12. And the king said to Esther the Queen, “In Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man and the ten sons of Haman. In the remaining states of the king, what did they do? What do you ask and it will be given you. And what do you request more and it will be done.”
In the first half of this verse, the tone seems to imply that Achashverosh was upset about the casualties. In fact, the Midrash Lekach Tov writes that Achashverosh was actually upset about his dead citizens, but H-Shem controls leaders, as the verse (Mishlei 21:1) teaches that the hearts of kings are in the Hands of H-Shem.
R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that the tone of the second half of the verse certainly sounds as though Achashverosh seems unaffected by this loss of life.
The Talmud (Megillah 16b) describes this sudden change of heart as an angel “slapping him on his lips.”
R’ Mendel Weinbach suggests that such a slap has this effect because Achashverosh suddenly felt Heaven did not want him speaking in an upset manner toward Esther. It literally hurt to speak the way he had been.
Interestingly, the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 92:7) notes this verse as one of ten kal v’chomer (“a fortiori”) arguments in TaNaCh. In other words, if the Jews killed 500 people in Shushan, how much more likely did they kill more elsewhere!
In fact, the Alshich points out that Achashverosh must have been thinking that if so many were killed in Shushan – where the informed public was ready for a fight – how much more-so in other parts of the kingdom!
On the other hand, the M’nos HaLevi quotes R’ Gakon’s opinion that the bloodthirsty Achashverosh was disappointed that such a relatively small number of his people were killed after the Jews had from Pesach until Adar 13th to prepare for battle. This is why he asked if he could do more to help.
Malbim explains that Achashverosh did not know there would be so many Jew-haters. From a place of genuine concern, he offers Esther more help.
וּבְשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה הָרְגוּ
הַיְּהוּדִים וְאַבֵּד חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת
6. And in Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man.
The M’nos HaLevi translates habira, not as “the capital,” but as the “palace,” so the verse is intimating, according to R’ Yosef Gakon, how safe the Jews felt in the palace compound to have killed 500 servants of the king in his presence.
Similarly, the Ibn Ezra adds that, outside Shushan, the Jews feared the influence of Haman and his sons.
Interestingly, the Vilna Gaon notes that the verse uses the word vi’abed (“and destroyed”) because the Jews destroyed the property of their enemies. The reason for this is to assist the Persians in forgetting this event ever took place. Nations in general have poor memories, and the lack of physical reminders can help avoid the anti-Jewish sentiment this massacre could later conjure.
ה וַיַּכּוּ הַיְּהוּדִים בְּכָל–אֹיְבֵיהֶם מַכַּת–חֶרֶב וְהֶרֶג וְאַבְדָן וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְשׂנְאֵיהֶם כִּרְצוֹנָם
5. And the Yehudim struck all of their enemies striking of the sword, and killed, and destroyed, and they did with their adversaries as they wanted.
Like the Vilna Gaon’s answer to a similar question earlier (Esther 9:1), the M’nos HaLevi says that an oyeiv (“enemy”) hates openly and a soneh (“adversary”) hates secretly. The secret enemy is far more dangerous, as it is difficult to predict an attack from a hidden foe.
Malbim, however, reverses these definitions, and suggests that the hidden enemies were not killed, but were merely humiliated.
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.
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.”
14. The runners, riders of the rechesh the achashtirans, left confused and pushed by the word of the king. And the law was given in Shushan, the capital.
The M’nos HaLevi explains that the riders are confused because they cannot understand why their message was a decree to protect the Jews, as opposed to their confidence earlier (Esther 3:15), since Jew-hatred was their modus operandi.
M’nos HaLevi writes that the verse mentions that Mordechai does all of these actions to demonstrate Mordechai’s enthusiasm to be involved in every part of the mitzvah of saving the Jews. When great leaders in our history get involved in a mitzvah, they put all of their energies into the project. R’ Moshe Feinstein often had to let down organizations by saying he could not be on their boards because he was not content to be a figurehead – he used his priceless time and abilities to be involved in every aspect of the operations, including planning, payroll, bookkeeping, organizing, and even decorating.
One may wonder if this goes counter to the idea of zrisus (“alacrity”). After all, perhaps if Mordechai had delegated some responsibilities, Jewish lives would have been saved sooner. In Alei Shor, R’ Shlomo Wolbe explains that zrisus does not always mean doing things quickly; rather, it can mean doing things efficiently, properly, and with care.
8. “And you write about the Yehudim as is good in your eyes in the name of the king and seal what is written with the ring of the king because what is written in the name of the king and sealed with the ring of the king cannot be returned.”
M’nos HaLevi interprets Achashverosh’s words as explicit permission for Mordechai and Esther to could write whatever they wanted since the leaders would ignore the first decree due to Haman’s being hanged and Mordechai’s being promoted. At the very least, they would be confused and will do nothing – for or against the Jews – hedging their bets.
Interestingly, Ramban, in his Torah commentary (on Bireishis 41:42), uses this verse as proof that the king gifting someone a ring is the same as giving one’s personalized signet, or power of attorney.