Esther 9:22, Question 4. What does the verse intend by “feasting and joy,” and why?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 7a) learns from the verse’s use of “feasting and joy” that there is a mitzva to drink ad d’lo yada, until one does not know the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai” on Purim. Although this a topic worthy of a much larger Halachic discussion, it should suffice for purposes of understanding this verse to note some varying opinions on this subject.
  • Indeed several Halachic deciders understand this literally as an injunction to become completely drunk on Purim, as is clear from the Rif (Megillah 3b) and the Tur (Orach Chaim 695:2).
  • Among others, the Peleh Yo’eitz warns that, obviously, this drinking should not be done to the point where one would miss any other mitzvos, including praying mincha with proper intent.
  • The Talmud (Pesachim 68b) teaches that holidays from the Torah should be be split evenly – half for H-Shem (i.e. with prayer, learning, etc.), and half for our own pleasure (i.e. eating, resting, etc.). However, even according to an earlier opinion there that all holidays should be completely for H-Shem, this verse’s use of the words “feasting and joy” require Purim to be completely for our pleasure.
  • The Abudraham notes that drinking is such a critical part of celebrating Purim because drinking plays a central role in Megillas Esther, including Vashti’s fall (Esther 1:10), Esther’s rise (Esther 2:18), [the decree to kill the Jews (Esther 3:15),] and Esther’s parties that led to Haman’s fall (Esther 7:1-10).
  • The Midrash Eliyahu writes that we celebrate Purim by drinking because the Talmud (Megillah 13b) relates that Haman slandered the Jews’ drinking practices when he told the king that if a fly were to touch a Jew’s cup, he would remove it and continue drinking. However, if the king were to touch a Jew’s cup, the Jew would throw the wine away, alluding to the Talmudic (Avodah Zarah 30a) law of yayin nesech.
  • The Nesivos Shalom (Purim 57-58) has a very unique reading of this Talmudic passage. He notes that the above cited teaching does not say “livsumei” (“to become intoxicated”) with wine, but rather “livsumei” in Purim. This means that one should get drunk from the day of Purim, itself, similar to the prophet’s (Yeshaya 51:21) description of being “drunk, but not from wine.” Through prayer, Torah study, and acts of kindness, Purim should cause a person to become so “drunk” on the elevated revelations of Purim that one cannot tell the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.”
  • Malbim writes that the joy mentioned in the verse parallels “feasting and joy,” while the holiday parallels the sending of gifts. This is so because the very purpose of our lives is to separate ourselves from the physical in an effort to focus on the spiritual. That is the very-same purpose of Yom Tov!
  • Similarly, in Horeb, Rav Hirsch writes that the physical rescue of the day deserved a physical enjoyment.
  • Similarly, in R’ Tzaddok HaKohen’s contrasting between Purim and Chanukah, he focuses on the fact that Chanukah was a struggle between different philosophies, wherein the Hellenists and Greeks did not care if the Jews lived or died as long as they accepted the Hellenistic worldview. Therefore, Jews celebrate Chanukah, which was a spiritual/philosophical victory, in a spiritual manner, with additions to the daily tefillah and the lighting of the chanukiya. Jews celebrate Purim, on the other hand, which was a physical victory, in a physical manner, with feasting and joy.
  • The Bach (Orach Chaim 670) focuses his distinguishing of the two days by noting that the entire Purim story was initiated by the Jews wrongly attending Achashverosh’s feast. He quotes a Braisa that says that the Chanukah story was perpetuated by the Jews’ lack of alacrity and laziness in fulfilling the tamid offering. Therefore, Purim is celebrating with a party to make up for our attending Achashverosh’s party, and Chanukah is celebrated with the lighting of Chanukah lights to make up for the neglecting of the constant fire of the tamid offering.
  • His son-in-law, the Taz (Orach Chaim 670:3), writes that Purim is an open miracle that saved our temporal lives, wheras Chanukah commemorates a relatively hidden, spiritual miracle in the oil lasting longer than expected. Their distinct commemorations, then, are accomplished through the public feasting of Purim and through the relatively private lighting of the Chanukah menorah, respectively.
  • The Sfas Emes adds that our physical pleasure on Purim is also due to the physical nature of Eisav’s (progenitor of Amalek) blessing that Yaakov (progenitor of the Jews) took from him (Bireishis 27:28-29). Furthermore, Yaakov’s attempt to take on Eisav’s physical role in the world is yet another reason for the custom to wear masks on Purim.
  • During a Purim seudah, the Satmar Rebbe once mentioned that one might have thought that Haman’s idol would make the threat to Jewish existence on Purim a spiritual one. However, the physical and spiritual aspects of a Jew are one and the same. After all, a physical body without a soul is a corpse. Accordingly, this is another reason for the custom to drink on Purim – to see beyond the superficial, and realize that our physical health is directly related to our spiritual health.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the mitzvos of the day are intended to make Purim a day of Heavenly purpose of spiritual growth, and not for selfish joy. He bears this out from the fact that the initial letters of the four mitzvos of the day – simcha, mishteh, yom tov, manos – can be seen as an acronym that spells out shamayim (Heaven).
  • Famously, the Ari z”l quotes the Tikkunei Zohar (21) that the holiness of Yom Kippur is due to its being a “yom kiPurim” (“a day like Purim”).
  • The Ohel Moshe suggests that Yom Kippur’s holiness depends on Purim because the Talmud (Taanis 30b) says Yom Kippur was the day on which Moshe came down Mt. Sinai with the second set of luchos (“tablets”). This receiving of the Torah was not complete until the Jews accepted the following of its commands in the days of Purim with the verse’s (Esther 9:27) words “kimu v’kiblu.”
  • On another level, R’ Yitzchak Hutner explains that Purim is similar to Yom Kippur because there is a need on both days to make things right with people. The Mishna (Yuma 8:9) teaches that a person does not gain atonement for the wrongs one caused to another unless one asks for forgiveness from that person. Similarly, on Purim, the sending of mishloach manos is supposed to engender feelings of unity and peace among the Jewish people. This is done in a spiritual manner – by begging for forgiveness – on Yom Kippur, and in a physical manner – by drinking and feasting together – on Purim. In this way, the two holidays compliment each other, and become one powerful entity.
  • On one particular Purim in the Warsaw ghetto, R’ Kolonimus Kalmish (Hy”d) approached a Jew who was understandably not feeling joyous in the midst of terrible atrocity. He told this Jew that the intent of the comparison between Purim and Yom K’Purim is that just like a Jew should feel like there is no choice on Yom Kippur, and one must fast, so too, on Purim, one has no choice – one must have simcha (“joy”)!

Esther 9:19, Question 4. Why does the verse use different expressions for this holiday?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 5b) explains each of the different expressions for this holiday to mean a different method for celebrating the day. Simcha (“joy”) is interpreted as not giving eulogies (in the event of a death); v’mishteh (“and feasting”) is interpreted as prohibiting fasting; and v’yom tov (“and the holiday”) is interpreted as prohibiting work on Purim. Later, the Talmud (Megillah 7a) interprets the phrase mishloach manos (“sending gifts”) as the requirement to send through a messenger at least two kinds of food to at least one friend.
  • The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 2:15) writes that even two poor people are required to send another poor person some food to fulfill their obligations.
  • The Trumas HaDeshen writes that the exchange of food is intended to make sure everyone has enough for the feast.
  • M’nos HaLevi writes that we send gifts to promote friendship because achdus (“unity”) rescued the Jews.
  • The Midrash HaGadol on Devarim points out that this demonstrates the greatness of chesed because we were rescued because of it.
  • Ginzei HaMelech writes that we use a messenger because this shows achdus (“unity”) in requiring another person to get involved in this mitzva. Similarly, he points out, this is why Megillas Esther always uses Yehudim for Jews, since the root of that word is echad, one. Furthermore, the giving of gifts through messengers acts as an additional tikkun for Yaakov’s giving gifts (Bireishis 32:14-17) to Eisav, the ancestor of Amalek, through messengers.
  • The Vilna Gaon and Midrash Shmuel note that the Jews’ celebrating in this way parallels the three parts of Haman’s plan (Esther 3:13); the joy serves to counteract Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews, the feasting serves to counteract Haman’s plan to kill the Jews, and the Yom Tov serves to counteract Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that, eventually, Purim was not accepted as a full Yom Tov because that would keep people from performing the other mitzvos of Purim.

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.

Esther 7:6, Question 2. Why does Esther use these three descriptions for Haman?

  • In the Rashbam’s commentary on the Torah (Bireishis 24:65), he writes that a grammatical rule, the word hazeh (“this”) refers to a close object, whereas the word halazeh (“ this”) refers to an object that is far. Already in this word, Esther means that the person responsible is someone close-by.
  • Similarly, the Malbim distinguishes between the two words for enemy – tzar and oyev. According to him, based on a verse in the Torah (Bamidbar 10:9) a tzar is someone who has already done harm. Based on a different verse (Devarim 21:10), an oyev is someone who wants to do harm. Both definitions fit Haman. Accordingly, Esther is answering both of Achashverosh’s questions, the first of which was who did this. Her answer: the wicked Haman. In answering his second question of the motive, Esther responds that it is an adversary and an enemy.
  • Interestingly, she answers the second question first, and then the first question, as Rabbeinu Yonah in his commentary Mishnah (Avos 5:9) recommends for wise people to do when appropriate. Similarly, the Talmud often (see Brachos 2a) comments on the latter point of a Mishnah before commenting on the former.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein and R’ Gallico write that Esther was saying that Haman is evil and dangerous for all – not just for the Jews. This is based on the Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4), which quotes a verse (Devarim 33:27) that says H-Shem will push away all of our enemies. Regarding Haman, he is an enemy below as well as above; he terrorized our forefathers and he wants to terrorize our children; he is an enemy to me, and he is an enemy to you.
  • Similarly, Midreshai Torah write that Haman hates Achashverosh as much as he hates the Jews.
  • According to R’ Chadida, Esther is saying that Haman hates Jews for historical reasons, and therefore involving Achashverosh and his kingdom unnecessarily into an ancient feud. (Today also, many international leaders and their nations stumble into the Middle East quagmire without a thorough knowledge of the historic animosities and loyalties that are endemic to that region.)
  • The Alshich writes that Esther is saying that Haman is hated below and an enemy above.
  • The Targum translates this verse as: Haman wanted to kill you last night. After failing, he suggested wearing your clothes, and even the royal crown. H-Shem made it work out that Mordechai, a Jew garnered these honors, and now Haman wants the person who saved and represents you dead. As Yossipon points out, it is Mordechai who is looking out for conspiracies and plots against you.
  • The Lekach Tov writes that Haman is called by three descriptors because he had three intentions quoted by the verse (Esther 3:13) to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate the Jews.
  • Asking why the verse uses the word hazeh (“this”), the Ben Ish Chai explains that since all people have good in them, only the evil part of Haman should be hated. He quotes the AriZal’s (Shaar HaKavanos) interpretation of the Talmudic (Megillah 7a) practice of ad d’lo yada as advising us to only bless Haman when we are drunk. This means that inside our klipa (“shell”) we all hold great potential. After all, from Haman emerged his grandson, R’ Shmuel ben Shailot. That is the good trapped within him. The Talmud (Gittin 57b) famously says Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah. Although it says in Tehillim (97:10) to hate evil people, it means that we should only hate the evil part within those people. To see how far this goes, the verse that tells us to kill out Amalek (Shemos 17:14) tells us to destroy the remembrance of Amalek, since there is some good hidden deep within them.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a), also seemingly bothered by the amount of descriptions Esther uses for Haman, writes that Esther was actually going to point to Achashverosh, but an angel pointed her finger toward Haman.
  • R’ Meir Shapiro explains that the word hu means something outward, whereas zeh means something hidden. Here, Haman is the obvious, explicit enemy. Like any deft politician, Achashverosh can claim deniability, and wash his hands of the entire plan. The Talmud is saying that Esther is hinting to Achashverosh that she considers him equally guilty of the planned annihilation of the Jews.
  • On the other hand, R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Esther was literally going to point to Achashverosh because she was upset with Achashverosh for claiming ignorance.
  • The Vilna Gaon explains that, like a Freudian slip, Esther pointed at Achashverosh at this point because it is the nature of people to say X if they are thinking of X, even when they consciously want to say Y. Since the righteous are constantly thinking of H-Shem, so Esther is pointing to the King.
  • The Chazon Ish asks why, at this critically sensitive time for the Jews, would Esther endanger their lives? He explains that she had inculcated the characteristic of emes (“truth”) to such a degree that she found it impossible to lie, implying that Achashverosh was innocent. H-Shem had to send an angel to save the day.
  • Similarly, the Ohel Moshe quotes R’ Puvarsky (Mussar V’Daas) that Esther’s body could only tell the truth. We have the power to train your body to copy your soul, as it says in Tehillim (63:2), “my soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You.” We have the ability to train our flesh to want what the soul wants, as it says in the Mishnah (Avos 2:4). Similarly, Chovos HaLevavos writes that introspection will benefit you in both worlds, as it says in Tehillim (119:59) “I consider my ways, and I turn my feet to Your testimonies.” That is the foundation of mussar philosophy, that the goal of self-improvement.
  • The Maharal points out that Esther would be lying saying that this was entirely Haman’s doing, since Haman could do nothing without Achashverosh. The verse in Tehillim (101:7) says, “He who performs deceit shall not dwell in My house.” A lie cannot save the Jewish people since geulah (“redemption”) cannot result from falsehood.
  • R’ Hanoch Leibowitz answers the question somewhat differently. He explains that Esther, having been forcibly taken to be his wife for twelve long years, subconsciously hated Achashverosh. She therefore pointed at him, though he was not entirely responsible for decree. Even great ones err when affected by their subconscious desires. If such a one as Esther can fall prey to such desires, all people must plan out their actions before doing anything, and then think back and investigate the motivations and results of all behaviors.
  • R’ Eliyahu Lopian says that the angel saved Esther because no harm can come to one who is performing His Will, like speaking the truth.
  • The Torah in Bamidbar (33:55) commands the Jews entering the land of Canaan that they must drive out all bad influences from there, or else the remainders would be “thorns in your eyes, and pricks in your sides” which Ramban interprets as spiritual blindness and physical harassment. Perhaps this verse can also refer to Haman, who forced everyone to bow to his idol, and he tried to physically annihilate the Jews.
  • Also interestingly, the gematria of tzar (90+200=290) (“adversary”) is the same as the word pri (80+200+10=290) (“fruit”), whereas the ­gematria of oyev (1+6+10+2=19) (“enemy”) is the same as the name Chava (8+6+5=19). Perhaps this hints to the Talmudic dictum (Chullin 139b) that the verse about the tree in Gan Eden (Bireishis 3:11) alludes to Haman.

Esther 2:22, Question 1. How does Mordechai learn of Bigsan and Seresh’s assassination plot?

כב וַיִּוָּדַע הַדָּבָר לְמָרְדֳּכַי וַיַּגֵּד לְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר לַמֶּלֶךְ בְּשֵׁם מָרְדֳּכָי

22. And the thing was known to Mordechai, and he related it to Esther the Queen, and Esther told it to the king in Mordechai’s name.

  • The Ma’amar Mordechai says that Bigsan and Seresh tried to get Mordechai involved in Haman’s rebellion mentioned in the last post. After all, as a Jew, Mordechai was a member of a down-trodden people, the perfect candidate to desire a change in rule.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 13b) teaches that Bigsan and Seresh were from a place called Turis. They were plotting the assassination by getting poison (perhaps a poison snake), but they did not know that Mordechai was on the Sanhedrin, so knew all of the 70 root languages (see Mishnah, Shekalim 5:1). Thus, Mordechai heard and understood their plan.
  • The Chiddushei HaRim once had a meeting in Warsaw with the famous philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefoire, where they discussed this verse. Sir Montefoire said our verse is proof that Jewish children should be taught foreign languages, so they can save the Jews from the plots of our enemies. The Chiddushei HaRim retorted that the very opposite is true – if every Jew would have learned foreign languages, Bigsan and Seresh would know this, and would be more secretive around Jews. It is the rarity of Mordechai’s ability that allowed for it to be effective.
  • One of the proofs the Talmud (Megillah 7a) uses that Megillas Esther was written prophetically in ruach hakodesh (see Introduction) is that the conspiracy “was known” to Mordechai, implying that he found out prophetically. Rav Pam says this opinion need not necessarily contradict the opinion that he overheard the plot. He writes that Jews respect privacy, and do not listen in on conversations. To illustrate this point, Rav Pam tells a story about a rabbi who was arrested in Poland on trumped up charges of espionage. In court, his two guards were speaking amongst themselves in Polish, assuming he knew nothing of their language. This rabbi backed away from them. Seeing this, the prosecuting attorney yelled at him for showing disrespect. The rabbi responded, “I do not mean disrespect. I am trying not to eavesdrop on your conversation.” The judge, after hearing this exchange, immediately freed the Jewish prisoner saying, “Such a one would not be a spy.” Rav Pam says Mordechai did the same thing. When he heard Bigsan and Seresh speaking in Tursish, he left the area so as not to hear them. Then, he received ruach hakodesh, Divine prophecy regarding their plot.
  • In Torah Nation, Rav Avigdor Miller writes that Mordechai was Divinely rewarded with this discovery in reward for his vigilance in daily risking his life to check on Esther (as mentioned in previous posts).

Esther 2:15, Question 6. Why does the verse repeat (see 2:9) that Esther found favor/grace in the eyes of others?

  • 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.