Rashi translates the unusual verb misyahadim as “converted.” Seemingly, because of their fear of Jewish reprisal, many gentiles converted to Judaism.
Agaddas Bireishis (15) explains that non-Jews always want to convert to Judaism whenever the Jews are fulfilling their responsibilities to H-Shem.
The Alshich points out that this shows a sharp contrast between the Jews and gentiles. When faced with annihilation, the Jews strengthened their faith with teshuva (“repentance”), whereas the gentiles abandoned the empty faiths of their powerless gods.
The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why this contrast occurred at this point, and not in Moshe’s time. In other words, one would expect a lot more converts during the Jews’ exodus and miraculous stay in the desert. He answers that there were so few converts in Moshe’s time because the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) teaches that the Jews were coerced then to accept the Torah. One needs to feel inspired to inspire others, as the Jews felt at the end of the Purim story.
The Ralbag disagrees with Rashi’s translation, and suggests that they did not convert, but merely pretended to be Jews.
The Vilna Gaon explains that they did not really convert because they would have been motivated by fear.
After all, Meseches Geirim (1:7) writes that if a person’s motivation for conversion to Judaism is women, love, or fear, their act is not considered a real conversion.
Interestingly, according to R’ Moshe Dovid Valle, Mordechai accepted even the insincere converts, just as had Moshe when accepting the eruv rav, Egyptians who converted to Judaism insincerely when they saw that the Jews were successfully and miraculously leaving Egypt. According to him, their descendants caused problems during second Beis HaMikdash.
However, according to M’nos HaLevi, they were not accepted because the Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) writes that converts can be difficult to the Jews. He continues that these gentiles nevertheless dressed in Jewish clothing. The Sfas Emes notes that this is yet another source for the custom to masquerade on Purim.
In Likkutei Sichos, the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that “am ha’aretz” can represent the “basic, fundamental human.” In other words, basic human behavior like sleeping, eating, etc. are obviously applicable to both Jews and gentiles, alike. The actions are the same, but there are different attitudes. For instance, a Jew is required to eat with appreciation and with intent to have a closer bond with H-Shem, to sleep in order to better perform mitzvos the next day, etc. Therefore, even in base, human behaviors, these particular gentiles acted like Jews.
- According to Malbim, since the previous verse (Esther 8:15) testifies to the fact that everybody was happy, the various expressions in this verse underscore the fact that the Jews were especially joyous.
- Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 405) writes that this verse demonstrates that the Jews could now survive any difficulty in history because they “preserved their own light and joy.”
- The Rambam (Perakim Hatzlacha, Chapter 2) emphasizes that all of the good that the Jews received was due to their return to Torah. Based on this, the Binyan Shlomo points out that it is a very praiseworthy custom to learn Torah on the holiday of Purim (see Rema, Orach Chaim 695:2).
- The Sharis Yosef teaches that objects going from darkness to light is yet another source for the custom to wear costumes on Purim.
- The Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) writes that this description mirrors how the Jews will be redeemed with the coming of Moshiach.
- The Talmud (Megillah 16b) interprets this verse’s expressions thus: light is Torah; happiness is Yom Tov; joy is circumcision; and glory is tefillin.
- Rashi comments on the Talmud that Haman made decrees forbidding Jews from fulfilling these mitzvos. The Yad HaMelech points out that Jews may have neglected circumcision at that time, as they sometimes have done on times of persecution to pass as non-Jews.
- The Megillas Sesarim writes that Mordechai’s wearing tefillin earlier (Esther 8:15) put that mitzva back in vogue.
- Rav Shimon Schwab finds it impossible for the Jews to have been successfully banned from these mitzvos, en masse. Rather, he explains that the Jews at that time studied Torah, but without light; they commemorated holidays, but without happiness; they performed circumcisions, but without joy; they wore tefillin, but without glory. Without caring, without thinking, and without these precious mitzvos affecting their souls.
- Rav Yehonason Eibshutz points out that it is a natural, human reaction for the emotional impact of an event to fade in subsequent anniversaries of that event. For instance, as happy as a child’s birthday celebration may be, it pales in comparison to the happiness felt at the actual successful birth. However, when that event is attached to a mitzva that is repeated every year, the original happiness felt at the event is retained (and perhaps enhanced) with the performance of the mitzva. This is the reason for the Talmud to equate happiness with Yom Tov; with each occurrence of Purim, its mitzvos reignite its accompanying joy.
- The Sfas Emes asks a fundamental question: why does the verse uses metaphors instead of explicitly writing that the Jews garnered Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin? He answers that, with the miracle of Purim, the Jews recognized the real nature of light, happiness, joy, and glory; light comes from Torah, happiness comes from Yom Tov, joy comes from circumcision, and glory comes from tefillin.
- The Ohr Gedalyahu adds that all of these misapplied emotions point to the Jews’ ancient battle against Amalek, a nation described (Devarim 25:17) as having cooled us. Amalek wins when Jews perform mitzvos without an accompanying fire of emotion. He quotes the Sefer Yetzira that the month of Adar is represented by the letter kuf, meaning kedusha (“holiness”), which he defines as keeping something special and invigorating.
- The Ohel Moshe similarly writes that simcha (“happiness”) is the antidote to Amalek’s cooling effect. The Vilna Gaon notes that all four of these mitzvos – Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin – are regularly called osos (“signs”) and eidus (“testimonies”). He explains that these all testify that there is one G-d, and that the Jewish people are uniquely His people. He adds that taking the first letters (roshei teivos) of the words ora (“light”), simcha (“happiness”), sasson (“joy”), and yikar (“glory”) – aleph, sin, sin, and yud respectively – produces a gematria (1+300+300+10=611) equal to that of Torah (400+6+200+5=611). He continues by quoting a cryptic Talmudic tale (Sukkah 48b) about a character named Sasson speaking with another named Simcha. In this piece of Aggadeta, the two are trying to outdo each other by quoting verses throughout TaNaCh in which one or the other appears first. When Sasson and Simcha finally consult with Rebbe Abahu, he tells them that if a person has a water flask but never fills it, but merely keeps it next to him, he will die of thirst.
- The Vilna Gaon’s explanation is beyond the author’s erudition and the scope of this work, but the Shem M’Shmuel explains that conversation by distinguishing between the exact spiritual nature of these two almost synonymous emotions, happiness and joy. He writes that happiness is the emotion felt after careful planning yields a successful result, whereas joy is the emotion felt when one experiences an unexpected windfall. The debate between Sasson and Simcha, then, is whether success is better felt in the former type of situation, or the latter. For instance, should an organization carefully plan its charitable giving, or bypass the planning and initiate the giving as quickly and haphazardly as possible? Having one necessarily means lacking the other. Rebbe Abahu’s allegoric answer, then, is that there needs to be spiritual content (water) inside the emotion (water flask) to gain anything beyond failure (thirst). Therefore, in our verse, the Jews had both emotions – happiness from the prearranged success, and joy from the unexpected success.
- The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why the great mitzvah of teshuva (“repentance”) seems missing in this list of mitzvos the Jews are performing. After all, the Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that Achashverosh giving his signet ring to Haman created the greatest wave of teshuva in history. He answers that exactly these mitzvos are actual teshuva! Sitting around feeling sorry is not genuine repentance; improving our performance of H-Shem’s service is how we return to Him.
Malbim points out from the next verse (Esther 8:16) that specifies that the Jews were happy, that this verse seems to imply that the non-Jews were happy. In reference to this, he quotes the verse (Mishlei 29:2) that the elevation of the righteous brings gladness to the people.
The Ben Ish Chai and the Ksav Sofer point out that the verse uses two expressions, tzahala (shouting) and simcha (joy), in describing Shushan’s happiness. One is for the happiness the general population felt about the death of Haman, and the other was for the happiness they felt over Mordechai’s honors.
Megillas Sesarim explains these two expressions as describing “the brightening of the face and the joy of the heart.” In other words, there were two different feelings: one was a physical show of joy and the other was an internal feeling of joy.
The Ibn Ezra writes that tzahala is a cognate of the Hebrew word for brightness. He explains that the verse uses it here in the sense of the hopefulness of a person sitting in darkness when the light begins to shine.
Maamar Mordechai writes that people are usually unsure of new, untested officials. Here, nobody was nervous because Mordechai was a known and trusted entity.
Class Participant YML suggests that maybe other ethnic minorities in the kingdom felt encouraged when they saw that even a Jew could be elevated in Achashverosh’s kingdom.
R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the entire city of Shushan was happy that a Jew was elevated because Jews are often instrumental in commerce, and their security would thus presage a country’s financial security. Many countries in history that exiled its Jewish population had to deal with major financial crises immediately afterward.
Dina Pishra writes that the verse is using hyperbole to describe the salvation of the Jews being so complete that even the stones of the city were rejoicing.
On a deeper level, the Ginzei HaMelech writes that this does not have to be seen as hyperbole. Rather, as the R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzzato in Mesillas Yesharim (Chapter 1) explains, the entire world was given to man for its proper usage, and is thus physically affected by mankind’s spiritual behavior. This is the reason for the world to have been destroyed by the Flood when the people sinned. Here, too, the world, and Shushan specifically, rejoiced as a byproduct of man’s spiritual elevation.
Yosef Lekach writes that Shushan’s joy is described as a contrast to Mordechai’s worries. His concern was the Midrashic (Bireishis Rabba 84:3) statement that “there is no rest for the righteous.” He anticipated that this time of peace and contentment meant to him that he had to find more positive actions to perform and new evils to combat.
The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the word es implies that the Jews were allowed to annihilate these enemies, despite the fact that Amalek is the only nation we are allowed to annihilate. This es includes nations not of Amalek involved in the attempted annihilation of the Persian Jews.
The Ginzei HaMelech continues by questioning how we can annihilate another nation. He quotes the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 5:4-5) who points out that the Assyrian king, Sancherev, mixed the nations that he conquered, and we no longer know the actual national pedigree of any people. He answers by quoting his friend, R’ Akiva Stolper that this permission includes any nation that exhibits the characteristics of Amalek. He proves this with a story of R’ Chaim of Volozhin, who once visited St. Petersburg. He saw a little boy there named Nikolai, about whom he confessed to his companion, “he worries me. He is Amalek.” That boy grew up to be the raging Jew hater, Czar Nikolai. Nikolai’s pedigree to the Russian royal throne was unquestionable, so the only way for him to be Amalek is in his personality.
Here, too, these people had the characteristics of Amalek. Despite the obvious fact that the Jews were ascending, these people were still planning an attack! Only Amalek would do something like that, as they did when they attacked the victorious Jews leaving Mitzrayim (Shemos 17:8) so many years before. The Midrash (Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei 9) compares Amalek to a person who knowingly scalds oneself by jumping into a boiling hot pool in order to convince others to do it, too.
יא אֲשֶׁר נָתַן הַמֶּלֶךְ לַיְּהוּדִים ׀ אֲשֶׁר בְּכָל–עִיר–וָעִיר לְהִקָּהֵל וְלַעֲמֹד עַל–נַפְשָׁם לְהַשְׁמִיד וְלַהֲרֹג וּלְאַבֵּד אֶת–כָּל–חֵיל עַם וּמְדִינָה הַצָּרִים אֹתָם טַף וְנָשִׁים וּשְׁלָלָם לָבוֹז
11. “That the king gave to the Yehudim who were in each city and city to gather, and to stand on their souls, to annihilate, and to kill, and to destroy any army of the nation and state who antagonize them, infants, and women. And their property they should plunder.
According to Dena Pishra, the letters required the Jews to gather because Jewish unity is a powerful method of attaining H-Shem’s assistance.
The Sfas Emes adds that Jews have an aggregate soul, and our combined effort is especially needed when we are in danger.
Furthermore, the Ginzei HaMelech asks that if the word “unify” requires two or more people, and the word “stand” implies one [as one person stands for oneself], which is the letters’ intent? Based on Rashi’s comment on the Talmud (Shabbos 127b) that “stand” means to pray, he answers that the Talmud (Bava Kama 97a) promises a Jew that when one prays for another’s needs, one’s prayers are never rejected. The Talmud (Brachos 8a) says the same idea regarding communal prayer.
ג וַתּוֹסֶף אֶסְתֵּר וַתְּדַבֵּר לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַתִּפֹּל לִפְנֵי רַגְלָיו וַתֵּבְךְּ וַתִּתְחַנֶּן–לוֹ לְהַעֲבִיר אֶת–רָעַת הָמָן הָאֲגָגִי וְאֵת מַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר חָשַׁב עַל–הַיְּהוּדִים
3. And Esther added and spoke before the king. And she fell before his feet, and cried, and pleaded with him to annul the evil of Haman the Aggagite and his intentions that he intended on the Yehudim.
- The Maharal is troubled by the verse’s use of the word vatosef (“and she added”) when it does not initially seem that there is any conversation that is being continued here. He answers that this is a continuation of the previous verse in which Esther appointed Mordechai, seemingly verbally, as master of Haman’s estate.
- M’nos HaLevi notes that the Talmud (Makkos 10b-11a) teaches that daber, the root of word vatidaber (“and she spoke”) implies a harsh language. He explains that Esther was speaking in a forceful and direct manner to the king, saying that Haman lied to him. She then regretted her boldness, and fell pleading for mercy.
- According to the Malbim, Esther performs all of these actions because she tried various methods to convince Achashverosh – rhetoric, and logic, and emotion. As is well-known, when logic fails, the emotional appeal can still be effective.
- As the M’nos HaLevi points out, the Talmud (Brachos 32b) teaches that since the time the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, only the gates of tears remain open.
- In a famous comment on this verse, the Vilna Gaon teaches in the name of the Zohar that genuine crying always comes from the heart, and cannot be artificially manufactured. He also connects Esther’s behavior in this verse to various stages of the Jew’s regular prayer routine. He writes that vatosef (“and she added”) is a reference to Pesukei Dezimra (introductory verses of praise) because the Talmud (Brachos 32a) teachers that these were added by the Rabbis to help people concentrate during Shemoneh Esrei; vatidaber (“and she spoke”) is a reference to Shema (“verses in which we accept the authority of H-Shem”) because the Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 9a, 9b) teaches that the Shema has references to the Ten Commandments, the Asseres HaDibros, vatipol (“and she fell”) is a reference to nefilas apayim (“putting down the face,” or Tachanun), vateiv’k (“and she cried”) is a reference to tefilla (“the silent prayer, or Shemoneh Esrei”), and vatit’chanen (“and she pleaded”) is a reference to Elokai Nitzur (the additional prayers after tefillah). Esther’s act of pleading before the king, was also her pleading before the King of kings.
- The Dena Pishra writes similarly that the verse references the king because Esther was really praying to H-Shem to spare the Jews.
- The Ginzei HaMelech writes that Esther did all of these actions because she saw the cause of Achashverosh’s previous behavior as passion due to anger. Now that she saw him calm down, she was concerned that he would return to his old, anti-Semitic self. She was really risking her life because his anger could have returned at any moment.
- It seems problematic that Achashverosh gave Haman’s property to Esther since the Mechilta (on Shemos 17:14) says Amalek – of which Haman descended – is to be completely destroyed together with its property, so nobody should ever say they gained from Amalek.
- Esther may have been allowed Haman’s property because the Rabbeinu Bachya (on Bishalach) answers that this Mechilta only refers to possessions obtained in the course of war.
- In Vedibarta Bam, Rabbi Bogamilsky points out from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 48b) that such property actually belongs to Achashverosh.
- Similarly, the Talmud (Gittin 38a) teaches that the Jews were allowed the possessions of Moav and Amon because Sichon had already conquered them previously.
- Given that Esther was allowed Haman’s property, the Alshich writes that Achashverosh gave it to her because the kingdom did not need Haman’s house, after all. This is especially true if Haman destroyed his own home by utilizing its crossbeam in the building of his gallows.
- The Alshich adds that the decree to kill out the Jews had not yet been revoked, and Achashverosh wanted to show that Esther and Mordechai were exempt.
- On the other hand, the Yad HaMelech says that the king did this so that those who knew of the decree would not harm the Jews, effectively annulling the decree.
- The M’nos HaLevi explains that Achashverosh gave her the property to reassure Esther, that although she had seen him angry that day, the anger was not directed at her.
- The Malbim writes that this was Haman’s property, which should belong to Achashverosh after his rebellious behavior. However, in a continued effort to salvage his honor, Achashverosh wanted to show that Haman was really going against the queen and her people. Accordingly, the verse emphasizes that Haman was the tzorer (“antagonizer”) of the Yehudim.
- The Ginzei HaMelech explains that Achashverosh’s main concern was his security, especially around Haman’s presumed allies. He therefore said Haman tried to seduce the queen, and therefore owed her money. A similar incident occurred when Avimelech took Sarah, and then gave Avraham money (Bireishis 20:14) as a testament of Sarah’s virtue.
- The Vilna Gaon quotes a verse (Koheles 2:26) that a person who deserves H-Shem’s Pleasure receives wisdom, intelligent, and joy, but a sinner must constantly accumulate. The Talmud (Megillah 10b) says that this verse applies to Mordechai because the wicked Haman accrued the very wealth through which the righteous prospered.
- The Maharal asks why the righteous should prosper from the efforts of the wicked. After all, should the righteous not prosper from their own efforts? He answers that the wicked work and work tirelessly to gain more wealth because they are never satisfied. The righteous are easily satisfied, so they do not have to go through the grunt work of acquiring wealth.
- R’ Dovid Feinstein explains this as yet another example of mida kineged mida “measure for measure” because Haman wanted to take what was most precious to Esther – the lives of her people. Therefore, he lost what was most precious to him – his money.
- The Me’am Loez says that another example of mida kineged mida is that since Haman wanted to hang Mordechai in his house, Haman’s hanging occurred in what is now Mordechai’s house.
- Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller adds that Achashverosh took the property because Haman was Mordechai’s slave. According to Jewish law, the property always really belonged to Haman’s master, Mordechai. With the property comes Haman’s identity. She suggests that taking over someone’s identity is another reason for the custom to masquerade on Purim.