Esther 9:10, Question 3. Why did the Yehudim not take the spoils?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 7a) notes that one of the proofs that Megillas Esther was written with ruach hakodesh (see Introduction) is that no human writer could possibly know that the Jews did not take any spoils.
  • Rashi writes that the Jews had rights to the spoils, but decided to wave those rights, and give the spoils to the king in order to maintain friendly relations with the palace.
  • The Dena Pishra writes that they did not take spoils because they did not want others to think that the Jews’ motivation was financial.
  • In M’aarchei Lev, Rav Moshe Schwab writes that since this was the property of Amalek, it was forbidden to take, as was the case for Shaul (Shmuel 1 15:3). and this is why the Jews refrained from doing so here.
  • In fact, the Binyan Ariel and Nachal Eshkol write that the Jews’ self-control in this incident was a tikun for the sin of Shaul in sparing (Shmuel 1 15:9) Amalek’s property.
  • Interestingly, the M’lo HaOmer and Me’am Loez both note that the initial letters of the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth words of this verse, uvabeeza lo shalchu es (“and from their spoils they did not send”) can be rearranged to spell Shaul.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that the Jews took the spoils, but destroyed them in an effort to not benefit from the property.
  • However, R’ Yitzchak Yeruchem Diskin writes in Ohelim that Jews have an obligation to take the property of Amalek and destroy it, but did not do so here. The reason was that the Talmud (Megillah 16a) considers Haman to have been a slave. As such, he relinquished all rights to personal belongings. This includes his children. This also answers the question of how his grandchildren could study Torah in Bnei Brak if Amalek is never allowed to join the Jewish people. Such is not the case for his grandchildren because of his status of being a slave.
  • Megillas Seris adds another reason they did not take the spoils – they only had one day to kill Amalek, and they did not want to run the risk of missing the opportunity to fulfill this mitzva. In the course of performing a mitzva, they totally ignored anything ancillary to killing out their enemies.
  • The Gerrer Rebbe notes that matanos la’evyonim, the Halachic (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:4) injunction to donate to the poor on Purim is in honor of the impoverished Jews of the time not taking the spoils of their enemies, despite their needs.
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Esther 8:11, Question 2. Why do the letters command the Jews to plunder?

  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the Jews were expected to plunder the wealth of the gentiles because of mida kineged mida (“measure for measure”). After all, Haman’s decree (Esther 3:13) included gentiles plundering the valuable of their Jewish victims.

  • However, the Malbim points out that, as opposed to Haman’s letters, these letters did not imply that the plundering was to take place after the enemy was killed out. Rather, they only had one day! This is because Haman gave plenty of time to plunder in order to help motivate the hordes. Mordechai, on the other hand, did not need to do this since survival is the greatest motivator.

  • Class Participant YML suggested that if this letter were written by Achashverosh, it is possible he only gave them one day out of his anti-Semitic desire to give the Jews less than what they were entitled to receive.

Esther 8:5, Question 1. Why does Esther use so many conditions?

ה וַתֹּאמֶר אִםעַלהַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב וְאִםמָצָאתִי חֵן לְפָנָיו וְכָשֵׁר הַדָּבָר לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְטוֹבָה אֲנִי בְּעֵינָיו יִכָּתֵב לְהָשִׁיב אֶתהַסְּפָרִים מַֽחֲשֶׁבֶת הָמָן בֶּן הַמְּדָתָא הָאֲגָגִי אֲשֶׁר כָּתַב לְאַבֵּד אֶתהַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר בְּכָלמְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ

5. And she said, “If it is good for the king, and if I found favor before him, and the thing is proper before the king, and I am good in your eyes, have written to return the writings thought up by Haman son of Hemdasa the Aggagite that he wrote to destroy the Yehudim who are in all of the states of the king.

  • It is important to recall that Esther’s attempt to convince Achashverosh to rescind the decree is expected to be an uphill battle. After all, It is a decree with which he agrees, and the Talmud (Megillah 14a) considers that, like a landowner with too much dirt, he would have actually instigated the genocide of all the Jews himself had it not been for Haman approaching him first.
  • The Vilna Gaon sees in Esther’s use of this many conditions three major methods to motivate somebody: the message must be pleasing to the hearer, the speaker must be likable, and the idea itself must be sensible.
  • He continues that, including the fourth condition in the next verse (Esther 8:6), these four qualifiers relate to the four letters of H-Shem’s Name. In addition to this, the verse also uses the word melech (“king”) twice, indicating that Esther was pleading before the earthly king and Heavenly King simultaneously.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that there are four conditions to change Achashverosh’s perspective because four is the number for changing something. This is why the Torah has four levels: pshat (“simple”), remez (“allusion”), drash (“homelies”), sod (“secret”). The Torah itself was received in 40 (4×10) days. Similarly, Noach’s Flood lasted 40 days. Also, the Jews required 40 years in the desert to be prepared to enter Eretz Yisroel. To be defined as sinful, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:5) writes that a congregation has to sin four times. Furthermore, a human fetus requires 40 days to develop to the point of having a gender, among other things. All of these are acts of change and development.

Esther 5:10, Question 2. Why does Haman restrain himself?

  • As Rashi said above, Haman’s motivation was fear of retribution without the king’s explicit permission.
  • The reason for this is, ironically, his own participation in creating a law that women have to listen to their husbands (Esther 1:22). As the Malbim wrote there, the necessity to sign such a truism into law put into question any other otherwise immutable ideas. Even a minister being disrespected did not act without the king’s command.
  • According to Rebbetzin Heller, the reason Haman restrains himself is that a good retaliation requires careful planning.
  • The Baal HaTurim (on Bireishis 43:31) points out that the word vayisapek (“and he restrained himself”) is used only twice in TaNaCh. The first is where Yosef restrains himself from revealing himself to his brothers. Just as in the Yosef story, the predicament was precarious but ended positively, so too in this story, self-restraint leads to national joy for the Jews. The Ramban’s definition (on Vayikra 19:2) of becoming holy is to restrain oneself and not to over-indulge.

Esther 4:5, Question 4. Why does Esther phrase her question as “what is this and why is this?”

  • According to the Yerushalmi, Esther phrases her question as “what is this and why is this” to demonstrate that she was asking two questions: a) what was the meaning of weeping and b) what was Mordechai’s justification for rejecting the royal clothes she had sent.
  • Yosef Lekach writes that Esther’s phraseology likens her to a doctor, who diagnoses both the illness and then figures out the cause. Here, also, “what is this” refers to Mordechai’s seemingly strange behavior, and “why is this” refers to the root cause of his concern.
  • The Ohel Moshe points out that this verse demonstrates just how a great person deals with any tragedy. In any such situation, the great person will seek the spiritual cause, since the spiritual is the actual, whereas the physical/political/personal causes are but a mere reflection in this impermanent, transient mirror to the spiritual world.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:4) and the Talmud (Megillah 15a) both relate that Esther’s question to Mordechai of two mentions of the word, “zeh” concerned whether or not the Jews transgressed the laws of Moshe’s tablets, which are similarly described as “m’zeh l’zeh” (“from one side to the other”) (Shemos 32:15). R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that Esther was concerned with Torah at this time because she recognized in the gravity of situation that the only cause could be a failure in the Jews’ commitment to the Torah. Interestingly, the Torah was written “mzeh l’zeh” so that each letter could be seen from either side of the tablets. The reason for this, according to Rabbeinu Bachya’s commentary there, is to symbolize the hidden and revealed Torah. Perhaps we can also say that these are the Written and Oral parts of the Torah.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:4) writes that Esther’s “zeh” question concerned the Jews’ neglecting the responsibilities to which they committed themselves at the splitting of the sea, regarding which is written “zeh Keili vi’anveihu” (“this is my G-d and I will glorify Him”) (Shemos 15:2). The Beis Halevi there explains that both instances of “zeh” precipitated in Amalek’s attack of the Jews in the desert. In other words, the Jewish peoples’ disregard for Torah study and their lack of trust in H-Shem brought Amalek in the desert – and brought their descendant, Haman, in Persia generations later for the same behaviors.
  • In his unique manner, the Ben Ish Chai focuses on Esther’s use of the word “ma” (“what”). He points out that the letters immediately preceding the mem and hey of “ma” are lamed and dales and the letters immediately after mem and hey are nun and vuv. Together, these four letters spell out “nolad” (“a new creation”). The Ben Ish Chai therefore notes that Esther wanted to know if the Jews were being punished for the previously-mentioned pseudo-idolatry in the time of Nevuchadnetzer or attending Achashverosh’s feast, or perhaps for a newly created reason, altogether.