- On a simple level, the Ibn Ezra, Rambam (Mishneh Torah Hilchos Taanios 5:5), and Me’am Loez write that the fast to which this verse refers is the fast of Esther. However, according to the Talmud (Megilla 16b), these words are meant to be read with the beginning of the next verse. Therefore, it was through both fasting and Esther’s words that the Jews earned the merit to be rescued from total annihilation.
- The M’nos HaLevi writes that this means that, just as the Jews accepted upon themselves the fasts of the prophets and fasting for the Temple’s destruction, they accepted Purim with all of its rules.
- As Malbim explains, Esther and Mordechai used the prophet’s (Zecharya 8:19) establishing other fasts as proof that holidays can be established without violating the Torah’s (Devorim 4:2, see Ramban there) prohibition against bal tosif (“adding to the Torah’s existing laws”).
- The Ginzei HaMelech notes the correspondence between Purim and fast days. He relates it to Yalta’s saying in the Talmud (Chulin 109b) that the Torah permits everything it forbids. In other words, the joy of Purim counterbalances the sadness of the fast days, zeh l’umas zeh.
- This fits well with the Ksav Sofer noting the Talmud’s (Taanis 29a) parallel between the months of Adar and Av; just as mishenichnas Adar, marbin b’simcha (“when Adar begins, we increase our joy”), so too mishenichnas Av, mimaatin b’simcha (“when Av begins, we decrease our joy”).
- The Sfas Emes notes a similar parallel between Purim and Yom Kippur by applying the words of the wisest of all men (Mishlei 18:21) that maves v’chaim b’yad halashon (“death and life are controlled by the tongue”). In other words, H-Shem’s judging the Jews occurs on both days, and is manifest in how we utilize our power of speech to maintain peace and unity.
- Furthermore, the Maharal adds that we would logically assume Purim should be a time for fasting, considering the reasons H-Shem had for annihilating us. Instead we customarily drink ad d’lo yada to sublimate our logic in order need to recognize that our salvation does not come from our effort, but from H-Shem’s help.
- Either way, fasting led to the Purim miracle, so R’ Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the word hatzomos (“the fasts”) is written in plural because an individual may choose to fast all three days of Purim (Taanis Esther, Purim, and Shushan Purim), but this is not for the masses.
- In the view of the Ohel Moshe, by the verse using the word vatich’tov (“and she wrote”), which is a singular, feminine verb, it intends to emphasize Esther’s role because she risked her life approaching Achashverosh (Esther 4:16) in order to save the Jewish people1.
- The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why Megillas Esther is attributed to Esther if both she and Mordechai co-authored the work. He suggests that Esther deserves the bulk of the credit because the Talmud (Megilla 7a) records how Esther insisted on Purim’s perpetuity, arguing with the reluctant Sages about writing this book to remember her “for generations.” This is why Megillas Esther is attributed to her.
- According to the Alshich, another reason why Megillas Esther is attributed to Esther is because it was her idea (Esther 5:4) to have the series of feasts in which she finally accused Haman of his perfidy. to stress that all was ultimately accomplished through the power of prayer.
- Esther thus added to the text, as the Ginzei HaMelech makes clear, an emphasis of the actions over the events.
- Furthermore, as R’ Eliyahu Dessler writes, the very fact that Esther began Megillas Esther with the Achashverosh’s feast over a decade before Haman’s decree shows that the threat to our existence started then, as the Jews’ Sages like Mordechai were warning at the time.
1Similarly R’ Chaim Shmulevitz writes in Sichos Mussar (Vayikra) that the name the Torah uses for Moshe out of the ten alternatives listed in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 1:3) is meant to emphasize the mesiras nefesh (“self-sacrifice”) of Basya, the daughter of Pharaoh, who gave him that name.
- Rashi explains that the verse uses the term v’na’asim (“done”) because the actions performed to celebrate Purim are feasting, joy, delicacies, and gifts.
- The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Talmud (Shabbos 130a) that a mitzva is to be celebrated joyfully because then it will continue joyfully into perpetuity. This joy allows us to tap into mystic power of the mitzva.
- Tosfos (Megilla 7a) note that we do not generally learn multiple Halachos from one phrase. This verse is different because “v’kiblu” (“and accepted”) is written differently than it would be pronounced.
- Yosef Lekach writes that the word is written in singular, but pronounced in plural to show that Jews accepted the Torah for future generations.
- The holy Zohar (Kee Seesa), however, explains that this is due to the fact that when Moshe received the Torah at Har Sinai, he accepted all of TaNaCh – even Megillas Esther.
- The Ginzei HaMelech writes that, since vuv has the gematria of six, the missing vuv alludes to the Mishna, which has six orders.
- The Me’am Loez writes that they decided on the name of the holiday being Purim because the lots being rolled in Nissan, and coming up with the date in Adar eleven months later gave the Jews time to pray and to repent.
- Furthermore, Adar had previously had no other holidays, so Purim’s falling out then made it stand out more conspicuously as a holiday, receiving the attention it deserves.
- Also, the Vilna Gaon and Malbim point out that the lots pointed to a potentially bad fortune, but H-Shem reversed it to a good fortune.
- In quoting Rabbeinu Yona’s Shaarei Teshuva (2:4), the Ginzei HaMelech notes that just as sin can be transformed to a mitzva status if the sin leads to teshuva (“repentance”), so too the lots lead directly to the Jews’ redemption.
- The Ksav Sofer supports this point by writing that in calling the day Purim, we celebrate the pain suffered by the Jews at this time, since it led directly to their re-acceptance of Torah (Esther 9:27).
- Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote that the message to be learned from this is that one should never overconfident of one’s “lot,” thinking that one’s greatness in Torah knowledge or observance will necessarily parry off the Evil Inclination. Rather, even such a person should be always mindful of one’s potential to fall prey to one’s natural, animalistic urges.
- Rav Gallico stresses that the verse mentions the Yehudim celebrating to point out that they did so despite their necessary exhaustion.
- With the Jews in Shushan still struggling, the Ginzei HaMelech notes, the Jews’ celebration of persumei nisa (“publicizing the miracle”) and feasting was intended to inspire the remaining Jewish warriors.
- Class Participant YML suggests that maybe taking the wealth would have make the Jews wealthier than Haman, raising Achashverosh’s paranoia.
- The Sfas Emes notes that the three incidents in which the verses emphasize that the Jews did not take the spoils parallel the three actions of Shaul and his people for which the threatened annihilation of the Jews of Persia served as a tikkun – the sparing of Agag, the sparing of the livestock, and the taking of the Amalekite gold and silver.
- The Ginzei HaMelech writes that although the Jews did not take the spoils, the verse implies that someone did; namely, Mordechai. Mordechai did, indeed, take the spoils by accepting Haman’s house (Esther 8:2). He used this wealth to help finance the rebuilding of the Temple. In a powerful display of vinahafoch Hu (“and He reversed”), Haman’s wealth was used to build the very structure which he dedicated his life to destroy.
טו וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ הַיְּהוּדִיים [הַיְּהוּדִים] אֲשֶׁר–בְּשׁוּשָׁן גַּם בְּיוֹם אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לְחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר וַיַּהַרְגוּ בְשׁוּשָׁן שְׁלשׁ מֵאוֹת אִישׁ וּבַבִּזּה לֹא שָׁלְחוּ אֶת–יָדָם
15. And the Yehudim who were in Shushan gathered also on the fourteenth of the month of Adar. And they killed in Shushan three hundred man. And in their spoils they did not send their hands.
- The Targum Sheini indicates that the three hundred mentioned in this verse were all leaders among Amalek. It continues that Zeresh ran away (see # 521 above) together with 70 remaining sons of Haman, Shimshi was killed in battle, and Haman’s other sons were among the 300 killed. The point is that nobody left alive could positively be traced to Haman’s family. He was wiped out mida kineged mida, as he had planned to do to the Jews.
- Maamar Mordechai writes that these 300 came to fight in order to avenge the death of Haman, their former leader.
- On the other hand, Yad HaMelech explains that fewer people were killed because they were afraid of the Jews’ military prowess.
- The Ginzei HaMelech notes that the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 1:5) states that Shushan Purim is fully celebrated as Purim on the fifteenth of Adar in cities that were walled from the days of Yehoshua. The Ginzei HaMelech explains that this is the reference point because in the days of Yehoshua (Yehoshua 11:20), too, H-Shem instilled a false sense of confidence into the minds of the Jews’ enemies. Similarly, these 300 enemies illogically felt emboldened to do battle against the Jews despite the obvious fallacy of their imagined success. The prophet (Yechezkiel 39:2-3) promises that a similar incident will happen in the time of Moshiach, bimheira biyameinu.
- Bireishis Rabbasi (Bireishis 45:22) notes that these 300 enemies were killed in the merit of the 300 silver coins Yosef gave Binyamin.
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.