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!”
2. And it was found writing that Mordechai related on Bigsana and Seresh, two eunuchs of the king from the guards of the threshold who sought to send their arm at King Achashverosh.
According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 1:3), the verse describe the incident as “found” because, as bad as Achashverosh was, one good thing about Achashverosh was that he had everything recorded. One positive aspect of this is that he wrote both positive and negative events, a sign of humility. Another positive aspect of this is that writing down a chronicle of events helps a person grow spiritually (Pri Tzaddik, Chukas 4). After being inspired, the absence of a written record may cause that inspiration to disappear. There is an incident in which, as a young man, Rav Shlomo Brevda was walking in a poorly-maintained street when the street lights went out. He walked carefully, and when the lights cam back on, he found himself on the precipice of a large hole. He was inspired to pray the next morning with extra feeling and gratitude. However, when the next morning arrived, he found this inspiration gone like a deflated balloon. Upon asking several rabbis for an explanation of this phenomenon, he was directed to the Chazon Ish. After a rather lengthy bus ride to seek out this gadol’s advice, the Chazon Ish explained to him, “there is a special yetzer hara designed to deflate your inspiration immediately after a miracle.” One way to fight this and tap into your emotion is to write down that event.
The Malbim writes that Haman erased mention of Mordechai from the public document, and replaced any mention of him with his own name. Since he was unable to erase Mordechai’s name from the king’s private record, Achashverosh found it odd, if not suspicious, that Mordechai was the one who helped save him. This will help explain why his treatment of Haman and Mordechai from this point become the polar opposite of his treatment of them previously.
The Talmud (Megillah 16a), commenting on the abnormality that the verse says kasuv (“writing”) instead of kasav (“written”), which Rashi explains (there) means that it was being written anew teaches that Haman’s son, Shimshi, was attempting to erase Mordechai’s name, but the angel Gavriel was rewriting it. Interestingly, the Rokeach and M’nos HaLevi point out that the gematria of the first six words of our verse, “vayimazei chasuv asher heegeed Mordechai al” (6+10+40+90+1+20+400+6+2+1+300+200+5+3+10+4+40+200+4+20+10+70+30=1,472) is equal to this Talmud’s statement = “shimshi mochek v’Gavriel kosev” (300+40+300+10+40+6+8+100+6+3+2+200+10+1+30+20+6+400+2=1,484)1.
The Talmud (Megillah 16a) continues that if something is written about the Jews below cannot be erased, how much more-so is this true in Heaven! In explanation, the Bobover Rebbe says this is hinting to H-Shem’s two books – one below and one above, mentioned in the Mishnah (Avos 2:20) in which H-Shem does His accounting for our behavior.
Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller stresses the tremendous effect of one human’s singular act written in a book leading the Jews to redemption. Accordingly, this is why the Rambam writes (Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:1) that just one good deed tips the scales for individual and for the whole world.
1I have yet to see a commentary explaining the apparent discrepancy of 22. Tzarich iyun.
1. And it was in the third day, and Esther dressed in royalty. And she stood in the courtyard of the inner house of the king, facing the house of the king. And the king was sitting on the seat of his royalty in the house of royalty facing the opening of the house.
M’nos HaLevi writes that Esther usually avoided wearing royal garb. From her humility and modesty, she did not want to wear any clothing that would demonstrate her accepting her role as queen. The Talmud (Megillah 15a) points out that the verse seems to be missing the word, “clothing.” Accordingly, Esther wore “royalty” not in the physical sense, but in the sense of her enveloping herself in the Holy Spirit – Ruach HaKodesh.
Iyun Yaakov wonders why this would occur now. After all, Esther is a prophetess, and one would imagine she was constantly connected to H-Shem’s Messages. He answers that this was a time of great hester Panim, of H-Shem hiding His Face, as it were. In response to the Talmud’s famous attempt to find the story of Esther alluded to in the Torah, the Talmud (Chulin 139b) quotes the verse “v’Anochi hastir astir Panai bayom hahu” (“And I will surely hide My Face from them on that day”) (Devarim 31:18). Since this was a time of great Divine concealment, and there was great doubt in the world, the Jews attempted to change things by fasting for three days, and praying to H-Shem, and managed to merit their prophetess receiving the Divine Presence.
The Vilna Gaon adds that there is a concept that the Divine Spirit only rests upon a person whose body is “broken down.” This means someone who wants spiritual growth needs to realize that one’s soul is more important than one’s body.
The Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 56:1) writes that the royalty referred to here is the royalty of Esther’s father’s house, being descendant from King Shaul. Preparing for her disobeying a royal edict to meet the king, she took with her the dignity and air of monarchy she inherited from her ancestry. This idea certainly supports the contention of the Malbim and M’nos HaLevi that Esther’s wearing “royalty” simply meant that she seemed regal to casual observers.
R’ Shlomo Kluger in Ma’amar Mordechai, says that Esther had been forced to be the queen, and at this point, she owned up to that responsibility. He points out that, from this verse and onwards, Esther is consistently called Queen Esther by the authors of Megillas Esther.
Pachad Yitzchak notes that this verse indicates that Esther became the queen of the Jewish people. Interestingly, the Jews can only fulfill the command to eradicate Amalek when they have a sovereign ruler (Talmud, Sanhedrin 20a), and Esther took on that role to enable this.
Rabbi Eliezer Ginzburg asks how she was given authority to be the queen. The Shem M’Shmuel (on Devarim 33:19) writes that the main function of a Jewish king or queen is to unite the Jewish people. Therefore, by enveloping herself in an intense love for the Jews, she took on the role of royalty, becoming what a royal is supposed to be.
Rav Ginzburg also quotes the Nefesh HaChaim (3:12) that even if there are other spiritual forces in the world, they will have no affect on a person who totally submits oneself to H-Shem’s sovereignty. There are numerous stories concerning the Rav of Brisk, Rav Yitzchak Soloveitchik, whose concentrating on this idea of “ein od milVado” (“there is nothing beside Him”) from the Nefesh HaChaim at different times rescued him from Russian conscription and Nazi persecution. Accordingly, this is the idea of royalty with which Esther adorned herself, making her impervious to any harm.
The Pachad Yitzchak notes that this is a rare example of Jewish royalty wearing non-Jewish garments, and this may be yet another reason for the custom of wearing masks and disguises on Purim.
The Ginzei HaMelech uses this verse to show how humble Mordechai was, in that this giant of his generation still lowered himself to serve Esther like a servant. He writes further that this act was in direct defiance to Achashverosh’s earlier decree that men should be in charge of women (Esther 1:22).
Perhaps this use of language is what Tanna D’vei Eliyahu refers to when it writes that Esther spoke with Mordechai in a disrespectful manner.
11. “All of the servants of the king and nation of states of the king know that any man and woman who go to the king to the inner courtyard who was not called have one law – to kill, unless that the king would extend to him his gold scepter, and live. And I have not been called to come to the king these thirty days.”
The Alshich gives three reasons why Esther refuses Mordechai’s order, at least for the time being:
First, he points out that Esther points out to Mordechai that there were eleven months between the decree (in Nisan) and its fulfillment (Adar). There would therefore not be a need to risk the death penalty for coming to the king without having been summoned.
Incidentally, the Targum writes that this rule was established by Haman in order to avoid the possibility of Jews petitioning the king unannounced to beg him to change the decree against them. Besides, the king also did not want to be petitioned by Jews for permission to rebuild the Temple.
The Alshich’s second reason for Esther’s desire to delay approaching the king is that she felt there was a high probability of her appeal failing.
Finally, with eleven months left until the fulfillment of the decree, Esther saw no need to come before the king since there was a good chance that he would summon her at some point before then, anyway.
R’ Eliezer Ginzburg writes that Esther’s refusal here is because she felt that she had been suffering all of the humiliations of this forced marriage to Achashverosh to create a “tikun” (“repair”) for the sins of that generation.
Perhaps, since Esther was a humble person, she felt unworthy of such this monumental mission.
R’ Ginzburg then quotes the Zichron Shmuel who notes that the initial letters of “me’asher yosheet lo hamelech” (“that the king would extend to him”) spell out “milah” (“circumcision”). This is a hint to the idea mentioned earlier that, in reluctance to have relations with an uncircumcised gentile, Esther would ordinarily send a sheid to take her place. Now, she was afraid that she would have to appear before Achashverosh alone, without the aid of a demon.
The Malbim writes that Achashverosh gave silver rather than returning it to show his humility – that he did everything selflessly for the kingdom.
The Sha’aris Yosef writes that Achashverosh refused money, as opposed to Yosef’s brothers before him (Bereishis 37:28), in an attempt to deflect responsibility.
Class Participant CRL points out that the mispar katan of “nasun” (“given”) (50+500+6+50=506, so 5+0+6=11) is eleven, the number of people (Haman and his ten sons) who are eventually hanged on the gallows.
According to our answer to the previous question, Mordechai refused to bow “to him” – in other words, to Haman alone, even without his idol. M’nos HaLevi writes that Mordechai was a very humble person, as befits a tzaddik. He would bow to everybody out of respect, but he would not even bow to Haman out of token respect. It should be noted that Mordechai’s refusal put his life in danger.
20. And Esther did not reveal her lineage and her nation as Mordechai commanded her, and the instruction of Mordechai Esther did just as she did in being raised by him.
Eitz Yosef writes that, earlier (2:10), before Esther was introduced to Achashverosh, Mordechai did not want the knowledge of Esther’s royal lineage to encourage the king to choose her (as we’ve said before). Now that she was already chosen, she no longer had this reason, and she refused to identify her royal stock out of modest humility.
The Malbim writes that, despite the fact that she was no longer under Mordechai’s direct influence, and despite the many tactics of the king, she still refused to identify her people. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:12) comments that Esther’s silence was an innate, genetic family trait learned from Rachel, her ancestor. Rachel famously stayed silent in the face of her sister marrying her beloved Yaakov (see Bireishis 29:25 and Rashi there). Decades later, Rachel’s son, Benyamin, stayed silent about the sale of Yosef, despite mourning for his brother to the point of naming all of his ten sons after him (see Bireishis 46:21 and Rashi there). King Shaul, Rachel’s descendant, too, was silent (Shmuel 1 10:16) about being made king by the prophet Shmuel. The Midrash is teaching, therefore, that it was due to Esther’s lineage – her ancestral ability to stay silent in the face of adversity – that allowed her to stay silent now.
The Ohel Moshe points out that silence is not always good. Although the Mishnah praises silence (Avos 1:17) as the best thing “for a body,” this seems to contradict the verse in Koheles (3:7) which states that “there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak.” The Alshich and Maharal both point out that the Mishnah specifically says silence is good for the body, meaning that silence is always good for the physical body, but silence is not always ideal for the soul. The Ohel Moshe concludes from this that all of Esther’s relatives praised in the Midrash for being silent were pure enough to know when to speak, and when to be silent.