Esther 4:2, Question 1. Why does Mordechai go to the king’s palace at this point?

ב וַיָּבוֹא עַד לִפְנֵי שַׁעַרהַמֶּלֶךְ כִּי אֵין לָבוֹא אֶלשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ שָׂק

2. And he went until before the gate of the king because one could not go to the gate of the king wearing sackcloth.

  • The Vilna Gaon suggests that Mordechai went to the palace because he simply did not know that he would be barred from it.
  • The Malbim adds that Mordechai wanted to inform the king of the goings-on, not knowing that the king did not know that the Jews were targeted for genocide.
  • R’ Zalman Sorotskin in Mayleetz Yosher notes that Mordechai knew that he could change his clothing to discuss his issue with the king, and then change back into his sackcloth. The reason Mordechai chooses to act otherwise is because he actually felt a sense of mourning for the state of the Jewish people. Changing clothes would also show the Jewish people a lack of concern for their predicament.
  • R’ Eliezer Ashkenazi clarifies that Mordechai’s actions were a part of prayer. Prayer being the Jews’ strongest weapon, Mordechai knew he had to pray before performing any other activity, and therefore the removal of the sackcloth would have been considered tantamount to ceasing prayer.
  • Basing itself on a verse in Tehillim (85:14), the Talmud (Brachos 14a) teaches that we are not allowed to fulfill our own daily needs before performing our duties to H-Shem. This is also brought down in Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 89:3, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 17). Even our forefather, Yaakov, in preparing for his meeting with Eisav prayed before doing anything else (Bireishis 32:10-13).

Esther 2:9, Question 2. How/why did Heigai make changes for Esther?

  • One opinion in the Talmud (Megillah 13a) tells us that the “changes” mentioned here refer to Heigai giving Esther “Jewish food,” which presumably means kosher food.
  • Another opinion is that he gave her pork bacon.
  • A third opinion, that of Rabbi Yochanan, says Heigai fed Esther seeds. His proof is that, in regard to Daniel and his comrades, the verse (Daniel 1:16) says “The cook took away the bread, and also gave them to eat seeds.”
  • If she did eat kosher food, Ben Ish Chai in Ben Yehoyadah wants to know why this did not give away her Jewish identity. He answers that, first of all, everybody knew she was from Mordechai’s house (as we mentioned in a previous blog), so it was possible she became used to kosher food in his house even if she were not Jewish. He also says that kosher food has a reputation for being more healthy than non-kosher food (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129649433), anyway, and it was safe to assume Esther may have preferred it for that reason. Perhaps this last idea is alluded to in the Talmud’s use of the phrase “Jewish food” rather than “kosher food.” In other words, he gave her food to eat the way a Jew is supposed to eat, primarily for health reasons and nothing more (Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Deyos 4:1).
  • Actually, regarding seeds, there is a custom (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:2, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 11) on the night of Purim to eat edible seeds (sunflower seeds, etc.) because of this verse. What is interesting is that the custom is to eat the seeds specifically at night. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss suggests that we do this at night because Esther was eating seeds in an attempt to hide her identity while simultaneously abiding by Jewish dietary laws. We, too, follow suit by eating the seeds at night, a time of secrecy.

Esther 2:1, Question 5. What does the verse mean that Achashverosh remembered what was decreed against Vashti?

  • If it is true that Achashverosh had his wife killed for refusing to display herself in the nude at his party, Achashverosh must have regretted such an extreme punishment for so minor an offense. Considering H-Shem’s consistent use of “mida kineged mida” (“measure for measure”), Achashverosh realized that Vashti’s misuse of Jewish servant girls on Shabbos precipitated in her punishment being dealt on Shabbos.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) tells us that she caused her Jewish maids to go around unclothed.
  • The Maharil Diskin asks why this has to be noted. Was it not bad enough that our sisters were forced to desecrate the Sabbath? Did their forced immodesty truly add to Vashti’s evil? He answers that Vashti’s participation in this was especially worthy of punishment because one can reason that poor servants surrounded by expensive goods may attempt to steal what their eyes see. One might think that nudity might thus be a legitimate way to curb theft, leaving potential thieves with less opportunity to hide their loot. (It has been reported that current manufacturers of illegal drugs use this very method with their employees.) However, it was especially evil of Vashti to force the Jewish girls to go unclothed on Shabbos because they would not have stolen, anyway, seeing as theft, coupled with the fact that carrying an object from one domain to another is forbidden on Shabbos (Mishnah, Shabbos 1:1), would have definitely prevented the girls from stealing.
  • Likkutei Anshei Sheim point out that the 180 day feast was held in the beginning of Vashti’s third year of being queen. This means that she had two full years (354 days twice) and the 180 days (354×2+180=888 days), which divided by seven, come out to be 127 Shabbosos (888/7 = 126.857143)1. For causing Jewesses to desecrate 127 Sabbaths, Vashti lost the reign over 127 states.
  • Tangentially, the Chasam Sofer adds that Vashti’s Sabbath desecration was part of the reason for the mystical custom (see Zohar on Bireishis 17b, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 297:4, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 8) to use myrtle leaves for the spices in the Havdalah service after Shabbos. Since “Hadassah” (Myrtle) was one of Esther’s names, her defeating Vashti’s influence was alluded to in the verses in Yeshaya that we read on fast days (55:13, 56:4), in which the myrtle succeeds “from under [or, instead of] the thorn-bush,” (see 2:4 and 2:17 below for similar verbiage) the thorn-bush being the prickly Vashti, who caused Jewish girls to sin on Shabbos.

1Mathematically, one can round up to 127, or perhaps we can consider the last seven days as an additional week. Perhaps Vashti’s not surviving the whole day would account for the fraction missing from the whole number.

Esther 1:20, Question 1. Exactly which “word of the King” will be heard?

כ וְנִשְׁמַע פִּתְגָם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁריַֽעֲשֶׂה בְּכָלמַלְכוּתוֹ כִּי רַבָּה הִיא וְכָלהַנָּשִׁים יִתְּנוּ יְקָר לְבַעְלֵיהֶן לְמִגָּדוֹל וְעַדקָטָן

“And the word of the King will be heard (that he made in the entire kingdom) because great is she, and all the women will give supremacy to their husbands, from the great to the small.”

  • In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal writes that the “word of the king” means that Achashverosh the king will advertise the fact that he killed Vashti.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:10) teaches that phrase in hinting to the final redemption with the coming of Moshiach. It relates it to the King’s (H-Shem’s) decree (Shemos 17:14), which will finally be heard when all of the final vestiges of Amalek are eliminated. The Rokeach writes that the initial letters of the phrase here, “hee v‘chol hanashim yitnu” (“she, and all the women will give”) spells the Tetragrammaton four-letter name of H-Shem. This indicates that Achashverosh’s decree actually stems from H-Shem.
  • M’nos HaLevi notes from Rabbeinu Bachya on Bamidbar (1:51) that any instance (like here) of the Tetragrammaton spelled backwards indicates the use of H-Shem’s characteristic of judgment (midas hadin). This is the very characteristic He will utilize in conquering the influence of Amalek. Perhaps it is for this message of our positive future that, in his commentary on the Torah (Shemos 28:35), the Baal HaTurim notes that the word “venishma” (“and will be heard”), appears three times in TaNaCh: there, regarding, the garments of a Kohen ministering in the Temple, earlier (ibid. 24:7) regarding the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and in our verse regarding Achashverosh’s decree. According to the Baal HaTurim, this series of verses hints to the idea mentioned in the Talmud (Megillah 3b) that the mitzvah of hearing the Megillah on Purim takes precedence over learning Torah and prayer. Despite a verse regarding Torah (study) and a verse regarding the Temple (service), “the word of the King” (Megillah) will be heard. Indeed, in Halacha, despite the fact that Torah study generally has supremacy over all other mitzvos (Talmud, Shabbos 127a), Jews are enjoined to leave their Torah study to hear the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 687:2, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 7).