31. To establish these days of the Purim in their times as they were established on them by Mordechai the Yehudi and Esther the queen, and as they established on their souls and on their seed words of the fasts and their crying out.
It is difficult to imagine, but Purim was seen as an innovation. Esther and Mordechai had to push for it, especially with those Jews living in the outskirts who did not feel either the immediate threat, nor the miraculous salvation.
Yeetav Leiv writes that this verse’s focus on Purim’s establishment was meant to encourage people to perform it as Esther and Mordechai did it – with intent to celebrate it for the sake of Heaven.
The Talmud (Megilla 2a) begins its discussion of the mitzva to read Megillas Esther by writing that this verse refers to times because Purim is celebrated by different groups in different times. For instance, villages, big cities, and walled cities all fulfill their obligation of publicly reading Megillas Esther for Purim on various days between Adar 11 and 15.
There being five different days on which to celebrate this aspect of Purim, the Na’os HaDesheh (288) finds a hint in the fact that the word kayam (“establish”) is used five times in Megillas Esther (9:21, 9:27, 9:29, 9:31, and 9:32).
Furthermore, there are five minatzpech (final letters “םןץףך”), which traditionally represent the five exiles (Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome) the Jews have endured because they are end letters, and we pray for the end of our long exile.
R’ Yechezkiel Abramsky tells the story of the Vilna Gaon’s grandson, who lived in Warsaw. Somebody asked him for an example of what made his grandfather so great. He answered that, as a child, the Vilna Gaon was asked why the first Mishna in Megilla (1:1) says lo pachos v’lo yoser (“no more and no less”) regarding the days to read Megillas Esther, but the Mishna in Shabbos (19:5) does not use the phrase regarding the various days on which a bris (“circumcision”) can be performed. The person asking began giving the Vilna Gaon’s grandson a brilliant one-hour answer. “Very nice,” he said, “but my grandfather answered better.” The questioner asked to be given time to think about it and come back with another answer. Three days later, he came back with a longer answer. Again, the Vilna Gaon’s grandson said, “Very nice, but my grandfather answered better. The answer is that both sources indeed use that phrase.” Often, the correct answer requires one to go back to basics. Like an IT support adviser’s first question to a customer, “Is your machine plugged in?”, the Talmud (Shabbos 32a) advises travelers to stay safe on a journey by checking the safety of the boat instead of prayers and incantations.
The Maharsha adds that Purim is a powerful time to pray and say Tehillim. In fact, the Me’am Loez finds a hint to this in the final letters of a phrase in this verse v’al zaram divreihatzomos (“and on their seed words of the fasts”), which spell out Tehillim when re-ordered.
The Meshech Chochmoh writes that the verse needed to mention times in order to contradict those people who wanted to place Purim on the exact time when Haman planned to kill the Jews, which would start in the daytime like the gentile calendar. Rather, Purim needs to follow the Jewish calendar – starting at night.
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.
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!”
Despite their natural fear of critiquing a monarch, Achashverosh’s advisers had the added restraint of having seen the paranoid king dispose of Vashti. The Talmud (Megillah 16a) clarifies that Achashverosh’s officers did not respond out of a great love for Mordechai, but a great hate for Haman.
The Ben Ish Chai traces their motivation to the suspicion that Haman fathered the advisers’ illegitimate children.
According to R’ Dovid Feinstein, this hate was motivated by the very jealousy Esther had hoped to inculcate among Achashverosh’s advisers by inviting Haman to the party.
The Maharsha proves that the advisers did not act out of good feelings toward Mordecahi by pointing out that the advisers used the general, diminutive word davar (“thing”) instead of the honor and glory Mordechai deserves.
Me’am Loez writes that this was the first time Achashverosh felt anything like insomnia, and he was therefore greatly concerned. Since this strange, out of the ordinary event transpires in this verse, perhaps this is the reason for the custom (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 690:15, Mishnah Berurah 690:52) to read this verse in a unique tune1.
The Midrash writes that Achashverosh had trouble sleeping because he was afraid Haman would try to kill him.
R’ Rephael Shapiro of Volozhin wonders why the crux of the Purim miracle hangs on this seeming lie; after all, Haman was not planning on killing the king at this point. He answers that Achashverosh saw in his dream that Haman wanted to kill Esther’s husband. What he did not know was that Esther’s actual husband was not Achashverosh, but Mordechai.
Since every reference to the “king” is really a reference to the King of Kings – H-Shem – the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:1) continues that H-Shem was “awakened” from His throne of Glory. How could H-Shem, who neither sleeps nor slumbers (Tehillim 121:4) have been sleeping? The Midrash explains that H-Shem can be said to be “sleeping” when the Jews are not living up to the standard set for them, as it says elsewhere in Tehillim (78:65). Torah Temimah explains that H-Shem ignores our needs sometimes, and only prayer and repentance can “awaken” Him.
The Talmud (Megillah 15b) cites an argument about which king’s sleep was disturbed. The first opinion says it was H-Shem’s “sleep.” The second opinion is that the sleep of both the upper world and the lower world was disturbed. The third opinion is that it was Achashverosh’s sleep, and that it was due to his concern over the nature of the relationship between Esther and Haman, as she had intended by inviting Haman to her feast (see below). Achashverosh thus becomes concerned that nobody seems to be saving him.
Interestingly, Rashi uncharacteristically quotes both the miraculous and natural interpretations of this verse. R’ Avigdor Bonchek writes that Rashi does so to emphasize that the main theme of Megillas Esther is that the true, miraculous nature of things is constantly concealed within seemingly everyday events. Maharal points out that this can be seen in the verse’s choice of calling Him/him “king” without mentioning Achashverosh’s name. If the verse is discussing H-Shem, it is fitting to call Him King. If the verse is discussing Achashverosh, it must be that he was concerned about kingly, political affairs.
Furthermore, Maharsha notes that any instant in TaNaCh in which someone’s sleep is disturbed, the next verse explains the reason. For example, when Yaakov had a dream about the ladder, the next verse (Bireishis 28:10) explains why. Also, when Pharoah had his prophetic, confusing dreams about cows, the next verse (Bireishis 41:1) explains the reason. This verse’s lack of explanation leads one to conclude that something else is going on – namely, H-Shem’s “sleep” is also being “disturbed.”
Based on the fact that the root of “nadidah” (“shaking”) is “nada,” R’ Mendel Weinbach points out that the verse’s use of two letter daleds indicates that there were two disturbances – one in the Heavens and one on Earth. The Midrash Abba Gurion writes that the angel, Gavriel, kept Achashverosh awake telling him, “do good for the one who did good to you.”
The Ben Ish Chai writes that “nadidah” can be read as “nadad Hey,” or “H-Shem Stirred.” He writes it can also be read as “fifty (gematria of the letter nun) dadah.” Since “dadah” can be seen as the root of “edadeim” (“movement”) in Tehillim (42:5), Ben Ish Chai writes that fifty moved Achashverosh. Specifically, he quotes the Ari Z”l that the first verse in Shema contains twenty-five letters. Since we typically say Shema twice every evening and twice every morning, these fifty letters (twenty-five letters repeated) Mordechai was saying came to protect Mordechai. These fifty letters saved Mordechai from the fifty amos of the gallows Haman prepared, zeh l’umas zeh.
1 The classically given answer for this custom is because this verse is the one in which there is a turnabout – when obviously good things are in store for the Jews.
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Haman mentions his sons because a Jewish owner of a slave also owns his slave’s sons (Shemos 23:12). Haman was, in effect, saying that since he was Mordechai’s slave, his many sons belonged to Mordechai, as well.
The Talmud (Megillah 15b) asks how many sons Haman actually had. The Talmud suggests 30, 70, 208, or even 214.
The Maharsha explains that the word rov (“many”), implies more than the ten sons Megillas Esther will itself name.
The Torah Temimah points out that the Talmud (Pesachim 64b) defines “many” as thirty people.
The Ben Ish Chai is troubled by the large number of children with which the Talmud credits Haman. He explains that these sons were illegitimate offspring Haman sired from the wives of his officers. This large-scale betrayal of his officers’ trust may indicate why Haman was so unpopular, even in court.
The Maharal and Me’am Loez write that Achashverosh’s scepter simply represented his rule over the land, and that Esther was under Achashverosh’s protection.
The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes the length to which it was stretched was either from two amos1 to twelve, or to sixteen, or to twenty-four amos, or to sixty amos, or two hundred amos. Midrash Socher Tov (on Tehillim 22:27) writes that it grew sixty-two amos.
Either way, the Maharsha says the reason why this scepter needed to be extended at all is because Esther was weak from her three straight days of fasting, and the scepter was otherwise too far away. He adds that these are not random numbers: he notes that the word “vayoshet” (“and he stretched out”) is the twelfth word in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to twelve amos; “sharvit” (“scepter”) is the sixteenth word in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to sixteen amos; there are a total of twenty-four words in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to twenty-four amos; there are sixty letters in the verse before the word “sharvit,” hinting to the idea that it grew to sixty amos.
The Ben Ish Chai writes that the length that the scepter became is not as significant as how much it grew. Therefore, if it started out as two and grew to twelve, that means it grew ten amos. The significance of ten is that the Mishnah (Avos 5:1) teaches that H-Shem created the world with ten utterances. Therefore, this miracle was supposed to intimate to Achashverosh that killing the Jews would be like destroying the world, which was made for the holy pursuits of the Jewish people (see Midrash, Bireishis Rabbah 1:2). If it started out as two and grew to sixteen, that means it grew fourteen amos. That is the gematria of David (4+6+4=14), the man responsible for beginning the construction of the Temple. If it started out as two and grew to twenty-four, that means it grew twenty-two amos. This is the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet, with which is written the Torah that itself protects the Jewish people. If it started out as two and grew to sixty, that means it grew fifty-eight amos. This is the gematria of chein (8+50=58), or grace, which means Esther’s prayers to find grace were being favorably answered. If it started out as two and grew to two hundred, that means it grew one hundred and ninety-eight amos. This is the gematria of H-Shem’s Havaya Name (10+5+6+5=26) added to the Elokim Name (1+30+5+10+40=86) twice. This indicates that Esther had aroused H-Shem’s Characteristic of Mercy. The Ben Ish Chai concludes that all of these numbers should not seem contradictory, but were separate growths that literally occurred.
Not counting the opinion of the Midrash Socher Tov, the scepter grew five different times because there are five different levels of redemption – v’hotzaisee (“and I will take you out”) (Shemos 6:6), v’hitzaltee (“and I will rescue you”) (ibid.), v’gaaltee (“and I will redeem you”) (ibid.), and v’lakachtee (“and I will take accept you”) (Shemos 6:7), and v’hayvaysee (“and I will bring you”) (Shemos 6:8) – and in the merit of the five Books of the Torah2.
2The Ben Ish Chai makes a similar observation regarding Mordechai’s five clothes (Esther 8:15). He writes that our verse shows Esther’s reward, and that later verse parallels this one to show Mordechai’s reward.