4. “Because I and my nation have been sold to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. And even if we were to have been sold to be slaves and maidservants, I would have been silent because the enemy is not equal to the king’s damage.”
The Ramban (on Bireishis 17:18) writes that the Hebrew word eelu is actually a combination of two words, eem (if) and lu (if), literally “if if,” a poetic manner of saying “if only.”
According to the Vilna Gaon, Esther is saying that she would have stayed silent if the Jews were been sold into slavery since slavery was then a legitimate, legal form of acquisition. After all, the decree to kill the Jews involved the transfer of money (Esther 3:9).
The Malbim explains that Esther is telling Achashverosh that Haman lied to him. Haman had told the king he wanted to kill out an unspecified “certain people,” (Esther 3:8) implying that this was a weak, unimportant group. Also, as the Malbim pointed out on there (see #209 above), Achashverosh did not know about the extermination, and thought Haman’s plan was to enslave the Jews. However, Esther was saying, Haman misled Achashverosh. Had it been merely their enslavement, Esther would remain silent but killing out an entire group of his people would ruin his historic legacy. Therefore, keeping Haman alive anymore would run the risk of destroying his reputation.
The Ben Ish Chai explains that Esther was noting that slavery happens, and it requires the transfer of moneys. However, she was asking, if Haman wanted to kill out the Jews, why was there a financial transaction? If they deserve death, there would not need to be an exchange of money, so his intent is suspect.
R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes about a concept in Choshen Mishpat known as ona’a, or deceit. The rule is that one may not sell an object for more than 1/6 more profit than the cost of the item. However, the Talmud (Bava Metzia 56b) writes that such a concept does not apply to the sale of slaves. Here, Esther is saying that Haman’s overcharging made this slave sale illegitimate, and therefore she had a right to protest.
The Ben Ish Chai quotes Rav Tzemach who writes that Achashverosh accepted the deal with Haman by telling him to do what was “hatov b’einecha” (Esther 3:11) (“good in your eyes”), or whatever you want. This phrase can also mean that whatever you do them, you must do to yourself. Therefore, if Haman’s intent was slavery, then Esther would have remained quiet seeing as Haman was already a slave. However, death is something Haman would not want. This deceptiveness was causing her to speak now to avoid the planned annihilation from hurting Achashverosh on both fronts.
The Ohel Moshe quotes Rabbeinu Shlomo, the brother of the Vilna Gaon in explaining the verse (Ezra 9:9) “kee avadim anachnu” (“for we are slaves”). He writes that when Jews are in exile, we are like slaves in that we have fewer mitzvos. Esther is conceding that we are somewhat denigrated to the level of slaves, but annihilation is not a part of that differentiation.
Also, R’ Dovid Feinstein quotes the verse in Moshe’s warning to the Jews of what would occur to them if they ignore H-Shem (Devarim 28:68) that the Jews will become so low, that they would not even be valuable enough to be sold as slaves. The next step after that is either destruction or redemption. Esther didn’t say that to Achashverosh because he wouldn’t mind destroying the Jews.
Basing himself on the same verse, the Rokeach says that our slavery is in Torah, so Esther would have to accept it. However, actual annihilation is against the Torah’s promise (Vayikra 26:45), so Esther cannot remain mute.
According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 7:25), the threat to Jewish existence in Persia was a result of the sons of Yaakov attempting to sell their Yosef into slavery (Bireishis 37:28). Shar Bas Rabim explains that since H-Shem operates mida kineged mida (“measure for measure”), Esther was saying here that slavery was a fair punishment, but not death.
R’ Shmuel Aharon Rubin, father of the author of Talilei Oros, during the sale of Yosef, he was saved by Yehudah (Bireishis 37:26). This, he explains, is the reason why the verse that introduces Mordechai (Esther 2:5) uniquely mentions his mother’s lineage from Yehudah.
Perhaps it is noteworthy that Mordechai’s lineage is also from Binyamin, the only other brother not responsible for Yosef’s sale.
The Maharal notes that Haman’s advisers must have known that Mordechai was a Jew, as Haman, himself mentioned to them (Esther 5:13). After all, it was possible that Mordechai was brought into Persia with King Yechanya (Esther 2:6), but was not actually a Jew. Therefore, the Talmud (Megillah 16a) understands the advisers’ remarks as relating to Mordechai’s tribal lineage. In effect, they were saying that if he were from the tribe of Yehudah, Binyamin, Efrayim, or Menasheh, Haman could not expect to be successful against him. In Bireishis (49:8), Yaakov promised Yehudah that his descendants would conquer their enemies. In Tehillim (80:3), King David prays that H-Shem strengthen Efrayim, Binyamin, and Menasheh. As it happens, Mordechai could trace his paternal lineage to one of these listed tribes and his maternal lineage to another.
The Maharal points out that Yehudah, Efrayim and Binyamin all represent Jewish unity because the Beis HaMikdash, and the Mishkan in Shilo and Nov were all located in their tribal inheritance. As proof, the Maharal quotes from the verse (Bamidbar 16:6) in which Moshe attempts to quell the rebellion of Korach and his group by saying they should all bring fire-pans. The entire group bringing individual fire-pans would represent the very opposite of unity. In fact, the unity of Jews’ uniqueness with H-Shem’s Uniqueness fights off the doubts and confusion that Amalek represents. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:2) considers the description “Yehudi” as being derived from the adjective “yechidi” (“unique”) or the noun echad, (“one”).
According to the Targum, the advisers were not asking if Mordechai was a Jew, but if he were from the holier, saintly Jews. The Vilna Gaon writes that, unlike Haman’s assertion that the events he described were chance, Zeresh and the advisers were saying that it was not. After all, as a member of the Yehudim, Mordechai enjoyed the situation promised by the Talmud (Shabbos 156a, Nedarim 32a) that “ein mazal b’Yisroel” (“there is not mazal for Israel”).
R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the advisers were focusing on the fact that Haman’s situation could go either way, based on Jews’ behavior.
The Ginzei HaMelech quotes R’ Meir Shapiro, who focused on the word, “zerah” (“seed”). They were saying that if the Jewish youth had no serious connection to Mordechai. They considered the aged Mordechai only powerful if he still held relevant sway on the youth of his people. So when Haman told them that Mordechai was surrounded by thousands of students learning a (temporarily) outmoded law regarding grains and Temple service, the advisers realized Haman has no chance. When Judaism is relevant for the invigorated youth, our enemies stand no chance.
Similarly, says the Ginzei HaMelech, Mordechai has to be mizerah (“from the seed”) of Yehudim – an invigorated member of the youth in vitality – and then Haman should just give up.
According to the Ben Ish Chai, Haman gave a short history lesson saying Mordechai was a descendant of Shaul, who only ruled briefly and not successfully. In response, the advisers said, that may be true, but Mordechai was also a descendant of Yehudah from his mother’s side, so he will win as promised. Homiletically, he reads the word im (if) as eim (mother).
R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that, since Mordechai raised and taught Esther, he is in a sense her father. When Mordechai references Esther’s “father’s house,” he is saying that her apathy to the needs of the Jewish people will be a mark of shame upon him.
Pachad Yitzchak writes that prayer is the tool of our ancestors, so Mordechai is telling Esther to utilize the power of her “father’s house” – prayer – to save the Jews from their current threat. When someone approaches an earthly king, it is one thing to provide him with a gift, but something altogether more powerful if one has the references. The king would be more likely to listen to the request because he feels like he has more of a connection with the requester.
In explaining this verse, R’ Henoch Leibowitz quotes a Midrash (Tehillim 22) that advises people to “push away with the right hand, and pull people in with the left.” In this case, Mordechai’s methods of convincing Esther to approach the king include “pulling with the left” by his reminding her of her noble, royal roots, and also “pushing away with the right” by warning her to not lose her chance. As R’ Leibowitz continues, if Esther – as righteous as she is – needs this form of convincing, how much more-so do we need to utilize this in our relationships with people. Instead of yelling at a child for doing something wrong, it is important to tell the child, “Doing this is beneath you.”
According to the Akeidas Yitzchak, Mordechai’s reference to Esther’s “father’s house” was meant to emphasize that, considering the precarious state of the Jewish people, she should use her Jewish lineage as an explanation as to why she should be allowed to visit the king unbidden.
The Alshich and the Megillas Sesarim both say that the “father’s house” is a reference to King Shaul, and his sin of allowing Agag to live when he had the chance to fulfill the command to obliterate Amalek. It thus become Esther’s duty to undo that error.
R’ Yehonason Eibshutz notes historically, there is always someone standing in the way of the Jews earning their rescue. In this case, it was Haman. Mordechai was thus telling Esther that he could, himself, get rid of Haman, but that would not make up for Esther’s ancestor’s mistake, which only she could accomplish. Halachically, Esther’s going to Achashverosh voluntarily would forbid her to Mordechai as a wife forever.
The Ginzei HaMelech also points out that Shaul did go through the steps of teshuva (Shmuel 1 15:26, 28). This being the case, why does Esther need to fix his error? Although regret is one step in teshuva, the result of his actions still remained. There is a story of a woman who felt her husband was emotionally abusive. The rabbi she consulted told her to purchase a block of wood and bag of nails. Each time she felt abused, he said, she should hammer a nail into the block of wood. After a few such incidents, the husband became curious about the loud knocking his wife would initiate after each fight. He asked her about it, and the wife told him what the rav had said, and showed him this porcupine of a block of wood. He instantly felt regret for his past deeds, and he made a deal that for every nice act of his toward her, she would remove one nail. Eventually, the block was nail-free. The husband said, “Look! It’s all better! There are no more nails!” “Yes,” she said, “The nails are gone…but the holes are still there.” A sin can be erased, but the consequences of that sin can last forever.
The Alshich says that by Mordechai’s telling Esther to speak on behalf of her people, he was implying that she should reveal her lineage as a game-changing trump-card.
Quoting our verse, the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 30:4) writes that those people who sacrifice their lives for the good of the Jewish people are rewarded by having the Jewish people called in their names. The Yad HaMelech writes that this reward makes sense because the Jewish people really are naturally people who sacrifice themselves for their people.
The Vilna Gaon says that Mordechai knew that Esther, being a righteous woman, never voluntarily submitted to Achashverosh carnally. In addition to the fact that he was a gentile, we learned earlier that Esther was married to Mordechai before she was forcibly removed from his home. Accordingly, Esther would need the force of a command to submit to Achashverosh voluntarily. There is a story told of a community rav who was in a situation in which circumstances were such that he had to build a synagogue where a mikvah once stood. Otherwise, his congregation would have no home. Knowing that Halacha (see Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat I, Siman 40) does not allow for a shul to be built in such a place, he asked the Chazon Ish for advice. The Chazon Ish reportedly told the rav that he was right, and that building the shul in such a location would earn him punishment in this world and the next. Nevertheless, he still had to do it. His congregation needed a home, and, as a leader, he had the responsibility to accept punishment for their benefit. Here, too, Esther was required to perform this sin for the benefit of the entire nation. Esther would not have gone to Achashverosh voluntarily.
R’ Moshe Dovid Valle quotes the verse in Koheles (3:7) that there is “a time to be silent, and a time to speak.” In other words, Mordechai was telling Esther that there was a time when he commanded her to remain silent regarding her ancestry (see 2:10); now, he was rescinding that command and telling her to speak.
R’ Dovid Feinstein gives another reason why Esther needed to be commanded. Quoting a Rashi in Vayikra 6:2 (in Parshas Tzav), he writes that the word, “tzav” (“command”) is only used when the person performing the action is reluctant to do it because there is something they stand to lose. Here, Mordechai has to command Esther because he realizes her self-sacrifice. Recalling that Mordechai is speaking to Hasach (Daniel) that he has to command Esther because he is a greater Torah scholar. As such, Esther would be more likely to listen to the command.
The Malbim writes that, earlier, the king wanted to know Esther’s nation for political reasons, so “nation” was written before “lineage.” Here, he wanted to know who her family was to reward them with gifts, so the verse mentions “lineage” before “nation.”
20. And Esther did not reveal her lineage and her nation as Mordechai commanded her, and the instruction of Mordechai Esther did just as she did in being raised by him.
Eitz Yosef writes that, earlier (2:10), before Esther was introduced to Achashverosh, Mordechai did not want the knowledge of Esther’s royal lineage to encourage the king to choose her (as we’ve said before). Now that she was already chosen, she no longer had this reason, and she refused to identify her royal stock out of modest humility.
The Malbim writes that, despite the fact that she was no longer under Mordechai’s direct influence, and despite the many tactics of the king, she still refused to identify her people. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:12) comments that Esther’s silence was an innate, genetic family trait learned from Rachel, her ancestor. Rachel famously stayed silent in the face of her sister marrying her beloved Yaakov (see Bireishis 29:25 and Rashi there). Decades later, Rachel’s son, Benyamin, stayed silent about the sale of Yosef, despite mourning for his brother to the point of naming all of his ten sons after him (see Bireishis 46:21 and Rashi there). King Shaul, Rachel’s descendant, too, was silent (Shmuel 1 10:16) about being made king by the prophet Shmuel. The Midrash is teaching, therefore, that it was due to Esther’s lineage – her ancestral ability to stay silent in the face of adversity – that allowed her to stay silent now.
The Ohel Moshe points out that silence is not always good. Although the Mishnah praises silence (Avos 1:17) as the best thing “for a body,” this seems to contradict the verse in Koheles (3:7) which states that “there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak.” The Alshich and Maharal both point out that the Mishnah specifically says silence is good for the body, meaning that silence is always good for the physical body, but silence is not always ideal for the soul. The Ohel Moshe concludes from this that all of Esther’s relatives praised in the Midrash for being silent were pure enough to know when to speak, and when to be silent.
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!
The Maharsha says that, as we shall see in the next answer, the party was meant to endear Achashverosh to Esther specifically for her to divulge her lineage. It was therefore named after her. The Me’am Loez reminds us that “Esther” also means “hidden,” and this feast was thus meant with the express purpose of her revealing her secret identity.
Also, the above-mentioned concern for the poor also makes this uniquely “Esther’s” party.
The Ben Ish Chai adds that this party demonstrated to the people conclusively that the icons of Vashti were down, and the king’s heart belonged wholly to Esther.
Rav Chadidah says this party was made by Achashverosh for Esther, as opposed to Vashti’s party, that she made for herself (1:9). Rav Chadidah points out that this proves a great affection the king had for his new bride.