Esther 7:7, Question 2. Why does the verse mention the garden?

  • Yossipon writes that Achashverosh went to the garden to confirm the information he just acquired with Mordechai.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) writes that this verse specifically mentions Achashverosh’s garden because Achashverosh’s was equally angry in his return as he was in leaving the room. What angered him while he was away was the sight of angels who looked to him like people. One Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:9) adds that it was the angel, Michael, and another Midrash (Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 50) says that they looked like specific people – namely, Haman’s sons. These angels were cutting down the trees of his garden. Astonished that they would be cutting perfectly good trees from his own garden, Achashverosh asked them,” What are you doing?!” They responded, “Haman ordered us to do this.”
  • The Vilna Gaon asks why the story would require this entire incident with the angels. This is an especially cogent question when one considers the Aggadic story’s element of seeming dishonesty; after all, Haman did not order anyone to cut the king’s trees. He answers that H-Shem is treating Haman like he treated the Jews, mida kineged mida, measure for measure. Just as Haman maligned the Jews (Esther 3:8), H-Shem treated him the same way, having angels lying about Haman.
  • The Maharal adds that they looked like Haman’s sons cutting down good trees to show Achashverosh what kind of person Haman is. After all, the Jews, who are compared to trees, are good, and undeserving of being cut down.

Esther 7:4, Question 1. Why would Esther have remained silent had the Jews been sold into slavery?

ד כִּי נִמְכַּרְנוּ אֲנִי וְעַמִּי לְהַשְׁמִיד לַהֲרוֹג וּלְאַבֵּד וְאִלּוּ לַעֲבָדִים וְלִשְׁפָחוֹת נִמְכַּרְנוּ הֶחֱרַשְׁתִּי כִּי אֵין הַצָּר שׁוֶֹה בְּנֵזֶק הַמֶּלֶךְ

4. “Because I and my nation have been sold to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. And even if we were to have been sold to be slaves and maidservants, I would have been silent because the enemy is not equal to the king’s damage.”

  • The Ramban (on Bireishis 17:18) writes that the Hebrew word eelu is actually a combination of two words, eem (if) and lu (if), literally “if if,” a poetic manner of saying “if only.”
  • According to the Vilna Gaon, Esther is saying that she would have stayed silent if the Jews were been sold into slavery since slavery was then a legitimate, legal form of acquisition. After all, the decree to kill the Jews involved the transfer of money (Esther 3:9).
  • The Malbim explains that Esther is telling Achashverosh that Haman lied to him. Haman had told the king he wanted to kill out an unspecified “certain people,” (Esther 3:8) implying that this was a weak, unimportant group. Also, as the Malbim pointed out on there (see #209 above), Achashverosh did not know about the extermination, and thought Haman’s plan was to enslave the Jews. However, Esther was saying, Haman misled Achashverosh. Had it been merely their enslavement, Esther would remain silent but killing out an entire group of his people would ruin his historic legacy. Therefore, keeping Haman alive anymore would run the risk of destroying his reputation.
  • The Ben Ish Chai explains that Esther was noting that slavery happens, and it requires the transfer of moneys. However, she was asking, if Haman wanted to kill out the Jews, why was there a financial transaction? If they deserve death, there would not need to be an exchange of money, so his intent is suspect.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes about a concept in Choshen Mishpat known as ona’a, or deceit. The rule is that one may not sell an object for more than 1/6 more profit than the cost of the item. However, the Talmud (Bava Metzia 56b) writes that such a concept does not apply to the sale of slaves. Here, Esther is saying that Haman’s overcharging made this slave sale illegitimate, and therefore she had a right to protest.
  • The Ben Ish Chai quotes Rav Tzemach who writes that Achashverosh accepted the deal with Haman by telling him to do what was “hatov b’einecha” (Esther 3:11) (“good in your eyes”), or whatever you want. This phrase can also mean that whatever you do them, you must do to yourself. Therefore, if Haman’s intent was slavery, then Esther would have remained quiet seeing as Haman was already a slave. However, death is something Haman would not want. This deceptiveness was causing her to speak now to avoid the planned annihilation from hurting Achashverosh on both fronts.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes Rabbeinu Shlomo, the brother of the Vilna Gaon in explaining the verse (Ezra 9:9) “kee avadim anachnu” (“for we are slaves”). He writes that when Jews are in exile, we are like slaves in that we have fewer mitzvos. Esther is conceding that we are somewhat denigrated to the level of slaves, but annihilation is not a part of that differentiation.
  • Also, R’ Dovid Feinstein quotes the verse in Moshe’s warning to the Jews of what would occur to them if they ignore H-Shem (Devarim 28:68) that the Jews will become so low, that they would not even be valuable enough to be sold as slaves. The next step after that is either destruction or redemption. Esther didn’t say that to Achashverosh because he wouldn’t mind destroying the Jews.
  • Basing himself on the same verse, the Rokeach says that our slavery is in Torah, so Esther would have to accept it. However, actual annihilation is against the Torah’s promise (Vayikra 26:45), so Esther cannot remain mute.
  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 7:25), the threat to Jewish existence in Persia was a result of the sons of Yaakov attempting to sell their Yosef into slavery (Bireishis 37:28). Shar Bas Rabim explains that since H-Shem operates mida kineged mida (“measure for measure”), Esther was saying here that slavery was a fair punishment, but not death.
  • R’ Shmuel Aharon Rubin, father of the author of Talilei Oros, during the sale of Yosef, he was saved by Yehudah (Bireishis 37:26). This, he explains, is the reason why the verse that introduces Mordechai (Esther 2:5) uniquely mentions his mother’s lineage from Yehudah.
  • Perhaps it is noteworthy that Mordechai’s lineage is also from Binyamin, the only other brother not responsible for Yosef’s sale.

Esther 6:10, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh emphasize that Haman should follow every detail?

  • The Alshich writes that, in his desire to uncover the conspiracy he so fears, Achashverosh is emphatic that Haman should perform everything he suggested.
  • The Me’am Loez explains that the nature of a person who is forced to do something is to delay and ignore as many steps as possible.
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), once Haman saw that he would have to honor Mordechai in this degrading way, he suggested new methods of honoring him that would not detract from his own self-love, like naming a river or village after Mordechai. In an ironic twist, Achashverosh therefore stresses that Haman should follow every detail to include those other things Haman suggested, as well.
  • The Shaar Bas Rabbim writes that this phrase includes the crown. Although Achashverosh is not happy with the idea, even showing his disapproval, he nevertheless agrees to it reluctantly, not even able to say the word.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that H-Shem wanted Mordechai to be pampered with all of these honors for two reasons. First, on the Earthly level, Mordechai deserves reward for having saved the life of Achashverosh, allowing him to be pampered in palace luxury. Second, on the Heavenly plane, the Talmud (Gittin 62a) refers to scholars as royalty, deserving of the best in this life and the next.
  • In the spirit of the idea that the entire Purim story teaches us that H-Shem runs His world through mida kineged mida, M’nos HaLevi explains that when Mordechai first learned of the decree to annihilate the Jews, he is described (Esther 4:1) as putting on sackcloth, walking through the streets of Shushan, and crying bitterly. In reward for putting on the sackcloth, he is now to put on royal garments; in reward for walking through the streets, he is now to be escorted on the king’s horse; and in reward for his bitter cry, his greatness is to be proclaimed throughout the city.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle points out that the initial letters of the last three words in this verse “mikol asher dibarta” (“from all that you said”) spell out the word m’od (“much”). The Torah (Bireishis 15:1) describes Avraham’s – and by extension, every righteous person’s – reward as s’charcha harbeh m’od, “your reward will be very great.”
  • R’ Chaim Fasman once pointed out that the only part of the daily amida in which we request that somebody actually get something is in the prayer for the righteous, where we ask H-Shem that He give the righteous s’char, reward. The reason for this is that it is an inspirational kiddush H-Shem for all of us when we see the righteous rewarded.
  • The Targum Sheini, with its embedded commentary, says that Achashverosh told Haman a detailed list of the items which he was supposed to give to Mordechai, including Achashverosh’s Macedonian crown, Ethiopian sword, African cloak, and the horse he rode from the beginning of his reign named Shifrigaz. The gematria of Shifrigaz (300+10+80+200+3+7=600) is 600, the same as sheker (300+100+200=600), falsehood. Perhaps this alludes to the idea that wealth and honor are fleeting, impermanent things, as the verse in Koheles (6:2) says, “a man to whom G-d has given […] wealth and honor […] and yet G-d has not given him the opportunity to eat from it, […] this is futile and an evil disease.”

Esther 6:4, Question 3. Why does the verse mention that the gallows were prepared “for him?”

Gallows

  • Besides stressing that the verse mention that the gallows were prepared “for him,” R’ Shlomo Kluger in Ma’amar Mordechai points out that in order to be consistent with Zeresh’s advice earlier (Esther 5:14), the verse should have written “asher asa lo” (“that he made for him”) instead of “asher heichin lo” (“that he prepared for him”).
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) explains that the gallows Haman had built were prepared in the ironic sense that they would unintentionally be used for his own hanging.
  • The Vilna Gaon explains that, as opposed to something whose purpose changes, the gallows were never meant for Mordechai at all, and were always for Haman. Some things historically had an intended purpose, and were then appropriated for some other use. T.N.T., for instance, was meant to be used solely for construction. Its being adopted for use in war so traumatized its inventor, Alfred Nobel, that he developed the Nobel Peace Prize for those who allegedly bring peace to the world. These gallows, by contrast, from their inception, were always intended for Haman’s downfall.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the gallows had to be a perfect fit for Haman, since he and his sons all fit on the same gallows (see Targum Sheini to Esther 9:14). See attached chart.
  • According to the opinion that the gallows were made from the beams of the Beis HaMikdash, the Ben Ish Chai asks how Mordechai could have the right to use them as he will when he hangs Haman (Esther 7:10) since he would thereby desecrate these holy objects (Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 50). However, answers the Ben Ish Chai, Haman’s using the beams first took away their sanctity, preparing the beams for use in his own death.
  • Using Newtonian physics, the Maharal points out that if an object that is thrown at a wall drops straight down upon impact, this shows the amount of force applied by the thrower. However, if the object bounces back upon impact, this means the thrower applied more force, and it was only the wall’s strength that kept the object from its intended place. Similarly, in yet another example of mida kineged mida, what happened to Haman (and his sons) reflects the vehemence with which they planned to dispatch Mordechai.
  • According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz in Yaaros Dvash, Haman intended hang a completely different “him” – the king. After all, Haman had planned a conspiracy to take over the monarchy.
  • On a Halachic point, the Chasam Sofer notes that hachana (“preparation”) usually implies in the legal world preparing for the next days. In this case, where Haman prepared the gallows earlier that morning, why is this hachana for the same say? He answers that hachana for gentiles does not need to be for the next days since the Talmud describes them as “holech achar hayom,” that they follow a solar schedule, controlled by the sun.
  • The Belzer Rebbe adds that Halacha recognizes the need for mitzvos to have hachana; this is not true for sins. For example, consider how much planning you needed to put into learning right now, versus how much planning you would have needed to waste your time in front of a tv or computer screen, instead. Therefore, the gallows must have been for Haman since killing out the nation of Amalek is a mitzvah (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 6:4).

Esther 3:8, Question 2. Why does Haman use “yeshno” instead of the more common “yesh” for “there is?”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 13b) and the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:12) both interpret “yeshno” (“there is”) as rooted in the Hebrew “yashan,” (“sleep”). According to the Talmud, Haman was maligning the Jews to Achashverosh by claiming their sleeping, or spiritual lethargy in performing the mitzvos that the king otherwise feared would protect them.
  • The Midrash there, likewise, interprets this word as a means for Haman to allay the fears of the rightfully nervous king by claiming that H-Shem, Himself was sleeping, or not concerned about the goings-on in the world. In the Midrash, H-Shem responds by quoting Tehillim (121:4) that “the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.”
  • In Ohr Gedalyahu, Rav Gedalya Schorr cites Nefesh HaChaim that these two opinions are not necessarily contradictory, for when the Jews act toward H-Shem with indifference, mida kineged mida (measure for measure), H-Shem will look upon them with indifference, as well.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that the reason Haman thought that H-Shem was “sleeping” was because the Jewish people were too focused on their “yesh” (“there is”), their possessions, the physical. The more the Jews focus on yesh (the physical), the more they will be yeshno (spiritually sleeping). As the Ohr Gedalyahu puts it, Jews are sleeping when they perform mitzvos without care. This is often a consequence of thinking that abandoning Jewish observance will cause the gentiles around us to behavior towards us in a a more favorable fashion. On the contrary, Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 366) writes that it is a “self-deception for us to imagine that we could buy the friendship of the peoples and permanently assure it to ourselves by discarding this Jewish distinctiveness.”
  • The Torah Ohr points out from the Talmud (Baba Basra 16a) that the Yetzer HaRah (Evil Inclination) is the Satan (Heavenly Accuser), and that is the Angel of Death. What this means is that the very thing in our lives that seduces us to sin is also our judge and executioner. Haman acts the very same way; Haman is the seducer in setting up the feast where they Jews sinned, Haman is the judge who decided the Jews deserve death, and he wishes to be the one who does the actual killing. Certainly, being seduced by the Evil Inclination is not an excuse for misbehavior. On the contrary, H-Shem gives us all precisely the very tools – whether psychological, spiritual, physical, or otherwise – needed to successfully combat the exact temptations we experience (Nesivos Olam).

Esther 2:3, Question 2. Why does the verse stress that the women had to be “gathered?”

  • The Maharal notes that it is truly a miracle that the girls were “gathered,” and brought in this way. Otherwise, Esther, hidden deep in the confines of Mordechai’s home (as we shall see in future blogs), could never have been in position to save the Jews as she does.
  • The Rabbis of the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 5:3) care enough about justice and the plight of women to ask for what terrible deed this cruel denigration of Persian women could be a just punishment. They answer that Persian women at that time harassed Jewish women, calling them ugly and unable to win beauty contests. They were punished “mida kineged mida,” measure for measure, having to endure life-long rejection only to see a Jewess win the contest and rule over them.

Esther 2:1, Question 5. What does the verse mean that Achashverosh remembered what was decreed against Vashti?

  • If it is true that Achashverosh had his wife killed for refusing to display herself in the nude at his party, Achashverosh must have regretted such an extreme punishment for so minor an offense. Considering H-Shem’s consistent use of “mida kineged mida” (“measure for measure”), Achashverosh realized that Vashti’s misuse of Jewish servant girls on Shabbos precipitated in her punishment being dealt on Shabbos.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) tells us that she caused her Jewish maids to go around unclothed.
  • The Maharil Diskin asks why this has to be noted. Was it not bad enough that our sisters were forced to desecrate the Sabbath? Did their forced immodesty truly add to Vashti’s evil? He answers that Vashti’s participation in this was especially worthy of punishment because one can reason that poor servants surrounded by expensive goods may attempt to steal what their eyes see. One might think that nudity might thus be a legitimate way to curb theft, leaving potential thieves with less opportunity to hide their loot. (It has been reported that current manufacturers of illegal drugs use this very method with their employees.) However, it was especially evil of Vashti to force the Jewish girls to go unclothed on Shabbos because they would not have stolen, anyway, seeing as theft, coupled with the fact that carrying an object from one domain to another is forbidden on Shabbos (Mishnah, Shabbos 1:1), would have definitely prevented the girls from stealing.
  • Likkutei Anshei Sheim point out that the 180 day feast was held in the beginning of Vashti’s third year of being queen. This means that she had two full years (354 days twice) and the 180 days (354×2+180=888 days), which divided by seven, come out to be 127 Shabbosos (888/7 = 126.857143)1. For causing Jewesses to desecrate 127 Sabbaths, Vashti lost the reign over 127 states.
  • Tangentially, the Chasam Sofer adds that Vashti’s Sabbath desecration was part of the reason for the mystical custom (see Zohar on Bireishis 17b, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 297:4, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 8) to use myrtle leaves for the spices in the Havdalah service after Shabbos. Since “Hadassah” (Myrtle) was one of Esther’s names, her defeating Vashti’s influence was alluded to in the verses in Yeshaya that we read on fast days (55:13, 56:4), in which the myrtle succeeds “from under [or, instead of] the thorn-bush,” (see 2:4 and 2:17 below for similar verbiage) the thorn-bush being the prickly Vashti, who caused Jewish girls to sin on Shabbos.

1Mathematically, one can round up to 127, or perhaps we can consider the last seven days as an additional week. Perhaps Vashti’s not surviving the whole day would account for the fraction missing from the whole number.