1. And it was in the third day, and Esther dressed in royalty. And she stood in the courtyard of the inner house of the king, facing the house of the king. And the king was sitting on the seat of his royalty in the house of royalty facing the opening of the house.
M’nos HaLevi writes that Esther usually avoided wearing royal garb. From her humility and modesty, she did not want to wear any clothing that would demonstrate her accepting her role as queen. The Talmud (Megillah 15a) points out that the verse seems to be missing the word, “clothing.” Accordingly, Esther wore “royalty” not in the physical sense, but in the sense of her enveloping herself in the Holy Spirit – Ruach HaKodesh.
Iyun Yaakov wonders why this would occur now. After all, Esther is a prophetess, and one would imagine she was constantly connected to H-Shem’s Messages. He answers that this was a time of great hester Panim, of H-Shem hiding His Face, as it were. In response to the Talmud’s famous attempt to find the story of Esther alluded to in the Torah, the Talmud (Chulin 139b) quotes the verse “v’Anochi hastir astir Panai bayom hahu” (“And I will surely hide My Face from them on that day”) (Devarim 31:18). Since this was a time of great Divine concealment, and there was great doubt in the world, the Jews attempted to change things by fasting for three days, and praying to H-Shem, and managed to merit their prophetess receiving the Divine Presence.
The Vilna Gaon adds that there is a concept that the Divine Spirit only rests upon a person whose body is “broken down.” This means someone who wants spiritual growth needs to realize that one’s soul is more important than one’s body.
The Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 56:1) writes that the royalty referred to here is the royalty of Esther’s father’s house, being descendant from King Shaul. Preparing for her disobeying a royal edict to meet the king, she took with her the dignity and air of monarchy she inherited from her ancestry. This idea certainly supports the contention of the Malbim and M’nos HaLevi that Esther’s wearing “royalty” simply meant that she seemed regal to casual observers.
R’ Shlomo Kluger in Ma’amar Mordechai, says that Esther had been forced to be the queen, and at this point, she owned up to that responsibility. He points out that, from this verse and onwards, Esther is consistently called Queen Esther by the authors of Megillas Esther.
Pachad Yitzchak notes that this verse indicates that Esther became the queen of the Jewish people. Interestingly, the Jews can only fulfill the command to eradicate Amalek when they have a sovereign ruler (Talmud, Sanhedrin 20a), and Esther took on that role to enable this.
Rabbi Eliezer Ginzburg asks how she was given authority to be the queen. The Shem M’Shmuel (on Devarim 33:19) writes that the main function of a Jewish king or queen is to unite the Jewish people. Therefore, by enveloping herself in an intense love for the Jews, she took on the role of royalty, becoming what a royal is supposed to be.
Rav Ginzburg also quotes the Nefesh HaChaim (3:12) that even if there are other spiritual forces in the world, they will have no affect on a person who totally submits oneself to H-Shem’s sovereignty. There are numerous stories concerning the Rav of Brisk, Rav Yitzchak Soloveitchik, whose concentrating on this idea of “ein od milVado” (“there is nothing beside Him”) from the Nefesh HaChaim at different times rescued him from Russian conscription and Nazi persecution. Accordingly, this is the idea of royalty with which Esther adorned herself, making her impervious to any harm.
The Pachad Yitzchak notes that this is a rare example of Jewish royalty wearing non-Jewish garments, and this may be yet another reason for the custom of wearing masks and disguises on Purim.
17. And Mordechai passed and did like all that Esther commanded on him.
According to the Talmud (Megillah 15a), after hearing Esther’s response, Mordechai passed over either a river or the passed over (read: transgressed) the obligation to eat on the first night of Passover, since that night fell within the three days in which Esther asked the people to fast.
The Me’am Loez writes that the verse is praising Mordechai for “crossed the river,” which implies that he preferred to follow the command himself – without the use of messengers. He, himself, crossed the river to gather the Jews together in prayer, fasting, and repentance.
In explaining why Rashi, who usually gives a simpler explanation when available, decided to write the explanation that had to do with transgressing Pesach, the Torah Temimah gives two reasons: one is that the Torah always names an object being crossed when vaya’avor is used in relation to a physical object, and secondly, in actual fact, the fasting did occur through the first night of the Pesach seder.
R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that someone can fast on Shabbos to annul a bad dream if that dream is dreamed on that day (Talmud, Shabbos 11a). If so, how much more-so can one fast on Yom Tov to annul a decree, so Mordechai was not transgressing at all.
However, according to the opinion that he was, R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshis’cha explains that Mordechai felt his prayers would not be powerful enough to be listened to in the ordinary manner. Transgressing Pesach would get the Accuser, the Satan, involved. Once he gets involved, there would be a Heavenly tribunal. Once there is a trial, Heaven would recognize Mordechai’s good intent, and then would assist Mordechai in defending the Jews.
In the first chapter of Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, it says that H-Shem can ignore insults. There, it writes that Esther’s arguing was spoken in an unfit manner, and yet Mordechai let it “pass” from his mind.
M’nos HaLevi points out that crossing the river was as easy for Mordechai as jumping over a puddle. It was a small act, but the Torah records it for our benefit, so teach us the lesson of the power even in what may appear as minor, easy mitzvos (see Mishnah, Avos 2:1).
The Malbim points out how this verse shows how selfless Esther was. According to him, what Esther was saying was that, if she is punished for approaching the king, at least only she will die – and the rest of the Jews will remain.
The Talmud (Megillah 15a) writes that Esther’s repeating “I will be destroyed” means that, just as she lost her father by being orphaned, so is she expecting to lose to her relationship to Mordechai through this act.
R’ Henach Leibowitz explains the Talmud’s use of the phrase “my father’s house” that one of our duties in life is to utilize our past experiences to further our personal growth. He continues that an orphan, like Esther, should use the loss of their parents to reawaken the feeling of trust in H-Shem that orphan had when still with parents.
R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that Esther used this phrase to indicate that she knew she would be disappointing one king or another – either Achashverosh or the King of kings. Either way, she was concerned she would be losing one king.
R’ Shimon Schwab wonders why Esther is concerned about losing her husband if she is anyway using a sheid to get out of relations with Achashverosh. He explains that the demon was created miraculously in reward for her resisting the gentile king. Such a miracle would not occur once she submits to him.
R’ David Forman writes in The Queen You Thought You Knew that there is a parallel verse in the Torah where the word ka’asher is followed by a double-verb. When Yaakov allows his sons to bring Binyamin to Mitzrayim he says, “ka’asher shakolti, shakolti” (“as I am mourning, so I am mourning”) (Bireishis 33:14). The parallel phrasing also parallels similar situations of national strife; Just as there, friction between Jews caused the threat on Jewish existence, and peace between Jews would bring their redemption.
Class participant RS pointed out another parallel in the fact that Esther descends from King Shaul, who was from the tribe of Binyamin.
The Talmud (Megillah 15a) writes that Esther emphasizes that her plan is “not in accordance to the law” to refer to the fact that this plan of voluntarily submitting herself to Achashverosh is not in accordance to the laws of the Torah, which forever forbids a Jewish wife to be with her husband after being with another man consensually (Sotah 2a).
R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that verse uses the vowel patach under the letter chuf (kadaas) instead of the shva (kidaas), which means the Law instead of a law.
The Sfas Emes reminds us of the famous concept that Purim is equated to Yom Kippur. He explains that both holidays share the characteristic that they represent the reversal of what would otherwise be irreversible situations. On Yom Kippur, we are forgiven for sins for which we should be punished, and on Purim the Jews survived when they were supposed to be wiped out. The Sfas Emes continues that Esther here means the “laws” of nature H-Shem established will thus reversed on this day.
12. And they elaborated to Mordechai the words of Esther.
The simplest explanation as to why the verse uses the plural “vayagidu” (“and they elaborated”) instead of the singular “vayaged” (“and he elaborated”) comes from the Malbim. He writes that Hasach simply had other messengers with whom he worked, and they are the ones who delivered this message.
The Talmud (Megillah 15a) understands that Hasach avoided delivering this message personally because he was reluctant to deliver a negative message – in this case, a message negating Mordechai’s order. This is because of the ethical principle that, as much as possible, we try not to deliver bad news.
The Maharal writes that Hasach did not want to go back alone in order to avoid arousing suspicion.
The Targum writes, “Haman the wicked saw Hasach, also named Daniel, going in and out of Esther’s room. He went and he killed him. The message was delivered from Esther through Michael and Gavriel.” In this version, Haman seems suspicious of Esther’s close relationship with a Jew. Yalkut Shimoni and Talmud Yerushalmi say similarly.
R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that Haman realized that Hasach was speaking to Mordechai in code. The code to which he is referring is the deeper levels of the last few verses.
R’ Mendel Weinbach points out that we sometimes have to deliver bad news, but only if it will practically change something. Pointless bad news need not be delivered. When Rav Elyashiv was ill and his daughter, Rebbetzin Kanievsky, passed away, the current halachic authorities advised that he not be told of her passing. He was not in condition to sit shiva, and the news might have actually affected his erstwhile frail health.
The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why, if this is indeed a negative message, did Hasach not reprove Esther? After all, there is a halacha (Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Deyos 6:7) which says a person has the responsibility to correct those who are in the wrong. The reason is that Esther was not necessarily in the wrong. She had a legitimate halachic opinion, as follows: The Pischei Teshuva (Yoreh Deah, 252:2) writes that one is forbidden to risk one’s own life for the life of another. Therefore, Esther had a legitimate reason to avoid risking her life. However, had Esther not maintained a halachic basis for her rejection of Mordechai’s order to visit the king, Hasach would, indeed, have had reason to be reluctant in reporting this to Mordechai, based on the Talmudic dictum that we avoid sending negative messages.
Rav Shimon Schwab asks why this is the first time Hasach felt this reticence. After all, had not this entire conversation of the last few verses (Esther 4:7-12) been negative? Rav Schwab answers that, actually, even the threatened extermination of the Jewish people is not bad news as long as they have the opportunity to do teshuva! However, the fact that Esther refuses to sacrifice for the sake of her people is negative, and this is the information Hasach does not want to deliver to Mordechai.
Rav Henach Leibowitz quotes the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 10b) where Rav Chanina ben Chama brought the Roman Caesar Antoninus’s slave back to life to avoid having to tell him that his slave had died. Rav Leibowitz writes that this shows the extent to which we are expected to avoid delivering bad news. This is despite the fact that this idea is not explicit in the Torah, but is only implicit in the behavior of Hasach. He concludes that so, too, must we be careful to accustom ourselves to the behavioral and ethical lessons of the Torah.
R’ Eliezer Schwartz, the rabbi of Ohev Tzedek, brings from Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik that part of the conflict between Esther and Mordechai is the oft-repeated conflict between women and men in TaNaCh. For example, he says that women and men acted differently with regard to the Golden Calf is that women see a wider view of a given situation. This is the reason for the Kli Yakar’s comment (on Bamidbar 13:2) that when H-Shem criticizes Moshe for “the men he sent,” He is implying that He would have preferred that women be sent to spy out the land of Canaan. Female spies would have seen the situation differently, and would have come up with the correct, positive interpretation of the events they witnessed. Similarly, women like Sarah in regard to Yishmael, Rivkah with Eisav, and numerous other examples show that women can see the long-range big picture, whereas men are limited to a short-term view of a situation. Here, Esther sees this situation as one that needs time to plan. Mordechai, however, seeks immediate action.
According to the Yerushalmi, Esther phrases her question as “what is this and why is this” to demonstrate that she was asking two questions: a) what was the meaning of weeping and b) what was Mordechai’s justification for rejecting the royal clothes she had sent.
Yosef Lekach writes that Esther’s phraseology likens her to a doctor, who diagnoses both the illness and then figures out the cause. Here, also, “what is this” refers to Mordechai’s seemingly strange behavior, and “why is this” refers to the root cause of his concern.
The Ohel Moshe points out that this verse demonstrates just how a great person deals with any tragedy. In any such situation, the great person will seek the spiritual cause, since the spiritual is the actual, whereas the physical/political/personal causes are but a mere reflection in this impermanent, transient mirror to the spiritual world.
The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:4) and the Talmud (Megillah 15a) both relate that Esther’s question to Mordechai of two mentions of the word, “zeh” concerned whether or not the Jews transgressed the laws of Moshe’s tablets, which are similarly described as “m’zeh l’zeh” (“from one side to the other”) (Shemos 32:15). R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that Esther was concerned with Torah at this time because she recognized in the gravity of situation that the only cause could be a failure in the Jews’ commitment to the Torah. Interestingly, the Torah was written “mzeh l’zeh” so that each letter could be seen from either side of the tablets. The reason for this, according to Rabbeinu Bachya’s commentary there, is to symbolize the hidden and revealed Torah. Perhaps we can also say that these are the Written and Oral parts of the Torah.
The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:4) writes that Esther’s “zeh” question concerned the Jews’ neglecting the responsibilities to which they committed themselves at the splitting of the sea, regarding which is written “zeh Keili vi’anveihu” (“this is my G-d and I will glorify Him”) (Shemos 15:2). The Beis Halevi there explains that both instances of “zeh” precipitated in Amalek’s attack of the Jews in the desert. In other words, the Jewish peoples’ disregard for Torah study and their lack of trust in H-Shem brought Amalek in the desert – and brought their descendant, Haman, in Persia generations later for the same behaviors.
In his unique manner, the Ben Ish Chai focuses on Esther’s use of the word “ma” (“what”). He points out that the letters immediately preceding the mem and hey of “ma” are lamed and dales and the letters immediately after mem and hey are nun and vuv. Together, these four letters spell out “nolad” (“a new creation”). The Ben Ish Chai therefore notes that Esther wanted to know if the Jews were being punished for the previously-mentioned pseudo-idolatry in the time of Nevuchadnetzer or attending Achashverosh’s feast, or perhaps for a newly created reason, altogether.
5. And Esther called to Hasach from the chamberlains of the king who stood before him, and she commanded him on Mordechai to know what is this and why is this.
According to both the Alshich and Malbim, whoever Hasach was, he was obviously someone trustworthy.
The Maharsha adds that he must have been wise, discreet, and Jewish.
Perhaps for this reason, the Talmud (Megillah 15a) says that he was the prophet, Daniel. After all he should have been alive at this time, and fits all of these criteria. The Talmud (ibid.) suggests that the name, Hasach, may also be related to “hesech” (“decision making”). It also suggests that the name, Hasach, may be related to “his’chuhu” (“cutting down”) because the prophet, Daniel, was demoted. At first, Nevuchadnezzer “made Daniel great…ruler over the whole province” (Daniel 2:48). Then, at the time of Balshazzar, he only had the power to “rule as a third in the kingdom” (Daniel 5:29). Then, under Darius I, Daniel merely “prospered,” with no mention of power or prestige (Daniel 6:29). Now, under Achashverosh, he is not even mentioned by name. Finally, under Darius II, Daniel went back to the level where he could have “prophesied” (Megillah 15a). Why did Daniel suffer such a steep fall from grace? According to the Talmud (Baba Basra 4a), Daniel gave Nevuchadnezzer advice to give charity. This kind act allowed the tyrannical Nevuchadnezzer to merit living an entire year more, causing countless deaths. Sometimes tragedy results from the best of intentions.
The Meshech Chochmo points out that Daniel’s earlier greatness was achieved in the eyes of the Jews from the fact that he was willing to give up his life for H-Shem. At this point, however, during this time of intense teshuvah, Daniel was no longer the only Jew willing to give up life. Therefore, he was not considered as great anymore in Jews’ esteem. The
M’nos HaLevi writes that Daniel changed his own name to Hasach because Daniel (4+50+10+1+30=95) has the same gematria as Haman (5+40+50=95).
Interestingly, the difference in gematria between Hasach (5+400+20=425) and Daniel ((4+50+10+1+30=95) is 330, the gematria of “saris” (60+200+10+60=330) (“chamberlain”), his current position.
Ginzei HaMelech points out that it is most appropriate that Hasach is a Jew, as this leads to a renewed trust in hashgacha pratis (H-Shem’s individual concern for all) in that a Jew saved Jews.
M’nos HaLevi writes that Esther was distressed because Mordechai chose not to tell her the reason for his behavior, himself.
The Talmud (Megillah 15a) takes the unusual word, “vatis’chal’chal” (“and she was distressed”) literally as “became empty.” In other words, the Talmud says that, upon learning this news, Esther either became a niddah (began menstruating) or had loosened bowels. In other words, as Rabbi Mendel Weinbach puts it, the news for Esther was so intense, that she lost control of her physical functions.
The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:3) similarly says that Esther miscarried at the news of Mordechai’s mourning. Torah Temimah says the Midrash here is using the root of the word, “chalal” (“empty”) to refer to the last chapter in Yeshaya (66:8) where the prophet says that Tzion will have troubles (“kee chala gam yalda”), and will give birth, indicating a relationship between this word and childbearing.
The Talmud (Megillah 15a) records an argument about what, exactly, Mordechai was calling out as he went through Shushan. One opinion there has it that he yelled out, “Haman is greater than Achashverosh” in order to arouse the king’s jealousy. The other opinion is that Mordechai yelled out, “The King above is greater than the king below” in a euphemistic fashion to imply that Achashverosh was attempting to usurp H-Shem’s Power.
Yalkut Shimoni writes that there is generally a difference between Jewish prayer and idolatrous prayer; whereas Chana’s prayer was quiet (Shmuel 1 1:13), Eisav’s prayer was a “great and bitter cry” (Bireishis 27:38). Like dogs that bark loudest when they have the least bite with which to threaten, an idol-worshiper’s prayer needs to be loud since it has the least spiritual power behind it.
Furthermore, Rav Eliyah Lopian suggests that, whereas physical people cry over physical phenomena, spiritual people cry about spiritual matters. Here, however, to counteract the possible spiritual effectiveness of Haman’s ancestor’s (Eisav) “great and bitter cry,” caused by the actions of Mordechai’s ancestor (Yaakov).
According to Yosek Lekach and the Vilna Gaon, Mordechai’s cry was inspired by his feeling responsible for the decree against the Jews. After all, his decision to refuse to bow to Haman, regardless of the logic, is what led directly to Haman’s anger with the Jews of Persia and beyond.
R’ Henach Leibowitz points out in his characteristic way that this should be a powerful lesson to us about how careful we must be to avoid hurting someone, even when we are in the right!
Taken as a unit, some commentators find great significance in the combination of these three motifs of the sackcloth, the city, and the crying. According to the Ginzei HaMelech, the loud voice represents Avraham because he spoke out powerfully against idolatry in a world filled with idols (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Avoda Zara 1:3). The ash represents Yitzchak who allowed his father to symbolically sacrifice him. The sackcloth represents Yaakov, who mourned in sack upon being told of his son’s untimely death (Bireishis 37:33). Therefore, in a thoughtful, calculated action of spiritual symbolism, Mordechai used these to recall the merits of the forefathers, whose merits always protect their descendants.
The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8) teaches that, by answering that he is a Jew, Mordechai really intended to emphasize that, as a Jew, he is forbidden to worship anyone or anything besides H-Shem.
Rav Shlomo Kluger says that “Mordechai’s words” indicate his reporting the plot of Bigsan and Seresh. Mordechai wanted to see if his demonstrated loyalty to the king would be enough to excuse him (and perhaps the other Jews) from this bowing.
The Chasam Sofer says that the words “that he is a Yehudi” refers to Haman. As mentioned in the Talmud (Megillah 15a), Haman sold himself as a slave to Mordechai. Yalkut Shimoni (953) tells us there was rebellion against Achashverosh in one of his Indian states. Haman and Mordechai were chosen to command two of Achashverosh’s battalions. Due to his spending practices, Haman ran out of provisions. Mordechai, due to his righteous care for his resources (see Rashi to Bireishis 32:25 and Talmud, Chullin 91a), did not. Haman begged Mordechai for some of his rations, on condition that Mordechai sell himself to him as a slave, to which Haman agreed. Having nothing on which to write handy, Mordechai wrote the deed on his shoe, or armor he had on his feet. That being the case, a slave to a Jew who then goes free becomes Jewish, himself (Talmud, Chagigah 4a and brought down in Halachah in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 267:3-5, 11). According to the Chasam Sofer, then, Mordechai was saying that he does not have to bow down to him since Haman was once his slave. For that reason, according to the Midrash, every time Haman would pass by, Mordechai would point down to his shoe.
The verse makes it sound as though the servants did not trust Mordechai, and Mi’archei Lev writes that Mordechai gave them reason to respond this way. After all, it was well-known that he was from Benyamin, but he aroused suspicion by saying he was a Yehudi.
Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz writes that Haman felt confident about conquering Mordechai as he was from Benyamin. Here, Mordechai is pointing out that he comes from another tribe as well – Yehudah. Yehudah, being the tribe of Moshiach, is the great challenge to the power of Amalek. Mordechai represents the Yehudi who can conquer the power of evil. Rav Eibshutz also writes that Haman set up a test for Mordechai by one time coming out without a statue. Nevertheless, Mordechai still refused to bow to him. Even though Mordechai knew there was no statue, other people didn’t know, and this would constitute maaris ayin.