17. And in each every state, and in each and every city – any place where the word of the king and his law was revealed – there was happiness and joy to the Yehudim, a feast and holiday. And many from the nations of the land became Yehudim because the fear of the Yehudim fell upon them.
The Ksav Sofer points out that the repetition of “happiness and joy” in this verse connotes the high degree of happiness present on Purim due to re-acceptance of Torah (Esther 9:27).
R’ Moshe Dovid Valle notes that these four expressions of happiness are intended to stand in marked contrast to the four expressions of sadness (Esther 4:3) – evel (“mourning”), tzom (“fasting”), bechi (“crying”), and misped (“eulogy”) – used earlier when knowledge of Haman’s decree became known.
The Ben Ish Chai points out that, taken together, the first letters of the words magiya simcha v’sasson la’Yehudim (“there was happiness and joy to the Yehudim”) form a rearranged acronym for shalom (“peace”). This is because joy and happiness is only fully realized in peace.
The Malbim writes that Esther’s two conditions refer to separate factors. The first, “seeing evil” refers to possible anti-Jewish attacks before the decree date. The second, “seeing the destruction” refers to people perhaps not believing the second (erstwhile unmentioned) document, and attacking the Jews nevertheless.
In Nachal Eshkol, the Chida explains that Esther is telling the king that – having not been present during the meeting that spawned Haman’s decree – she does not know if, by using the term li’avdam (Esther 3:9), Achashverosh meant to enslave or kill the Jews. On that basis, can’t bear evil (enslavement) nor the destruction (killing) of the Jews.
The Vilna Gaon notes that the verse uses the word, eicha (“how”) twice – once for the first Beis HaMikdash, and the second for the second Beis HaMikdash. Indeed, Esther was mourning for two things – the potential destruction of the Jews in exile from the first Beis HaMikdash, and the inevitable destruction of the Jews of the future if they do not learn from their past mistakes.
Contrary to the previous opinions, the Yosef Lekach writes that Esther is not worried the people will be destroyed. After all, H-Shem already promised never to kill them out (Vayikra 26:44). However, there was no such promise about individual families, and that was a cause of concern for Esther. The Jewish people would survive, but Esther’s second eicha indicates that she worries about her future progeny surviving.
Perhaps she had good reason to worry, since Mordechai had threatened her offspring with as much when he convinced her to approach the king (Esther 4:14), and it is a well-known Talmudic (Kesubos 103b) dictum that what the righteous speak, H-Shem fulfills.
The Beis HaLevi (on his commentary to Ki Sisa) writes that by using “my nation,” Esther refers to those who would not renounce their Judaism if that is what Achashverosh is planning to do. By saying “my kin,” Esther refers to those people who would (chas v’shalom) give up their Judaism to save their lives.
The Talmud (Megillah 16a) says the verse describes Haman as mourning his daughter because she threw the waste in her chamber-pot down upon him from the roof, thinking he was Mordechai, and then jumped from the roof when apprised of the reality.
R’ Mendel Weinbach explains that Haman’s daughter had the pot because she had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in order to lose Achashverosh’s contest to find a new queen.
The Ibn Ezra writes that Haman pushed his way home.
M’nos HaLevi explains that this detail needed to be said here because his pushing his way forward was unique for Haman since he usually had servants to do it for him, but not on this tragically embarrassing night.
The Vilna Gaon says he ran because he was embarrassed.
R’ Yitzchak Eliyahu Landau writes that Haman was pushed away by others because he smelled from his daughter’s chamber pot.
The Steipler Gaon writes that the king’s guards pushed Haman because thet were concerned that he was coming to speak with Achashverosh in his current, dirty state.
M’nos HaLevi and Dena Pishra write that Haman had to push through the crowd, which was unique for him since people used to push to see him.
M’nos HaLevi also cites a verse in Divrei HaYamim 2 (26:20) that Uziya pushed through people because he suffered from tzaras on his last days, and was embarrassed to be found that way. Similarly, Haman was embarrassed by his disgusting situation at the end of his own reign.
In R’ Dovid Feinstein’s view, this important day started out with Haman wanting to persuade Achashverosh to kill Mordechai, but the events of the day pushed/forced Haman to go home, instead.
The Ben Ish Chai explains that the word nidchaf (“was propelled”) can mean nad (“eulogy”) and yachaf (“barefoot”) indicating the Talmud’s (Megillah 16a) opinion that he was in mourning for his daughter. It can also indicate nad (“moved”) pach (“trap”), emphasizing that Haman’s trap for Mordechai had been moved from his jurisdiction.
R’ Moshe Dovid Valle shows that Haman’s own harsh decrees pushed him. He writes, “nafal sora chadad l’sechina,” or the sharp bull fell on a knife. H-Shem’s supervision of the world allows justice to triumph in the end. As the prophet tells us (Yirmiya 17:11), “oseh osher v’lo b’mishpat, b’chatzi yamav yi’azvenu, u’bi’achariso yih’ye naval,” or one who becomes wealthy unjustly will lose it in the course of one’s days, and in one’s end will be a fool. Haman’s wealth, too, came to him with lying about not being a slave, and his current appearance indeed makes him seem foolish.
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.
In its classically sarcastic tone, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:2) asks if there is such a thing as a mourning that is not great. After all, any mourning is painful. Naturally, after seven days, our personal mourning diminishes to some degree as we come to grips with the fact of the loss we are experiencing. In this case, however, the mourning only intensified as the Jews continued moving forward toward the day set for their annihilation. The Midrash adds that, in normal mourning, there is comfort in the fact that the deceased left someone behind. Here, again, nobody is expected to remain behind as Haman has decreed the deaths of women and children along with everyone else.
Rav Henoch Leibowitz cites a story in the Talmud (Brachos 60a) in which Rebbe Yishmael calls a student a sinner merely because the student was agitated. The only thing about which a person should be nervous is if that person performed enough good deeds. A person nervous about anything else is simply not living – constantly in the grips of fears and anxieties that prevent that person from enjoying the blessings of life. The Jews’ mourning here, too, is great in the sense of its quality. It was the fear of the righteous, the concern he felt if he had done enough good on his level. They were mourning for the right reasons, and that is why the verse calls their mourning “great.”
2. And he went until before the gate of the king because one could not go to the gate of the king wearing sackcloth.
The Vilna Gaon suggests that Mordechai went to the palace because he simply did not know that he would be barred from it.
The Malbim adds that Mordechai wanted to inform the king of the goings-on, not knowing that the king did not know that the Jews were targeted for genocide.
R’ Zalman Sorotskin in Mayleetz Yosher notes that Mordechai knew that he could change his clothing to discuss his issue with the king, and then change back into his sackcloth. The reason Mordechai chooses to act otherwise is because he actually felt a sense of mourning for the state of the Jewish people. Changing clothes would also show the Jewish people a lack of concern for their predicament.
R’ Eliezer Ashkenazi clarifies that Mordechai’s actions were a part of prayer. Prayer being the Jews’ strongest weapon, Mordechai knew he had to pray before performing any other activity, and therefore the removal of the sackcloth would have been considered tantamount to ceasing prayer.
Basing itself on a verse in Tehillim (85:14), the Talmud (Brachos 14a) teaches that we are not allowed to fulfill our own daily needs before performing our duties to H-Shem. This is also brought down in Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 89:3, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 17). Even our forefather, Yaakov, in preparing for his meeting with Eisav prayed before doing anything else (Bireishis 32:10-13).