Esther 9:22, Question 4. What does the verse intend by “feasting and joy,” and why?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 7a) learns from the verse’s use of “feasting and joy” that there is a mitzva to drink ad d’lo yada, until one does not know the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai” on Purim. Although this a topic worthy of a much larger Halachic discussion, it should suffice for purposes of understanding this verse to note some varying opinions on this subject.
  • Indeed several Halachic deciders understand this literally as an injunction to become completely drunk on Purim, as is clear from the Rif (Megillah 3b) and the Tur (Orach Chaim 695:2).
  • Among others, the Peleh Yo’eitz warns that, obviously, this drinking should not be done to the point where one would miss any other mitzvos, including praying mincha with proper intent.
  • The Talmud (Pesachim 68b) teaches that holidays from the Torah should be be split evenly – half for H-Shem (i.e. with prayer, learning, etc.), and half for our own pleasure (i.e. eating, resting, etc.). However, even according to an earlier opinion there that all holidays should be completely for H-Shem, this verse’s use of the words “feasting and joy” require Purim to be completely for our pleasure.
  • The Abudraham notes that drinking is such a critical part of celebrating Purim because drinking plays a central role in Megillas Esther, including Vashti’s fall (Esther 1:10), Esther’s rise (Esther 2:18), [the decree to kill the Jews (Esther 3:15),] and Esther’s parties that led to Haman’s fall (Esther 7:1-10).
  • The Midrash Eliyahu writes that we celebrate Purim by drinking because the Talmud (Megillah 13b) relates that Haman slandered the Jews’ drinking practices when he told the king that if a fly were to touch a Jew’s cup, he would remove it and continue drinking. However, if the king were to touch a Jew’s cup, the Jew would throw the wine away, alluding to the Talmudic (Avodah Zarah 30a) law of yayin nesech.
  • The Nesivos Shalom (Purim 57-58) has a very unique reading of this Talmudic passage. He notes that the above cited teaching does not say “livsumei” (“to become intoxicated”) with wine, but rather “livsumei” in Purim. This means that one should get drunk from the day of Purim, itself, similar to the prophet’s (Yeshaya 51:21) description of being “drunk, but not from wine.” Through prayer, Torah study, and acts of kindness, Purim should cause a person to become so “drunk” on the elevated revelations of Purim that one cannot tell the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.”
  • Malbim writes that the joy mentioned in the verse parallels “feasting and joy,” while the holiday parallels the sending of gifts. This is so because the very purpose of our lives is to separate ourselves from the physical in an effort to focus on the spiritual. That is the very-same purpose of Yom Tov!
  • Similarly, in Horeb, Rav Hirsch writes that the physical rescue of the day deserved a physical enjoyment.
  • Similarly, in R’ Tzaddok HaKohen’s contrasting between Purim and Chanukah, he focuses on the fact that Chanukah was a struggle between different philosophies, wherein the Hellenists and Greeks did not care if the Jews lived or died as long as they accepted the Hellenistic worldview. Therefore, Jews celebrate Chanukah, which was a spiritual/philosophical victory, in a spiritual manner, with additions to the daily tefillah and the lighting of the chanukiya. Jews celebrate Purim, on the other hand, which was a physical victory, in a physical manner, with feasting and joy.
  • The Bach (Orach Chaim 670) focuses his distinguishing of the two days by noting that the entire Purim story was initiated by the Jews wrongly attending Achashverosh’s feast. He quotes a Braisa that says that the Chanukah story was perpetuated by the Jews’ lack of alacrity and laziness in fulfilling the tamid offering. Therefore, Purim is celebrating with a party to make up for our attending Achashverosh’s party, and Chanukah is celebrated with the lighting of Chanukah lights to make up for the neglecting of the constant fire of the tamid offering.
  • His son-in-law, the Taz (Orach Chaim 670:3), writes that Purim is an open miracle that saved our temporal lives, wheras Chanukah commemorates a relatively hidden, spiritual miracle in the oil lasting longer than expected. Their distinct commemorations, then, are accomplished through the public feasting of Purim and through the relatively private lighting of the Chanukah menorah, respectively.
  • The Sfas Emes adds that our physical pleasure on Purim is also due to the physical nature of Eisav’s (progenitor of Amalek) blessing that Yaakov (progenitor of the Jews) took from him (Bireishis 27:28-29). Furthermore, Yaakov’s attempt to take on Eisav’s physical role in the world is yet another reason for the custom to wear masks on Purim.
  • During a Purim seudah, the Satmar Rebbe once mentioned that one might have thought that Haman’s idol would make the threat to Jewish existence on Purim a spiritual one. However, the physical and spiritual aspects of a Jew are one and the same. After all, a physical body without a soul is a corpse. Accordingly, this is another reason for the custom to drink on Purim – to see beyond the superficial, and realize that our physical health is directly related to our spiritual health.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the mitzvos of the day are intended to make Purim a day of Heavenly purpose of spiritual growth, and not for selfish joy. He bears this out from the fact that the initial letters of the four mitzvos of the day – simcha, mishteh, yom tov, manos – can be seen as an acronym that spells out shamayim (Heaven).
  • Famously, the Ari z”l quotes the Tikkunei Zohar (21) that the holiness of Yom Kippur is due to its being a “yom kiPurim” (“a day like Purim”).
  • The Ohel Moshe suggests that Yom Kippur’s holiness depends on Purim because the Talmud (Taanis 30b) says Yom Kippur was the day on which Moshe came down Mt. Sinai with the second set of luchos (“tablets”). This receiving of the Torah was not complete until the Jews accepted the following of its commands in the days of Purim with the verse’s (Esther 9:27) words “kimu v’kiblu.”
  • On another level, R’ Yitzchak Hutner explains that Purim is similar to Yom Kippur because there is a need on both days to make things right with people. The Mishna (Yuma 8:9) teaches that a person does not gain atonement for the wrongs one caused to another unless one asks for forgiveness from that person. Similarly, on Purim, the sending of mishloach manos is supposed to engender feelings of unity and peace among the Jewish people. This is done in a spiritual manner – by begging for forgiveness – on Yom Kippur, and in a physical manner – by drinking and feasting together – on Purim. In this way, the two holidays compliment each other, and become one powerful entity.
  • On one particular Purim in the Warsaw ghetto, R’ Kolonimus Kalmish (Hy”d) approached a Jew who was understandably not feeling joyous in the midst of terrible atrocity. He told this Jew that the intent of the comparison between Purim and Yom K’Purim is that just like a Jew should feel like there is no choice on Yom Kippur, and one must fast, so too, on Purim, one has no choice – one must have simcha (“joy”)!
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Esther 9:20, Question 1. What does Mordechai write?

כ וַיִּכְתֹּב מָרְדֳּכַי אֶתהַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַיִּשְׁלַח סְפָרִים אֶלכָּלהַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר בְּכָלמְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ הַקְּרוֹבִים וְהָרְחוֹקִים

20. And Mordechai wrote these things and sent books to all of the Yehudim in all of the states of King Achashverosh, the near and the far.

  • Malbim says that what Mordechai wrote were the details of what occurred, since he was concerned that Jews outside of Shushan knew very little about the miraculous success of the Jews of Shushan.
  • According to Rashi, what Mordechai wrote is the content of Megillas Esther, exactly as it appears today.
  • The Ibn Ezra wrote down the reason for the previously mentioned joy.
  • Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer writes that Mordechai wrote this down as the head of the Sanhedrin.
  • The Vilna Gaon explains that this means that he wrote the Halachic details of how to properly commemorate Purim, with what can and cannot be done on this day.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein emphasizes that Mordechai is making the changes for the holiday that the Jews had accepted upon themselves spontaneously.
  • R’ Elisha Gallico notes that it is so important to remember the real source of Purim, there are two readings of Megillas Esther every Purim. This is why Moredechai did not make Purim an actual Yom Tov in order to allow the Jews to perform the other mitzvos of the day.
  • The Oznei Yehoshua notes that if we had Purim without its rules, we would end up having an empty, meaningless holiday. As it stands, Purim is the epitome of giving in the Jewish community.

Esther 9:19, Question 5. Why are the expressions written in a different order than in the previous verse (Esther 9:18)?

  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the expressions are written in a different order than the previous verse (Esther 9:18) because the original celebration was spontaneous, and not following any specific rules. Mordechai would later (Esther 9:21) establish Purim for future generations with changes.
  • Yosef Lekach notes that everything mentioned in the verse needs to be artificially “made.” In that first year, happiness was a natural, organic reaction. In the future, it would have to be manufactured artificially.
  • Malbim writes that the Jews did not feel the need to celebrate the first year because they didn’t know the decree and thought that their victory was due to the king’s decree.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz and the Chasam Sofer note that in the first year, the Jews accepted Purim as a Yom Tov, so Mordechai expected them to feed the poor.
  • After all, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yom Tov 6:17) writes that people have the responsibility of feeding the poor on a Yom Tov. Later, when the people would not see Purim as a Yom Tov, the order was switched around in order for the people to still feel responsible for feeding the poor.

Esther 9:16, Question 1. Why does the verse mention the Jews “standing on their souls?”

טז וּשְׁאָר הַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר בִּמְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ נִקְהֲלוּ ׀ וְעָמֹד עַלנַפְשָׁם וְנוֹחַ מֵאֹיְבֵיהֶם וְהָרֹג בְּשׂנְאֵיהֶם חֲמִשָּׁה וְשִׁבְעִים אָלֶף וּבַבִּזָּה לֹא שָׁלְחוּ אֶתיָדָם

16. And the remaining Yehudim who were in the states of the king gathered and stood on their souls, and were relieved of their enemies, and killed five and seventy thousand of their haters. And in their spoils they did not send their hands.

  • As Malbim points out, the army of the king was with the Jews in Shushan.
  • However, outside of Shushan, Dena Pishra writes, the verse had to mention that the Yehudim were “standing on their souls,” meaning they had more concern for their lives.
  • According to the Sfas Emes, unlike the days of Moshe (Devarim 4:10) where they needed to be artificially gathered together, the Jews united themselves together in a show of oneness. However, they knew that such displays were not enough, and they also “stood on their souls,” meaning they focused on the emotional hate for everything Amalek.

Esther 9:13, Question 2. Why does Esther mention the Jews of Shushan specifically?

  • 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.

Esther 9:12, Question 1. How does Achashverosh feel about his dead citizens?

יב וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה הָרְגוּ הַיְּהוּדִים וְאַבֵּד חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת אִישׁ וְאֵת עֲשֶׂרֶת בְּנֵיהָמָן בִּשְׁאָר מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ מֶה עָשׂוּ וּמַהשְּׁאֵלָתֵךְ וְיִנָּתֵן לָךְ וּמַהבַּקָּשָׁתֵךְ 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.