וּבְשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה הָרְגוּ
הַיְּהוּדִים וְאַבֵּד חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת
6. And in Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man.
The M’nos HaLevi translates habira, not as “the capital,” but as the “palace,” so the verse is intimating, according to R’ Yosef Gakon, how safe the Jews felt in the palace compound to have killed 500 servants of the king in his presence.
Similarly, the Ibn Ezra adds that, outside Shushan, the Jews feared the influence of Haman and his sons.
Interestingly, the Vilna Gaon notes that the verse uses the word vi’abed (“and destroyed”) because the Jews destroyed the property of their enemies. The reason for this is to assist the Persians in forgetting this event ever took place. Nations in general have poor memories, and the lack of physical reminders can help avoid the anti-Jewish sentiment this massacre could later conjure.
4. Because Mordechai was great in the house of the king, and his reputation went out in all of the states because the man Mordechai was becoming greater.
The Vilna Gaon explains that the verse stresses that Mordechai is growing in greatness because he kept growing in greatness gradually. This is because, as the Talmud Yerushalmi points out, the righteous do not become great overnight, but rather require much effort. As the verse (Mishlei 4:18) says, the way of the righteous holech va’or “increases its brightness.”
The Alshich adds that the governors and other political leaders at the time were especially nervous about Mordechai’s new power because he hanged Haman, and Haman was much more powerful than those governors, so their lives were especially cheap at the time.
Yosef Lekach writes that although Mordechai was not yet the viceroy, knowing the ways of the palace as they did, they recognized that Mordechai was on his way to that position.
Malbim notes that there are three major areas of political power: in the palace (chief of staff), domestically (governor), and in foreign affairs (Secretary of State). Mordechai reached greatness in all three of these areas, as the verse testifies by mentioning the beis hamelech (“house of the king”), kol medinos (“all of the states”), and holech v’gadol (“leaving [the country] and being great”).
Nachal Eshkol points out that some people are powerful, but they are relatively unknown by the general public. Mordechai, however, was both great in name and reputation.
Rav Arama writes that after the sending of Haman’s original decree, Jews likely went into hiding. At this point, they now felt confident to come back into the cities, and reestablishing their economical and social infrastructure there, making the cities their own again.
2. The Yehudim congregated in their cities in all of the states of King Achashverosh to send their hand against those who sought bad for them. And a man did not stand before them because the fear of them fell on all the nations.
The Rosh writes that the verse stresses that the Jews gathered because they came together to pray and fast. As is mentioned in Halacha (Mishna Berura 686:2), this is the reason for fasting on Taanis Esther before Purim.
There is a power in numbers, and congregating can have powerful affects, so R’ Aryeh Leib Tzonetz and the Sfas Emes note that Haman’s spiritual power was due to the Jews being splintered and separate (Esther 3:8). Therefore, the intent of this verse, Mordechai’s order for the Jews to be gathered before Esther approached Achashverosh (Esther 4:16), and even the mishloach manos gifts (Esther 9:19) after the miracle was to unify the Jewish people.
The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:10 and a number of other Midrashim) teaches that the turnaround mentioned in this verse refers to all of Haman’s plans – from the queen whom Haman installed for more power taking his power, to the tree he prepared for Mordechai becoming the one on which he was hanged, to the wealth he gathered becoming Mordechai’s property, to the honors he wanted being given to his enemy, to the date Haman picked for the Jews’ extermination becoming the date of their success – absolutely everything backfiring.
The Kol Reena points out that the reason for Haman’s thinking of Adar as the ideal month to wipe out the Jews was that Moshe died on that month. Ironically, Moshe’s merits are what protected them.
R’ Hutner notes that even the misuse of Temple vessels (Esther 1:7) in order to show that it would never be rebuilt was turned around because the Purim story led to the Beis Hamikdash being rebuilt.
The Dubno Maggid writes that this turnaround shows how much hate Haman had. After all, the Talmud (Brachos 7a) teaches that we can see the evil that Bilam intended from the diametric opposite good with which he blessed the Jews. Here, too, Haman’s hate can be seen from the positive turnaround that resulted.
The Maharal notes a principle of physics that when one throws a rock against a wall, it bounces back somewhat. One could measure the level of Haman’s hate from the force with which Haman was punished. As the Torah (Devarim 19:19) commands regarding false witnesses, Haman got back an equal measure of what he intended against the Jewish people.
The Dubno Maggid also writes that Haman’s failed decree exposed the Jews’ enemies, who likely gathered arms in preparation for the attack, and this effectively made it easier to expose these Jew haters. Similarly, Yehu gathered together worshipers of Baal by promising a demonstration of his tremendous worship as a ruse to capture them and punish them for idolatry (Melachim 2 10:19).
R’ Shmuel Aharon Rubin writes that when the Talmud (Megillah 10b) says “we were slaves, but H-Shem did not abandon us,” it is in relation to the Purim story. He explains that we were like slaves because the Talmud (Kiddushin 36a) says that the Jews are called the children of H-Shem when they fulfill His Will, and are called slaves when they do not. The Jews’ attendance at Achashverosh’s feast demonstrates that they were not fulfilling H-Shem’s directive, but He nevertheless “did not abandon” the Jews.
R’ Hutner adds that since the existence of the Jews is without limit, rejoicing on Purim is also without limit. There is a famous story of a friend of mine who had gone missing the day after Purim. He was eventually found on a Sunday night after he had fallen on a hike on Friday. Without nutrition since Friday, he was only able to survive because the day previous was Purim, and the person sitting next to him at the Purim seudah kept piling food onto his plate to encourage him to eat without restraint in fulfillment of the above dictum.
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 customto 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.
16. And to the Yehudim, there was light, and happiness, and joy, and glory/honor.
The Chida quotes from Midrash Eliyahu that when Haman threw lots to determine the best day to annihilate the Jews (Esther 3:7), he was happy because that was the month when Egypt experienced the ninth plague of darkness1. To his understanding of black magic, this meant that this was the opportune time to conquer the Jews. However, the Torah (Shemos 10:23) testifies that there was, indeed, light for the Jews. Since the Jews had “hayta” light at that historic juncture, Haman’s very source of joy was due to his misunderstanding.
1This calculation is based on the idea that each plague in Egypt lasted one month, including the preparation, warning, the plague itself, and the immediate aftermath. Since the tenth plague occurred in Nisan, the ninth plague should have occurred one month earlier, in Adar.