Esther 8:15, Question 1. Why does Mordechai wear these items?

טו וּמָרְדֳּכַי יָצָא ׀ מִלִּפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת תְּכֵלֶת וָחוּר וַעֲטֶרֶת זָהָב גְּדוֹלָה וְתַכְרִיךְ בּוּץ וְאַרְגָּמָן וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן צָהֲלָה וְשָׂמֵחָה

15. And Mordechai left from before the king wearing royalty: Ticheiles, and white, and a great gold crown, and a shroud, fine linen, and purple. And the city of Shushan was shouting and happy.

  • According to the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) this verse is the second of four verses read aloud by the congregation during the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim.
  • The Midrash Shmuel quotes the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) that one who flees honor has honor thrust upon him, and the opposite is true of one who pursues honor. When Haman wanted to wear the royal clothes (Esther 5:6-8), he received nothing. In contrast, Mordechai, who asked for nothing, received the honor of wearing the royal clothes.
  • The Alshich notes that this is the first time in the story that Mordechai is dressed regally. Before, he was wearing sackcloth and ash, but Mordechai is now confident about the fate of the Jews. The Alshich continues that Mordechai had to display this confidence at this point because Haman’s decree was vague in other locations but explicit in Shushan, so Mordechai needed to demonstrate that the Jews were indeed in Achashverosh’s favor.
  • In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, it says that Mordechai became the king of the Jews. Perhaps this means that Mordechai received the authority that the Jews are supposed to give to their rabbis. The Talmud (Gittin 62a) even calls rabbis kings.
  • After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he sent them back to Canaan with word of his stature in Mitzrayim. At that point (Bireishis 45:22), he gifted the half-brothers with one pair of clothes each, but he gave his full brother Binyamin five pairs of clothes. The Talmud (Megillah 16b) writes that he did this in order to hint to these clothes that Mordechai, Binyamin’s descendants, would wear.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein wonders why Yosef would choose this point in time to make such an allusion. He explains that Yosef intended to demonstrate to his brothers his very real appreciation for their act of selling him to slavery. A fired employee who finds a job even better than his previous boss’s may even want to thank his boss for releasing him from employment. Similarly, the righteous Yosef felt gratitude for his brothers’ part in his success and growth. By alluding to the Purim story, he foresaw that Jewish history would be a series of epochs filled with times that seemed to be the most hopeless transforming into the most productive.
  • The Maharil Diskin points out that there are not five items, but only four: ticheiles, white, a crown, and a shroud. He quotes the Talmud (Zevachim 18b) that defines butz as linen. Argaman implies wool. Since the two sewn together in one garment would be a violation of shatnez (“mixture of wool and linen,” see Vayikra 19:19, Devarim 22:11, and Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 298-304), Mordechai was actually wearing two separate shrouds of these materials.
  • The M’nos HaLevi notes that the first verse to mention Mordechai by name (Esther 2:5) and the first to be customarily read aloud during the public readings of Megillas Esther on Purim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) gives him several descriptions: Yehudi, Mordechai, ben Yair, ben Shimi, and ben Kish, He explains that “Yehudi” is a reference to kingship because Jewish royalty must come from that tribe (Bireishis 49:8-11). The Talmud (Chulin 139b) says “Mordechai” is a reference to myrrh, an ingredient in the Mishkan’s incense. This is paralleled in the ticheiles, which was an ingredient in the Mishkan’s covers (Shemos 26:1). According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b-13a), Mordechai earned his appellation of “son of Yair” by enlightening (hey’ir) the Jewish people regarding prayer, which is paralleled in the white clothes he wears. He is called the “son of Shimi” because his own prayers were heard (shema) by H-Shem. This is paralleled in the crown which represents the King of king’s powerful reaction to the requests of the righteous. He is called the “son of Kish” because he knocked (hikish) at the Gates of Mercy. This is paralleled in the linen and purple because they are the colors of nobility – those precious few who are allowed into the Palace.

Esther 2:5

Esther 8:15

Yehudi royalty
Mordechai ticheiles
ben Yair white
ben Shimi crown
ben Kish linen and purple
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that all of these article are also related to the clothing one should wear during prayer. He writes that the royalty relates to the talis worn when we pray; ticheilis relates to the ticheilis-dyed fringes of the tzitzis; the white relates to the undyed white fringes of the tzitzis; the crown relates with the head tefillin; the wool robe relates to the straps of the head tefillin; and the purple relates to the arm tefillin.
  • Rav Galico also related to Mordechai’s clothes here to his and Shushan’s earlier actions. In reward for his having previously worn sackcloth (Esther 4:1), he now wears royalty; in reward for putting ash (Ibid.) on his head, he now wears a crown; in reward for Shushan being worried and confused about Haman’s decree (Esther 3:15), it is now happy.
  • The Rema adds that there are four aspects make a man’s life complete: wealth, health, perfection of character, and knowledge of and closeness to H-Shem. Mordechai acquired all of these, as can be seen from this verse: wealth relates to royalty, health relates to ticheiles, character development relates to humble linen, and knowledge and faith is related to the crown.
  • Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 180-1) writes that purple is historically symbolic of royalty. Ticheiles, on the other hand, represents a humble recognition of “the limits of our horizon.”

Esther 6:13, Question 5. Why do Haman’s advisers seem to question Mordechai’s lineage?

  • The Maharal notes that Haman’s advisers must have known that Mordechai was a Jew, as Haman, himself mentioned to them (Esther 5:13). After all, it was possible that Mordechai was brought into Persia with King Yechanya (Esther 2:6), but was not actually a Jew. Therefore, the Talmud (Megillah 16a) understands the advisers’ remarks as relating to Mordechai’s tribal lineage. In effect, they were saying that if he were from the tribe of Yehudah, Binyamin, Efrayim, or Menasheh, Haman could not expect to be successful against him. In Bireishis (49:8), Yaakov promised Yehudah that his descendants would conquer their enemies. In Tehillim (80:3), King David prays that H-Shem strengthen Efrayim, Binyamin, and Menasheh. As it happens, Mordechai could trace his paternal lineage to one of these listed tribes and his maternal lineage to another.
  • The Maharal points out that Yehudah, Efrayim and Binyamin all represent Jewish unity because the Beis HaMikdash, and the Mishkan in Shilo and Nov were all located in their tribal inheritance. As proof, the Maharal quotes from the verse (Bamidbar 16:6) in which Moshe attempts to quell the rebellion of Korach and his group by saying they should all bring fire-pans. The entire group bringing individual fire-pans would represent the very opposite of unity. In fact, the unity of Jews’ uniqueness with H-Shem’s Uniqueness fights off the doubts and confusion that Amalek represents. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:2) considers the description “Yehudi” as being derived from the adjective “yechidi” (“unique”) or the noun echad, (“one”).
  • According to the Targum, the advisers were not asking if Mordechai was a Jew, but if he were from the holier, saintly Jews. The Vilna Gaon writes that, unlike Haman’s assertion that the events he described were chance, Zeresh and the advisers were saying that it was not. After all, as a member of the Yehudim, Mordechai enjoyed the situation promised by the Talmud (Shabbos 156a, Nedarim 32a) that “ein mazal b’Yisroel” (“there is not mazal for Israel”).
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the advisers were focusing on the fact that Haman’s situation could go either way, based on Jews’ behavior.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes R’ Meir Shapiro, who focused on the word, “zerah” (“seed”). They were saying that if the Jewish youth had no serious connection to Mordechai. They considered the aged Mordechai only powerful if he still held relevant sway on the youth of his people. So when Haman told them that Mordechai was surrounded by thousands of students learning a (temporarily) outmoded law regarding grains and Temple service, the advisers realized Haman has no chance. When Judaism is relevant for the invigorated youth, our enemies stand no chance.
  • Similarly, says the Ginzei HaMelech, Mordechai has to be mizerah (“from the seed”) of Yehudim – an invigorated member of the youth in vitality – and then Haman should just give up.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Haman gave a short history lesson saying Mordechai was a descendant of Shaul, who only ruled briefly and not successfully. In response, the advisers said, that may be true, but Mordechai was also a descendant of Yehudah from his mother’s side, so he will win as promised. Homiletically, he reads the word im (if) as eim (mother).

Esther 3:9, Question 3. Why does Haman choose the specific number of 10,000 loaves of silver?

Many commentators, the Rambam included, believe that numbers have no significance in the Torah. According to them, the main purpose served by numerology and gematria is pedagogic; they can serve as mnemonic learning tools to help students better remember key information. In the philosophy of the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:46), a particular number of sacrifices is mentioned in reference to one sacrifice over another only to emphasize its seriousness. If we were to ask why a particular number is used rather than another number, we could never be satisfied. In our case here, had Haman offered 9,000 loaves of silver, would we not ask why that number? Moreover, would we not be able to think of a great many powerful reasons? Despite this, the vast majority of opinions accord with the idea that numbers do have symbolic significance throughout the Written and Oral Torahs. Especially in a book like Megillat Esther, which we have seen is densely coded to add levels of meaning, numbers seem to play a significant role in understanding the text1.

  • The Vilna Gaon says here that the significance of this number of Haman’s offer is that it is a monstrously huge amount. A shekel is 0.8 ounces of silver. A loaf (or bar) of silver is 30,000 shekels, or 24,000 ounces of silver. Therefore, Haman’s 10,000 loaves of silver are equal to 24,000,000 ounces, or 750 tons, of silver. Class participant JS calculated that such an amount would be equivalent to $941,280,000 in 2012 standards.
  • According to Ibn Ezra, this is amplified. He considers this an abbreviated phrase, and that the money offered by Haman is 100,000 loaves of silver.
  • Rav Dovid Feinstein says Haman offered this particular amount because he projected this to be the cost of killing off the Jews.
  • The Targum translates this verse as “100 times their amount.” What is meant is probably related to the Talmud (Megillah 13b) that states that H-Shem, for Whom time does not exist, gave the Jews the law of giving the half-shekel (Mishnah, Shekalim 1:1) to counteract the effect of Haman’s offer.
  • According to Ben Ish Chai, this ratio is alluded to in a blessing for the Jews (Vayikra 26:8) that “one hundred of you will pursue ten thousand.”
  • According to the Rambam, such is the power of a mitzvah that each Jew’s individual half-shekel is enough to outweigh the worth of any number of loaves of silver, or anything else.
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), upon confronting Mordechai before leading him though the city on the king’s horse (6:11 below), Haman himself acknowledges to Mordechai that the half-shekel given by the Jews overpowered his offer to the king.
  • According to Tosvos on that page (d.h. “Vidachei”), the half-shekel given by the Jews leaving Egypt equaled exactly the 10,000 loaves of silver. Tosvos, however, note there is a difficulty with the math. Otherwise, why would the half-shekel of 600,000 men aged 20-70 leaving Egypt, which should equal 300,000 shekels, be comparable to 10,000 loaves of silver, or 30,000 shekels?
  • Rav Yaakov Emden’s solution to this problem is to point out that in earlier manuscripts of Tosvos, it does not say “chetzi shekel” (“half-shekel”), but the acronym “Ch’Sh,” which could mean “chamishim shekel” (“fifty shekel”). When fifty shekel are multiplied by 600,000, the result is 30,000,000 shekel, the value of Haman’s offer.
  • The Bach answers Tosvos’s math problem by explaining that in an average lifetime of seventy years (see Tehillim 90:10), a man will give a half-shekel fifty times between the ages of twenty and seventy, or twenty-five shekels. 600,000 men giving twenty-five shekels would be 15,000,000 shekels. These 15,000,000 shekels divided by 1500 shekalim (the value of a Beis HaMikdash loaf) would be exactly 10,000 loaves.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya (on Shemos 38:25) and the Torah Temimah answer Tosvos’s math problem differently. According to them, the half-shekel given by the Jews in the desert was a dedication of money representing the valuation of their own worth. According to the Torah (Vayikra 27:2), each man is worth 50 shekels. All 600,000 men donating their own worth of 50 shekels each would be worth 30,000,000 shekels. These 30,000,000 divided by the 3000 totals 10,000. When they actually gave this half-shekel, the Torah testifies (Shemos 38:25) that this silver totaled one hundred loaves, plus one thousand seven hundred seventy-five shekels. Therefore, Haman’s loaves were one hundred times more than the hundred loaves of the Jews leaving Egypt. Furthermore, the number of Jews contributing is given in the next verse (ibid. 26) as 603,550. The additional 1755 shekels were given by the 3550 people.
  • Rabbi Aryeh Naiman reminds us that the whole purpose of the half-shekel was to an indirect form of census-taking. The more direct form, actually counting individuals is a sure recipe for plague, as the Torah (Shemos 30:12) warns. Rashi there explains that because of “ayin hara” (“the evil eye”). The evil eye is caused by people being jealous of what others possess. When Person A becomes jealous, he begins to question why Person B deserves the luxury Person A desires. In Heaven, too, where the Heavenly angels mirror our behavior (see Nefesh HaChaim 1:7), they also begin to question why Person B deserved that object. After all, who is truly worthy of all the blessings bestowed upon us by H-Shem? It is only through the Chesed (kindness) of H-Shem that we are not judged more harshly. He, in His Mercy, over-values our merits, and temporarily overlooks our deficiencies to give us the opportunity to improve (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:5). When the Heavenly court focuses on one person due to our jealousy, that person’s good fortune will be restrained. Rashi (on Shemos 30:12) points out that this taking of a person out of the general populace and examining him or her with more scrutiny is the cause of plague. Incidentally, in the laws of kashrus, too, Rabbi Naiman points out, if a drop of milk falls into a pot of beef stew, the milk would probably be nullified in the majority. However, if that drop is recognizable still, even if the pot were the size of football stadium, the milk would not be nullified, since there is a rule (Talmud, Zevachim 73b) that one cannot nullify what is recognizable. Regarding people, too, without a community, one does not have the merits of the community with which to stand judgment. Regarding the half-shekel, everybody – rich and poor – gave the same amount (Shemos 30:15). Also, everybody gave one half of a shekel, rather than a complete amount. In a symbolic sense, Person A’s half-shekel was made “whole” only with Person B’s contribution. In the desert, the shekels were used to cast the sockets of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) (see Rashi to Shemos 30:16). Each individual socket was used as the base for the beam just like each individual in a community helps make a foundation for everyone else. When there were later censuses taken, the half-shekels were used to fund communal offerings (see Rashi to Shemos 30:15). Interestingly, Amalek first attacked the Jewish people (Shemos 17:8) when the Jews began to speak in first-person, individual language (ibid. 3). Amalek gains strength when Jews lose focus of their nationhood. Rabbi Naiman quotes R’ Yeshayahu Horowitz as saying that Haman’s claim to Achashverosh is that the Jewish people are vulnerable because they do not care about their national identity. Only then can Haman’s 10,000 loaves overpower their offerings. This is why it was so important for the Jews to unify in order to nullify Haman’s decree.
  • Another answer comes from Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld who brings the Vilna Gaon in Kol Eliyahu on the Talmud (Kiddushin 12a) that dates in Persia were once worth more than silver. If silver was so devalued, Haman’s 10,000 loaves were indeed equal to the Jews’ contribution in the desert.
  • Rabbi Zev Reichman quotes Rabbi Moshe Wolfson with an interesting question; assuming the 600,000 people’s half-shekel pieces correspond with 10,000 loaves of silver, what does Haman make of the extra 1775 shekel pieces given by the extra 3550 people in the census? There were people of the tribe of Dan who walked through the desert worshiping idols, oblivious to the open miracles all around them. In fact, when Amalek attacked, their victims were these “nechshalim” (“stragglers”) (Devarim 25:18). According to the Maharal (Gevuras H-Shem), the 600,000 is a symbolic number. It represents perfection. The remaining 3550 represent the people lacking in their spiritual perfection. Amalek attacks those very people because they sense their weakness. Haman, too, ignores their contribution because, in his estimation, the G-d of the Jews should not care about them. Indeed, his silver loaves match the contributions of the 600,000. But it was the 1775 shekels of the Jews Haman thought G-d forgot that outmatched Haman’s offering, and effectively rescued the Jews. Incidentally, the gematria for the Hebrew word “kikar” (“loaf”) (20+20+200=240) equals exactly the gematria of Amalek (70+40+30+100).
  • On another level, the Rabbeinu Bachya writes that Haman’s 10,000 loaves of silver were meant to counter the power of the Ten Commandments since Haman’s word “eshkol” (“will be weighed out”) can be broken up into “eish” (“fire”) and “kol” (“voice/sound”). Fire and sounds marked the giving of the Ten Commandments (Shemos 19:18-19).
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Jews of Achashverosh’s reign, confident that the Temple would be rebuilt, were accruing funds for that purpose. The money they gathered were called adrochanya, worth two shekel. 600,000 representative number of Jews gathering these 800 loaves for the twelve years of Achashverosh’s reign would be 9600 loaves of silver, 400 less than Haman’s. This is why the Jews needed from that Nisan to the next Adar to gather 800 more loaves. This totaled 10,400. The additional 400 represent the 400 men who came with Eisav when he met up with Yaakov (Bereishis 33:1). According to Kabbalistic literature, this number thus represents 400 forces of impurity. This extra number of loaves overpower Haman – descendant of Eisav.
  • The Steipler Gaon asks why this number has to match at all. After all, Haman is evil, and the charity given by the Jews is pure. When Yaakov met up with Eisav, he told him he had lived with Lavan (Bereishis 32:5) as a sign of humility. He was saying that he lived with Lavan, but did not learn from him (see Rashi there). What could Yaakov learn from the evil Lavan? Enthusiasm. Yaakov should have learned to perform mitzvos with the same enthusiasm with which Lavan sinned. The Steipler says that the Jews’ gifts need to match up mathematically with Haman’s offer because the Jews, too, need to match his enthusiasm for hate in order to overpower it. In short, as is true in various areas of Jewish philosophy, R’ Gedalya Schorr brings up that there needs to be a certain amount of good to balance out the bad, a concept known as “zeh l’umas zeh” (“this instead of this”, a phrase borrowed from Koheles 7:14). One could imagine spirituality as a bottle. This bottle is always full. Like all other things in nature, spirituality abhors a vacuum. So, if there is less holiness in that bottle, evil will take up that space so that the bottle is complete. The same zeh l’umas zeh dichotomy exists in all areas of life – love and hate, beauty and ugliness, kindness and meanness, etc.2

1 Otherwise, why does the text mention Achashverosh’s party lasting for 180 days? Why does the text mention the day of the party on which Vashti was killed? Why does the text mention the number of Achashverosh’s officers? Why does the text name and number certain months? Why does the text mention the number of Haman’s sons)? Why does the text mention the number of Persians killed by the Yehudim?

2This idea helps explain why prophecy ended when H-Shem fulfilled the Rabbis’ prayer to remove the desire for idol worship from the world (Talmud, Yoma 69b). Prophecy and idol worship, after all, are just different sides of the same coin.

Esther 2:6, Question 1. Why does the verse specify that Mordechai was exiled if the entire Jewish people were?

ו אֲשֶׁר הָגְלָה מִירוּשָׁלַיִם עִםהַגֹּלָה אֲשֶׁר הָגְלְתָה עִם יְכָנְיָה מֶלֶךְיְהוּדָה אֲשֶׁר הֶגְלָה נְבוּכַדְנֶאצַּר מֶלֶךְ בָּבֶל

6. who exiled himself from Yerushalayim with the exiles who were exiled with Yechanya king of Judah who was exiled by Nebuchadnetzer, king of Bavel.

  • Melachim 2 (24:16) records that the Babylonians exiled 1000 Jewish scholars to be advisers for their royals. By doing so, they not only garnered wise advice, but taking away the scholars from the Jews also threatened to break Judaism. The Talmud in Makkos (23b-24a) tells us that the gematria of Torah (400+6+200+5) is 611, which are the total number of mitzvos (613) minus the additional two that we have from rabbinic authority. Torah is incomplete without the rabbis. As the Maharitz Dushinsky writes, “The land of Israel without Torah is like a body without a soul.”
  • The Tiferes Shlomo mentions that Mordechai anguished over the destruction of the Jewish homeland and spiritual center. As the Talmud (Megillah 13a) reports, he exiled himself. He learned this from our forefather Yaakov, who went down to Egypt (Bireishis 46:6) even before his descendants were exiled there in order to prepare for their spiritual growth by planting cedar saplings they would later use to build the Mishkan in the desert (Rashi to Shemos 25:5).