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).
Advertisements

Esther 4:16, Question 3. Why and how are the Jews expected to fast for Esther specifically?

  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the reason Esther wanted the Jews to fast for her is, as it says in the Talmud (Baba Kama 92a), when we pray for someone else to have rachamim (“pity”), we earn rachamim, too.
  • R’ Dovid Chadida points out that Esther is really the only person in danger now. The Jews, after all, are only threatened in a year from this point. To answer why Esther wants the people to fast specifically for her, he quotes the Rambam’s commentary on the Mishna (Taanis 1:5) that a city can only establish a fast day for itself for one day. This only applies when it is a city in danger. However, when we pray for one person, the fast can last for multiple days.
  • The Me’am Loez brings another Mishnah (Taanis 2:1) that fasting alone is meaningless; the point is to pray, cry ,and perform teshuva (“repentance”).
  • Esther’s emphasis on fasting is to help the Jews realize that attending Achashverosh’s feast was the act for which they were to repent. Assuming she did not attend the feast, then, Ginzei HaMelech asks why Esther has to fast. He suggests the Jews went to the party because, on some level, they had a lack of faith in their relationship with H-Shem, thinking they were unworthy of His love and concern. According to the Ginzei HaMelech, Esther has been displaying a similar lack of faith in herself.
  • Incidentally, the Ben Ish Chai writes that she asked the Jews to fast eilai, for her, which can be spelled ayin (seventy) lee (“for me”), meaning that she, herself would only fast for seventy hours, which will be explained later, G-d Willing.

Esther 4:3, Question 6. Why does the verse emphasize that only “many” people wore sack and ash, instead of all?

  • R’ Meir Arama explains the “many” to include the more prominent, less conformed Jews together with the poorer, more conformed Jews in the act of wearing sack and ash.
  • The Yerushalmi and Panim Acherim translate “rabim” (“many”) as meaning “the Rabbis.”
  • The Yosef Lekach writes that this is a reference to the reshus harabbim, the public thoroughfare. Perhaps he means to suggest that this phrase implies the participation of the general masses of Jews, like those who travel the public road. Otherwise, this may be a reference to the last stage of the five-step repentance program described in the Mishnah (Taanis 2:1), in which the aron — the synagogue Ark — is taken out into the public square, and ashes are placed on it and the community leaders.

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.