Esther 7:6, Question 4. Why does the verse stress that Haman’s reaction was “before” the king and queen?

  • As mentioned above, the Malbim and the Vilna Gaon explain that Haman’s confusion stemmed from the fact that he was in the presence of both the king and queen, so he could not use either of his excuses.
  • Similarly, according to the Maharal, Achashverosh asked Esther why she invited Haman to the party if he is so evil. She answered that she did so intentionally to avoid the possibility of Haman giving excuses if he were confronted without both of them present.
  • The verse has a combined gematria of 3355, the same as the verse (Bireishis 38:17) regarding the amount of money Yehudah pledges to Tamar. It also has the same gematria as the verse (Devarim 13:10) commanding the punishment for someone who encourages others to worship idol. Finally, it also has the same gematria as the verse in Tehillim (67:4) that the nations are happy when H-Shem governs the nations. Perhaps, just as the verse climactically demonstrates H-Shem’s active rescue of the Jews from their impending holocaust, all of these verses have to do with H-Shem’s supervision of the world. Just as the Talmud (Sotah 10a) says that He was involved with the otherwise seemingly elicit relationship between Yehuda and Tamar, so too He alone should be worshiped – without the false gods of idolatry. Similarly, the point of our world is to reach the level where everyone recognizes the guiding Hand of H-Shem in all of the events of the world.
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Esther 7:6, Question 2. Why does Esther use these three descriptions for Haman?

  • In the Rashbam’s commentary on the Torah (Bireishis 24:65), he writes that a grammatical rule, the word hazeh (“this”) refers to a close object, whereas the word halazeh (“ this”) refers to an object that is far. Already in this word, Esther means that the person responsible is someone close-by.
  • Similarly, the Malbim distinguishes between the two words for enemy – tzar and oyev. According to him, based on a verse in the Torah (Bamidbar 10:9) a tzar is someone who has already done harm. Based on a different verse (Devarim 21:10), an oyev is someone who wants to do harm. Both definitions fit Haman. Accordingly, Esther is answering both of Achashverosh’s questions, the first of which was who did this. Her answer: the wicked Haman. In answering his second question of the motive, Esther responds that it is an adversary and an enemy.
  • Interestingly, she answers the second question first, and then the first question, as Rabbeinu Yonah in his commentary Mishnah (Avos 5:9) recommends for wise people to do when appropriate. Similarly, the Talmud often (see Brachos 2a) comments on the latter point of a Mishnah before commenting on the former.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein and R’ Gallico write that Esther was saying that Haman is evil and dangerous for all – not just for the Jews. This is based on the Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4), which quotes a verse (Devarim 33:27) that says H-Shem will push away all of our enemies. Regarding Haman, he is an enemy below as well as above; he terrorized our forefathers and he wants to terrorize our children; he is an enemy to me, and he is an enemy to you.
  • Similarly, Midreshai Torah write that Haman hates Achashverosh as much as he hates the Jews.
  • According to R’ Chadida, Esther is saying that Haman hates Jews for historical reasons, and therefore involving Achashverosh and his kingdom unnecessarily into an ancient feud. (Today also, many international leaders and their nations stumble into the Middle East quagmire without a thorough knowledge of the historic animosities and loyalties that are endemic to that region.)
  • The Alshich writes that Esther is saying that Haman is hated below and an enemy above.
  • The Targum translates this verse as: Haman wanted to kill you last night. After failing, he suggested wearing your clothes, and even the royal crown. H-Shem made it work out that Mordechai, a Jew garnered these honors, and now Haman wants the person who saved and represents you dead. As Yossipon points out, it is Mordechai who is looking out for conspiracies and plots against you.
  • The Lekach Tov writes that Haman is called by three descriptors because he had three intentions quoted by the verse (Esther 3:13) to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate the Jews.
  • Asking why the verse uses the word hazeh (“this”), the Ben Ish Chai explains that since all people have good in them, only the evil part of Haman should be hated. He quotes the AriZal’s (Shaar HaKavanos) interpretation of the Talmudic (Megillah 7a) practice of ad d’lo yada as advising us to only bless Haman when we are drunk. This means that inside our klipa (“shell”) we all hold great potential. After all, from Haman emerged his grandson, R’ Shmuel ben Shailot. That is the good trapped within him. The Talmud (Gittin 57b) famously says Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah. Although it says in Tehillim (97:10) to hate evil people, it means that we should only hate the evil part within those people. To see how far this goes, the verse that tells us to kill out Amalek (Shemos 17:14) tells us to destroy the remembrance of Amalek, since there is some good hidden deep within them.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a), also seemingly bothered by the amount of descriptions Esther uses for Haman, writes that Esther was actually going to point to Achashverosh, but an angel pointed her finger toward Haman.
  • R’ Meir Shapiro explains that the word hu means something outward, whereas zeh means something hidden. Here, Haman is the obvious, explicit enemy. Like any deft politician, Achashverosh can claim deniability, and wash his hands of the entire plan. The Talmud is saying that Esther is hinting to Achashverosh that she considers him equally guilty of the planned annihilation of the Jews.
  • On the other hand, R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Esther was literally going to point to Achashverosh because she was upset with Achashverosh for claiming ignorance.
  • The Vilna Gaon explains that, like a Freudian slip, Esther pointed at Achashverosh at this point because it is the nature of people to say X if they are thinking of X, even when they consciously want to say Y. Since the righteous are constantly thinking of H-Shem, so Esther is pointing to the King.
  • The Chazon Ish asks why, at this critically sensitive time for the Jews, would Esther endanger their lives? He explains that she had inculcated the characteristic of emes (“truth”) to such a degree that she found it impossible to lie, implying that Achashverosh was innocent. H-Shem had to send an angel to save the day.
  • Similarly, the Ohel Moshe quotes R’ Puvarsky (Mussar V’Daas) that Esther’s body could only tell the truth. We have the power to train your body to copy your soul, as it says in Tehillim (63:2), “my soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You.” We have the ability to train our flesh to want what the soul wants, as it says in the Mishnah (Avos 2:4). Similarly, Chovos HaLevavos writes that introspection will benefit you in both worlds, as it says in Tehillim (119:59) “I consider my ways, and I turn my feet to Your testimonies.” That is the foundation of mussar philosophy, that the goal of self-improvement.
  • The Maharal points out that Esther would be lying saying that this was entirely Haman’s doing, since Haman could do nothing without Achashverosh. The verse in Tehillim (101:7) says, “He who performs deceit shall not dwell in My house.” A lie cannot save the Jewish people since geulah (“redemption”) cannot result from falsehood.
  • R’ Hanoch Leibowitz answers the question somewhat differently. He explains that Esther, having been forcibly taken to be his wife for twelve long years, subconsciously hated Achashverosh. She therefore pointed at him, though he was not entirely responsible for decree. Even great ones err when affected by their subconscious desires. If such a one as Esther can fall prey to such desires, all people must plan out their actions before doing anything, and then think back and investigate the motivations and results of all behaviors.
  • R’ Eliyahu Lopian says that the angel saved Esther because no harm can come to one who is performing His Will, like speaking the truth.
  • The Torah in Bamidbar (33:55) commands the Jews entering the land of Canaan that they must drive out all bad influences from there, or else the remainders would be “thorns in your eyes, and pricks in your sides” which Ramban interprets as spiritual blindness and physical harassment. Perhaps this verse can also refer to Haman, who forced everyone to bow to his idol, and he tried to physically annihilate the Jews.
  • Also interestingly, the gematria of tzar (90+200=290) (“adversary”) is the same as the word pri (80+200+10=290) (“fruit”), whereas the ­gematria of oyev (1+6+10+2=19) (“enemy”) is the same as the name Chava (8+6+5=19). Perhaps this hints to the Talmudic dictum (Chullin 139b) that the verse about the tree in Gan Eden (Bireishis 3:11) alludes to Haman.

Esther 7:1, Question 2. Why does the verse stress that they will be with Esther?

  • In contrast to the earlier party where the verse (Esther 5:5) did not mention Esther in relation to drinking, this verse does. The Vilna Gaon, Alshich, and Yosef Lekach agree that the reason for this is because Esther was fasting then, but is not at this point.
  • The M’nos HaLevi explains that Esther did not really drink in order to keep her head clear.
  • A compromise opinion seems to be that of the Avos HaRosh, who writes that Esther merely pretended to drink by putting the cup to her lips.
  • R’ Yehonosan Eibshutz writes that Esther was more confident at this party than before because Haman had an idol on his person (see #190 above) then, and one should not pray in the presence of such things (see Midrash, Shemos Rabba 12:5), or even pictures of them (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 90:23). However, Haman removed his idol before “demeaning” himself in the act of leading Mordechai on a horse throughout the town so that he would not feel degraded by a Jew. Therefore, Esther could now beseech H-Shem more confidently.
  • I would have thought to say that perhaps the idol was more appropriately covered by Haman’s daughter’s mess. But then Esther would still not have been be able to pray in the presence of such things (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 79:1).

Esther 5:9, Question 3. Why does Mordechai refuse to perform these two actions?

  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Mordechai did not get up as if Haman were not even there.
  • The Ohel Moshe reminds us that Nefesh HaChaim (3:12) writes that a powerful spiritual power we have is to internalize the idea that no influence can affect us besides H-Shem. Mordechai’s believing this is one reason he refuses to even rise for Haman.
  • The Maharal writes the two actions of standing and stirring refer to Mordechai giving no sign of respect to either Haman, nor the idol he had constantly about him. He quotes the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8) that Mordechai felt Haman made himself into an idolatry. In other words, borrowing a phrase from Yeshaya (2:24) such a person has “his soul in his nose,” or considers his own self-aggrandizement before anything else. For this self-worship is what Mordechai could not stir.
  • Rebbetzin Heller writes that when the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch was is Russia, he quoted a Talmud (Sanhedrin 74a-b) that there are three things for which Jews should give up their lives to avoid transgressing. Put simply, these three “cardinal sins” are idolatry, adultery, and murder. However, that is only true under regular circumstances. However, if a nation attempts to destroy Judaism altogether, even the “smallest” of sins cannot be committed under threat of death. Therefore, in communist Russia too, where their laws added up to a struggle against Judaism, all of their laws could be ignored.
  • In an interesting gematria, the phrase v’lo kam v’lo za (“he did not rise and he did not stir”) (6+30+1+100+40+6+30+1+7+70=291) less the two mentions of v’lo (“and he did not”) (6+30+1=37×2=74) is equivalent to 217, the numerical value of eretz (“land”) (1+200+90=291). Perhaps this indicates that Mordechai’s refusal to do these actions helped the Jews merit re-entry into the Land of Israel in the following Persian reigns.

Esther 4:7, Question 5. Why does the verse emphasize Mordechai’s telling Esther about the destruction of the Jews?

  • The Vilna Gaon writes that the verse emphasizes Mordechai’s telling Esther about the destruction of the Jews to clarify that the public documents vaguely informing Shushan to be ready actually intended the annihilation of the Jews.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz breaks apart the word “li’avdam” (“to destroy”) into the words “lo badam” (“not with blood”). In explanation, he cites the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:14) that relates the following allegorical anecdote:

[After the Satan convinced H-Shem to agree that Yisroel deserved destruction, and various levels of H-Shem’s servants respond,] Eliyahu (of Blessed Memory) ran in terror to the Patriarchs and Moshe son of Amram. And he said to them, “How long will the Patriarchs of old remain asleep? Are you not paying attention to the evils in which your children find themselves? The ministering angels, the sun, the moon, the stars and constellations, Heaven and Earth, and all the Heavenly servants are bitterly crying. And you are standing by, not paying attention?!” They said to him, “Why [were they found worthy of destruction]?” He said to them, “Because Yisroel enjoyed themselves at the feast of Achashverosh. Because of this, H-Shem decreed upon them a decree to annihilate them from the world, and to destroy their memory.” Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov said to him, “If they transgressed the Will of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and this decree is sealed, what are we able to do?” Eliyahu returned, and said to Moshe, “Trustworthy shepherd! How often have you stood in the breach for the sake of Yisroel, and nullified the decree against them to avoid their annihilation? As it is written, ‘Did not Moshe, His chosen, stand in the breach before Him to turn back His anger from destroying’ (Tehillim 106:23). How do you answer this evil?” […] Moshe said to him, “Is there anyone good in this generation?” [Eliyahu] said, “There is, and his name is Mordechai.” [Moshe] said to him, “Go and tell him that when he stands there to pray, and I from here, and he seeks mercy for them before the Holy One, Blessed is He…” [Eliyahu] said to him, “Trustworthy shepherd! It is already written, this letter of destruction of Yisroel!” Moshe said to him, “If it is written in clay, our prayers will be heard. And if it is written in blood, it is already done.” [Eliyahu] said, “It is written in clay.” Moshe our Teacher said to him, “Go and tell Mordechai.”

 R’ Eibshutz asks on this this story: What is the symbolic significance of the document being written in blood or clay? Why would a decree written in blood be irreversible? He explains that Adam was created from earth and soul (Bireishis 2:7). Clay is made from earth and the Torah testifies that blood is the essence of the nefesh, soul (Vayikra 17:14, see Ramban to Vayikra 17:11). Thus, clay represents the physical and blood represents the spiritual. In the Midrash, then, Moshe was asking Eliyahu if the decree against the Jews was written for physical reasons (i.e. their enjoying Achashverosh’s feast) or spiritual reasons (i.e. bowing to an idol of Nevuchadnetzer). Had it been for their spiritual rejection of H-Shem (G-d forbid!), the decree would stand. In our verse, Mordechai was telling Esther that the decree was “lo b’dam,” not written in blood, and thus had a physical root that could be reversed with the power of prayer1.

1It is unclear to the author why the cause should be unclear; the above-cited Midrash explicitly stated that the decree was written and sealed due to the Jews’ enjoying Achashverosh’s feast. Perhaps the question was regarding the Jews’ motivation in attending the feast, and is not related to the seeming worship of Nevuchadnetzer’s statue. Tzarich iyun.

Esther 3:14, Question 1. Why does the text use such an unusual word for a copy?

יד פַּתְשֶׁגֶן הַכְּתָב לְהִנָּתֵן דָּת בְּכָלמְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה גָּלוּי לְכָלהָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת עֲתִדִים לַיּוֹם הַזֶּה

14. A copy/summary of the writing was to given as the law in each state revealing to all the nations to be ready for this day.

  • The Aramaic word, “pas’shegen” (“copy” or “summary”), is only used thrice in TaNaCh, and all three times are in Megillas Esther (here, 4:8, and 8:13). The Vilna Gaon writes that the plan to kill the Jews was supposed to be secret. Perhaps the word, too, is supposed to indicate this secrecy with its obscurity.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:13) writes that, as soon as Mordechai learned of the decree, he saw three schoolchildren, and he asked them what they were learning. Somehow, it seems, what schoolchildren learn somehow indicates what is going on in the world. The first child quoted a verse from Mishlei (3:25) “Do not fear sudden terror or the darkness of the wicked when it comes.” The second student quoted a verse from Yeshaya (8:10) “Advise together and nothing, speak a word and it will not occur, because G-d is with us.” The third student quoted another verse from Yeshaya (46:4) “Until your old age, I am He. Until your hoary age, I remain. I made and I hear. I carry and I deliver.”1 Upon hearing this, Mordechai felt great joy. This Midrash teaches that, as long as the Jewish people are learning, they can still be saved – especially the Torah of schoolchildren (Talmud, Shabbos 119b).
  • The Maharal explains that the greatest impediments for evil people are righteous people, H-Shem, and their own evil. Based on this, these three verses reference these three groups. The first verse concerns righteous people because the righteous do not fear anything besides H-Shem. The second verse concerns H-Shem because people in the verse are already conspiring together, and the only thing stopping their evil is that “G-d is with us.” The third verse is related to the evil person befuddling him/ herself because evil people are under the impression that they are in charge of their destinies.
  • Perhaps “pas’shegen” is used thrice in Megillas Esther to show that three principle actors will undermine Haman’s plan – the righteous Mordechai and Esther, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and even Haman, himself.
  • Based on the translation of “pas’shegen” as “copy,” Class Participant CRL suggested that perhaps there was a copy of Haman’s decree in Heaven indicating H-Shem’s approval of the threat on Jewish survival.
  • The gematria of the word “pas’shegen” (80+400+300+3+50=833) is equal to “hishavtanu” (“that we swore”) (5+300+2+400+50+6=833) (Yehoshua 2:17). Also, with the principle of im hakollel (see #47 above and footnote there) its gematria is equivalent to “mishbetzos” (“settings”) (40+300+2+90+400=832), used in the manufacture of the priestly garb of the Kohen (Shemos 28:13). Perhaps this alludes to the reason for the threat on Jewish existence at this time (Talmud, Megillah 12a). The swearing may allude to the bowing to Nevuchadnetzer’s idol in swearing allegiance to him. The settings may be a reference to the party because the clothing of the Kohen is what Achashverosh wore at his feast.
  • The gematria of “pas’shegen” is also the same as the entire verse regarding Noach’s drunken debasement (Bereishis 9:20), which has obvious parallels to the Purim story.

1Interestingly, there is a custom to say these verses together in this same order after Aleinu at the end of all three daily prayer services.