Esther 9:31, Question 2. To what fasts does the verse refer, and why?

  • On a simple level, the Ibn Ezra, Rambam (Mishneh Torah Hilchos Taanios 5:5), and Me’am Loez write that the fast to which this verse refers is the fast of Esther. However, according to the Talmud (Megilla 16b), these words are meant to be read with the beginning of the next verse. Therefore, it was through both fasting and Esther’s words that the Jews earned the merit to be rescued from total annihilation.
  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that this means that, just as the Jews accepted upon themselves the fasts of the prophets and fasting for the Temple’s destruction, they accepted Purim with all of its rules.
  • As Malbim explains, Esther and Mordechai used the prophet’s (Zecharya 8:19) establishing other fasts as proof that holidays can be established without violating the Torah’s (Devorim 4:2, see Ramban there) prohibition against bal tosif (“adding to the Torah’s existing laws”).
  • The Ginzei HaMelech notes the correspondence between Purim and fast days. He relates it to Yalta’s saying in the Talmud (Chulin 109b) that the Torah permits everything it forbids. In other words, the joy of Purim counterbalances the sadness of the fast days, zeh l’umas zeh.
  • This fits well with the Ksav Sofer noting the Talmud’s (Taanis 29a) parallel between the months of Adar and Av; just as mishenichnas Adar, marbin b’simcha (“when Adar begins, we increase our joy”), so too mishenichnas Av, mimaatin b’simcha (“when Av begins, we decrease our joy”).
  • The Sfas Emes notes a similar parallel between Purim and Yom Kippur by applying the words of the wisest of all men (Mishlei 18:21) that maves v’chaim b’yad halashon (“death and life are controlled by the tongue”). In other words, H-Shem’s judging the Jews occurs on both days, and is manifest in how we utilize our power of speech to maintain peace and unity.
  • Furthermore, the Maharal adds that we would logically assume Purim should be a time for fasting, considering the reasons H-Shem had for annihilating us. Instead we customarily drink ad d’lo yada to sublimate our logic in order need to recognize that our salvation does not come from our effort, but from H-Shem’s help.
  • Either way, fasting led to the Purim miracle, so R’ Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the word hatzomos (“the fasts”) is written in plural because an individual may choose to fast all three days of Purim (Taanis Esther, Purim, and Shushan Purim), but this is not for the masses.

Esther 9:31, Question 1. Why does the verse mention Purim being established in these times?

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.

Esther 9:29, Question 4. Why does the verse repeat Esther’s genealogy?

  • The Me’am Loez writes that the verse repeats Esther’s genealogy because she was finally allowed to reveal her Jewish roots, and she was proud of them.
  • On a Halachic level, R’ Chaim Kanievsky writes that Esther needed to stress her being Jewish in order for far-flung Jews to accept her authority in establishing this new holiday of Purim.

Esther 9:26, Question 2. Why did they decide on Purim for the name of this holiday?

  • The Me’am Loez writes that they decided on the name of the holiday being Purim because the lots being rolled in Nissan, and coming up with the date in Adar eleven months later gave the Jews time to pray and to repent.
  • Furthermore, Adar had previously had no other holidays, so Purim’s falling out then made it stand out more conspicuously as a holiday, receiving the attention it deserves.
  • Also, the Vilna Gaon and Malbim point out that the lots pointed to a potentially bad fortune, but H-Shem reversed it to a good fortune.
  • In quoting Rabbeinu Yona’s Shaarei Teshuva (2:4), the Ginzei HaMelech notes that just as sin can be transformed to a mitzva status if the sin leads to teshuva (“repentance”), so too the lots lead directly to the Jews’ redemption.
  • The Ksav Sofer supports this point by writing that in calling the day Purim, we celebrate the pain suffered by the Jews at this time, since it led directly to their re-acceptance of Torah (Esther 9:27).
  • Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote that the message to be learned from this is that one should never overconfident of one’s “lot,” thinking that one’s greatness in Torah knowledge or observance will necessarily parry off the Evil Inclination. Rather, even such a person should be always mindful of one’s potential to fall prey to one’s natural, animalistic urges.

Esther 9:24, Question 3. Why does the verse stress that Haman hates all the Yehudim?

  • The Alshich writes that by stressing that Haman hates all the Yehudim, Mordechai was making it amply clear that Haman’s hate was not just a personal vendetta against him. Indeed, as noted earlier, he hated all Jews.
  • In that sense, according to the Me’am Loez, Haman was worse than Pharaoh; whereas Haman (Esther 3:13) wanted to kill all of the Jews, Pharaoh (Shemos 1:16) wanted to kill male Jews only.
  • R’ Meir Simcha of Dvinsk notes that, historically, hatred of Jews escalates when they ignore their faith.
  • As the Rosh Yeshivah of Brisk, R’ Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, explains, Haman hated all Jews, regardless of the efforts of some to conform to his whims in an effort to befriend him, like those Jews who attended Achashverosh’s feast against the advice of their contemporary sages.

Esther 9:20, Question 2. Why does the verse specify that the books are sent near and far?

  • In his introductory comments on the Talmudic tractate Megillah, the Ramban explains that the idea behind sending the books near and far means that they were sent through the entire expanse – from Hodu to Cush (Esther 1:1) – of Achashverosh’s kingdom.
  • Me’am Loez suggests that they were even sent to other countries.
  • The Dena Pishra explains that since Mordechai’s goal was to create a feeling of achdus (“unity”), he even wanted to reach those Jews whose lack of faith and subsequent fear motivated them to flea battle.
  • Rav Schwab, however, understands “close” as those Jews who were living in Shushan and celebrating on the 14th of Adar, whereas “far” refers to those Jews who returned to Eretz Yisroel and celebrated Shushan Purim on the 15th of Adar in the only place where one must certainly do so – the holy city of Yerushalayim.
  • The Sha’ar Yissachar writes that the books were sent near and far so no Jew could ever devise the excuse that they are too far from holiness. Rather, the near and far have equal access to the holiness that emanates from Purim.
  • Keser Shem Tov quotes that Talmudic (Megillah 17a) rule that Megillas Esther on Purim must be read as written, and not backwards. The Keser Shem Tov then wonders why anybody would think to read it backwards. He posits that the Talmud means that nobody should ever consider the Purim story as some ancient, historic event without real relevance to our lives.

Esther 9:10, Question 3. Why did the Yehudim not take the spoils?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 7a) notes that one of the proofs that Megillas Esther was written with ruach hakodesh (see Introduction) is that no human writer could possibly know that the Jews did not take any spoils.
  • Rashi writes that the Jews had rights to the spoils, but decided to wave those rights, and give the spoils to the king in order to maintain friendly relations with the palace.
  • The Dena Pishra writes that they did not take spoils because they did not want others to think that the Jews’ motivation was financial.
  • In M’aarchei Lev, Rav Moshe Schwab writes that since this was the property of Amalek, it was forbidden to take, as was the case for Shaul (Shmuel 1 15:3). and this is why the Jews refrained from doing so here.
  • In fact, the Binyan Ariel and Nachal Eshkol write that the Jews’ self-control in this incident was a tikun for the sin of Shaul in sparing (Shmuel 1 15:9) Amalek’s property.
  • Interestingly, the M’lo HaOmer and Me’am Loez both note that the initial letters of the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth words of this verse, uvabeeza lo shalchu es (“and from their spoils they did not send”) can be rearranged to spell Shaul.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that the Jews took the spoils, but destroyed them in an effort to not benefit from the property.
  • However, R’ Yitzchak Yeruchem Diskin writes in Ohelim that Jews have an obligation to take the property of Amalek and destroy it, but did not do so here. The reason was that the Talmud (Megillah 16a) considers Haman to have been a slave. As such, he relinquished all rights to personal belongings. This includes his children. This also answers the question of how his grandchildren could study Torah in Bnei Brak if Amalek is never allowed to join the Jewish people. Such is not the case for his grandchildren because of his status of being a slave.
  • Megillas Seris adds another reason they did not take the spoils – they only had one day to kill Amalek, and they did not want to run the risk of missing the opportunity to fulfill this mitzva. In the course of performing a mitzva, they totally ignored anything ancillary to killing out their enemies.
  • The Gerrer Rebbe notes that matanos la’evyonim, the Halachic (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:4) injunction to donate to the poor on Purim is in honor of the impoverished Jews of the time not taking the spoils of their enemies, despite their needs.