Esther 4:1, Question 5. Why does the verse stress that Mordechai’s cry was “great and bitter?”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 15a) records an argument about what, exactly, Mordechai was calling out as he went through Shushan. One opinion there has it that he yelled out, “Haman is greater than Achashverosh” in order to arouse the king’s jealousy. The other opinion is that Mordechai yelled out, “The King above is greater than the king below” in a euphemistic fashion to imply that Achashverosh was attempting to usurp H-Shem’s Power.
  • Yalkut Shimoni writes that there is generally a difference between Jewish prayer and idolatrous prayer; whereas Chana’s prayer was quiet (Shmuel 1 1:13), Eisav’s prayer was a “great and bitter cry” (Bireishis 27:38). Like dogs that bark loudest when they have the least bite with which to threaten, an idol-worshiper’s prayer needs to be loud since it has the least spiritual power behind it.
  • Furthermore, Rav Eliyah Lopian suggests that, whereas physical people cry over physical phenomena, spiritual people cry about spiritual matters. Here, however, to counteract the possible spiritual effectiveness of Haman’s ancestor’s (Eisav) “great and bitter cry,” caused by the actions of Mordechai’s ancestor (Yaakov).
  • According to Yosek Lekach and the Vilna Gaon, Mordechai’s cry was inspired by his feeling responsible for the decree against the Jews. After all, his decision to refuse to bow to Haman, regardless of the logic, is what led directly to Haman’s anger with the Jews of Persia and beyond.
  • R’ Henach Leibowitz points out in his characteristic way that this should be a powerful lesson to us about how careful we must be to avoid hurting someone, even when we are in the right!
  • Taken as a unit, some commentators find great significance in the combination of these three motifs of the sackcloth, the city, and the crying. According to the Ginzei HaMelech, the loud voice represents Avraham because he spoke out powerfully against idolatry in a world filled with idols (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avoda Zara 1:3). The ash represents Yitzchak who allowed his father to symbolically sacrifice him. The sackcloth represents Yaakov, who mourned in sack upon being told of his son’s untimely death (Bireishis 37:33). Therefore, in a thoughtful, calculated action of spiritual symbolism, Mordechai used these to recall the merits of the forefathers, whose merits always protect their descendants.

Esther 2:19, Question 1. Why is there a second gathering of virgins?

יט וּבְהִקָּבֵץ בְּתוּלוֹת שֵׁנִית וּמָרְדֳּכַי ישֵׁב בְּשַׁעַר־הַמֶּלֶךְ

19. And virgins were gathered a second time and Mordechai sat at the king’s gate.

  • The Talmud (Megillah 13a) says the king asked advice of Mordechai to help get Esther to open up regarding her background. Surprisingly, Mordechai’s advice was to make Esther jealous by making another contest to pick a wife, similar to the first. Nevertheless, after this additional contest, she still did not reveal her lineage, as it says in the following verse (2:20). In his commentary on the Talmud there, Rashi explains that Mordechai actually hoped the king would find a more suitable wife, and would leave Esther alone.
  • The Ben Ish Chai suggests that it is possible Mordechai was seeking assurance that Esther’s being chosen by the king came from a Divine source and was part of H-Shem’s master-plan.
  • The Malbim, however, sees this gathering as Achashverosh’s attempting to seem like a nice guy by gathering the virgins with whom he had not yet had relations, and releasing them!

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.