Esther 6:13, Question 5. Why do Haman’s advisers seem to question Mordechai’s lineage?

  • 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).

Esther 1:13, Question 1. Who are these wise men Achashverosh approached and what does it mean that they “know the times?”

יג וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לַחֲכָמִים יֹדְעֵי הָעִתִּים כִּיכֵן דְּבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ לִפְנֵי כָּליֹדְעֵי דָּת וָדִין

13. And the king said to the wise men who know the times – since such is the way of the king before all those who know knowledge and justice.

  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b), the wise men whom the king approached after being insulted by his wife were none other than the Jewish Sages. The idea that they “know the times” means that our Sages are in control of the times and can have a hand in the calendar by, for instance, adding a thirteenth month (Adar Sheini) by declaring a leap year when necessary to balance the lunar months with the solar seasons (see Talmud, Sanhedrin 11b). Relevant to Tu B’Shvat this week, in the laws of orlah, a tree’s fruit cannot be eaten during the first three years of its life (Vayikra 19:23). The Sages’ ability to mandate a thirteenth month forces a farmer to wait an entire month longer for a tree to turn three years-old. We allude to this rabbinic power in our prayers. In the Musaf prayer of Shabbos (a day which cannot be set by the Sages) we say, “Blessed are You, H-Shem, Who sanctified the Shabbos,” whereas in the Musaf prayer of a Yom Tov (a day which can be set by the Sages) we say “Blessed are You, H-Shem, Who sanctified Israel and the times,” alluding to the fact that Israel can affect the calendar. Both the Ibn Ezra and Rav Dovid Feinstein add that, on a more mystical plane, the Sages were equally aware of astrology and which times have which spiritual energies (and how best to use these) as learned from Sefer Yetzira (Chapter 5).1
  • Rav Yehonoson Eibshutz writes that Achashverosh was hoping that the Sages, knowing these spiritual times as they do, would find that Vashti’s mazal (cosmic, spiritual influence) would allow her to live.
  • On a practical level, the Ben Ish Chai writes that the Sages could find ways to excuse any crime. For reasons too complex to explain here2, they were trained to do so because a unanimous decision would expatiate a perpetrator. In order to find a way to discredit a given exhibit of evidence, the Sages needed to then be completely aware of situations to best judge them.
  • As the Malbim writes, the Sages knew best how to apply laws to situations. The Maharal adds that a Sage, a righteous person by definition, always knows how to act under a given situation.
  • According to the Talmud (ibid.) the Sages found a way to not give advice because they realized that they were in a bind, a Catch-22. On the one hand, telling him to kill her as is expected of an insulted monarch may backfire and cause more Jew-hatred. On the other hand, sparing her meant subjecting Jewish women to untold humiliation under Vashti’s evil hands. To get out of having to give advice in this matter, the Sages simply pointed out that they could not judge capital cases ever since the Temple was destroyed. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss reminds us that one of the recurring themes of Megillas Esther is mida kineged mida, measure for measure. Here, Vashti’s halting the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash effectively ended her own life. Had there been a Temple, and it accompanying Sanhedrin, the Sages would have been able to pardon her.

1 My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yisroel Simcha Schorr, shlita, would often remind us that Pesach came before the exodus from Egypt. The time, itself, had the strength needed for an exodus. This is why Lot offered matzos to his visiting angels in Nisan (Bireishis 19:3, see Rashi there) before there was even an exodus to obligate the eating of matza. From the time of Creation, that time had the spiritual energy to be a vehicle for the Egyptian exodus.

2See Talmud (Sanhedrin 17a) for the details of this rule.