Esther 8:16, Question 2. What do these different expressions signify?

  • 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.
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Esther 8:15, Question 2. Why does the verse say Shushan is happy now?

  • 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.

Esther 5:14, Question 5. Why was Haman to be “sameach” (“happy”) at the party?

  • The M’nos HaLevi explains that Zeresh was stressing that he will be happy at the party, as opposed to the the sadness he had just finished describing to her (Esther 5:13).
  • On a deeper level, the Alshich explains that Haman’s lack of happiness was due to his status as a slave. Once Mordechai would be killed, Haman could be happy because he had no owner, and could enjoy his own sons and wealth.

Esther 5:11, Question 1. Why does Haman mention these facts? Why does he stress the honor of his wealth?

  • The Vilna Gaon and Yosef Lekach both write that Haman was simply reminding himself of his wealth, importance, and accomplishments to get out of the bad mood in which he found himself. After, all, as the Alshich writes, three things bring us happiness: wealth, children, and power.1

  • The Malbim connects this statement with Haman’s root cause for needing advice. Since he considered killing Mordechai a lowly act beneath him, he mentions his greatness to emphasize his need for his advice.

  • M’nos HaLevi, focusing on the fact that Haman emphasizes the honor and glory of his wealth rather than the quantity of it, explains that Haman intended to stress the qualitative power of his money.

  • For instance, his offering silver to Achashverosh (see Esther 3:9 above) brought about his eagerly anticipated destruction of the Jews.

  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Haman was attempting to imply that he came by his wealth honorably, i.e. honestly.

  • Akeidas Yitzchak points out that he wanted to use his wealth to kill Mordechai, his numerous children to overpower any Jewish resistance, and his power to enforce his decree. The Akeidas Yitzchak continues that these are also the very things he loses (in the same order as mentioned in this verse!). He is first humbled by leading Mordechai on a horse (see Esther 6:10-12 below); then he has to give his wealth to Esther (see Esther 8:1 below); and finally, his many sons are hanged (see Esther 9:7-10 below).

1This is not so different from Abraham Maslow’s idea of “Hierarchy of Needs” in his 1943 “A Theory of Human Motivation.”

Esther 4:1, Question 1. How does Mordechai know about what happened?

פרק ד

א וּמָרְדֳּכַי יָדַע אֶתכָּלאֲשֶׁר נַעֲשָׂה וַיִּקְרַע מָרְדֳּכַי אֶתבְּגָדָיו וַיִּלְבַּשׁ שַׂק וָאֵפֶר וַיֵּצֵא בְּתוֹךְ הָעִיר וַיִּזְעַק זְעָקָה גְדֹלָה וּמָרָה

Chapter 4

1. And Mordechai knew all that had happened and Mordechai ripped his clothes and dressed in sack and ashes, and he went out within the city and cried a great and bitter cry.

  • The simplest explanation to how Mordechai knew about the decree to kill the Jews, assuming that is what he knew, the Alshich says, is that Mordechai was privy to that information because he sat at the king’s gate (see above 2:19).
  • Rashi, however, writes that a dream revealed to Mordechai that the Jews deserved annihilation.
  • It would seem that Rashi’s usually simple explanation is not as basic as the Alshich’s. R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Rashi is focusing on the word “kol” (“all”), which implies that Mordechai knew everything about the decree – even the unpublished story of the decree’s history.
  • Rav Gedalya Schorr points out that Rashi knew Mordechai learned it from a dream because the Talmud (Chagiga 5b) writes that Jewish leaders learn about future events in dreams during eras of Divine concealment. When we are not close to H-Shem and do not deserve His Favor, He does not lead us with the clarity we would want.
  • R’ Hanoch of Alexander writes that Mordechai was shown the story of the decree in a dream because he knew that parts of dreams are fictional (Talmud, Brachos 55a), and he was concerned that the happy ending he foresaw was not necessarily going to happen. It was for this reason that Mordechai felt the need to bring the Jews to repentance.
  • The Yismach Moshe agrees that Mordechai’s dream was limited in order to garner the greatest amount of sincere teshuva from the terrified Jews.
  • According to the Yismach Leiv, Mordechai did not learn of the decree through the usual ruach hakodesh expected of a prophet because Shushan was confused (see above 3:15). Whatever the cause of the confusion, this turmoil is not conducive to prophecy. Prophecy requires genuine peace of mind and even happiness.1

1 This is the reason for Yaakov’s spiritual revival upon learning of his lost son’s positive turnabout (see Rashi to Bereishis 45:27).

Esther 1:6, Question 3. Were there different couches at Achashverosh’s party? If so, why?

The Talmud (Megillah 12a) gives two different opinions on the matter of couches. The first opinion, that of R’ Yehudah  states that there were golden couches for those who deserved them, and silver couches for people of lesser status who did not deserve gold couches. R’ Nechemiah disagrees that this could have been the case, and insists that the couches were all equally made of gold and silver. After all, this would otherwise cause jealousy among the party participants. In Mayan Beis HaSho’eivah (pg. 446-7), Rav Shimon Schwab (zt”l) asks why R’ Nechemiah would think that Achashverosh would put forethought into avoiding jealousy. He answers that the entire design of the party was to make everybody happy, and a person cannot be happy when jealous.