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.
The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:9) suggests a number of reasons for this verse’s repeating Esther’s description. One opinion (that of R’ Yuda) is that people considered Esther an icon (work of art representing a person) and was liked by all.
Another opinion (R’ Nechemya’s) agrees that, in comparison to other women, Esther was the most beautiful.
However, the Rabbis there say that Esther found favor in the eyes of the “upper ones and the lower ones.” In other words, she was liked by angels and men, as it says in Mishlei (3:4) “be’eyney elohim v’adam” (“in the eyes of angels and men”). Torah Temimah explains that people care about appearances, but angels care about character. They saw in Esther that she was gentle and had a pure character. We can perhaps add that there are people who become beautiful through their beautiful characteristics.
The Talmud (Megillah 7a and 13a) says people found a kinship with Esther because she looked as though she could belong to any nation. Ben Yehoyada says the reason for this was miraculous, and its purpose was in order for people to not be able to know that this girl raised in Mordechai’s house was of a particular group – namely, Jewish. Although some want to assert that Esther’s green color (as we’ve mentioned before) may have been a beautiful, olive complexion, this favorable view is not the way the Talmud (Megillah 15a) understands Esther’s color. Her being green effectively removed her from the Talmud’s list there of the four most beautiful women in history. The Vilna Gaon wonders why the Talmud could suggest that Esther was pallid and green if the verse (2:7) itself testifies to her beauty. He answers that Esther was indeed beautiful at one point, but turned pale from sadness having to endure Achashverosh’s harem.
The Pri Tzedek writes in his commentary on Shemos that there are different levels of love, with “chein” (“favor”) meaning a love without reason, and that is the appreciation Esther received from the people around her.
10. And Esther did not reveal her nation and her lineage because Mordechai commanded her not to reveal.
Rashi gives two reasons for Esther to not reveal her lineage. First, if she were to reveal that she was Jewish, she would be dismissed from the contest since Jews were then seen as the lowest of the low. On the other hand, her lineage was from King Shaul, and Achashverosh might prize that information, reveling in the fact that he’s marrying Jewish royalty. Either she will get dismissed and lose the opportunity to do this important deed for her people, or she will have to sacrifice her holiness in being chosen by the king.
Malbim writes that this verse demonstrates that Esther resisted being swayed by the luxuries and creature comforts afforded her by Heigai (see previous verse).
The Binyan Ariel points out that the reason Vashti was removed to begin with is that Achashverosh wanted to show off the beauty of her nation to the dignitaries at his party to prove that women of her nation were the most beautiful. If Achashverosh does not know Esther’s nationality, he would not do the same with her. If he were to have attempted this, Esther would have refused, leading to another dead queen.
A Purim-Torah suggestion regarding the actual word “higida” (“related”): Perhaps this word is used because, as we shall see with H-Shem’s Help when we get to 4:16, Esther and Mordechai annulled Pesach in the year of the Purim miracle (Talmud, Megillah 15a), and there was therefore no Pesach Seder with its accompanying Haggadah. Thus, “lo higida Esther” may be interpreted as “Esther annulled the Haggada.”