Esther 4:16, Question 5. Why does Esther require three days of fasting?

  • R’ Avigdor Miller points out that fasting for three days is difficult, and accomplished an unprecedented amount of teshuva.
  • The Talmud (Yevamos 121b) uses this verse to inform us that it is difficult, although not miraculous to be without food for that long.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:7) writes that these three days corresponded with the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nisan, which included the first day of Pesach. When questioned regarding why Pesach should be foregone, Esther pointed out that there would be no Pesach if the Jews were wiped out.
  • The M’nos HaLevi quotes from the Yalkut Shimoni that these three days were the 14th, 15th, and 16th of Nisan. The Ohel Moshe points out that the main difference is whether or not the Jews of Persia had the second Seder.
  • The Maylitz Yosher writes that the Jews were expected to fast on Pesach in order to shock them into realizing the seriousness of their predicament.
  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the three days correspond to three sins regarding which Esther expects to be guilty: eat non-kosher food, submit herself to Achashverosh, and partial complicity in the death of Hasach.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya writes that H-Shem only challenges tzaddikim for three days. For example, when Avraham went to potentially sacrifice his son, he found Mount Moriah in three days (Bireishis 22:4). Also, when the brothers were taken by Yosef, they were imprisoned for three days (Ibid. 42:18). Furthermore, Yonah remained inside the big fish that swallowed him for three days (Yonah 2:1). R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the three sections of the Written Law (Torah, Nevi’im, and Kesuvim) were given to three groups of Jews (Kohanim, Levi’im, and Yisroelim) for which they needed to prepare for three days (Shemos 19:11).
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Torah affects us on three different levels: thought, speech, and action. Therefore, Esther was telling Mordechai that the Jews need to prepare these three days to perform honest repentance through thought, speech, and action.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Vilna Gaon (on Bireishis 27:13) that when Rivka told the nervous Yaakov to place the blame of his upcoming deception “eilai” (“on me”), this word can be an acronym for Eisav, Lavan, and Yosef. Those may be the greatest of Yaakov’s tests in life, that came along with the blessing he gets from his father.
  • Also, the Ginzei HaMelech points out that these are three different types of people: Eisav represents a glutton; Lavan represents idolatry, and Yosef represents the challenge of intermarriage. These same three issues are the ones for which Jewish existence was threatened in the Purim story. Pri Tzedek quotes from the Zohar on Chukas that the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, represent three characteristics: kindness, awe, and truth. These are the polar opposites of the three characteristics which, according to the Mishnah (Avos 4:21), destroy one’s life: jealousy, lust, and honor. During these three days, then, Esther wanted the Jews to perfect themselves in these three areas.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that three days is 72 hours, and this is the gematria of chesed, (“kindness”) (8+60+4=72). Therefore, the Jews were supposed to spend these days evoking H-Shem’s Kindness.
  • R’ Avraham Sutton points out that 72 is also the gematria of H-Shem’s four-letter Name when each letter is spelled out with all the yuds included ([10+6+4]+[5+10]+[6+10+6]+[5+10]=72).

Esther 3:8, Question 5. Why does Haman stress that Jewish laws are different from the laws of others?

  • Many cultures in large nations like Achashverosh’s would have their own unique set of rules, customs, and even mores. Here, Haman is stressing that Jewish laws not only different, but even antagonistic to the laws of the land. According to the Talmud (Megillah 13b), Haman is complaining that the Jews “won’t eat our food, won’t marry from us, won’t marry to us.” Haman even uses his knowledge of Jewish law to defame Judaism. He tells the king that if a fly were to touch a Jew’s cup, he would remove it and continue drinking. However, if the king were to touch a Jew’s cup, the Jew would throw the wine away. Alluding to the law of yayin nesech (see Talmud, Avodah Zarah 30a), Haman is telling the king that the Jews view the Persians as unclean (see the Targum Sheini).
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman is saying the Jews view their own laws as superior, and therefore even trumping, the king’s gentile law. On one hand, he is right. Although the Talmud in numerous places (Gittin 10b, Baba Kama 113a, Baba Basra 54b, Nedarim 28a) notes a concept called “dina d’malchusa dina” (“the law of the kingdom is the law”) which means is that Jews are expected to follow the laws of the lands in which we find ourselves, this is only true as long as those laws do not directly contradict Jewish law.
  • On the other hand, as Megillas Sefer learns, Haman is saying that the Jews even go to the extreme measure of mutilating their sons (through circumcision) to avoid intermarrying with the gentiles around us. Poor, little innocent children are cut for their parents’ religious fanaticism. Interestingly, had it not been a command, its cruelty would make it abhorrent. Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 385) writes, “In exile, in disrepute, tiny to behold, yet always conspicuous, it is a nation which calls attention to itself, prods others into action and yet, despite its dispersal, manages to preserve its unique heritage and even to transmit it from one generation to the other.”
  • The Targum Sheini writes that Haman’s criticism of the Jews here was that the Jews “have warm water in winter and cold water in summer.” The Ben Ish Chai explains that Haman is saying the Jews focus on physical pleasure. He also says notes that the Jews manipulate their own calendars from twenty-nine to thirty days, depending on when they want Rosh Chodesh to fall out. In Haman’s estimation, these designations are arbitrary and to the Jews’ own benefit.

Esther 3:8, Question 4. Why does Haman use both “scattered” and “dispersed” to describe the Jews?

  • Generally, the implication of the word “scattered” is that the object under discussion is weakened and no longer whole. On the contrary, the implication of the word “dispersed” is that the object retains its original strength, and has spread. Rav Dovid Feinstein writes that, by using the word “scattered,” Haman is implying to the king that the Jews should have assimilated into Persian culture by now, but they stubbornly refuse by making themselves “dispersed,” retaining their own culture.
  • Rabbi Naftali of Rofshutz writes that Haman also describes the Jews in this way to address Achashverosh’s concern that no other nation has been able to destroy the Jews – how could he dare try? Haman’s response to this would be to not worry about the Jews’ previous longevity. True, they used to be united as an “am echad,” but now they are scattered and therefore disjointed. Only Jewish unity can save the nation from exile.
  • The Malbim says that Haman is attempting to emphasize that these Jews – these vermin of evil influence, as was echoed in history – are everywhere. We don’t know where they are; they can be hiding everywhere. Even today, the average anti-Semite is under the impression that there are billions of Jews everywhere, and they own the banks, Hollywood, and the government, whereas the truth is that the Jews number merely 0.4% of the world’s population.
  • According to the Alshich, Haman is emphasizing that, as a minority, the Jews are virtually loners, and no other nation would come to their aid in their time of need.
  • Mystically, as mentioned previously, one of the purposes of life in this world is to gain sparks of holiness. Just as sparks are scattered, the Jews have been spread in exile to gather together these sparks. Therefore, the Sfas Emes writes, although the Jewish people are spread out to find these sparks as individuals, we mustn’t lose sight of the need to retain communal unity. Other Jews may need our help to find their intended sparks.
  • Rav Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the acronym of “mefuraz umeforad” (“scattered and dispersed”) spell out the word “mum” (“defect”). By saying this, Haman is attempting to prove to Achashverosh that the Jews are lacking, and can be defeated.
  • Emphasizing the positive in this statement, the Sfas Emes points out that although the Jews are spread out, weakened, and incomplete, they nevertheless do not intermarry, and attempt to identify with their Jewish roots.

Esther 2:16, Question 1. Why does the verse emphasize that Esther was taken?

טז וַתִּלָּקַח אֶסְתֵּר אֶלהַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ אֶלבֵּית מַלְכוּתוֹ בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂירִי הוּאחֹדֶשׁ טֵבֵת בִּשְׁנַתשֶׁבַע לְמַלְכוּתוֹ

16. And Esther was taken to the king Achashverosh to the house of his kingship in the tenth month, which is the month of Teves, in the seventh year of his rule.

  • The Malbim says that Esther had to be taken because she put up a fight, and had to go by force. Despite the fact that all should seem lost for an ordinary person in this position, the Vilna Gaon points out that what makes Esther a righteous woman is that she continued to fight to preserve her purity when it was a foregone conclusion that all was lost.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:10) interprets “vitilakach” as meaning “acquired,” and says the courtiers of the palace auctioned off the privilege to bring Esther to the king. Everybody seemed to see something special in her (as we said in the last post), and assumed she would be the future queen.
  • There is an idea mentioned in the Zohar called “Nitotzei Kedusha” (“sparks of holiness”). When a person errs in behavior, that person’s soul loses some spiritual potential, and these are called sparks of holiness. Being holy, these sparks are immortal, and, according to the AriZal, it becomes the task of all people to collect these sparks with positive actions. The Jews living through the Persian exile seemed to commonly practice intermarriage (Ezra 10:2). Therefore, the Sfas Emes posits that the great Esther’s marrying Achashverosh rectified the sin of intermarriage as a way to gather all of those nitzotzei kedusha.