Esther 6:12, Question 1. Why does the verse emphasize that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate?

יב וַיָּשָׁב מָרְדֳּכַי אֶלשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן נִדְחַף אֶלבֵּיתוֹ אָבֵל וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ

12. And Mordechai returned to the gate of the king. And Haman was propelled to his house mourning, and with a covered head.

  • It seems doubly strange for the verse to say Mordechai returned to the palace, when our commentary on the previous verse made clear the Haman found Mordechai in the house of study. According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and the Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:6), the verse emphasizes that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate instead of into because Mordechai returned to wearing sackcloth and fasting.
  • Rashi’s explaining that Mordechai returned to mourning seems to not be his pashut pshat, simple explanation.
  • The Maharsha clarifies that Mordechai could not enter the king’s gate wearing sackcloth because of their rules of propriety in those days, so he could only come as far as the gate, itself. Therefore, Mordechai, having been mourning in sackcloth for the last several days could not be said to be returning to a place where he could not have previously been.
  • R’ Avigdor Bonchek explains that being paraded on a horse emboldened Mordechai to defy Achashverosh’s law by going to gate in sackcloth.
  • The Targum writes that Mordechai returned to serving on the Sanhedrin at this point, a position that is described in TaNaCh (see Bireishis 19:1, Devarim 21:19, Ruth 4:1) as being positioned “at the gate.”
  • The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4) teaches that the verse says Mordechai returned because he is humble. There is a humility in accepting one’s place, as is said of Avraham whom the Torah (Bireishis 18:33) describes as having “returned to his place” after speaking with H-Shem.
  • R’ Henoch Leibowitz notes that the Torah (Devarim 30:8) promises us that H-Shem will return us to our Land only after we suffer from our enemies. Rav Leibowitz explains that the lesson is that a person’s prayer in times of rescue should be equal in power and intensity to that with which one prays in times of troubles. The very purpose of our troubles is to increase our attachment to H-Shem. The proper method for this is to follow Rabbeinu Bachya’s advice (on Shemos 2:23) when he says that one’s prayer is the most intense in times of difficulty and that, therefore, it is incumbent on a person to remember that feeling of intensity, and bottle up that feeling of pain in order to pray strongly in the brighter future that the troubles do not return. At our most desperate, we should try to encapsulate the emotion to use in better times.
  • He quotes R’ Naftoli Tropp, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin writes that a famous piyut said on Yom Kippur calls us all dalim, poor. Even the rich should recall that all is H-Shem’s and they only have their riches only by the grace of G-d.
  • The Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai usually wore sackcloth during davening, and then changed for court. At this point, Mordechai did not change because he felt his prayers were unsuccessful, and not answered. This is because his riding on a horse did not manifestly spell out the redemption of the Jews. The Jews were still threatened.
  • Rebbetzin Heller points out that, being G-d focused, Mordechai didn’t care if Achashverosh loved or honored him. This event did not change Mordechai’s humility.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Mordechai still felt guilty about causing the threat to Jewish existence by refusing to bow down to Haman. True teshuvah comes from the feeling of being unworthy of kindness from H-Shem. He concludes that one should never be too confident in this.
  • The Iyun Yaakov points out that, on the political side, Mordechai had anticipated using his saving Achashverosh’s life as leverage when begging Achashverosh to save the Jews – not just a pony ride around town. Disappointed by the loss of his ace in the hole, Mordechai’s only remaining means to save the Jews is to pray to H-Shem.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes the Brisker Rav, R’ Yitzchak Zev HaLevi Soloveitchik that in his reporting the goings-on to Esther earlier (Esther 4:5-16), Mordechai was unwilling to get out of his sackcloth for even one moment and even requiring Hasach as an intermediary because prayer and emunah are the main tools for salvation.
  • The Ohel Moshe also brings R’ Yehonason Eibshutz who quotes the Talmud (Brachos 5b) that a prisoner does not free himself. Somebody else needs to help somebody out. Similarly, Mordechai, once he sees himself rescued, returned to pray for the other Jews. Similarly,
  • R’ Dovid Bleicher of Novordok notes that Mordechai had his own needs met, but kept praying for the Jews because he had worked on himself to feel as if he was still under the threat of death.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:12) states that a true Jewish leader does not stop fasting until the prayers are answered.
  • The Maharal notes that Mordechai was not satisfied by this honor because Achasherosh did not come to thank him, himself. He had no reason to think that Achashverosh felt actual gratitude. After all, as R’ Elie Munk points out in his commentary on Chumash (Vayikra 7:30), of all the offerings, the only one which the Torah describes as having to be brought “by his own hands” is the shelamim (peace offering) because it is brought as a way to thank H-Shem, and “when expressing one’s gratitude, it is proper to do it personally.”
  • Parenthetically, he also quotes this as the reason brought by Abudraham for the congregation to say the blessing of Modim (thanksgiving) during the repetition of the Amidah prayer, since the congregational leader cannot express the gratitude of another person.
  • The Maharal also says in a few places (Nesivos Olam) that simcha (joy) comes from shleimus (completeness). Here, too, Mordechai cannot be content since the Jews are still under the threat of annihilation, and are thus incomplete.
  • Perhaps the simplest explanation to why Mordechai returned to his place can be gleaned from a story told about R’ Yechezkel Abramsky. While discussing Megillas Esther with his rebbetzin, he asked her what Mordechai could have been thinking while riding on the horse. She answered, “This type of foolishness is for drunkards. I wish this will be over soon, so I can return to learning Torah!”
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Esther 4:14, Question 5. Why does Mordechai reference Esther’s “father’s house?”

  • R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that, since Mordechai raised and taught Esther, he is in a sense her father. When Mordechai references Esther’s “father’s house,” he is saying that her apathy to the needs of the Jewish people will be a mark of shame upon him.
  • Pachad Yitzchak writes that prayer is the tool of our ancestors, so Mordechai is telling Esther to utilize the power of her “father’s house” – prayer – to save the Jews from their current threat. When someone approaches an earthly king, it is one thing to provide him with a gift, but something altogether more powerful if one has the references. The king would be more likely to listen to the request because he feels like he has more of a connection with the requester.
  • In explaining this verse, R’ Henoch Leibowitz quotes a Midrash (Tehillim 22) that advises people to “push away with the right hand, and pull people in with the left.” In this case, Mordechai’s methods of convincing Esther to approach the king include “pulling with the left” by his reminding her of her noble, royal roots, and also “pushing away with the right” by warning her to not lose her chance. As R’ Leibowitz continues, if Esther – as righteous as she is – needs this form of convincing, how much more-so do we need to utilize this in our relationships with people. Instead of yelling at a child for doing something wrong, it is important to tell the child, “Doing this is beneath you.”
  • According to the Akeidas Yitzchak, Mordechai’s reference to Esther’s “father’s house” was meant to emphasize that, considering the precarious state of the Jewish people, she should use her Jewish lineage as an explanation as to why she should be allowed to visit the king unbidden.
  • The Alshich and the Megillas Sesarim both say that the “father’s house” is a reference to King Shaul, and his sin of allowing Agag to live when he had the chance to fulfill the command to obliterate Amalek. It thus become Esther’s duty to undo that error.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz notes historically, there is always someone standing in the way of the Jews earning their rescue. In this case, it was Haman. Mordechai was thus telling Esther that he could, himself, get rid of Haman, but that would not make up for Esther’s ancestor’s mistake, which only she could accomplish. Halachically, Esther’s going to Achashverosh voluntarily would forbid her to Mordechai as a wife forever.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech also points out that Shaul did go through the steps of teshuva (Shmuel 1 15:26, 28). This being the case, why does Esther need to fix his error? Although regret is one step in teshuva, the result of his actions still remained. There is a story of a woman who felt her husband was emotionally abusive. The rabbi she consulted told her to purchase a block of wood and bag of nails. Each time she felt abused, he said, she should hammer a nail into the block of wood. After a few such incidents, the husband became curious about the loud knocking his wife would initiate after each fight. He asked her about it, and the wife told him what the rav had said, and showed him this porcupine of a block of wood. He instantly felt regret for his past deeds, and he made a deal that for every nice act of his toward her, she would remove one nail. Eventually, the block was nail-free. The husband said, “Look! It’s all better! There are no more nails!” “Yes,” she said, “The nails are gone…but the holes are still there.” A sin can be erased, but the consequences of that sin can last forever.

Esther 4:3, Question 3. Why does the verse call the Jews’ mourning “great?”

  • In its classically sarcastic tone, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:2) asks if there is such a thing as a mourning that is not great. After all, any mourning is painful. Naturally, after seven days, our personal mourning diminishes to some degree as we come to grips with the fact of the loss we are experiencing. In this case, however, the mourning only intensified as the Jews continued moving forward toward the day set for their annihilation. The Midrash adds that, in normal mourning, there is comfort in the fact that the deceased left someone behind. Here, again, nobody is expected to remain behind as Haman has decreed the deaths of women and children along with everyone else.
  • Rav Henoch Leibowitz cites a story in the Talmud (Brachos 60a) in which Rebbe Yishmael calls a student a sinner merely because the student was agitated. The only thing about which a person should be nervous is if that person performed enough good deeds. A person nervous about anything else is simply not living – constantly in the grips of fears and anxieties that prevent that person from enjoying the blessings of life. The Jews’ mourning here, too, is great in the sense of its quality. It was the fear of the righteous, the concern he felt if he had done enough good on his level. They were mourning for the right reasons, and that is why the verse calls their mourning “great.”