Esther 9:1, Question 1. Why does the verse stress that this occurred on the 13th of Adar?

פרק ט

א וּבִשְׁנֵים עָשָׂר חֹדֶשׁ הוּאחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם בּוֹ אֲשֶׁר הִגִּיעַ דְּבַרהַמֶּלֶךְ וְדָתוֹ לְהֵעָשׂוֹת בַּיּוֹם אֲשֶׁר שִׂבְּרוּ אֹיְבֵי הַיְּהוּדִים לִשְׁלוֹט בָּהֶם וְנַהֲפוֹךְ הוּא אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁלְטוּ הַיְּהוּדִים הֵמָּה בְּשׂנְאֵיהֶם

Chapter 9

1. And in the twelfth month – which is the month of Adar – on the thirteenth day of it, the word and law of the king were revealed to perform on that day that which was planned by the enemies of the Yehudim to conquer them. And it was turned around that the Yehudim conquered their haters.

  • According to Midrash Shmuel, the verse stresses that this occurred on the 13th of Adar because it was a miracle that so much time time passed since Sivan, and Achashverosh still hadn’t changed his mind despite the fact that the Talmud (Megillah 15b) describes him as fickle. He often changed his opinion on various important issues, including his feelings for his wife.

  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, the significance of the 13th because it shares the same gematria as echad (1+8+4=13) (“one”). Only H-Shem is One (Devarim 6:4), and the verse then teaches that H-Shem always saves His people.

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Esther 6:1, Question 1. Why does the verse stress that this happened “that night?”

א בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא נָדְדָה שְׁנַת הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיֹּאמֶר לְהָבִיא אֶתסֵפֶר הַזִּכְרֹנוֹת דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים וַיִּהְיוּ נִקְרָאִים לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ

1. On that night, the sleep of the king was shaken. And he said to bring the book of records, the chronicles. And they were read before the king.

  • According to M’nos HaLevi, there was a miracle that occurred that night. After all the king, had just enjoyed food and drink at Esther’s feast, and he nevertheless strangely had trouble sleeping.
  • Yalkut Shimoni (1057) writes that many people had trouble sleeping that same night: Esther was up preparing the next meal, Haman was up building the gallows, and Mordechai was up learning with children.
  • Chiddushei HaRim notes that Esther was preparing the second meal instead of her servants because that second meal was to be the second seder, and her servants did not know how to prepare that.
  • The Talmud Yerushalmi writes that the verse’s use of the word “halayla,” (“the night”) alludes to the fact that this was the anniversary of the night on which Sarah was abducted by Avimelech (Bireishis 20:2-3), which the Torah describes also using the word, “halayla.” It also alludes to the idea that this was the same historic date on which H-Shem killed all of the firstborn of Egypt, since the verse that describes this (Shemos 21:29) also utilizes the word “halayla.” This was also the very night on which all the Jews – old and young – gathered together to repent.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this was specifically the second night of Pesach because the very reason behind our celebrating the second day of Pesach as a Holy Day in the diaspora is due to our being in exile. Similarly, the situation in which Esther found herself was a function of exile, as well.
  • In his commentary on Megillas Esther, Rambam writes (in an uncharacteristic mystical fashion) that this particular night was the night anger was turned into mercy.

Esther 5:4, Question 1. Why does Esther specifically invite Achashverosh and Haman to the party?

ד וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר אִםעַלהַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב יָבוֹא הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן הַיּוֹם אֶלהַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁרעָשִׂיתִי לוֹ

4. And Esther said, “If it is good for the king, the king and Haman should come today to the drinking party that I made for him.”

The Talmud (Megillah 15b) has a total of twelve reasons for Esther to have invited Haman to the feast:

a) R’ Eliezer says she was laying traps for him, as it says in Tehillim (69:23), “their tables will be their own traps.” In other words, Haman’s presence may give him the opportunity to say or do something he shouldn’t, giving the king prerogative to have his head.

b) R’ Yehoshua says Esther learned this from the house of her father1: Mishlei (25:22) teaches, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him bread.” In other words, one method of taking on one’s enemy is by surrendering some non-essential concession to him, thereby ultimately taking control of the situation when the opportunity strikes.

c) R’ Meir says Esther did this so that Haman would not take good advice, and rebel. In other words, Esther was hoping that her invitation’s stroking Haman’s ego would encourage him to rebel.

d) R’ Yehuda says Esther invited Haman so that he would not suspect that she is a Jewess.

e) Similarly, R’ Nechemia says Esther invited Haman in order for the Jews to not become complacent from their prayers and repentance by comforting themselves that they have a “sister” in the palace who can save them from this genocide.

f) R’ Yose says Esther invited Haman so that he would be available to her at all times. In other words, she wanted her “enemies close” to be able to manipulate his behavior to the benefit of her people.

g) R’ Shimon ben Menasya says Esther invited Haman thinking that, perhaps, H-Shem will become “emotional,” either through mercy or anger, and create a miracle to rescue the Jewish people.

h) R’ Yehoshua ben Karcha says Esther invited Haman in order to smile at him, evoking the king’s jealousy, leading him to execute both Haman and Esther. She was thus willing to sacrifice herself for her people.

i) Rabban Gamliel says Esther invited Haman because Achashverosh was fickle, and prone to inconsistent behavior. If the king gets the opportunity to spend more time with Haman, the statistical chances of him changing his positive opinion of him grow exponentially. Furthermore, had Haman not been at the feast when Esther convinced Achashverosh to kill Haman, his fickleness may lead him to change his mind by the time Haman is found.

j) R’ Gamliel says that all of these answers may explain why Esther invited Haman, but we still require the answer of the R’ Eliezer the Moda’ai to explain why Esther invited only Haman, and not the other advisers. He says she intended to make the rest of the court jealous, since Haman was invited to the meal, whereas they were overlooked. Class participant CRL suggested that having the other advisers attend would require the presence of Mordechai, who should have been celebrating the Pesach seder at the time.

k) Rabba says Haman was invited because “pride comes before destruction” (Mishlei 16:18). Like the English expression, the taller they are, the harder they fall, Esther is bating Haman’s ego to help precipitate his destruction. Incidentally, the Rokeach points out that the gematria of the above phrase from Mishlei (zehu lifnei shever ga’on) (7+5+6+30+80+50+10+300+2+200+3+1+6+50=750) is equal to the words from this verse from Esther that Haman was invited to the feast (hamishteh) (5+40+300+400+5= 750).

l) Abayey and Rava both say Esther’s intent can be seen in the verse “in their heat, I prepare their meal” (Yirmiya 51:39). This verse refers to the drunken death of Balshatzar, and Esther hoped this drunken revelry, too, would kill both Haman and Achashverosh. Incidentally, the Rokeach points out that the gematria of the above word for “in their heat” (bichumam) (2+8+6+40+40=96) is equal to Haman (5+40+50=95) with its kollel.

m) When Rabba son of Avuha met with Eliyahu HaNavi, he asked him which of these opinions is correct regarding Esther’s intent. Eliyahu HaNavi answered that they are all correct.

  • Eliyahu’s answer lends support, writes Rav Shwab, to the idea that when the verse says Esther donned royalty (Esther 5:1), it means she gained ruach hakodesh, the Holy Spirit.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya points out that the initial letters of “the king and Haman should come today” (yavo hamelech viHaman hayom) spell out H-Shem’s Name. H-Shem’s Name is not ever explicitly in Megillas Esther.
  • According to Ibn Ezra, this is because this was a public document in Persia, and the Rabbis were concerned that the Persians might supplant their own gods’ names for H-Shem’s if it were there. Another reason is to teach that H-Shem is available in all situations – good and (seemingly) bad.
  • The Ari, in his list (Pri Etz Chaim) of twelve places where H-Shem’s Name is secretly hidden in Megillas Esther, lists this as one of the places.
  • The Ohel Moshe writes that H-Shem’s Name is specifically at this point because the Talmud (Sukkah 14a) writes that when the righteous pray, they overturn H-Shem’s Anger to Mercy.

1Rashi points out that, not actually growing up in her father’s house, Esther must have overheard this teaching from Mordechai’s conversations with his students.

Esther 3:1, Question 3. Why does the verse mention three things Achashverosh performed for Haman?

  • The Vilna Gaon explains that there were three things Achashverosh performed for Haman; he made him great by making him financially wealthy, he elevated his by giving him more authority, and he gave his a higher seat in that his advice had superiority over that of Achashverosh’s other advisers.
  • The Yalkut Shimoni (1053) and M’nos HaLevi say that these three actions indicate that Achashverosh gradually gave Haman new powers every day. The Yalkut Shimoni actually goes on to say that Haman eventually had even more power than the king, Achashverosh building for him a throne even higher than his own. Rav Avie Gold points out that the gematria of Haman (5+40+50=95) is equal to that of “hamelech,” (“the king”) (5+40+30+20=95), implying that they became equal to each other. Furthermore, the gematria of Haman’s entire given name here, Haman son of Hemdasa the Aggagite, (5+40+50+2+50+5+40+ 4+400+1+5+1+3+3+10=619) is one less than “kesser,” (“crown”) (20+400+200), implying that he was just within reach of the royalty he desired.
  • The Malbim points out that Haman’s gradual ascent to power is similar to what Yosef tells his brothers (Bereishis 45:8) regarding the three steps of his promotion. The Alshich explains the reason for this (in both cases, perhaps) is that king did not want his others advisers to harbor jealousy toward the new “upstart.”
  • Perhaps another reason for this gradual elevation is that Achashverosh, himself, was not a product of royalty, but was a self-made man, and felt that this was the proper way for somebody to advance.
  • The Vilna Gaon points out that this reference to the “king,” is, again, H-Shem. In His Wisdom, H-Shem elevated this wicked man in order to provide the platform for the Purim miracle.

Esther 3:1, Question 2. Why does the king promote Haman?

  • Apparently basing itself on the idea that King here refers to H-Shem, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:1) cites a verse in Tehillim (37:20) to relate that H-Shem allowed for Haman to be elevated only in order for his fall to be all-the-more steep and painful. There is a parable told there of a horse, a donkey, and a pig. The farmer feeds the donkey and horse a limited amount, and feeds the pig without measure. One day, the horse asks the donkey, “We do actual work, yet are fed less. This is not fair!” The wise donkey tells the horse to be patient and realize that the pig is not well-fed for its own good, but to be fattened up to be eaten by the farmer.
  • In the next Midrash (ibid. 7:2) a story is told of a king who felt it beneath his dignity to kill a peasant, so he promotes him in order to execute him without degrading himself. Such is the case with Haman, made great only to be cut down the more painfully.
  • The Chida calculates that Haman was at the peak of his power for a total of seventy days. He sent out the letters to kill the Jews on the 13th of Nisan. Seventy days later, on the 23rd of Sivan, Mordechai sent out the letters for the Jews to rescue themselves. Similarly, there are seventy verses between this verse where Haman is elevated and the verse where Haman is hanged (7:10).
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that, by elevating Haman, H-Shem was rewarding him for his advice to rid the world of the evil Vashti.
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman was elevated at this point as a consequence for King Shaul’s (Mordechai and Esther’s ancestor) misdirected kindness in keeping Agag (Haman’s ancestor) alive.
  • Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (21) writes that Haman’s elevation is a reward for Agag’s sincere prayer when he was locked up in prison, awaiting his death. Because of this evil man’s last prayer, a ruler was destined to come from him, as is alluded to in the verse (Bamidbar 24:7), “and He raised from Agag his kingship.” Based on this, the Ginzei HaMelech asks, how could Haman, a thoroughly evil man only in power for 70 days, be considered a reward? He answers that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) teaches that Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah in Bnei Brak, truly a reward for anybody.
  • The Maharal writes that Haman is rewarded here instead of Mordechai because the righteous generally are not rewarded with wealth in this world, but accrue reward in the World to Come.
  • Rav Shmuel Aharon Rubin cites Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak in the Talmud (Megillah 11a), who applies the verse in Tehillim (124:2) that discusses H-Shem rescuing us from a man to the Purim story. Since kings have not free will of their own, he continues, H-Shem needed to elevate a man – since free will is the mark of humanity – to this position from which he could threaten the Jewish people. It is a bigger miracle that Pesach in that way because Pharaoh’s heart was Divinely hardened. Haman, on the other hand, could make his own decisions, and chose evil all the same.
  • The Vilna Gaon tells us that if Haman is Memuchan (as asserted before), the human king had reason to reward him, as well. After all, it was Haman who advised that Vashti should be removed. First, this advice allowed the king to marry Esther. Second, Esther helped save the king’s life from the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:21).
  • But if the motivation to elevate Haman came from Achashverosh for this, why did he not reward Mordechai? The Tirosh Vayitz’har writes that Achashverosh was unsure about Mordechai’s intention. Perhaps he was a part of the plot, after all. The only one he was sure of was Esther, so he rewarded her by elevating the man whose advice led to her being queen.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Kluger writes that, after surviving the assassination attempt, Achashverosh realized that he was at risk – especially from Haman – and knew that he needed to keep him close by. As the old saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
  • This is the exact opposite view from Chacham Tzvi, whose opinion is that Achashverosh mistrusted Haman and thought he conspired together with Esther to kill him. However, once Esther reported the assassination plot in Mordechai’s name – Mordechai being Haman’s arch rival – Achashverosh (thought he) knew that Haman was loyal.
  • According to the Malbim, the king simply forgot about Mordechai completely.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz notes that it makes little logical sense for Mordechai to have been so passed over, and instead condemned to die along with the other Jews. After all, he saved the king’s life when he had no need to. Therefore, this verse is yet another proof that it is impossible to understand the Purim story – or even Jewish history, in general – without the understanding that H-Shem miraculously protects His beloved people.

Esther 2:1, Question 2. Why does the verse imply that Achashverosh’s anger was not calmed?

  • Similar to yesterday’s post, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 5:2) points out that the verse says “kisoch” (“like it was calmed”) instead of “bisoch” (“it was calmed”), implying that Achashverosh’s anger was not completely calmed. This anger will show its ugly head again towards the end of Megillas Esther once the king applies it to Haman, as it says “and the king’s anger was calmed” (7:10).
  • According to Targum Sheini, Achashverosh was not angry with Vashti, but with the advisers who allowed for her to be removed. He therefore had them killed. If so, how do the rabbis reconcile this with the opinion that Memuchan, the adviser who originates the plan to kill Vashti, was Haman (see previous posts), who is clearly alive later in the story? V’zos L’Yehudah states that Achashverosh decided that a quick death was too good for Haman, and that he should be kept around – even elevated – to lull him into a false sense of security, and should then be cut down all the more tragically.
  • The Aruchas Tamid answers that Memuchan was actually hanged along with the other advisers, but miraculously fell from the gallows alive and Persian law did not allow for a condemned criminal to hang twice for the same crime. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss points out that this is yet another example of a miracle needed to bring the Purim story to fruition.

Esther 2:1, Question 1. After what, exactly, did the following take place?

פרק ב

א אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה כְּשֹׁךְ חֲמַת הַמֶּלֶךְ אַֽחֲשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ זָכַר אֶתוַשְׁתִּי וְאֵת אֲשֶׁרעָשָׂתָה וְאֵת אֲשֶׁרנִגְזַר עָלֶיהָ

Chapter 2

1. After these things, when the anger of the king was like it was calmed, Achashverosh remembered Vashti, and what she did, and what was decreed against her.

In the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 5:2) there is a dispute regarding the word, “achar” (“after”). One view, that of R’ Ivo, states that it indicates immediacy, whereas the view of the Rabbis is that it indicates the passage of a significant amount of time. For our purposes, these two views allow for Achashverosh’s anger to be either natural or miraculous. If it were natural, it would take a long time for his anger to subside. If it were miraculous, then H-Shem would take away the anger as soon as it served its purpose of ridding Achashverosh of Vashti.