Esther 7:9, Question 5. Why does Charvona mention the height of the gallows?

  • The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach write that since Charvona was one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to the feast (Esther 6:14), he overheard Haman’s plot, and that is how he knew the height of the gallows.
  • According to the Malbim, Charvona mentions the height of the gallows now because it would add an additional layer of embarrassment for Achashverosh because, at such a height, Mordechai would have been seen publicly hanging while wearing royal robes in which the king dressed him1.
  • A more conspiratorial explanation comes from the Dena Pishra, who writes that Charvona mentions the height because it is obviously too high to serve the purpose of hanging only Mordechai. Clearly, then, Haman also wanted to hang more people, namely Achashverosh and his advisers.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes a Mishnah (Bava Basra 2:9) that a dead body, if it is not buried deeply enough, must be buried 50 amos from a city due to its offensive odor. Since Mordechai is righteous, and the righteous do not decompose, then the 50 amos height of the gallows were indented for someone else – the king.
  • According to Targum Sheini (on Esther 2:1), Achashverosh had been angry with the advisers who convinced him to remove Vashti, and had them hanged. The Aruchas Tamid writes that Haman, the adviser who originates the plan, was actually hanged along with the other advisers, but miraculously fell from the gallows alive. As a precursor to America’s rule of “double jeopardy,” Persian law then dictated that a condemned criminal could not hang twice for the same crime. The Aruchas Tamid continues that since Haman fell when hanged before, Achashverosh was concerned that he might be freed again as per that Persian law. However, these gallows’ height being 50 cubits meant that Haman would die even if he were to fall free.

1Class Participant YML pointed out that Haman could not have intended on Mordechai being hanged on those gallows while wearing the king’s robes. After all, it was only that morning that Mordechai was paraded in the streets of Shushan wearing the royal garb, and Haman built the gallows the night before that – not knowing what the next 24 hours had in store for him and his plans. Perhaps, as the king’s adviser, Mordechai regularly wore clothing akin to a uniform which identified him as belonging to the king’s court.

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 6:2, Question 1. Why does the verse describe the incident as “found?”

ב וַיִּמָּצֵא כָתוּב אֲשֶׁר הִגִּיד מָרְדֳּכַי עַלבִּגְתָנָא וָתֶרֶשׁ שְׁנֵי סָרִיסֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשֹּׁמְרֵי הַסַּף אֲשֶׁר בִּקְשׁוּ לִשְׁלֹחַ יָד בַּמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ

2. And it was found writing that Mordechai related on Bigsana and Seresh, two eunuchs of the king from the guards of the threshold who sought to send their arm at King Achashverosh.

  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 1:3), the verse describe the incident as “found” because, as bad as Achashverosh was, one good thing about Achashverosh was that he had everything recorded. One positive aspect of this is that he wrote both positive and negative events, a sign of humility. Another positive aspect of this is that writing down a chronicle of events helps a person grow spiritually (Pri Tzaddik, Chukas 4). After being inspired, the absence of a written record may cause that inspiration to disappear. There is an incident in which, as a young man, Rav Shlomo Brevda was walking in a poorly-maintained street when the street lights went out. He walked carefully, and when the lights cam back on, he found himself on the precipice of a large hole. He was inspired to pray the next morning with extra feeling and gratitude. However, when the next morning arrived, he found this inspiration gone like a deflated balloon. Upon asking several rabbis for an explanation of this phenomenon, he was directed to the Chazon Ish. After a rather lengthy bus ride to seek out this gadol’s advice, the Chazon Ish explained to him, “there is a special yetzer hara designed to deflate your inspiration immediately after a miracle.” One way to fight this and tap into your emotion is to write down that event.
  • The Malbim writes that Haman erased mention of Mordechai from the public document, and replaced any mention of him with his own name. Since he was unable to erase Mordechai’s name from the king’s private record, Achashverosh found it odd, if not suspicious, that Mordechai was the one who helped save him. This will help explain why his treatment of Haman and Mordechai from this point become the polar opposite of his treatment of them previously.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a), commenting on the abnormality that the verse says kasuv (“writing”) instead of kasav (“written”), which Rashi explains (there) means that it was being written anew teaches that Haman’s son, Shimshi, was attempting to erase Mordechai’s name, but the angel Gavriel was rewriting it. Interestingly, the Rokeach and M’nos HaLevi point out that the gematria of the first six words of our verse, “vayimazei chasuv asher heegeed Mordechai al” (6+10+40+90+1+20+400+6+2+1+300+200+5+3+10+4+40+200+4+20+10+70+30=1,472) is equal to this Talmud’s statement = “shimshi mochek v’Gavriel kosev” (300+40+300+10+40+6+8+100+6+3+2+200+10+1+30+20+6+400+2=1,484)1.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) continues that if something is written about the Jews below cannot be erased, how much more-so is this true in Heaven! In explanation, the Bobover Rebbe says this is hinting to H-Shem’s two books – one below and one above, mentioned in the Mishnah (Avos 2:20) in which H-Shem does His accounting for our behavior.
  • Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller stresses the tremendous effect of one human’s singular act written in a book leading the Jews to redemption. Accordingly, this is why the Rambam writes (Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:1) that just one good deed tips the scales for individual and for the whole world.

1I have yet to see a commentary explaining the apparent discrepancy of 22. Tzarich iyun.

Esther 5:3, Question 2. Why does Achashverosh offer up to half of the kingdom?

  • The Maharal says that Achashverosh offered Esther only half of his kingdom because any more would make it so that it is no longer his; he would no longer be the majority stock holder in that corporation. He therefore offers her 49% of the kingdom.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) says he was not willing to give her something that would “chotzetz,” divide the kingdom – the Beis HaMikdash.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Achashverosh wants to feel in control of the world, and a rebuilt Temple guarantees that a portion of his population – ever so small – would have allegiance to something other than him.
  • Rashi (on the Talmud there) quotes the Mishnah (Yoma 5:2) that the Beis HaMikdash is the center of the kingdom because it contains the even shasiya, the foundation stone from which the earth was made. Based on this, the Ohel Moshe asks, why did Esther not ask for the Temple to be rebuilt? He brings the Megillas Sesarim that Amalek needs to be destroyed before the Temple is rebuilt.
  • The Sfas Emes notes that it is ironic that Achashverosh does not want the Temple rebuilt. After all, it was his decree that inspired the Jews to unite, earning them the privilege to build the second Beis HaMikdash. The Sfas Emes points out that this order is alluded to in our weekday Shemoneh Esrei prayer. First, we pray that H-Shem eliminate the wicked, then we pray that H-Shem elevate the righteous, and only then do we pray that H-Shem rebuild Yerushalayim1.
  • R’ Moshe Meir Weiss mentions that we first mention the righteous and then the rebuilding of Yerushalayim because it is not possible to take ownership of the Land without righteous leaders. Without holiness, there is no protection.
  • As a Kabbalistic allegory, the Rema writes that the body requires half of the malchus (royal spirituality), while the other half has to be material and physical. The holiest people in the world still need to invest in this physical reality.
  • Perhaps another reason Achashverosh considered Yerushalayim so important to his rule can be gleaned from an earlier discussion in the Talmud (11a) that quotes a braisa saying that only three kings – Achav, Achashverosh, and Nebuchadnetzer – ruled the entire known world. The Talmud asks why Sancherev was not included in this list, and responds that he ruled everything except Yerushalayim. In effect, not controlling Yerushalayim means not being king of the entire world. As such, Achashverosh would have been reluctant to part with the city that held the key to his inclusion into such an exclusive group.

1In the Purim story, too, first Haman is defeated, then Mordechai is promoted, and then Israel received permission to return to the Land.

Esther 5:2, Question 3. What does the gold scepter represent?

  • The Maharal and Me’am Loez write that Achashverosh’s scepter simply represented his rule over the land, and that Esther was under Achashverosh’s protection.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes the length to which it was stretched was either from two amos1 to twelve, or to sixteen, or to twenty-four amos, or to sixty amos, or two hundred amos. Midrash Socher Tov (on Tehillim 22:27) writes that it grew sixty-two amos.
  • Either way, the Maharsha says the reason why this scepter needed to be extended at all is because Esther was weak from her three straight days of fasting, and the scepter was otherwise too far away. He adds that these are not random numbers: he notes that the word “vayoshet” (“and he stretched out”) is the twelfth word in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to twelve amos; “sharvit” (“scepter”) is the sixteenth word in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to sixteen amos; there are a total of twenty-four words in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to twenty-four amos; there are sixty letters in the verse before the word “sharvit,” hinting to the idea that it grew to sixty amos.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the length that the scepter became is not as significant as how much it grew. Therefore, if it started out as two and grew to twelve, that means it grew ten amos. The significance of ten is that the Mishnah (Avos 5:1) teaches that H-Shem created the world with ten utterances. Therefore, this miracle was supposed to intimate to Achashverosh that killing the Jews would be like destroying the world, which was made for the holy pursuits of the Jewish people (see Midrash, Bireishis Rabbah 1:2). If it started out as two and grew to sixteen, that means it grew fourteen amos. That is the gematria of David (4+6+4=14), the man responsible for beginning the construction of the Temple. If it started out as two and grew to twenty-four, that means it grew twenty-two amos. This is the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet, with which is written the Torah that itself protects the Jewish people. If it started out as two and grew to sixty, that means it grew fifty-eight amos. This is the gematria of chein (8+50=58), or grace, which means Esther’s prayers to find grace were being favorably answered. If it started out as two and grew to two hundred, that means it grew one hundred and ninety-eight amos. This is the gematria of H-Shem’s Havaya Name (10+5+6+5=26) added to the Elokim Name (1+30+5+10+40=86) twice. This indicates that Esther had aroused H-Shem’s Characteristic of Mercy. The Ben Ish Chai concludes that all of these numbers should not seem contradictory, but were separate growths that literally occurred.
  • Not counting the opinion of the Midrash Socher Tov, the scepter grew five different times because there are five different levels of redemption – v’hotzaisee (“and I will take you out”) (Shemos 6:6), v’hitzaltee (“and I will rescue you”) (ibid.), v’gaaltee (“and I will redeem you”) (ibid.), and v’lakachtee (“and I will take accept you”) (Shemos 6:7), and v’hayvaysee (“and I will bring you”) (Shemos 6:8) – and in the merit of the five Books of the Torah2.

1One ama is approximately two feet.

2The Ben Ish Chai makes a similar observation regarding Mordechai’s five clothes (Esther 8:15). He writes that our verse shows Esther’s reward, and that later verse parallels this one to show Mordechai’s reward.

Esther 4:17, Question 1. What does Mordechai pass in following Esther’s instructions?

יז וַיַּעֲבֹר מָרְדָּכָי וַיַּעַשׂ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁרצִוְּתָה עָלָיו אֶסְתֵּר

17. And Mordechai passed and did like all that Esther commanded on him.

  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 15a), after hearing Esther’s response, Mordechai passed over either a river or the passed over (read: transgressed) the obligation to eat on the first night of Passover, since that night fell within the three days in which Esther asked the people to fast.
  • The Me’am Loez writes that the verse is praising Mordechai for “crossed the river,” which implies that he preferred to follow the command himself – without the use of messengers. He, himself, crossed the river to gather the Jews together in prayer, fasting, and repentance.
  • In explaining why Rashi, who usually gives a simpler explanation when available, decided to write the explanation that had to do with transgressing Pesach, the Torah Temimah gives two reasons: one is that the Torah always names an object being crossed when vaya’avor is used in relation to a physical object, and secondly, in actual fact, the fasting did occur through the first night of the Pesach seder.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that someone can fast on Shabbos to annul a bad dream if that dream is dreamed on that day (Talmud, Shabbos 11a). If so, how much more-so can one fast on Yom Tov to annul a decree, so Mordechai was not transgressing at all.
  • However, according to the opinion that he was, R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshis’cha explains that Mordechai felt his prayers would not be powerful enough to be listened to in the ordinary manner. Transgressing Pesach would get the Accuser, the Satan, involved. Once he gets involved, there would be a Heavenly tribunal. Once there is a trial, Heaven would recognize Mordechai’s good intent, and then would assist Mordechai in defending the Jews.
  • In the first chapter of Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, it says that H-Shem can ignore insults. There, it writes that Esther’s arguing was spoken in an unfit manner, and yet Mordechai let it “pass” from his mind.
  • M’nos HaLevi points out that crossing the river was as easy for Mordechai as jumping over a puddle. It was a small act, but the Torah records it for our benefit, so teach us the lesson of the power even in what may appear as minor, easy mitzvos (see Mishnah, Avos 2:1).

Esther 4:16, Question 5. Why does Esther require three days of fasting?

  • R’ Avigdor Miller points out that fasting for three days is difficult, and accomplished an unprecedented amount of teshuva.
  • The Talmud (Yevamos 121b) uses this verse to inform us that it is difficult, although not miraculous to be without food for that long.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:7) writes that these three days corresponded with the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nisan, which included the first day of Pesach. When questioned regarding why Pesach should be foregone, Esther pointed out that there would be no Pesach if the Jews were wiped out.
  • The M’nos HaLevi quotes from the Yalkut Shimoni that these three days were the 14th, 15th, and 16th of Nisan. The Ohel Moshe points out that the main difference is whether or not the Jews of Persia had the second Seder.
  • The Maylitz Yosher writes that the Jews were expected to fast on Pesach in order to shock them into realizing the seriousness of their predicament.
  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the three days correspond to three sins regarding which Esther expects to be guilty: eat non-kosher food, submit herself to Achashverosh, and partial complicity in the death of Hasach.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya writes that H-Shem only challenges tzaddikim for three days. For example, when Avraham went to potentially sacrifice his son, he found Mount Moriah in three days (Bireishis 22:4). Also, when the brothers were taken by Yosef, they were imprisoned for three days (Ibid. 42:18). Furthermore, Yonah remained inside the big fish that swallowed him for three days (Yonah 2:1). R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the three sections of the Written Law (Torah, Nevi’im, and Kesuvim) were given to three groups of Jews (Kohanim, Levi’im, and Yisroelim) for which they needed to prepare for three days (Shemos 19:11).
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Torah affects us on three different levels: thought, speech, and action. Therefore, Esther was telling Mordechai that the Jews need to prepare these three days to perform honest repentance through thought, speech, and action.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Vilna Gaon (on Bireishis 27:13) that when Rivka told the nervous Yaakov to place the blame of his upcoming deception “eilai” (“on me”), this word can be an acronym for Eisav, Lavan, and Yosef. Those may be the greatest of Yaakov’s tests in life, that came along with the blessing he gets from his father.
  • Also, the Ginzei HaMelech points out that these are three different types of people: Eisav represents a glutton; Lavan represents idolatry, and Yosef represents the challenge of intermarriage. These same three issues are the ones for which Jewish existence was threatened in the Purim story. Pri Tzedek quotes from the Zohar on Chukas that the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, represent three characteristics: kindness, awe, and truth. These are the polar opposites of the three characteristics which, according to the Mishnah (Avos 4:21), destroy one’s life: jealousy, lust, and honor. During these three days, then, Esther wanted the Jews to perfect themselves in these three areas.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that three days is 72 hours, and this is the gematria of chesed, (“kindness”) (8+60+4=72). Therefore, the Jews were supposed to spend these days evoking H-Shem’s Kindness.
  • R’ Avraham Sutton points out that 72 is also the gematria of H-Shem’s four-letter Name when each letter is spelled out with all the yuds included ([10+6+4]+[5+10]+[6+10+6]+[5+10]=72).