- The Maamar Mordechai writes that Esther mentions the Jews of Shushan specifically because they had been under the threat of annihilation the earliest, and had knowingly been suffering under the shadow of death all of this time. It was only fair for them to reap the benefits of the victory first.
- As understood by Rabbi Jonathan Taub, Malbim notes that this is first time for the remainder of Megillas Esther that Shushan is not called Shushan HaBirah (which he translates as the palace compound). He answers that Esther wanted permission to kill in the city as they had in the palace.
- In a very different perspective, R’ Shimon Schwab writes that the verse mentions Shushan specifically because the Jews only killed there because they were afraid elsewhere. Esther wanted to show that faith is the thing that helps them. When the Jews do their part, H-Shem will do His part. He continues that this lack of faith is the reason for a Shushan Purim – it is a sign that the Jews in Shushan did not deserve to join the Jews in celebration on the same day.
- The Ben Ish Chai points out that Shushan (300+6+300+50=656) has the same gematria (and even same letters) as sason (“joy”) (300+300+6+50=656), which is what the Jews experienced (Esther 8:16) upon their miraculous rescue from obliteration.
- Furthermore, it is also the same gematria as lashon ra (“evil speech”) (30+300+6+50+200+70=656). Evil speech is what Haman tried to use (Esther 3:8) to defame the Jews before Achashverosh when requesting permission to exterminate them.
יב וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה הָרְגוּ הַיְּהוּדִים וְאַבֵּד חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת אִישׁ וְאֵת עֲשֶׂרֶת בְּנֵי–הָמָן בִּשְׁאָר מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ מֶה עָשׂוּ וּמַה–שְּׁאֵלָתֵךְ וְיִנָּתֵן לָךְ וּמַה–בַּקָּשָׁתֵךְ עוֹד וְתֵעָשׂ
12. And the king said to Esther the Queen, “In Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man and the ten sons of Haman. In the remaining states of the king, what did they do? What do you ask and it will be given you. And what do you request more and it will be done.”
- In the first half of this verse, the tone seems to imply that Achashverosh was upset about the casualties. In fact, the Midrash Lekach Tov writes that Achashverosh was actually upset about his dead citizens, but H-Shem controls leaders, as the verse (Mishlei 21:1) teaches that the hearts of kings are in the Hands of H-Shem.
- R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that the tone of the second half of the verse certainly sounds as though Achashverosh seems unaffected by this loss of life.
- The Talmud (Megillah 16b) describes this sudden change of heart as an angel “slapping him on his lips.”
- R’ Mendel Weinbach suggests that such a slap has this effect because Achashverosh suddenly felt Heaven did not want him speaking in an upset manner toward Esther. It literally hurt to speak the way he had been.
- Interestingly, the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 92:7) notes this verse as one of ten kal v’chomer (“a fortiori”) arguments in TaNaCh. In other words, if the Jews killed 500 people in Shushan, how much more likely did they kill more elsewhere!
- In fact, the Alshich points out that Achashverosh must have been thinking that if so many were killed in Shushan – where the informed public was ready for a fight – how much more-so in other parts of the kingdom!
- On the other hand, the M’nos HaLevi quotes R’ Gakon’s opinion that the bloodthirsty Achashverosh was disappointed that such a relatively small number of his people were killed after the Jews had from Pesach until Adar 13th to prepare for battle. This is why he asked if he could do more to help.
- Malbim explains that Achashverosh did not know there would be so many Jew-haters. From a place of genuine concern, he offers Esther more help.
- According to Malbim, the Jews provided Achashverosh with a count of the dead in order to demonstrate to the king that the very existence of these 500 major enemies of the Jews implied the existence of countless more minor enemies.
- The Yad HaMelech sees in this accounting the Jews’ report to the king of how many spoils were not touched.
- The Maamar Mordechai points out that Achashverosh – having risen to the top of Persian society as a military leader – would have enjoyed hearing these numbers of military casualties and exploits.
- It is the opinion of Rav Galico, however, that the fatalities were reported to Achashverosh by the enemies of the Jews in order to anger Achashverosh. It was yet another minor miracle that he did not become upset.
ד כִּי–גָדוֹל מָרְדֳּכַי בְּבֵית הַמֶּלֶךְ וְשָׁמְעוֹ הוֹלֵךְ בְּכָל–הַמְּדִינוֹת כִּי–הָאִישׁ מָרְדֳּכַי הוֹלֵךְ וְגָדוֹל
4. Because Mordechai was great in the house of the king, and his reputation went out in all of the states because the man Mordechai was becoming greater.
- The Vilna Gaon explains that the verse stresses that Mordechai is growing in greatness because he kept growing in greatness gradually. This is because, as the Talmud Yerushalmi points out, the righteous do not become great overnight, but rather require much effort. As the verse (Mishlei 4:18) says, the way of the righteous holech va’or “increases its brightness.”
- The Alshich adds that the governors and other political leaders at the time were especially nervous about Mordechai’s new power because he hanged Haman, and Haman was much more powerful than those governors, so their lives were especially cheap at the time.
- Yosef Lekach writes that although Mordechai was not yet the viceroy, knowing the ways of the palace as they did, they recognized that Mordechai was on his way to that position.
- Malbim notes that there are three major areas of political power: in the palace (chief of staff), domestically (governor), and in foreign affairs (Secretary of State). Mordechai reached greatness in all three of these areas, as the verse testifies by mentioning the beis hamelech (“house of the king”), kol medinos (“all of the states”), and holech v’gadol (“leaving [the country] and being great”).
- Nachal Eshkol points out that some people are powerful, but they are relatively unknown by the general public. Mordechai, however, was both great in name and reputation.
- The Vilna Gaon writes that this verse stresses that these people feared Mordechai, as opposed to the general populace mentioned in the previous verse. This was a more powerful deterrent because the officials knew how Mordechai’s power translated in the inner circles of the palace.
- Malbim adds that, having the more detailed versions of the original decree, these officials had to choose between supporting the enemies or the Jews. Because they feared Mordechai, they decided to do the politically expedient thing – nothing.
- According to Malbim, since the previous verse (Esther 8:15) testifies to the fact that everybody was happy, the various expressions in this verse underscore the fact that the Jews were especially joyous.
- Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 405) writes that this verse demonstrates that the Jews could now survive any difficulty in history because they “preserved their own light and joy.”
- The Rambam (Perakim Hatzlacha, Chapter 2) emphasizes that all of the good that the Jews received was due to their return to Torah. Based on this, the Binyan Shlomo points out that it is a very praiseworthy custom to learn Torah on the holiday of Purim (see Rema, Orach Chaim 695:2).
- The Sharis Yosef teaches that objects going from darkness to light is yet another source for the custom to wear costumes on Purim.
- The Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) writes that this description mirrors how the Jews will be redeemed with the coming of Moshiach.
- The Talmud (Megillah 16b) interprets this verse’s expressions thus: light is Torah; happiness is Yom Tov; joy is circumcision; and glory is tefillin.
- Rashi comments on the Talmud that Haman made decrees forbidding Jews from fulfilling these mitzvos. The Yad HaMelech points out that Jews may have neglected circumcision at that time, as they sometimes have done on times of persecution to pass as non-Jews.
- The Megillas Sesarim writes that Mordechai’s wearing tefillin earlier (Esther 8:15) put that mitzva back in vogue.
- Rav Shimon Schwab finds it impossible for the Jews to have been successfully banned from these mitzvos, en masse. Rather, he explains that the Jews at that time studied Torah, but without light; they commemorated holidays, but without happiness; they performed circumcisions, but without joy; they wore tefillin, but without glory. Without caring, without thinking, and without these precious mitzvos affecting their souls.
- Rav Yehonason Eibshutz points out that it is a natural, human reaction for the emotional impact of an event to fade in subsequent anniversaries of that event. For instance, as happy as a child’s birthday celebration may be, it pales in comparison to the happiness felt at the actual successful birth. However, when that event is attached to a mitzva that is repeated every year, the original happiness felt at the event is retained (and perhaps enhanced) with the performance of the mitzva. This is the reason for the Talmud to equate happiness with Yom Tov; with each occurrence of Purim, its mitzvos reignite its accompanying joy.
- The Sfas Emes asks a fundamental question: why does the verse uses metaphors instead of explicitly writing that the Jews garnered Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin? He answers that, with the miracle of Purim, the Jews recognized the real nature of light, happiness, joy, and glory; light comes from Torah, happiness comes from Yom Tov, joy comes from circumcision, and glory comes from tefillin.
- The Ohr Gedalyahu adds that all of these misapplied emotions point to the Jews’ ancient battle against Amalek, a nation described (Devarim 25:17) as having cooled us. Amalek wins when Jews perform mitzvos without an accompanying fire of emotion. He quotes the Sefer Yetzira that the month of Adar is represented by the letter kuf, meaning kedusha (“holiness”), which he defines as keeping something special and invigorating.
- The Ohel Moshe similarly writes that simcha (“happiness”) is the antidote to Amalek’s cooling effect. The Vilna Gaon notes that all four of these mitzvos – Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin – are regularly called osos (“signs”) and eidus (“testimonies”). He explains that these all testify that there is one G-d, and that the Jewish people are uniquely His people. He adds that taking the first letters (roshei teivos) of the words ora (“light”), simcha (“happiness”), sasson (“joy”), and yikar (“glory”) – aleph, sin, sin, and yud respectively – produces a gematria (1+300+300+10=611) equal to that of Torah (400+6+200+5=611). He continues by quoting a cryptic Talmudic tale (Sukkah 48b) about a character named Sasson speaking with another named Simcha. In this piece of Aggadeta, the two are trying to outdo each other by quoting verses throughout TaNaCh in which one or the other appears first. When Sasson and Simcha finally consult with Rebbe Abahu, he tells them that if a person has a water flask but never fills it, but merely keeps it next to him, he will die of thirst.
- The Vilna Gaon’s explanation is beyond the author’s erudition and the scope of this work, but the Shem M’Shmuel explains that conversation by distinguishing between the exact spiritual nature of these two almost synonymous emotions, happiness and joy. He writes that happiness is the emotion felt after careful planning yields a successful result, whereas joy is the emotion felt when one experiences an unexpected windfall. The debate between Sasson and Simcha, then, is whether success is better felt in the former type of situation, or the latter. For instance, should an organization carefully plan its charitable giving, or bypass the planning and initiate the giving as quickly and haphazardly as possible? Having one necessarily means lacking the other. Rebbe Abahu’s allegoric answer, then, is that there needs to be spiritual content (water) inside the emotion (water flask) to gain anything beyond failure (thirst). Therefore, in our verse, the Jews had both emotions – happiness from the prearranged success, and joy from the unexpected success.
- The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why the great mitzvah of teshuva (“repentance”) seems missing in this list of mitzvos the Jews are performing. After all, the Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that Achashverosh giving his signet ring to Haman created the greatest wave of teshuva in history. He answers that exactly these mitzvos are actual teshuva! Sitting around feeling sorry is not genuine repentance; improving our performance of H-Shem’s service is how we return to Him.
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.