Esther 7:9, Question 5. Why does Charvona mention the height of the gallows?

  • The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach write that since Charvona was one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to the feast (Esther 6:14), he overheard Haman’s plot, and that is how he knew the height of the gallows.
  • According to the Malbim, Charvona mentions the height of the gallows now because it would add an additional layer of embarrassment for Achashverosh because, at such a height, Mordechai would have been seen publicly hanging while wearing royal robes in which the king dressed him1.
  • A more conspiratorial explanation comes from the Dena Pishra, who writes that Charvona mentions the height because it is obviously too high to serve the purpose of hanging only Mordechai. Clearly, then, Haman also wanted to hang more people, namely Achashverosh and his advisers.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes a Mishnah (Bava Basra 2:9) that a dead body, if it is not buried deeply enough, must be buried 50 amos from a city due to its offensive odor. Since Mordechai is righteous, and the righteous do not decompose, then the 50 amos height of the gallows were indented for someone else – the king.
  • According to Targum Sheini (on Esther 2:1), Achashverosh had been angry with the advisers who convinced him to remove Vashti, and had them hanged. The Aruchas Tamid writes that Haman, the adviser who originates the plan, was actually hanged along with the other advisers, but miraculously fell from the gallows alive. As a precursor to America’s rule of “double jeopardy,” Persian law then dictated that a condemned criminal could not hang twice for the same crime. The Aruchas Tamid continues that since Haman fell when hanged before, Achashverosh was concerned that he might be freed again as per that Persian law. However, these gallows’ height being 50 cubits meant that Haman would die even if he were to fall free.

1Class Participant YML pointed out that Haman could not have intended on Mordechai being hanged on those gallows while wearing the king’s robes. After all, it was only that morning that Mordechai was paraded in the streets of Shushan wearing the royal garb, and Haman built the gallows the night before that – not knowing what the next 24 hours had in store for him and his plans. Perhaps, as the king’s adviser, Mordechai regularly wore clothing akin to a uniform which identified him as belonging to the king’s court.

Esther 7:9, Question 1. Who is Charvona?

ט וַיֹּאמֶר חַרְבוֹנָה אֶחָד מִןהַסָּרִיסִים לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ גַּם הִנֵּההָעֵץ אֲשֶׁרעָשָׂה הָמָן לְמָרְדֳּכַי אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּרטוֹב עַלהַמֶּלֶךְ עֹמֵד בְּבֵית הָמָן גָּבֹהַּ חֲמִשִּׁים אַמָּה וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ תְּלֻהוּ עָלָיו

9. And Charvona, one of the eunuchs before the king, said, “Also, behold! Here is the tree that Haman made for Mordechai who said good regarding on the king. It is standing in Haman’s house fifty-cubit tall.” And the king said, “Hang him on it.”

  •  The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach propose that Charvona was simply one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to feast (Esther 6:14).
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), Charvona was an evil ally of Haman’s, intent on killing Mordechai. Once he saw that the plan would not succeed, he surrendered. This fits with the verse (Iyov 27:22) that allies of the wicked “will surely flee.”
  • The Dubno Maggid explains this with the following allegory: A blind beggar works with a young boy. One day, the boy stole the blind beggar’s wallet with 30 coins. When he saw the beggar crying pitiably, the boy returned the wallet saying, “I found the wallet with the 30 coins.” Instead of thanking the boy, the beggar began to beat the boy mercilessly for the theft. How did he know that the boy stole it? How else could the boy have known that there were 30 coins in the bag? Likewise, the Talmud knows that Charvona is evil because how else could he have known that the gallows were 50 amos tall if he were not in on the plot.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that Charvona noticed that Haman lost the ability to defend himself, and this emboldened him to speak up.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:9) lists what many of the angels and other Heavenly Beings were doing during the climax of the Purim story. It says that Eliyahu appeared like Charvona, and said the words attributed to him in this verse.
  • Another Midrash (Yalkut 1059) and the Ibn Ezra concur that Charvona is Eliyahu.
  • The Alshich adds that another proof that Charvona is Eliyahu is that the verse describes him as “before the king,” and Eliyahu is certainly a minister of the King of kings.
  • Interestingly, the song, “Shoshanas Yaakov,” sung on Purim after the public reading of Megillas Esther ends with the words, “v’gam Charvona zachur latov” (“and also Charvona should be remembered for good”). Charvona is the only person who shares the epithet, “zachur latov” with Eliyahu.
  • When Charvona is mentioned earlier (Esther 1:10), he is the third in a list of the king’s chamberlains/eunichs. The M’nos HaLevi notes that the name is spelled with a letter aleph at the end there, and with a letter hey at the end here. He explains that when Charvona was on the side of evil, his name is spelled with an aleph. When he repents, and is Eliyahu, it is spelled with a hey.
  • In an explanation, R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this name ending with an aleph means destruction in Aramaic. With a hey, it is a composite of “charav boneh” (“destroy, build”). In the process of true repentance, he was rebuilding that which he had earlier wanted to destroy – namely, Mordechai.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya, in his commentary on the Torah writes that he was called Charvona because he helped destroy Haman.
  • The Chasam Sofer and R’ Dovid Feinstein both say that with an aleph, it is the gentile Aramaic; with a hey, it is Hebrew, so it is Jewish.

Esther 7:8, Question 2. Why is Achashverosh upset?

  • According to a Midrash, Achashverosh is upset at this point because, in the garden, Achashverosh remembered that Haman (as Memuchan) was responsible for Vashti’s demise (Esther 1:16).
  • The Dena Pishra adds that Achashverosh was upset that Haman was speaking to Esther behind his back. He even considered that if she pleads for his life, Achashverosh would still not listen to her.
  • The Yosef Lekach notes that Achashverosh took Haman’s silence as admission of guilt, based on this principle in the Talmud (Yevamos 87b) that people are expected to speak up for themselves when accused unjustly.
  • The Malbim writes that Achashverosh was angered that Esther seemed included in decree without his expressed agreement. The Malbim adds that this anger created an unsafe environment in the palace, despite its providing political and legal sanctuary.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Talmud (Shabbos 33a) teaches that dropsy and its attending discoloration affect people who are guilty of immorality. Thus, Achashverosh suspected Haman of immoral acts due to his face coloring.
  • R’ Moshe David Valle notes that Achashverosh could only think immorality was on Haman’s mind at a time like this if he so was inspired by H-Shem.
  • Perhaps some insight may be gained on this topic from the Talmud’s (Horiyos 10b) understanding of the story (Shoftim 4:17-22) between Sisera and Yael. There, Sisera is in mortal danger, and yet is easily seduced by Yael. Violence and immorality sometimes go together.
  • However, according to Midrash Shmuel, Achashverosh did not really think anything immoral was happening. In fact, he did not even accuse Haman of anything like that. Rather, H-Shem had the words come out of the king’s mouth to make Haman more nervous.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Achashverosh simply thought Haman intended Esther harm. Perhaps, this anger was pretense, and was Achashverosh’s method for ridding himself of Haman in the most politically expedient fashion. Interestingly, none of these answers explaining Achashverosh’s anger need be exclusive; the combined reasons create a massive, unappeasable anger that justifies the king’s next act.

Esther 7:7, Question 3. Why does Haman approach Esther?

  • According to Megillas Sefer, Haman was saying to Esther that if she forgives him, Achashverosh will, too.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Haman tried to tell Esther that he didn’t know that the Jews were her people.
  • The Meshech Chochmo writes that Haman realized that the invitations came from Esther, so she is the one with the most power.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Haman tried to convince Esther that he put her in this position of power by getting rid of Vashti, so she owed him a favor. The Malbim posits that perhaps Haman would not have approached her under any normal conditions, but she was the only one left, so he tried his alternative (Plan B) excuses on her. Seeing that she is a woman, and particularly a Jewish woman, he was hoping she would show Haman mercy.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Esther fought the urge to be merciful, unlike Shaul with Agag. She accomplished this by having been exposed to Haman. In this way, she emotionally hated what she was intellectually commanded to hate. Similarly, first the verse (Devarim 25:17) commands us to remember Amalek, and only then (Devarim 25:19) to destroy it. First, one is required to have the emotion, and then to perform the act.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that, on a spiritual level, this act of Esther’s was a tikkun (“repair”) for Shaul’s error of allowing Agag to live. The Zer Zahav adds that Haman’s begging was a great test for Esther’s sense of improperly placed mercy. After all, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 2:1) writes that the ideal way to demonstrate complete repentance is to be faced with the same challenge, and to nevertheless overcome it, and this was almost a direct parallel to the story of Shaul and Agag.

Esther 7:6, Question 4. Why does the verse stress that Haman’s reaction was “before” the king and queen?

  • As mentioned above, the Malbim and the Vilna Gaon explain that Haman’s confusion stemmed from the fact that he was in the presence of both the king and queen, so he could not use either of his excuses.
  • Similarly, according to the Maharal, Achashverosh asked Esther why she invited Haman to the party if he is so evil. She answered that she did so intentionally to avoid the possibility of Haman giving excuses if he were confronted without both of them present.
  • The verse has a combined gematria of 3355, the same as the verse (Bireishis 38:17) regarding the amount of money Yehudah pledges to Tamar. It also has the same gematria as the verse (Devarim 13:10) commanding the punishment for someone who encourages others to worship idol. Finally, it also has the same gematria as the verse in Tehillim (67:4) that the nations are happy when H-Shem governs the nations. Perhaps, just as the verse climactically demonstrates H-Shem’s active rescue of the Jews from their impending holocaust, all of these verses have to do with H-Shem’s supervision of the world. Just as the Talmud (Sotah 10a) says that He was involved with the otherwise seemingly elicit relationship between Yehuda and Tamar, so too He alone should be worshiped – without the false gods of idolatry. Similarly, the point of our world is to reach the level where everyone recognizes the guiding Hand of H-Shem in all of the events of the world.

Esther 7:6, Question 3. Why is Haman bewildered?

  • Both the Malbim and the Vilna Gaon write that Haman was bewildered because he had run out of an alternative, his Plan B. If Esther were not there, he would have emphasized the evil of the Jews, but Esther was there. If Achashverosh were not there, Haman would have told Esther that he did not know that the decree would harm the Jews. The presence of the both of them made any such excuse impossible.
  • R’ Moshe David Valle writes that Haman really had nothing to fear; he did everything only with the king’s permission. Although the king seemed to have forgotten, Haman did not. This is why he became bewildered.

Esther 7:6, Question 2. Why does Esther use these three descriptions for Haman?

  • In the Rashbam’s commentary on the Torah (Bireishis 24:65), he writes that a grammatical rule, the word hazeh (“this”) refers to a close object, whereas the word halazeh (“ this”) refers to an object that is far. Already in this word, Esther means that the person responsible is someone close-by.
  • Similarly, the Malbim distinguishes between the two words for enemy – tzar and oyev. According to him, based on a verse in the Torah (Bamidbar 10:9) a tzar is someone who has already done harm. Based on a different verse (Devarim 21:10), an oyev is someone who wants to do harm. Both definitions fit Haman. Accordingly, Esther is answering both of Achashverosh’s questions, the first of which was who did this. Her answer: the wicked Haman. In answering his second question of the motive, Esther responds that it is an adversary and an enemy.
  • Interestingly, she answers the second question first, and then the first question, as Rabbeinu Yonah in his commentary Mishnah (Avos 5:9) recommends for wise people to do when appropriate. Similarly, the Talmud often (see Brachos 2a) comments on the latter point of a Mishnah before commenting on the former.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein and R’ Gallico write that Esther was saying that Haman is evil and dangerous for all – not just for the Jews. This is based on the Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4), which quotes a verse (Devarim 33:27) that says H-Shem will push away all of our enemies. Regarding Haman, he is an enemy below as well as above; he terrorized our forefathers and he wants to terrorize our children; he is an enemy to me, and he is an enemy to you.
  • Similarly, Midreshai Torah write that Haman hates Achashverosh as much as he hates the Jews.
  • According to R’ Chadida, Esther is saying that Haman hates Jews for historical reasons, and therefore involving Achashverosh and his kingdom unnecessarily into an ancient feud. (Today also, many international leaders and their nations stumble into the Middle East quagmire without a thorough knowledge of the historic animosities and loyalties that are endemic to that region.)
  • The Alshich writes that Esther is saying that Haman is hated below and an enemy above.
  • The Targum translates this verse as: Haman wanted to kill you last night. After failing, he suggested wearing your clothes, and even the royal crown. H-Shem made it work out that Mordechai, a Jew garnered these honors, and now Haman wants the person who saved and represents you dead. As Yossipon points out, it is Mordechai who is looking out for conspiracies and plots against you.
  • The Lekach Tov writes that Haman is called by three descriptors because he had three intentions quoted by the verse (Esther 3:13) to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate the Jews.
  • Asking why the verse uses the word hazeh (“this”), the Ben Ish Chai explains that since all people have good in them, only the evil part of Haman should be hated. He quotes the AriZal’s (Shaar HaKavanos) interpretation of the Talmudic (Megillah 7a) practice of ad d’lo yada as advising us to only bless Haman when we are drunk. This means that inside our klipa (“shell”) we all hold great potential. After all, from Haman emerged his grandson, R’ Shmuel ben Shailot. That is the good trapped within him. The Talmud (Gittin 57b) famously says Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah. Although it says in Tehillim (97:10) to hate evil people, it means that we should only hate the evil part within those people. To see how far this goes, the verse that tells us to kill out Amalek (Shemos 17:14) tells us to destroy the remembrance of Amalek, since there is some good hidden deep within them.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a), also seemingly bothered by the amount of descriptions Esther uses for Haman, writes that Esther was actually going to point to Achashverosh, but an angel pointed her finger toward Haman.
  • R’ Meir Shapiro explains that the word hu means something outward, whereas zeh means something hidden. Here, Haman is the obvious, explicit enemy. Like any deft politician, Achashverosh can claim deniability, and wash his hands of the entire plan. The Talmud is saying that Esther is hinting to Achashverosh that she considers him equally guilty of the planned annihilation of the Jews.
  • On the other hand, R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Esther was literally going to point to Achashverosh because she was upset with Achashverosh for claiming ignorance.
  • The Vilna Gaon explains that, like a Freudian slip, Esther pointed at Achashverosh at this point because it is the nature of people to say X if they are thinking of X, even when they consciously want to say Y. Since the righteous are constantly thinking of H-Shem, so Esther is pointing to the King.
  • The Chazon Ish asks why, at this critically sensitive time for the Jews, would Esther endanger their lives? He explains that she had inculcated the characteristic of emes (“truth”) to such a degree that she found it impossible to lie, implying that Achashverosh was innocent. H-Shem had to send an angel to save the day.
  • Similarly, the Ohel Moshe quotes R’ Puvarsky (Mussar V’Daas) that Esther’s body could only tell the truth. We have the power to train your body to copy your soul, as it says in Tehillim (63:2), “my soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You.” We have the ability to train our flesh to want what the soul wants, as it says in the Mishnah (Avos 2:4). Similarly, Chovos HaLevavos writes that introspection will benefit you in both worlds, as it says in Tehillim (119:59) “I consider my ways, and I turn my feet to Your testimonies.” That is the foundation of mussar philosophy, that the goal of self-improvement.
  • The Maharal points out that Esther would be lying saying that this was entirely Haman’s doing, since Haman could do nothing without Achashverosh. The verse in Tehillim (101:7) says, “He who performs deceit shall not dwell in My house.” A lie cannot save the Jewish people since geulah (“redemption”) cannot result from falsehood.
  • R’ Hanoch Leibowitz answers the question somewhat differently. He explains that Esther, having been forcibly taken to be his wife for twelve long years, subconsciously hated Achashverosh. She therefore pointed at him, though he was not entirely responsible for decree. Even great ones err when affected by their subconscious desires. If such a one as Esther can fall prey to such desires, all people must plan out their actions before doing anything, and then think back and investigate the motivations and results of all behaviors.
  • R’ Eliyahu Lopian says that the angel saved Esther because no harm can come to one who is performing His Will, like speaking the truth.
  • The Torah in Bamidbar (33:55) commands the Jews entering the land of Canaan that they must drive out all bad influences from there, or else the remainders would be “thorns in your eyes, and pricks in your sides” which Ramban interprets as spiritual blindness and physical harassment. Perhaps this verse can also refer to Haman, who forced everyone to bow to his idol, and he tried to physically annihilate the Jews.
  • Also interestingly, the gematria of tzar (90+200=290) (“adversary”) is the same as the word pri (80+200+10=290) (“fruit”), whereas the ­gematria of oyev (1+6+10+2=19) (“enemy”) is the same as the name Chava (8+6+5=19). Perhaps this hints to the Talmudic dictum (Chullin 139b) that the verse about the tree in Gan Eden (Bireishis 3:11) alludes to Haman.