Esther 8:10, Question 3. Why does the verse mention the couriers’ transportation?

  • The Vilna Gaon points out that Mordechai provided these animals to the couriers because he wanted them to hurry. This, despite the fact that they were exhausted from having just traversed the largest nation in the world to deliver Haman’s original decree. Seeing that they were tired, he gave them the fastest possible horses.
  • The Malbim writes that Mordechai sent the messengers on horses in contrast with Haman. In explanation, R’ Chaim Kanievsky writes that Haman had plenty of time – he had eleven months. Mordechai is in a hurry to save lives.
  • Interestingly, the Talmud (Megillah 18a) writes that the sages were unsure as to the translation of the couriers’ transportation.
  • Rashi translates achashtirans as swift camels.
  • The Ibn Ezra writes that these are a species of mule. After all, the verse says they are bred from ramachs, and the Mishnah (Kilayim 8:5) considers a ramach a mare, mother of a mule. Also, the Arabic word, ramach means mare.
  • R’ Yosef Kimchi concurs and he adds that achash in Median means large and tiran (misrain) means two. Therefore, the combination of the two words means the mating of two large animals: the horse and the donkey.
  • R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume IV, 286) translates rachash as a draft horse. Parenthetically, he adds that the symbolic meaning of these in TaNaCh indicates a reluctance to listening to one’s master.
  • R’ Yehoshua Leib Diskin writes that these untranslatable words answer another question from the Talmud (Megillah 3b), which says one must interrupt Torah learning to hear the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim. This is also brought down as the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 687:2). The Halacha (Mishnah Berurah Orach Chaim 690:26) further states from this verse that one fulfills one’s obligation in Hebrew despite not knowing the meaning. But is not Megillas Esther also Torah?! Rav Diskin explains that it is not considered Torah study if one does not understand it. Understanding is an essential component of Torah study. Hearing the reading is still an obligation because persumei nisa (publicizing a miracle) is even greater than Torah study.
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Esther 8:9, Question 4. Why does the verse mention both the script and the language?

  • Rashi explains that the verse uses the words kiksavam (“like their writing”) and chilshonam (“like their language”) to refer to the written letters and spoken sounds of the language, respectively. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 22a) deduces from this verse proof that neither the Hebrew script nor spoken language has ever changed.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that one reason for this was for the illiterate Jews who may otherwise become incensed over the knowledge of the gentile decree, and might react violently. The idea was that the scholars who read the decree would be able to calm the restless rabble.
  • Furthermore, as the Talmud (Shabbos 12b) teaches, angels only understand Hebrew.
  • According to Rebbetzin Heller, keeping the language is an additional merit that helped rescue the Jews. As the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 32:5) teaches, even the Jews in Mitzrayim, although they maintained next to no Jewish observance, had the merit of retaining their language. This dedication to Jewish “culture” demonstrated the people’s desire to retain a bond with their Creator.
  • The Yerushalmi (Megillah 2:1) learns from this verse that the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim must be read in Hebrew. This is brought down as the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 690:8-9).
  • Class Participant BR suggested that the intent of this may have been to keep the secret messages and lessons of Megillas Esther hidden exclusively for the Jewish people.

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 4:13, Question 3. What does Mordechai think Esther is thinking regarding her security?

  • Rashi’s simple explanation is that Mordechai thinks Esther believes she will be safe in the palace on the day of the massacre. Rabbi Avigdor Bonchek, however, sees in Rashi’s words an irony that Esther’s safety can only be guaranteed through self-sacrifice.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Mordechai thought that Esther was under the impression that her volunteering herself to Achashverosh was one of the carnal sins for which one should sacrifice one’s life rather than sin, even for the sake of others.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 157:1) requires a city under siege to refuse to give up any resident requested for execution by the attacking army. This is the case if this oppressive army does not specify their victim. However, if they they want a specific person, the community must give that person up to save themselves, since that person is threatened either way. This is only true when that person is threatened along with everyone else. Mordechai thinks Esther considers herself to be in this latter situation, safely tucked away in the palace.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Mordechai was saying that H-Shem will save His people, as He always does. However, if Esther acts selfishly, she will not be among the other Jews.
  • Similarly, due to the fact that Mordechai mentions the king’s palace, and every mention of the word “king” is a reference to H-Shem, R’ Dovid Moshe Valle adds that the King can reach anywhere.
  • R’ Elisha Gallico notes that, in fact, Esther was actually in more danger staying in the palace. The reason for this, explains the Maharal, is that considering Achashverosh’s virulent hate for the Jews, Esther is safer away from the man who signed the edict to annihilate her nation. The Maharal compares this to living inside a basket with a snake. This is even moreso the case if Esther thinks of herself as an individual, and thus lacking the power of the united nation.
  • The Alshich says that, in Mordechai’s estimation, the root of Esther’s mission was to fix King Shaul’s error of allowing Agag to live.
  • According to Ginzei HaMelech, this is the reason why Mordechai is giving Esther such strong rebuke here; Esther needs to know that the only reason she was in that position was for this goal. Furthermore, Ginzei HaMelech points out that Torah is honest. Here, since Megillas Esther was written by Esther, herself, she nevertheless did not censor out this scene in which she looks weak. The Ginzei HaMelech furthermore adds that this case it was not appropriate to stay private.
  • R’ Menachem Ziemba was asked before the Warsaw ghetto uprising if the Chassidim should be involved in the fighting. He answered that it is indeed a mitzvah to give up one’s life when given the choice between death or their faith. When given no such choice, it is a mitzvah to fight.
  • According to the Kisei Shlomo, Mordechai was telling Esther she was responsible for Hasach’s death, and thus more invested now in the rescue of the Jews.
  • Rav Yitzchak Hutner writes in Pachad Ytizchak that when Person A needs something, and decides to also pray for Person B who also needs that, this makes Person A’s prayer more effective (Talmud, Baba Kama 92a). Rav Hutner explains that this principle works because prayer is stronger if it is performed with the whole heart (Talmud, Sotah 5b), meaning that it is more strongly felt. Therefore, Mordechai is telling Esther that she needs the same rescue as the Jews. In other words, she was already intent on praying for the Jews; what Mordechai wanted Esther to realize was that she was in the same precarious situation. Realizing that she also needs H-Shem to rescue her would cause Esther to feel that prayer with her whole heart, making her prayer stronger, and thus more effective.

Esther 4:2, Question 1. Why does Mordechai go to the king’s palace at this point?

ב וַיָּבוֹא עַד לִפְנֵי שַׁעַרהַמֶּלֶךְ כִּי אֵין לָבוֹא אֶלשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ שָׂק

2. And he went until before the gate of the king because one could not go to the gate of the king wearing sackcloth.

  • The Vilna Gaon suggests that Mordechai went to the palace because he simply did not know that he would be barred from it.
  • The Malbim adds that Mordechai wanted to inform the king of the goings-on, not knowing that the king did not know that the Jews were targeted for genocide.
  • R’ Zalman Sorotskin in Mayleetz Yosher notes that Mordechai knew that he could change his clothing to discuss his issue with the king, and then change back into his sackcloth. The reason Mordechai chooses to act otherwise is because he actually felt a sense of mourning for the state of the Jewish people. Changing clothes would also show the Jewish people a lack of concern for their predicament.
  • R’ Eliezer Ashkenazi clarifies that Mordechai’s actions were a part of prayer. Prayer being the Jews’ strongest weapon, Mordechai knew he had to pray before performing any other activity, and therefore the removal of the sackcloth would have been considered tantamount to ceasing prayer.
  • Basing itself on a verse in Tehillim (85:14), the Talmud (Brachos 14a) teaches that we are not allowed to fulfill our own daily needs before performing our duties to H-Shem. This is also brought down in Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 89:3, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 17). Even our forefather, Yaakov, in preparing for his meeting with Eisav prayed before doing anything else (Bireishis 32:10-13).

Esther 2:12, Question 3. Why did Achashverosh require twelve months to prepare his candidates?

  • On the practical side, the M’nos HaLevi writes that one reason for Achashverosh to wait twelve months to have relations with the young women he had collected was to make sure first that they had no STDs or other illnesses. He needed twelve months for this, writes the Malbim, because there are some health conditions that are only apparent in certain seasons. After twelve months, they could be observed in all four seasons, and would thus be checked out and ready for the king.
  • Although we rightfully think of Achashverosh as an evil man, the Maharal notes that this verse demonstrates his self-control. Even a wicked man can have positive attributes. That, writes Maharal, is a kind of tznius, which is usually defined as modesty. Tznius is really a form of discipline, or self-control. In “A Canopy of Brocha,” a series of recorded lectures in which Rav Avraham Chaim Feuer discusses the Halacha of married women covering their hair, he points out that Hebrew word for “hair” (“se’ar”) is the same word as “storm.” In other words, reigning in and controlling hair is the real reason for covering it. This tznius, according to the Maharal, is the reason Achashverosh loved Esther (see 2:15 below). People love in another what they see in themselves. Even regarding the idea of “opposites attract,” the two parties involved like each other because they compliment each other.
  • Mystically, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi notes that these twelve months can be divided in two: one half for myrrh, and the other for spices. That being the case, he writes that the first half represent the half of our time on this world that we use meditating on the bitterness (“mar” means “bitter” in Hebrew) of life, and the other on the feeling of G-dliness (“bisamim” represent uplifting spices). It is indeed a constant battle to reach a middle ground between these two extremes. Our souls yearn for the spiritual world while our bodies are contented with the physical.
  • The Vilna Gaon proposes that this verse alludes to the idea that many things are allowed for a half and forbidden for a half a year, like intimate relations.
  • The Rema reads this verse as a reference to the fate of wicked people in Gehinom. There, the first six months are a time of extreme suffering, and the last six months are a time of easing up of that pain.

Esther 2:11, Question 4. Why does the verse use the phrase “done with her” instead of “done to her?”

  • Rashi says that the verse uses the phrase “done with her” instead of “done to her” because Mordechai knew Esther was in her current situation for a great reason beyond his own surmise. Mordechai was therefore watching to see how Esther was being used by H-Shem. How is she to be an instrument for something great? To put this in perspective, we all believe Moshiach is coming, but we still want to see how it will come to be.
  • The Ohel Moshe asks if this is not a contradiction to a previous comment of Rashi’s (on Esther 2:10) where he says that Esther’s revealing her Jewish identity would get her dismissed from the contest. If so, how could Mordechai have expected any good to come from Esther’s being in the king’s harem? The Ohel Moshe answers that one cannot push aside a single Halacha, even to save the Jewish people. He quotes Rav Moshe Feinstein that one must do whatever is within one’s power to avoid a sin, even if one knows that the sin would bring about the rescue of the Jews.