Esther 8:17, Question 1. What do these expressions of happiness signify in this verse?

יז וּבְכָלמְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה וּבְכָלעִיר וָעִיר מְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר דְּבַרהַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ מַגִּיעַ שִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשׂוֹן לַיְּהוּדִים מִשְׁתֶּה וְיוֹם טוֹב וְרַבִּים מֵֽעַמֵּי הָאָרֶץ מִתְיַהֲדִים כִּינָפַל פַּחַדהַיְּהוּדִים עֲלֵיהֶם

17. And in each every state, and in each and every city – any place where the word of the king and his law was revealed – there was happiness and joy to the Yehudim, a feast and holiday. And many from the nations of the land became Yehudim because the fear of the Yehudim fell upon them.

  • The Ksav Sofer points out that the repetition of “happiness and joy” in this verse connotes the high degree of happiness present on Purim due to re-acceptance of Torah (Esther 9:27).

  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle notes that these four expressions of happiness are intended to stand in marked contrast to the four expressions of sadness (Esther 4:3) – evel (“mourning”), tzom (“fasting”), bechi (“crying”), and misped (“eulogy”) – used earlier when knowledge of Haman’s decree became known.

  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that, taken together, the first letters of the words magiya simcha v’sasson la’Yehudim (“there was happiness and joy to the Yehudim”) form a rearranged acronym for shalom (“peace”). This is because joy and happiness is only fully realized in peace.

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Esther 8:16, Question 3. Why is ora (“light”) written with a seemingly extra letter hey and sasson (“joy”) spelled incompletely (without a letter vuv)?

  • In explaining how ora (“light”) represents Torah, the Ben Ish Chai writes that ora is written with a hey because it means ohr hey, or the light of H-Shem.
  • Rav Tzaddok HaKohen writes that ora is written with a letter hey because the verse intends it to be feminine since the Torah being described here is specifically Torah she’bal peh (“the Oral Law”). As Rashi (on Mishlei 1:8) writes, the Torah she’bal peh is represented by the feminine. Rav Mordechai Gifter explains that this is because the rabbis know the natural foibles of their people in the same way that a mother considers the nature of her son.
  • From the time the Jews ignored Mordechai (the leading rabbi of the generation) by attending Achashverosh’s party until they re-accepted the Oral Torah with the words (Esther 9:27) “kimu v’kiblu” (“they took and they accepted”), the Jews of that period were struggling with Torah she’bal peh, and its necessary rabbinic accompaniments.
  • Similarly, the Midrash Yerushalmi interprets yikar as denoting the judges, who were also the rabbis.
  • Midrash Chaseros v’Yitaros writes that sasson (“joy”) is spelled incomplete (without a vuv) because no joy can be complete until Moshiach comes and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheira biyameinu.
  • R’ Chaim Kanievsky writes that it is written incompletely because circumcision, which this represents, has an element of pain. He notes that sasson is spelled completely in the next verse (Esther 8:17) because we should strive to add to the joy of Purim as though nothing is missing, as the Halacha (Biur Halacha 695, dh “ad d’lo yada”) states explicitly regarding the custom to become inebriated on Purim.

Esther 8:15, Question 2. Why does the verse say Shushan is happy now?

  • Malbim points out from the next verse (Esther 8:16) that specifies that the Jews were happy, that this verse seems to imply that the non-Jews were happy. In reference to this, he quotes the verse (Mishlei 29:2) that the elevation of the righteous brings gladness to the people.

  • The Ben Ish Chai and the Ksav Sofer point out that the verse uses two expressions, tzahala (shouting) and simcha (joy), in describing Shushan’s happiness. One is for the happiness the general population felt about the death of Haman, and the other was for the happiness they felt over Mordechai’s honors.

  • Megillas Sesarim explains these two expressions as describing “the brightening of the face and the joy of the heart.” In other words, there were two different feelings: one was a physical show of joy and the other was an internal feeling of joy.

  • The Ibn Ezra writes that tzahala is a cognate of the Hebrew word for brightness. He explains that the verse uses it here in the sense of the hopefulness of a person sitting in darkness when the light begins to shine.

  • Maamar Mordechai writes that people are usually unsure of new, untested officials. Here, nobody was nervous because Mordechai was a known and trusted entity.

  • Class Participant YML suggests that maybe other ethnic minorities in the kingdom felt encouraged when they saw that even a Jew could be elevated in Achashverosh’s kingdom.

  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the entire city of Shushan was happy that a Jew was elevated because Jews are often instrumental in commerce, and their security would thus presage a country’s financial security. Many countries in history that exiled its Jewish population had to deal with major financial crises immediately afterward.

  • Dina Pishra writes that the verse is using hyperbole to describe the salvation of the Jews being so complete that even the stones of the city were rejoicing.

  • On a deeper level, the Ginzei HaMelech writes that this does not have to be seen as hyperbole. Rather, as the R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzzato in Mesillas Yesharim (Chapter 1) explains, the entire world was given to man for its proper usage, and is thus physically affected by mankind’s spiritual behavior. This is the reason for the world to have been destroyed by the Flood when the people sinned. Here, too, the world, and Shushan specifically, rejoiced as a byproduct of man’s spiritual elevation.

  • Yosef Lekach writes that Shushan’s joy is described as a contrast to Mordechai’s worries. His concern was the Midrashic (Bireishis Rabba 84:3) statement that “there is no rest for the righteous.” He anticipated that this time of peace and contentment meant to him that he had to find more positive actions to perform and new evils to combat.

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!”

Esther 5:9, Question 2. Why does the verse describe Haman’s joy in two ways?

  • The Alshich notes that, for someone who should be planning the details of his newly-signed decree to annihilate the Jews, Haman’s reaction is inappropriate, and is therefore another example of H-Shem guiding the behavior of people. H-Shem calmed Haman, giving him the opportunity to make mistakes only blasé, overly confident people make. H-Shem does not control our actions, but He can control our attitudes by removing our worries.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that joy refers to physical joy, and a good heart is an internal pleasure.
  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the two adjectives refer to two different attitudes simultaneously occurring in Haman’s mind. The first happiness came with his taking pride in the fact that only he was invited to private, royal feast. The other feeling was satisfaction from his meal. This was no mundane emotion, as we know that food has a powerful affect on behavior.
  • The Kedushas Levi notes that Scripture usually reserves this kind of phraseology of being satisfied for the righteous. Its use here for Haman seems unusual. The Tiferes Shlomo answers with a spiritual answer that the Talmud (Gitin 57b) says that Haman’s descendants learn Torah in Bnei Brak. Considering that Amalek cannot convert, and that Haman’s sons all die, this is indeed strange. Firstly, it is possible Haman’s sons had children before they were killed. As evil as he was, some of the holiness from the meal prepared by Esther rubbed off on him. Holiness never goes away. It can be mishandled, as potential can be ignored.

Esther 4:11, Question 5. Why does Esther emphasize that she had not been summoned for thirty days?

  • Megillas Sesarim says Esther was arguing here that her not being summoned in the last thirty days was indicative of the fact that she soon would have to be requested.
  • R’ Yaakov of Dubno gives the opposite answer – since Achashverosh had not called her in thirty days, Esther feared that he had lost interest in her.
  • Kisei Shlomo writes that Esther realized that the Jews’ salvation would really not come from her, but through their own teshuvah. She therefore picked the large number of days to buy time for the Jews to repent on their own.
  • The Maharal quotes from the Talmud (Brachos 58b) that a person who is reunited with a friend after thirty days says the blessing of Shechechiyanu. The Maharal explains that the reason for this is the intense joy brought about by the cessation of the absence. In other words, Esther emphasized that she had not been summoned for thirty days to clarify that when Achashverosh will actually summon her after so long a separation, his emotional state will be far more amenable to her suggestions.
  • According to Rav Yitzchak Hutner, this entire conversation justifies the custom of drinking on Purim ad d’lo yada, up to the point that one does not know the distinction between “blessed is Mordechai” and “cursed in Haman” (Talmud, Megillah 7b). He explains that, during the rest of the year, we are warned against digging deep into the secrets of the world, like the material from which the Earth was made, the symbolic meaning of Yechezkiel’s vision of H-Shem’s chariot and retinue, etc. On Purim, however, the point of drinking is to break down our inhibitions, open our minds, and reach levels of intellectual understanding to which we are not usually privy. On Purim, too, we are able to enter the courtyard of the King, and He will allow us to comprehend that which we were otherwise not invited to understand.

Esther 4:4, Question 7. Why does Esther send Mordechai clothing?

  • According to the Malbim, Esther sent Mordechai clothing because he needed to be dressed properly to enter the palace, and she wanted to hear the information directly from him. This would be especially true if, as the Vilna Gaon surmises, Esther thought the information in question was confidential.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein, however, writes that Esther sent clothes to Mordechai because she felt he was over-reacting; she felt confident that she could overpower Haman within the remaining eleven months before the given date of the Jews’ destruction.
  • Interestingly, Tiferes Shlomo takes this incident as indicative of the classic argument on Judaism – should one fast and practice asceticism, or should one fulfill the words of Tehillim in striving to “ivdu es H-Shem b’simcha” serve H-Shem in joy (100:2)? Even in such dark times, Esther still felt that one should strive to find joy in serving H-Shem, and combat annihilation that way.
  • Similarly, according to Rav Pam, the events in this verse point to a fundamental difference between Esther and Mordechai regarding their approach to defending Judaism in exile.
  • He quotes the Megillas Sesarim who writes that Esther felt we should use teshuva together with political maneuvering to effect change. Mordechai, on the other hand, felt we should fulfill the words of the wisest of men, who wrote, “When a person’s ways are desirable for H-Shem, even his enemies seek peace with him” (Mishlei 16:7). In other words, all we must do is attempt to be the best we can be, and H-Shem will protect us from any potential enemy.