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 4:14, Question 4. Why does Mordechai say rescue will come from “another place?”

  • When Mordechai says rescue will come from “another place,” he means that rescue will come from H-Shem. He can be confident about this because the Yerushalmi (Simchos 8) quotes a verse (Vayikra 26:44) in saying that H-Shem promised that He would always rescue the Jews.
  • Therefore, the Kissey Shlomo and Dina Pishra write that H-Shem will find a way to rescue His people.
  • According to the Me’am Loez, one of the methods H-Shem could use in stopping Achashverosh is killing him through a rival nation. Mordechai is pointing out to Esther that, as queen, this method would be precarious for her; historically, fates worse than death can await a conquered queen.
  • The Chasam Sofer points out that Makom “place” can mean H-Shem, as we say in the phrase we use to comfort mourners.
  • R’ Moshe Meir Weiss points out that this is another example of Megillas Esther performing mental acrobatics to avoid using H-Shem’s Name.
  • R’ Shmuel Houminer asks why Mordechai is pushing Esther to perform this action. Did he not have faith in H-Shem. He answers that a person is required to have faith in H-Shem, but not trust specifically in his own method of achieving his goal.

Esther 2:11, Question 3. What was Mordechai hoping to accomplish by visiting the courtyard of the harem?

  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:8), Mordechai had two purposes in visiting Esther. One was to answer her questions about whether she was considered a niddah, woman having her monthly period. One of the lessons from this is that we must always make the best of our situations. No, Esther’s situation was not ideal, but even there – in the king’s harem – she cared about maintaining her spiritual state.
  • Mordechai’s other reason listed in the Midrash (ibid.) was to make sure Esther was not the victim of witchcraft from the other women in the harem, who were seemingly desperate to become the future queen. If they were so desperate to avoid marrying Achashverosh earlier, why would they now perform witchcraft to accomplish just that? Perhaps living in a harem for the rest of their lives was that much worse a fate. Perhaps this is what the Ibn Ezra and Vilna Gaon mean when they say Mordechai visited Esther to heal her. As great as he was, he may have possessed power to remove the effects of any curses placed on Esther.
  • Alshich says Mordechai was concerned that Esther, being a descendant of King Shaul, was going through this tragedy to make up for Shaul’s sin of letting Agag – and thus Amalek – survive.
  • Rav Moshe Meir Weiss takes Mordechai’s checking on his wife every single day without fail, as a lesson for all husbands. He mentions that one of his congregants asked him once to daven for the congregant’s wife while she was having a procedure because the husband would be at work at that time, and unable to be in shul. Rav Weiss responded, “How can you be going to work if your wife is going to the doctor?!” That is a reason to take the day off.

Esther 2:10, Question 3. Why does the verse stress that Mordechai commanded Esther to keep these secrets?

  • According to Targum Sheini, Mordechai was concerned that the king would become upset with Esther at some point, and take his anger out on her people. This is similar to what actually happens when Haman becomes angry with one Jew, Mordechai, and decides to exterminate his entire people as a consequence (see below 3:6).
  • The Ibn Ezra quotes commentators critical of Mordechai for this order, saying his selfish intent was for Esther to not be chosen by Achashverosh, so that she could return to being Mordechai’s wife. He rejects these opinions, and comments that Esther’s keeping this secret allowed her to stay Jewish because the king would have used violence in an attempt to force Esther to convert had he known her background.
  • Rabbi Eliezer of Worms writes that Mordechai knew that Esther’s very presence in the harem of the king meant that she was placed there for a reason. After all, wherever we are in life, H-Shem wants us there for a reason, though we often do not readily know what it is.
  • Rav Moshe Meir Weiss adds that even if Esther did not understand the reason for her secrecy, or even if she disagreed, this verse is a praise to her for listening to the words of Mordechai, the Gadol HaDor (greatest rabbi of her generation). When we trust the Sages, things go well for us.

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 2. Why does the verse imply that Achashverosh’s anger was not calmed?

  • Similar to yesterday’s post, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 5:2) points out that the verse says “kisoch” (“like it was calmed”) instead of “bisoch” (“it was calmed”), implying that Achashverosh’s anger was not completely calmed. This anger will show its ugly head again towards the end of Megillas Esther once the king applies it to Haman, as it says “and the king’s anger was calmed” (7:10).
  • According to Targum Sheini, Achashverosh was not angry with Vashti, but with the advisers who allowed for her to be removed. He therefore had them killed. If so, how do the rabbis reconcile this with the opinion that Memuchan, the adviser who originates the plan to kill Vashti, was Haman (see previous posts), who is clearly alive later in the story? V’zos L’Yehudah states that Achashverosh decided that a quick death was too good for Haman, and that he should be kept around – even elevated – to lull him into a false sense of security, and should then be cut down all the more tragically.
  • The Aruchas Tamid answers that Memuchan was actually hanged along with the other advisers, but miraculously fell from the gallows alive and Persian law did not allow for a condemned criminal to hang twice for the same crime. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss points out that this is yet another example of a miracle needed to bring the Purim story to fruition.

Esther 1:16, Question 1. Why is Memuchan the first (and only) adviser to speak if he was mentioned last?

טז וַיאמֶר מְומֻכָן [מְמוּכָן] לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַשָּׂרִים לֹא עַלהַמֶּלֶךְ לְבַדּוֹ עָוְתָה וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה כִּי עַלכָּלהַשָּׂרִים וְעַלכָּלהָעַמִּים אַשֶׁר בְּכָלמְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ

16. And Memuchan said before the king and the ministers, “Not the king alone has Vashti the Queen wronged. Rather, all of the ministers and all the peoples in the states of Achashverosh.”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 12b) interprets Memuchan’s jumping ahead of the other advisers as a display of his insolence. A wiser man would have waited to give his advice after greater people had spoken.
  • The Talmud goes on there to identify Memuchan as Haman. As such, Rashi there interprets his name to mean “prepared” – prepared for the death of Vashti and himself. The Ben Ish Chai notes that a hint to this idea is the fact that the gematria of “Memuchan” is equal to that of “eitz” (160), the tree on which Haman was hanged1. A “tree” may also refer to the Talmudic statement (Chulin 139b): Where is there an allusion to Haman in the Torah? In the verse (Bereishis 3:11) “did you eat from the tree?,” wherein the word “hamin” (“from the”) is spelled with the same letters as “Haman.” This occurred in the story of Adam and Chava’s temptation to eat the fruit in Gan Eden, and since (as we shall see be”H in our last blog on this verse next week) the Vilna Gaon believes Haman to be representative of the Evil Inclination, it is a fitting allusion.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 4:6) asks why Memuchan was so eager to have Vashti killed, and offers three reasons: she slapped him in the face, Memuchan’s wife was not invited to the party, and because Memuchan wanted his daughter to be able to marry the king. All three reasons are really one, with each moving further from practical predictability; he wanted more influence over the king. Memuchan wanted to yield his own influence, his wife’s influence through the queen, and (more indirectly) the theoretical influence of his daughter as a queen.
  • We must however, contend with another Talmudic opinion regarding the identity of Memuchan. The Yerushalmi quotes the Pirkei d’Rebbi Eliezer as saying that Memuchan was the prophet, Daniel. On the one hand, Memuchan’s advice is evil and murderous. On the other hand, it is ridding the world of the evil Vashti2, a sworn enemy of the Jews. Therefore, it is “Haman-advice” in its evil means and “Daniel-advice” in its simultaneous beneficial ends.
  • In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal writes that there are seven advisers present before Achashverosh at this point. There are similarly seven major constellations (as they were understood then), the seventh being me’adim (Mars), which represents bloodshed and has a numerical value of 95. This is the same gematria as Haman and Daniel.
  • The Maharsha adds that the unscrambled, initial letters in the words in Tehillim 22:21, which are interpreted as Esther’s prayer for rescue from the Jews’ fate at the hands of Haman (see our tenth blog), “mey’cherev nafshi mi’yad kelev yichidasi” form the name, Memuchan.

1Memuchan would have to be spelled with a “yud” in the place of a “vuv” (which is acceptable on the level of remez) for ממיכןto be equal to עץ.

2Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss points out that Vashti is the only woman in TaNaCh with that unfortunate appellation.