Esther 7:8, Question 1. How and why does Haman fall on the bed?

ח וְהַמֶּלֶךְ שָׁב מִגִּנַּת הַבִּיתָן אֶלבֵּית ׀ מִשְׁתֵּה הַיַּיִן וְהָמָן נֹפֵל עַלהַמִּטָּה אֲשֶׁר אֶסְתֵּר עָלֶיהָ וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ הֲגַם לִכְבּוֹשׁ אֶתהַמַּלְכָּה עִמִּי בַּבָּיִת הַדָּבָר יָצָא מִפִּי הַמֶּלֶךְ וּפְנֵי הָמָן חָפוּ

8. And the king returned from the garden of his house to the house of the wine feast. And Haman is falling on the bed on which is Esther. And the king said, “Also to attack the queen with me in the house?!” The word went out from the mouth of the king, and Haman’s face was covered.

  • Rashi notes that people in those days reclined on beds or couches during meals, as was mentioned earlier (see Esther 1:16).
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) pointed out that during Achashverosh’s party in the beginning of the story, that the couches were designed to be equal in order to avoid jealousy. Here, ironically, the couch provokes the epitome of jealousy.
  • In a simple explanation of this verse, the Ibn Ezra writes that Haman was merely beseeching Esther, and fell from fear when Achashverosh entered.
  • Similarly, the Vilna Gaon states that because Haman was so deeply saddened, he could not stand.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein stresses that, had Haman been simply begging for his life, he would have been on the floor, so an explanation beyond the simple understanding is in order.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) is bothered by the verse’s use of the present tense nofal (“is falling”) instead of nafal (“fell”). It records that when Achashverosh returned from his garden, an angel was in the process of pushing Haman onto Esther’s bed. Achashverosh yelled, “Woah onto me in my house and woah onto me outside.”
  • R’ Avigdor Bonckek explains that the use of the present tense is meant to express the mental image in our minds like an ongoing event.
  • The Baal HaTurim, in his commentary on the Torah (Bereishis 48:2) points out the phrase “al hamita” (“on the bed”) is used in TaNaCh twice – here, and in reference to Yaakov giving his blessing to his grandchildren through Yosef, Menashe and Efrayim. This is meant to contrast the righteous, who lift themselves up even at their weakest moments (as Yaakov raised himself from his deathbed to bless his progeny), to the wicked, who fall even when they are at highest peak of their success (as Haman fell from the king’s grace).
  • The Talmud (Pesachim 100a) uses the phrase “hagam lichvosh es hamalka imi babayis” (“also to attack the queen with me in the house”) to criticize someone who follows the opinion of Rabbi A in the presence of Rabbi B when those opinions conflict. Similarly, Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story of the Klausenberger Rebbe who prayed one late afternoon at the grave of the tanna R’ Yehuda bar Ilai outside Meron in Eretz Yisrael. In the evening, the rebbe became unusually downcast. When he was asked about his sudden change of mood, he explained that the R’ Yehuda bar Ilai’s opinion was that mincha needed to be prayed earlier, and “hagam lichvosh es hamalka imi babayis!”
  • The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105a) tells us that a proof to the idea that the wicked Bilam performed magic through immoral acts is the fact that the Torah (Bamidbar 24:4) records that he called himself “fallen.” This bears a marked similarity to Haman’s situation in this verse, in which he falls. Falling onto a bed is a reference to falling into immorality.
  • The Maharal suggests that Haman fell over the bed because he could not see it due to his embarrassment. He refers us to the Talmud (Bava Metzia 59a) that teaches that embarrassed people behave clumsily.
  • Perhaps he could not see the bed because his inflated ego caused his head to be perpetually in the air, even as he is about to die.
  • The Ma’amar Mordechai points out that Haman knew that Achashverosh would get jealous if he saw Haman and Esther together, and, knowing that he was as good as dead already, he tried to take Esther down with himself.
  • The author of the website doreishtov.blogspot points out that the Talmud calls the holiday of Purim by the name, “Puraya,” which also means “bed” in Aramaic. He suggests that this event of Haman falling on Esther’s bed is more central to the story from which the holiday comes than the lots that Haman threw.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that Haman fell twice, once here, and again when his followers fall on the thirteenth of Adar. The Sfas Emes continues that these multiple falls were foreshadowed when Haman’s advisers said (Esther 6:13) “nafol tipol” (“falling you will surely fall”). The Sfas Emes concludes that this also foreshadows the ultimate downfall of Amalek at end of history as promised in the Torah (Bamidbar 24:20), it should be in our days.

Esther 6:6, Question 5. Why does Haman think that Achashverosh was referring to him?

  • M’nos HaLevi writes that Haman thinks that Achashverosh is referring to him because Achashverosh would only want to honor someone who already has money, so it had to be Haman.
  • The Iturrei Torah gives a more drush explanation. Haman focused on the fact that Achashverosh used the word “ish” (“man”). Since the Talmud (Megillah 12a) notes that Haman is called an ish, he assumed the king was referring to him. It happens to be that the same source calls the actual deserving honoree, Mordechai, an ish, as well.
  • Perhaps Haman also considered that the mispar katan of ish (1+1+3=5) happens to be the same as that of Haman (5+4+5=14=1+4=5).
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Haman was thinking that even if Achashverosh were referring to someone else, he will still do this for him later, as well.

Esther 3:14, Question 1. Why does the text use such an unusual word for a copy?

יד פַּתְשֶׁגֶן הַכְּתָב לְהִנָּתֵן דָּת בְּכָלמְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה גָּלוּי לְכָלהָעַמִּים לִהְיוֹת עֲתִדִים לַיּוֹם הַזֶּה

14. A copy/summary of the writing was to given as the law in each state revealing to all the nations to be ready for this day.

  • The Aramaic word, “pas’shegen” (“copy” or “summary”), is only used thrice in TaNaCh, and all three times are in Megillas Esther (here, 4:8, and 8:13). The Vilna Gaon writes that the plan to kill the Jews was supposed to be secret. Perhaps the word, too, is supposed to indicate this secrecy with its obscurity.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:13) writes that, as soon as Mordechai learned of the decree, he saw three schoolchildren, and he asked them what they were learning. Somehow, it seems, what schoolchildren learn somehow indicates what is going on in the world. The first child quoted a verse from Mishlei (3:25) “Do not fear sudden terror or the darkness of the wicked when it comes.” The second student quoted a verse from Yeshaya (8:10) “Advise together and nothing, speak a word and it will not occur, because G-d is with us.” The third student quoted another verse from Yeshaya (46:4) “Until your old age, I am He. Until your hoary age, I remain. I made and I hear. I carry and I deliver.”1 Upon hearing this, Mordechai felt great joy. This Midrash teaches that, as long as the Jewish people are learning, they can still be saved – especially the Torah of schoolchildren (Talmud, Shabbos 119b).
  • The Maharal explains that the greatest impediments for evil people are righteous people, H-Shem, and their own evil. Based on this, these three verses reference these three groups. The first verse concerns righteous people because the righteous do not fear anything besides H-Shem. The second verse concerns H-Shem because people in the verse are already conspiring together, and the only thing stopping their evil is that “G-d is with us.” The third verse is related to the evil person befuddling him/ herself because evil people are under the impression that they are in charge of their destinies.
  • Perhaps “pas’shegen” is used thrice in Megillas Esther to show that three principle actors will undermine Haman’s plan – the righteous Mordechai and Esther, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and even Haman, himself.
  • Based on the translation of “pas’shegen” as “copy,” Class Participant CRL suggested that perhaps there was a copy of Haman’s decree in Heaven indicating H-Shem’s approval of the threat on Jewish survival.
  • The gematria of the word “pas’shegen” (80+400+300+3+50=833) is equal to “hishavtanu” (“that we swore”) (5+300+2+400+50+6=833) (Yehoshua 2:17). Also, with the principle of im hakollel (see #47 above and footnote there) its gematria is equivalent to “mishbetzos” (“settings”) (40+300+2+90+400=832), used in the manufacture of the priestly garb of the Kohen (Shemos 28:13). Perhaps this alludes to the reason for the threat on Jewish existence at this time (Talmud, Megillah 12a). The swearing may allude to the bowing to Nevuchadnetzer’s idol in swearing allegiance to him. The settings may be a reference to the party because the clothing of the Kohen is what Achashverosh wore at his feast.
  • The gematria of “pas’shegen” is also the same as the entire verse regarding Noach’s drunken debasement (Bereishis 9:20), which has obvious parallels to the Purim story.

1Interestingly, there is a custom to say these verses together in this same order after Aleinu at the end of all three daily prayer services.

Esther 3:12, Question 3. Who actually wrote the letter?

  • The verse seems to intentionally obscure the identity of the letter’s author. Although the scribes were called in, it does not say who actually wrote it. The Yosef Lekach notes that the word “nichtav” (“he wrote”) is a verb grammatically in the singular form because H-Shem was the Author of the decree to destroy the Jews. In fact, as has been mentioned previously, there is a discussion in the Talmud (Megillah 12a) regarding the reason the Jews deserve such a harsh decree at this time. One opinion is that, decades earlier, the Jews bowed down to a statue of Nevuchadnetzer (Daniel 3:6). The other opinion is that the Jews enjoyed the feast celebrating their exile in the beginning of Megillas Esther.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab writes that the Jews then performed both of these action to maintain good relations with the nation around them – not to actually worship idols or celebrate their exile, G-d forbid. For whatever reason, H-Shem decided it was deserving, and this is the fate He sealed. He is the King referred to in this verse, Whose ring sealed the Jews’ fate. Of course, every sealed fate can still be re-opened with the power of Teshuva (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 1:3).

Esther 3:2, Question 4. Why does Mordechai not do this like everyone else?

  • One might think that the reason for Mordechai’s refusal to bow is the low regard with which the Torah holds worship of anyone or anything outside of H-Shem. According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8), however, Mordechai admits that bowing down to a person in-and-of-itself is not wrong. For example, Yaakov and his family bowed seven times to Haman’s ancestor, Eisav (Bireishis 33:3). In fact, Mordechai deflects criticism of his not acting likewise with Eisav’s descendant by citing his ancestry from Benyamin, who had not yet been born during this incident. The Maharal adds that, in reward for this, Benyamin inherited the part of Eretz Yisroel where the Kodesh Kedoshim (Holy of Holies) of the Beis HaMikdash would stand. Mordechai was concerned that bowing to Haman would cause him to lose his connection with the Shechinah (the Divine Presence), just as the Shechinah left the Kodesh Kedoshim when the Jews no longer deserved her.
  • In Michtav M’Eliyahu, R’ Eliyahu Dessler writes that Mordechai’s defiance can teach us to attack our Yetzer Hara head-on without a kernel of compromise. Any capitulation can lead to a downward spiral of spiritual loss.
  • The Malbim writes that Mordechai did not bow down to Haman to avoid ascribing divinity to him. In an era when people ascribed godliness to their rulers and the rulers’ courts, Mordechai felt compelled to demonstrate his variance with heaping any possible blandishments of divinity upon Haman.
  • Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi writes that the command to bow to Haman referred to two different groups of people – regular subjects of the king, and higher-ups sitting at the gates of the king. Mordechai did not fit into either category. As a Jew, he was not a citizen of the realm. At the same time, as an adviser of the king, he sat at the king’s gate, and was not one to pass there.
  • The Kedushas HaLevi says there were two different commands – first, everybody had to bow down. Second, Mordechai, as a favor to Esther, was ordered to not bow.
  • The Shelah HaKodesh quotes an argument in the Talmud (Megillah 12a) regarding the reason the Jews deserved death in this time period. One opinion is because they bowed to idols. The other reason is that they attended Achashverosh’s party. The Shelah continues that Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman served as a spiritual tikkun (or repair) for the Jews’ capitulating to bow to the idol of Nebuchadnetzer, and Esther’s eating seeds to avoid eating non-kosher food in Achashverosh’s palace (as mentioned previously) served as a tikkun for the Jews’ enjoying themselves at Achashverosh’s party. Together, their actions saved the Jews from the decree against 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.

Esther 2:1, Question 4. What does the verse mean that Achashverosh remembered what Vashti did?

Although remembering what Vashti did would seem to mean that Achashverosh remembered Vashti’s rejecting his command to appear at the party, this would not lead to the sentimental regret for the loss of his queen unmistakeably displayed in the context of the coming verses. Rav Shlomo Kluger in Ma’amar Mordechai notes that, grammatically, the verse cannot be referring to Vashti’s refusal because refusal to act is not an action. In Talmudic thought (see, for example, Brachos 20a), this passivity is called “shev v’al ta’aseh” (“sit and do not do”). According to the Talmud (Megillah 12a), Achashverosh thus dug deeper to see the reason, perhaps Divine, for her having been taken from him.