Esther 9:22, Question 6. What does the verse intend by “gifts to the poverty-stricken” and why?

  • According to the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 694:1), each Jew is required to send two matanos la’evyonim, charitable gifts, to at least two poverty-stricken Jews on Purim.
  • The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 2:17) points out that the more poor people one sends to, the better. In fact, he writes (ibid. 2:16) that it is better to spend more money on the gifts to the poor than on any other mitzva of Purim.
  • This idea is echoed in the Mishna Berura (694:3). Furthermore, as opposed to standard charitable contributions, we are to give liberally and with no investigations as to the veracity of the poor person’s claim needed.
  • The Chasam Sofer explains that the reason that we even give to the undeserving is because we were not entirely deserving of being saved in the Purim story.
  • The Klausenberger Rebbe explains that another reason for not needing to investigate is that we should not worry about where the money is going because H-Shem reversed the situation described by the Midrash (Esther Rabba 7:25) that the gentiles teasing the Jews that they would kill them and said, “we’ll take your money.” Since this fear was reversed, on Purim we should not worry where our wealth is going.
  • R’ Shmuel de Ozeida notes that there is a missing letter vuv in evyonim (“poverty-stricken”) to hint to this same idea that we do not need to investigate if the person is completely poor enough to be Halachically considered an evyon.
  • The Dena Pishra explains the inordinate focus on the poor on Purim as indicative of the fact that everyone was saved on Purim – rich and poor.
  • The Ben Ish Chai quotes the Midrash (Esther Rabba 7:23) that Haman mocked Pharaoh that he only killed the males (Shemos 1:16). Therefore, writes the Bein Ish Chai, the Halacha requires us to give matanos la’evyonim to two people because Haman, on the contrary, wanted to kill males and females.
  • The Peleh Yo’Eitz explains that this gift is meant to help the poor celebrate Purim, and not even worry about the upcoming costs of Pesach. Also, it would help strengthen the emunah of the poor, who regularly rely on the rich, and the rich rely on H-Shem.
  • The is similar to the anecdote when Mayer Anschel Rothchild was asked how he could shovel so much money to charity, and he famously quipped, “ G-d has a bigger shovel.”
  • The Gerrer Rebbe quotes the Talmud (Megillah 7b) that we are supposed to skip Torah learning and even prayer for the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim, however chesed cannot be pushed aside. Of the three legs on which the world stands according to the Mishna (Avos 1:2), chesed cannot be removed for the world to remain.
  • The Alshich writes that one should mentally intend to give matanos la’evyonim in the merit of Moshe.
  • Rav Dan Segal notes that the mere idea that Moshe Rabbeinu requires our efforts in his honor demonstrates that we have so little idea of the heavenly impact of our actions.
  • To demonstrate a similar powerful idea, the Ben Ish Chai points out that the gematria of matanos (“gifts”) (40+400+50+6+400=896) is the same as manos (“gifts”) (40+50+6+400=496) and 400.
  • The number 400 in the Zohar (I:123b) represents evil influences. The verse uses this particular word for gifts to emphasize that giving matanos la’evyonim can provide us with the spiritual power to fight off unholy forces.
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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 9:19, Question 4. Why does the verse use different expressions for this holiday?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 5b) explains each of the different expressions for this holiday to mean a different method for celebrating the day. Simcha (“joy”) is interpreted as not giving eulogies (in the event of a death); v’mishteh (“and feasting”) is interpreted as prohibiting fasting; and v’yom tov (“and the holiday”) is interpreted as prohibiting work on Purim. Later, the Talmud (Megillah 7a) interprets the phrase mishloach manos (“sending gifts”) as the requirement to send through a messenger at least two kinds of food to at least one friend.
  • The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 2:15) writes that even two poor people are required to send another poor person some food to fulfill their obligations.
  • The Trumas HaDeshen writes that the exchange of food is intended to make sure everyone has enough for the feast.
  • M’nos HaLevi writes that we send gifts to promote friendship because achdus (“unity”) rescued the Jews.
  • The Midrash HaGadol on Devarim points out that this demonstrates the greatness of chesed because we were rescued because of it.
  • Ginzei HaMelech writes that we use a messenger because this shows achdus (“unity”) in requiring another person to get involved in this mitzva. Similarly, he points out, this is why Megillas Esther always uses Yehudim for Jews, since the root of that word is echad, one. Furthermore, the giving of gifts through messengers acts as an additional tikkun for Yaakov’s giving gifts (Bireishis 32:14-17) to Eisav, the ancestor of Amalek, through messengers.
  • The Vilna Gaon and Midrash Shmuel note that the Jews’ celebrating in this way parallels the three parts of Haman’s plan (Esther 3:13); the joy serves to counteract Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews, the feasting serves to counteract Haman’s plan to kill the Jews, and the Yom Tov serves to counteract Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that, eventually, Purim was not accepted as a full Yom Tov because that would keep people from performing the other mitzvos of Purim.

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 2:18, Question 3. Why does Achashverosh do all three of these actions?

The Talmud (Megillah 13a) says that Achashverosh made a party, and yet Esther did not reveal her identity. He then relaxed the taxes, and Esther did not reveal her identity. He finally gave her gifts, and she still did not reveal her identity. The Me’am Loez and the Malbim point out that these were meant to work psychologically. The first tactic was meant to show how loving he was. The second trick as to emphasize her generosity. The third tactic was meant to show, through his generosity to all the nations, how much more-so he would reward generously whichever nation from which Esther hails.