9. And Charvona, one of the eunuchs before the king, said, “Also, behold! Here is the tree that Haman made for Mordechai who said good regarding on the king. It is standing in Haman’s house fifty-cubit tall.” And the king said, “Hang him on it.”
The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach propose that Charvona was simply one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to feast (Esther 6:14).
According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), Charvona was an evil ally of Haman’s, intent on killing Mordechai. Once he saw that the plan would not succeed, he surrendered. This fits with the verse (Iyov 27:22) that allies of the wicked “will surely flee.”
The Dubno Maggid explains this with the following allegory: A blind beggar works with a young boy. One day, the boy stole the blind beggar’s wallet with 30 coins. When he saw the beggar crying pitiably, the boy returned the wallet saying, “I found the wallet with the 30 coins.” Instead of thanking the boy, the beggar began to beat the boy mercilessly for the theft. How did he know that the boy stole it? How else could the boy have known that there were 30 coins in the bag? Likewise, the Talmud knows that Charvona is evil because how else could he have known that the gallows were 50 amos tall if he were not in on the plot.
The Ben Ish Chai points out that Charvona noticed that Haman lost the ability to defend himself, and this emboldened him to speak up.
The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:9) lists what many of the angels and other Heavenly Beings were doing during the climax of the Purim story. It says that Eliyahu appeared like Charvona, and said the words attributed to him in this verse.
Another Midrash (Yalkut 1059) and the Ibn Ezra concur that Charvona is Eliyahu.
The Alshich adds that another proof that Charvona is Eliyahu is that the verse describes him as “before the king,” and Eliyahu is certainly a minister of the King of kings.
Interestingly, the song, “Shoshanas Yaakov,” sung on Purim after the public reading of Megillas Esther ends with the words, “v’gam Charvona zachur latov” (“and also Charvona should be remembered for good”). Charvona is the only person who shares the epithet, “zachur latov” with Eliyahu.
When Charvona is mentioned earlier (Esther 1:10), he is the third in a list of the king’s chamberlains/eunichs. The M’nos HaLevi notes that the name is spelled with a letter aleph at the end there, and with a letter hey at the end here. He explains that when Charvona was on the side of evil, his name is spelled with an aleph. When he repents, and is Eliyahu, it is spelled with a hey.
In an explanation, R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this name ending with an aleph means destruction in Aramaic. With a hey, it is a composite of “charav boneh” (“destroy, build”). In the process of true repentance, he was rebuilding that which he had earlier wanted to destroy – namely, Mordechai.
Rabbeinu Bachya, in his commentary on the Torah writes that he was called Charvona because he helped destroy Haman.
The Chasam Sofer and R’ Dovid Feinstein both say that with an aleph, it is the gentile Aramaic; with a hey, it is Hebrew, so it is Jewish.
According to a Midrash, Achashverosh is upset at this point because, in the garden, Achashverosh remembered that Haman (as Memuchan) was responsible for Vashti’s demise (Esther 1:16).
The Dena Pishra adds that Achashverosh was upset that Haman was speaking to Esther behind his back. He even considered that if she pleads for his life, Achashverosh would still not listen to her.
The Yosef Lekach notes that Achashverosh took Haman’s silence as admission of guilt, based on this principle in the Talmud (Yevamos 87b) that people are expected to speak up for themselves when accused unjustly.
The Malbim writes that Achashverosh was angered that Esther seemed included in decree without his expressed agreement. The Malbim adds that this anger created an unsafe environment in the palace, despite its providing political and legal sanctuary.
The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Talmud (Shabbos 33a) teaches that dropsy and its attending discoloration affect people who are guilty of immorality. Thus, Achashverosh suspected Haman of immoral acts due to his face coloring.
R’ Moshe David Valle notes that Achashverosh could only think immorality was on Haman’s mind at a time like this if he so was inspired by H-Shem.
Perhaps some insight may be gained on this topic from the Talmud’s (Horiyos 10b) understanding of the story (Shoftim 4:17-22) between Sisera and Yael. There, Sisera is in mortal danger, and yet is easily seduced by Yael. Violence and immorality sometimes go together.
However, according to Midrash Shmuel, Achashverosh did not really think anything immoral was happening. In fact, he did not even accuse Haman of anything like that. Rather, H-Shem had the words come out of the king’s mouth to make Haman more nervous.
The Vilna Gaon writes that Achashverosh simply thought Haman intended Esther harm. Perhaps, this anger was pretense, and was Achashverosh’s method for ridding himself of Haman in the most politically expedient fashion. Interestingly, none of these answers explaining Achashverosh’s anger need be exclusive; the combined reasons create a massive, unappeasable anger that justifies the king’s next act.
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.
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.
In asking why Esther asks for her life first, the Maharal actually strengthens the question by pointing out that her life was not being threatened at this point at all since the king did not know she was a Jewess. Even if he were to know and include her in the decree, she still would not need to mention herself independently, since she would then be logically included in the general category of Jews.
Rashi answers that Esther felt she should have been killed as per the decree.
R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that she knew Achashverosh had more sympathy for her.
The Dena Pishra adds that Eshter was saying that she cares about Achashverosh’s good above all else. Convincing this evil tyrant through the paradigm that concerns him – his own selfish wants – she is explaining that killing the Jewish people would cause him to lose his greatest supporter, herself. Similarly, he continues, Esther implied that, as she was innocent, so too are all of the Jews innocent.
Yosef Lekach and R’ Moshe David Valle point out that Esther asked for her life as a minor request, and the people as her major plea. From her perspective, her own life was not as important as the life of her nation.
R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes the Talmud (Shabbos 148a) that a she’aila is for the short-term present, whereas a bakasha is for the long-term forever.
The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Midrash (Shemos Rabba 30:4) that since Esther risked her life for the Jews, the Jewish people are called “Esther’s people.” Although this Midrash is commenting on the verse (Esther 4:16) about her risking her life by appearing before Achashverosh uninvited, Esther risked her life in other instances, as well – as in this verse in which Esther asks for her life in a she’aila, as though it were something inconsequential and ephemeral in comparison to the existence of her people.
Earlier in Esther (5:6), the Malbim wrote that a request is just a request, but a petition is the reason for the request. Therefore, her ultimate desire is for the people’s survival.
The Malbim also writes that Esther mentioned herself first to imply that she was Haman’s intended target.
According to M’nos HaLevi, the verse calls Esther a queen to emphasize Haman’s jealousy. After all, Haman was upset that his daughter was not chosen to be the queen, effectively robbing Haman of more influence on Achashverosh.
Perhaps the verse also calls Esther a queen because, according to the Talmud (Kesubos 65a), women do not generally drink – especially together with men. However, Esther’s behavior can be excused as exceptional because her status in royalty makes her an exception to the rule.
Perhaps the verse is calling Esther a queen because she was engaged in the holy work of fulfilling a prophecy. The Midrash (Tanchuma 14) applies a verse (Bireishis 49:27) that “Benyamin is a wolf that captures; in the morning it will eat its prey and in the evening it will divide its spoils” to Esther’s actions. Esther “captured” Achashverosh and Haman by luring them to a party, and then pounced. She “ate her prey” by having Haman executed (Esther 7:10), and then “divided her spoils” by carving up Haman’s property (Esther 8:1).
In contrast to the earlier party where the verse (Esther 5:5) did not mention Esther in relation to drinking, this verse does. The Vilna Gaon, Alshich, and Yosef Lekach agree that the reason for this is because Esther was fasting then, but is not at this point.
The M’nos HaLevi explains that Esther did not really drink in order to keep her head clear.
A compromise opinion seems to be that of the Avos HaRosh, who writes that Esther merely pretended to drink by putting the cup to her lips.
R’ Yehonosan Eibshutz writes that Esther was more confident at this party than before because Haman had an idol on his person (see #190 above) then, and one should not pray in the presence of such things (see Midrash, Shemos Rabba 12:5), or even pictures of them (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 90:23). However, Haman removed his idol before “demeaning” himself in the act of leading Mordechai on a horse throughout the town so that he would not feel degraded by a Jew. Therefore, Esther could now beseech H-Shem more confidently.
I would have thought to say that perhaps the idol was more appropriately covered by Haman’s daughter’s mess. But then Esther would still not have been be able to pray in the presence of such things (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 79:1).