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:1) continues that H-Shem was “awakened” from His throne of Glory. How could H-Shem, who neither sleeps nor slumbers (Tehillim 121:4) have been sleeping? The Midrash explains that H-Shem can be said to be “sleeping” when the Jews are not living up to the standard set for them, as it says elsewhere in Tehillim (78:65). Torah Temimah explains that H-Shem ignores our needs sometimes, and only prayer and repentance can “awaken” Him.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) cites an argument about which king’s sleep was disturbed. The first opinion says it was H-Shem’s “sleep.” The second opinion is that the sleep of both the upper world and the lower world was disturbed. The third opinion is that it was Achashverosh’s sleep, and that it was due to his concern over the nature of the relationship between Esther and Haman, as she had intended by inviting Haman to her feast (see below). Achashverosh thus becomes concerned that nobody seems to be saving him.
  • Interestingly, Rashi uncharacteristically quotes both the miraculous and natural interpretations of this verse. R’ Avigdor Bonchek writes that Rashi does so to emphasize that the main theme of Megillas Esther is that the true, miraculous nature of things is constantly concealed within seemingly everyday events. Maharal points out that this can be seen in the verse’s choice of calling Him/him “king” without mentioning Achashverosh’s name. If the verse is discussing H-Shem, it is fitting to call Him King. If the verse is discussing Achashverosh, it must be that he was concerned about kingly, political affairs.
  • Furthermore, Maharsha notes that any instant in TaNaCh in which someone’s sleep is disturbed, the next verse explains the reason. For example, when Yaakov had a dream about the ladder, the next verse (Bireishis 28:10) explains why. Also, when Pharoah had his prophetic, confusing dreams about cows, the next verse (Bireishis 41:1) explains the reason. This verse’s lack of explanation leads one to conclude that something else is going on – namely, H-Shem’s “sleep” is also being “disturbed.”
  • Based on the fact that the root of “nadidah” (“shaking”) is “nada,” R’ Mendel Weinbach points out that the verse’s use of two letter daleds indicates that there were two disturbances – one in the Heavens and one on Earth. The Midrash Abba Gurion writes that the angel, Gavriel, kept Achashverosh awake telling him, “do good for the one who did good to you.”
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that “nadidah” can be read as “nadad Hey,” or “H-Shem Stirred.” He writes it can also be read as “fifty (gematria of the letter nun) dadah.” Since “dadah” can be seen as the root of “edadeim” (“movement”) in Tehillim (42:5), Ben Ish Chai writes that fifty moved Achashverosh. Specifically, he quotes the Ari Z”l that the first verse in Shema contains twenty-five letters. Since we typically say Shema twice every evening and twice every morning, these fifty letters (twenty-five letters repeated) Mordechai was saying came to protect Mordechai. These fifty letters saved Mordechai from the fifty amos of the gallows Haman prepared, zeh l’umas zeh.

1 The classically given answer for this custom is because this verse is the one in which there is a turnabout – when obviously good things are in store for the Jews.

Esther 4:12, Question 1. Why does the verse use the plural “vayagidu” instead of the singular “vayaged?”

יב וַיַּגִּידוּ לְמָרְדֳּכָי אֵת דִּבְרֵי אֶסְתֵּר

12. And they elaborated to Mordechai the words of Esther.

  • The simplest explanation as to why the verse uses the plural “vayagidu” (“and they elaborated”) instead of the singular “vayaged” (“and he elaborated”) comes from the Malbim. He writes that Hasach simply had other messengers with whom he worked, and they are the ones who delivered this message.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15a) understands that Hasach avoided delivering this message personally because he was reluctant to deliver a negative message – in this case, a message negating Mordechai’s order. This is because of the ethical principle that, as much as possible, we try not to deliver bad news.
  • The Maharal writes that Hasach did not want to go back alone in order to avoid arousing suspicion.
  • The Targum writes, “Haman the wicked saw Hasach, also named Daniel, going in and out of Esther’s room. He went and he killed him. The message was delivered from Esther through Michael and Gavriel.” In this version, Haman seems suspicious of Esther’s close relationship with a Jew. Yalkut Shimoni and Talmud Yerushalmi say similarly.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that Haman realized that Hasach was speaking to Mordechai in code. The code to which he is referring is the deeper levels of the last few verses.
  • R’ Mendel Weinbach points out that we sometimes have to deliver bad news, but only if it will practically change something. Pointless bad news need not be delivered. When Rav Elyashiv was ill and his daughter, Rebbetzin Kanievsky, passed away, the current halachic authorities advised that he not be told of her passing. He was not in condition to sit shiva, and the news might have actually affected his erstwhile frail health.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why, if this is indeed a negative message, did Hasach not reprove Esther? After all, there is a halacha (Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Deyos 6:7) which says a person has the responsibility to correct those who are in the wrong. The reason is that Esther was not necessarily in the wrong. She had a legitimate halachic opinion, as follows: The Pischei Teshuva (Yoreh Deah, 252:2) writes that one is forbidden to risk one’s own life for the life of another. Therefore, Esther had a legitimate reason to avoid risking her life. However, had Esther not maintained a halachic basis for her rejection of Mordechai’s order to visit the king, Hasach would, indeed, have had reason to be reluctant in reporting this to Mordechai, based on the Talmudic dictum that we avoid sending negative messages.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab asks why this is the first time Hasach felt this reticence. After all, had not this entire conversation of the last few verses (Esther 4:7-12) been negative? Rav Schwab answers that, actually, even the threatened extermination of the Jewish people is not bad news as long as they have the opportunity to do teshuva! However, the fact that Esther refuses to sacrifice for the sake of her people is negative, and this is the information Hasach does not want to deliver to Mordechai.
  • Rav Henach Leibowitz quotes the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 10b) where Rav Chanina ben Chama brought the Roman Caesar Antoninus’s slave back to life to avoid having to tell him that his slave had died. Rav Leibowitz writes that this shows the extent to which we are expected to avoid delivering bad news. This is despite the fact that this idea is not explicit in the Torah, but is only implicit in the behavior of Hasach. He concludes that so, too, must we be careful to accustom ourselves to the behavioral and ethical lessons of the Torah.
  • R’ Eliezer Schwartz, the rabbi of Ohev Tzedek, brings from Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik that part of the conflict between Esther and Mordechai is the oft-repeated conflict between women and men in TaNaCh. For example, he says that women and men acted differently with regard to the Golden Calf is that women see a wider view of a given situation. This is the reason for the Kli Yakar’s comment (on Bamidbar 13:2) that when H-Shem criticizes Moshe for “the men he sent,” He is implying that He would have preferred that women be sent to spy out the land of Canaan. Female spies would have seen the situation differently, and would have come up with the correct, positive interpretation of the events they witnessed. Similarly, women like Sarah in regard to Yishmael, Rivkah with Eisav, and numerous other examples show that women can see the long-range big picture, whereas men are limited to a short-term view of a situation. Here, Esther sees this situation as one that needs time to plan. Mordechai, however, seeks immediate action.

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”.