Esther 4:3, Question 4. Why does the verse mention six responses of the Jews?

  • The Jews responded to this news with a total of six actions: they mourned, fasted, cried, eulogized, and donned sack and ash. The M’nos HaLevi writes that there is significance to this number. These six actions correspond to the six days in which the Jews participated in Achashverosh’s party (see Esther 1:5). Indeed it was a seven-day party, and the Jews took a break from the last day because it was Shabbos.
  • Since the verse that describes Achashverosh’s party (1:4), the verse says the party lasted for many days (yamim rabim), and gives the number of days as 180, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz wonders why the phrase “yamim rabim” is not superfluous. He answers that this phrase refers to the kind of days they were, long summer days, concluding with Yom Kippur. This is the day on which no Jew sins. In fact, he adds that the gematria of the Satan (hasatan) is 364 (5+300+9+50), one less than the total amount of days in a solar year, indicating that the Evil Inclination has no hold on us for one days out of the year – Yom Kippur. Therefore, there were only six days for which the Jews needed to atone.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Sfas Emes views Megillas Esther as the beginning of the Oral Law. Mordechai was even a member of the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) that began the establishment of Rabbinic law. The Oral Law is represented by the number six, as that is the total number of Orders in the Mishnah – Seeds, Festivals, Women, Damages, Holy Items, Purity. The Jews mourned in six different ways in to show their new-found reverence for the Oral Law.
  • Interestingly, according to the Vilna Gaon, there are not six actions here, but five. In his understanding, the great mourning is not a separate action, but is one general action described with the remaining five detailed descriptions. According to him, these five correspond to the five actions Jews are supposed to take (Mishnah, Taanis 1:3-7) when they are suffering agriculturally.

Esther 3:7, Question 4. Why does the verse stress that the pur was cast “before” Haman?

  • According to the Targum Sheini’s interpretive translation, Haman’s oldest son, Shimshi, cast the pur.
  • The Malbim writes that the lot was cast for Haman – it decided when he would die since this plan to kill the Jews led to his execution (see below Esther 7:10).
  • The Chassam Sofer and the Me’am Loez write that Haman saw himself on top, and the Jews beneath him. Unfortunately for Haman, he did not interpret this correctly, as it was pointing to his hanging from the tree, and Mordechai beneath him, standing safely on the ground.
  • The Maharal says that Haman did not throw the lots himself for two reasons. The first is that he knew he was not a spiritually sensitive person. He therefore asked someone else to interpret the lots. The second reason is that he knew he had a subjective bias in the result. As such, his own subjectivity would subconsciously color his interpretation of the final result of the lots tossed. Perhaps these two answers are really one and the same. One cannot be a spiritually attuned person with biases. The more spiritual one becomes, the more objective one becomes. The entire goal of spirituality is to realize that our own wants should not have significance.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that the way Jews escape annihilation is through their performance of mitzvos, of which Torah study is the greatest (see Mishnah, Peah 1:1). That being the case, the Ben Ish Chai interprets our verse in a novel manner by writing that the lots cast pointed to the solution to Haman’s challenge being “lifnei Haman” the letters preceding the letters in Haman’s name in the Hebrew alphabet. The letters before hey (dales), mem (lamed), and nun (mem) can form the word “lamed,” (“learn”).
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Haman felt he needed to pick the right day of the week, as well as the correct month. Since, the days of the week represent the natural cycle established in the seven days of Creation, and every culture has its own fashion for establishing and measuring months, days represent a variable given Divinely. Months, however, represent a variable provided by people. Haman therefore thought the rabbis, who established the Jewish months (as mentioned above), were prone to error. Hence, Haman felt he could not be successful against H-Shem, Who established the days, but could be successful against the rabbis, who in his view represented imperfect, fallible men.

Esther 2:23, Question 3. Why was this event written in the king’s chronicles?

  • The Alshich and Malbim both point out that H-Shem inspired the king to arrange for Mordechai to be recorded and not rewarded at this point in order to prepare for the future rescue of the Jewish people (as we shall see when we get to 6:2-10 later).
  • Since the verse is written in a passive voice, with no explicit mention of an author for this book of chronicles, the Me’am Loez quotes a Rashi to Ezra (4:7) that Achashverosh’s scribes were Haman’s sons, and they did not want to write this into the king’s chronicles1. Therefore, continues the Me’am Loez, this writing must be seen as miraculous.
  • Taking another perspective to this verse, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:14), teaches that the behaviors written down in the books of flesh and blood are all-the-more-so written in the Books of H-Shem. After all, everything we do is written in the book of H-Shem (Mishnah, Avos 2:1), and that Book will be read to us in the end of our days (after 120 years), and we will have to give excuses for the things we have done. The Torah Temimah adds that, in contrast to a human book, the “Author” of this Book knows all (and is forgiving), so will record all of the important factors that led to our decisions.
  • The Rema in Machir Yayin writes that being “written in the book of chronicles” gives a person the power of “shamor” (“guard”) and “zachor” (“remember”). These are the two verbs used in the Ten Commandments regarding observance of Shabbos (in Shemos 20:8 and Devarim 5:12). They are also a reference to H-Shem’s relationship with the Jewish people, whom He “guards” from troubles and “remembers” for blessing, meaning He cares about us constantly. In other words, the Rema may be saying that the way to grow in a Jewish life is to keep a “cheshbon hanefesh” (“spiritual journal”) that chronicles one’s behavior and thoughts – whether good or bad. Writing things down is the way to grow in our relationship with H-Shem.

1Considering the opinion shared by Yalkut Shimoni and Yossipon that Haman was the instigator of this rebellion (as we said in the last post), Haman’s sons had ample motivation to cut this piece of history out of the chronicles, in addition to their hate for Mordechai and chronic anti-Semitism.

Esther 2:22, Question 6. Why does Esther report the information in Mordechai’s name?

This verse is quoted throughout Rabbinic literature – including the Talmud (Chulin 104b), the Mishnah (Avos 6:6), and Tanna D’vei Eliyahu – as proof of the importance of quoting one’s sources. It says, “one who says a thing in the name of the speaker brings redemption to the world.” This is not mere intellectual honesty, and there must be a deeper relationship between quoting in a speaker’s name and redeeming the world.

  • The Imrei Emes writes that when you give Torah, you get Torah back. When you teach in somebody else’s name, you receive that person’s Torah in return.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab quotes the Talmud (Yevamos 97a) that when you quote the words of a Torah scholar, his lips move in the grave. This leads to redemption because, as the Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 98) says, when two people say the same thing, that is the end of argument. Symbolically, when you and that scholar are saying the same thing, that is the definition of the end to argument. As class participant CL pointed out, disunity destroyed the Beis HaMikdash, and it shall be rebuilt (speedily, in our time) through the unity Jews gain from sharing in the Torah of those who came before us.
  • The Maharal in Derech Chaim points out that the root of an original thought comes from the soul of the person saying it. By repeating somebody else’s original thought, you are replanting the root back from where it came. That, too, is redemption because the definition of redemption is putting things back to their ideal state.
  • In Pachad Yitzchak, Rav Yitzchak Hutner quotes the Talmud’s (Brachos 17a) prayer that we want to do H-Shem’s Will, but exile restrains us. Rav Hutner continues that, on a personal level, exile means when a soul cannot grow and feels restrained. Therefore, redemption is bringing action back into the soul’s potential. By reporting Mordechai’s words – which are all Torah – Esther brings about the redemption of the Purim story, and eventually leads to the building of the Second Temple.

Esther 2:22, Question 2. Why does Mordechai report the plot?

  • Rav Shmuel de Ozeida writes that, if Mordechai learned of this plot through prophecy, of course he had to do something with that knowledge. After all, one does not learn information through prophecy for naught.
  • Midrash Panim Acheirim posits that Mordechai reported this plot for three reasons:
    1. By getting in the good graces of the king, Mordechai hoped to win permission to rebuild the Temple.
    2. More generally, being liked by the king, Mordechai would be able to have influence for the sake of Jewish causes.
    3. More practically, he had to do this in order to not be blamed for this plot. Although this would be neither the first nor last time a Jew is scapegoat in political intrigue, this is especially true according to the Ma’amar Mordechai’s opinion mentioned before that the plotters had originally attempted to sway Mordechai into joining their conspiracy.
  • The Ben Ish Chai brings from the Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 39:12) that it is the duty of a Jew to save the world. Jewish advisers to foreign kings throughout our history have rescued them from impending doom whenever possible. Mordechai could not turn his back to this ancient tradition. Furthermore, writes the Ben Ish Chai, anybody would do similarly, at the least in order to avoid suspicion. The Maharal and the Me’am Loez both quote the Mishnah (Avos 3:2) that a Jew should pray for the peace in the government because anarchy and unrestrained progressive change can be dangerous.

Esther 2:22, Question 1. How does Mordechai learn of Bigsan and Seresh’s assassination plot?

כב וַיִּוָּדַע הַדָּבָר לְמָרְדֳּכַי וַיַּגֵּד לְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר לַמֶּלֶךְ בְּשֵׁם מָרְדֳּכָי

22. And the thing was known to Mordechai, and he related it to Esther the Queen, and Esther told it to the king in Mordechai’s name.

  • The Ma’amar Mordechai says that Bigsan and Seresh tried to get Mordechai involved in Haman’s rebellion mentioned in the last post. After all, as a Jew, Mordechai was a member of a down-trodden people, the perfect candidate to desire a change in rule.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 13b) teaches that Bigsan and Seresh were from a place called Turis. They were plotting the assassination by getting poison (perhaps a poison snake), but they did not know that Mordechai was on the Sanhedrin, so knew all of the 70 root languages (see Mishnah, Shekalim 5:1). Thus, Mordechai heard and understood their plan.
  • The Chiddushei HaRim once had a meeting in Warsaw with the famous philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefoire, where they discussed this verse. Sir Montefoire said our verse is proof that Jewish children should be taught foreign languages, so they can save the Jews from the plots of our enemies. The Chiddushei HaRim retorted that the very opposite is true – if every Jew would have learned foreign languages, Bigsan and Seresh would know this, and would be more secretive around Jews. It is the rarity of Mordechai’s ability that allowed for it to be effective.
  • One of the proofs the Talmud (Megillah 7a) uses that Megillas Esther was written prophetically in ruach hakodesh (see Introduction) is that the conspiracy “was known” to Mordechai, implying that he found out prophetically. Rav Pam says this opinion need not necessarily contradict the opinion that he overheard the plot. He writes that Jews respect privacy, and do not listen in on conversations. To illustrate this point, Rav Pam tells a story about a rabbi who was arrested in Poland on trumped up charges of espionage. In court, his two guards were speaking amongst themselves in Polish, assuming he knew nothing of their language. This rabbi backed away from them. Seeing this, the prosecuting attorney yelled at him for showing disrespect. The rabbi responded, “I do not mean disrespect. I am trying not to eavesdrop on your conversation.” The judge, after hearing this exchange, immediately freed the Jewish prisoner saying, “Such a one would not be a spy.” Rav Pam says Mordechai did the same thing. When he heard Bigsan and Seresh speaking in Tursish, he left the area so as not to hear them. Then, he received ruach hakodesh, Divine prophecy regarding their plot.
  • In Torah Nation, Rav Avigdor Miller writes that Mordechai was Divinely rewarded with this discovery in reward for his vigilance in daily risking his life to check on Esther (as mentioned in previous posts).

Esther 2:8, Question 3. Why does the verse stress that Esther was taken?

Esther was taken against her will, despite the fact that she was well-hidden. In Targum Sheini’s commentary-embedded translation of this verse, it writes that

When Mordechai heard that virgins were sought to be taken, he took Esther into the house. And he hid her inside a room. He was concerned that the messengers of the king would see her…When they came to look for Esther and could not find her, they informed the king. Then the decree came out from the king that any girl hiding from the king would be killed. When Mordechai heard of this decree of the king, he became afraid and took her out to the market, and Esther was taken.

The M’nos HaLevi asks why Mordechai would take her out into the market after taking such pains to keep her hidden. He answers that a Mishnah in Terumos (8:11) discusses a situation in which a Kohen is accosted by gangsters who want to sully his sanctified food. Obviously, he should not risk his life, but should he hand it over? Rabbi Yehudah says the Kohen should put it on a rock, and not hand it over directly. Similarly, Esther, a holy person, was about to become spiritually sullied. Instead of performing an action of giving her over to the king, Mordechai took Esther to the public marketplace, and allowed for her to be taken passively if such was the will of H-Shem.

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.