וּבְשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה הָרְגוּ
הַיְּהוּדִים וְאַבֵּד חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת
6. And in Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man.
The M’nos HaLevi translates habira, not as “the capital,” but as the “palace,” so the verse is intimating, according to R’ Yosef Gakon, how safe the Jews felt in the palace compound to have killed 500 servants of the king in his presence.
Similarly, the Ibn Ezra adds that, outside Shushan, the Jews feared the influence of Haman and his sons.
Interestingly, the Vilna Gaon notes that the verse uses the word vi’abed (“and destroyed”) because the Jews destroyed the property of their enemies. The reason for this is to assist the Persians in forgetting this event ever took place. Nations in general have poor memories, and the lack of physical reminders can help avoid the anti-Jewish sentiment this massacre could later conjure.
Continuing his thoughts on the previous verse, the Vilna Gaon writes that Esther’s rising up alludes to the end of the morning prayer service, and her standing alludes to the kaddish prayer.
Similarly, the Dena Pishra explains that Esther was standing here because she was pleading before H-Shem, and this is why the verse refers to Him as King.
The Shelah writes that we should stand in prayer before H-Shem the same way we do before a human king.
R’ Moshe Feinstein would famously stand still during prayer instead of shukeling back and forth, as many do. The source of this custom was an incident in which, as a rabbi in communist Russia, he was called before the police commandant. He recalled that one of the most frightening events of his life was standing there, stock still, unable to move. Realizing that one is standing before an authority should cause one to avoid any movement.
According to the Ibn Ezra, Achashverosh was angry from the time he woke up from his drunken stupor after following Haman’s decree to rid himself of Vashti (Esther 2:1) until Haman was ultimately hanged.
The Me’am Loez explains the subsiding of the king’s fury as calm that returned to the universe.
This is because, as the Sfas Emes writes, when Amalek is in power, H-Shem is more noticeable through His characteristic of din, judgment. This is similar to what Rashi writes in his commentary on Torah (Shemos 17:16).
Haman’s end brought with it a sense of peace. The Talmud in several places (Rosh HaShanah 12a, Sanhedrin 108b, Zevachim 113b) points out that regarding the Flood, the verse (Bireishis 8:1) says “vayishku mayim” (“and the water subsided”) when the waters cooled down, whereas the phrase in this verse is “v’chamas hamelech shichacha” (“and the fury of the king subsided”). The contrast in phrasing implies that the flood waters were hot to match the burning passions of the licentious people of that time, mida kineged mida.
Parenthetically, perhaps another connection between the flood and Haman’s downfall is the Midrashic opinion (Yalkut Shimoni 6:1056) that Haman built the gallows from the beams of Noach’s ark.
Interestingly, shachacha (“subsided”) is a unique word in TaNaCh. R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume IV, 319) comments that the word, shachach is phonetically related to shagag, (“not by choice”). In other words, the king’s anger was not something Achashverosh put effort into controlling. It came and subsided without any input from him.
The Talmud (Megillah 16a) considers that the unique spelling of shacha with an extra letter chuf to read shachacha is due to the fact that two angers were cooled; one belonged to the King of the Universe and the other belonged to Achashverosh. Also, Achashverosh calmed down about the situation of Esther, and the situation of Vashti.
As Rashi explains, Achashverosh was doubly angry because Haman was seemingly responsible for the death of Vashti, and was now a threat to Esther.
The Maharsha emphasizes that Achashverosh was still angry from that point (Esther 2:1), chronologically almost a decade earlier.
R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that Achashverosh had held himself responsible for Vashti’s fate all of this time, but now realizes that he was deceived and manipulated.
The Vilna Gaon says that the king whose fury subsided was H-Shem, King of the World. This may refer to the Zohar (III 133a), which translates the verse (Tehillim 144:15) that describes the Jewish people as “ha’am shekacha Lo,” or as “the nation that calms Him,” implying that the Jewish people have a tremendous power, if only we were to utilize it.
The Zer Zahav writes that Esther’s not forgiving Haman finally caused Shaul to be forgiven for taking unwarranted pity on Agag, Haman’s ancestor.
The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Shir Ma’on quotes the Sha’aris Yisroel that quotes the great scholars who lived through the Chmielnicki Massacres of 5408-5409 (1648-1649 CE), which was one of the worst attempts at the genocide of the Jewish people in our history. They note that the large letter ches (Esther 1:6) and the large letter suf (Esther 9:29). Together, the letters spell out tach, a Hebrew way to reference the year 5408. This means that the massacre was a manifestation of Haman’s evil decree.
The Ginzei HaMelech heard from others the contention that the Chmielnicki Massacre was not the end of the effects of Haman’s decree. Rather, the Holocaust of tasha, 5705 (1945 CE), was the final manifestation of Haman’s decree. He proves this from the unique spelling of shachacha; since H-Shem was “calmed” about the Jewish people twice – once in tach, and once in tasha. There is proof of this in the mispar katan of the word shachacha (300+20+20+5=345= 12= 3) being the same as the mispar katan of tasha (400+300+5=705 = 12= 3). H-Shem is no longer anger.
The Ginzei HaMelech also quotes from Rav Michel Weissmandel that there is a hint to this in the traditional sizes of the letters in the list of Haman’s sons (Esther 9:7-9) as found in the Megillas Esther. The letters suf (400), shin (300), and zayin (7) there are smaller than the surrounding text, which refer to the year tashaz (1946 CE), the year in which ten Nazi officers were hanged at the Nuremberg Trials. There is also a large letter vuv (6), alluding to the sixth officer, Julius Streicher, who shouted “Purim Fest 1946” as he was being led to the gallows, despite the hanging taking place on Hoshana Rabba, the holiday on which the Zohar (III 31b-32a) says H-Shem judges the gentile nations. There was another Nazi who was supposed to be executed that day, Herman Goring, who committed suicide in his cell. He is likened to Haman’s daughter, who also killed herself. The comparison is extenuated by the fact that Goring famously enjoyed wearing women’s clothing.
Furthermore, the gematria of shachacha is the same as Moshe (40+300+5=345) because even good leaders are taken when H-Shem chooses to punish a generation. As the Talmud (Brachos 62b) teaches, a plague takes away the greatest of the generation together with the masses. Indeed, a storm sweeps away the good grain together with the chaff.
According to the Nachal Eshkol, another reason this gematria corresponds to Moshe is because the Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:2) says that yet another reason the Jews were saved from genocide was in the merit of Moshe. His merit should continue to be with us, and rescue us finally from this exile, bimheira biyameinu.
In a rather enigmatic comment, Rashi writes, “evil, hatred, and vengeance were decided.” Haman must have known that all negative things were being focused in his direction.
The Brisker Rav asks how Haman knew that evil was decided. He answers that the Targum translates Achashverosh’s asking (Esther 7:5) “ay zeh” as “where is he.” In other words, the decision to punish whoever was responsible for this evil decree was final, and only required the finding of the culprit.
The Ben Ish Chai answers that Haman knew bad things were in store for him because he had already been advised by his friends (Esther 6:13) that his situation was deteriorating. Besides that, Haman thought that his situation would regress because Zeresh and his advisers thereby made what the Talmud (Kesubos 8b) calls “an opening for the Satan,” – saying something that could allow the Heavenly accuser an opportunity to punish someone.
The Dena Pishra answered that the verse, once again, used the word melech to refer to the King, H-Shem, because Haman angered Him, and now was certain the time had come for retribution.
Both the Dena Pishra and R’ Moshe David Valle note that the last letters of the phrase “ki chalasa eilav hara” (“because he saw that evil was decided on him”) spell out H-Sem’s Name in order. As the Chida and Rabbeinu Bachya write, when H-Shem’s Name is encoded in order, it represents His quality of mercy. This hints to the fact that Haman must have realized that all comes from H-Shem.
Parenthetically,this fact does not automatically define him as righteous righteous. After all, instead of getting on his knees at this point in true repentance to H-Shem, he begs for his life from an earthly queen. However, perhaps his begging Esther for his life instead of Achashverosh indicates that he acknowledges her righteousness, and its accompanying power. This very act may be the one that earned him the merit of having descendants who the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) says learn Torah in Bnei Brak learn Torah.
Seemingly, Esther’s point is that the loaves of silver paid during Haman’s deal with the king (Esther 3:9) was a bad deal for the king. However, as the Maharal points out, Achashverosh returned the money (Esther 3:11), so an alternative interpretation is necessary.
According to Rebbetzin Heller, Esther was saying that the humiliation that the Jews would experience would not justify bothering our great king, Achashverosh; it would be beneath his dignity to do such a thing.
Also, the enemy – Haman – is not considering the loss to the king because he only cares about himself.
As the Talmud (Megillah 16a) interprets this phrase, Haman does not care about Achashverosh. First, Haman advised the killing of Achashverosh’s beloved Vashti, and now Haman has set his sights on the king’s new beloved, Esther.
The Ibn Ezra adds that Esther was saying that Haman cares so little for Achashverosh, that he does not even mind Achashverosh’s loss of tax revenue in killing out so many citizens of the realm.
According to Rashi, Esther is pointing out that if he had cared about Achashverosh, Haman would have advised him to sell the Jews and keep the money.
R’ Yehonason Eibshutz says Esther was protecting Achashverosh from an assassination plot; if he will kill her, then he would kill the king, as well.
Like the Rokeach, the Yosef Lekach writes that Esther’s point was that enslaving the Jews is permissible by the Torah, but trying to kill them off is against Torah. Therefore, Achashverosh risked being punished for this, and Haman would not care if he were.
The Dena Pishra writes that Esther’s point was that, as a king, Achashverosh could uniquely appreciate what a loss the Jews would be to H-Shem, their King, and how He will respond for the sake of His subjects.
According to the Alshich, another point Esther was making is that, in returning the silver (Esther 3:11), Achashverosh essentially sold his own wife as slave for free.
The Holy Shelah interprets “the king’s damage” as pain being inflicted upon the King of the World.
The Ketones Or quotes the Talmud (Taanis 3b) that it is impossible for the world to exist without Jews. Accordingly, Esther’s point was that Haman does not care about that, so this plot is not to Achashverosh’s benefit.
3. And Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor/grace in your eyes, and if it is good on the king, give me my soul in my request and my nation in my petition.
The Midrash HaGadol (Shemos 33:17) writes that Esther mentions finding favor in the king’s eyes because the very definition of finding the favor of the king (or H-Shem) is that he (or He) would be willing to do all that is requested.
According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 9:2), Zeresh was advising Haman to convince the king that it was imperative that he kill Mordechai. He was supposed to explain to Achashverosh that Mordechai’s very existence threatened Persian civilization, even to the point that just his praying had the power to negate the power of their Persian gods.
For another explanation for Haman’s not needing to ask the king, but rather tell him, we should recall that the Yalkut Shimoni (1053, commenting on Esther 3:1) writes that Achashverosh had built a throne for Haman that was even higher than his own, and that the Talmud (Megillah 51a, commenting on Esther 4:1) says that Mordechai’s cry after learning of the decree against the Jews was that Haman became more powerful than Achashverosh. Based on these, the Avnei Nezer writes that Haman was to tell the king instead of asking him because he had taken charge. Perhaps, as in history or literature, the king gave his adviser greater power than he realized in order to have less responsibility, himself.
The Malbim writes that they wanted Mordechai hanged in the morning because that is when public executions were performed in order to show the strength of the monarchy.
The Ben Ish Chai writes that Zeresh was, in effect, telling Haman that Mordechai was in prayer at that time, he wouldn’t be aggravated by the sight of him.
The Maharal says that morning represents geulah (redemption). This is why the very next verse (Esther 6:1) begins the positive upswing of Megillas Esther.
R’ Yehonasan Eibshutz quotes the Midrash Abba Guria that Zeresh wanted Mordechai to be killed during the time of Shema. That way, Mordechai would be unable to connect geulah to tefillah (prayer)1, which the Talmud promises would have otherwise protected him (Brachos 9b).
1This is a Halachic concept (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 66:7, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 33) that forbids any interruption between the morning prayer ending in “ga’al Yisroel” (“Savior of Israel”) and the Amidah.