16. And to the Yehudim, there was light, and happiness, and joy, and glory/honor.
The Chida quotes from Midrash Eliyahu that when Haman threw lots to determine the best day to annihilate the Jews (Esther 3:7), he was happy because that was the month when Egypt experienced the ninth plague of darkness1. To his understanding of black magic, this meant that this was the opportune time to conquer the Jews. However, the Torah (Shemos 10:23) testifies that there was, indeed, light for the Jews. Since the Jews had “hayta” light at that historic juncture, Haman’s very source of joy was due to his misunderstanding.
1This calculation is based on the idea that each plague in Egypt lasted one month, including the preparation, warning, the plague itself, and the immediate aftermath. Since the tenth plague occurred in Nisan, the ninth plague should have occurred one month earlier, in Adar.
Aside for Mordechai’s desire to send these letters in Sivan for the reasons mentioned above, the Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai waited for Haman’s couriers to return from their original mission (Esther 3:13). Utilizing the same couriers would add legitimacy to Mordechai’s letter.
The Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 100:6) writes that H-Shem rewarded the gentiles for mourning Yaakov for 70 days (Bireishis 50:3) by giving them these 70 days between the 13th of Nisan and the 23rd of Sivan to do teshuva.
R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes that a common calculation in the Torah is a day for a year, as when the Jewish people were punished (Bamidbar 14:17) with 40 years of delaying their entry into the Holy Land for their believing the spies who traversed the land for 40 days. Therefore, he writes, these 70 days were for the Jews to perform teshuva in gratitude for H-Shem’s saving their lives, which the verse (Tehillim 90:10) says lasts an average of 70 years.
Similarly, the Vilna Gaon explains that the Jews were scared about their fate for these 70 days to get an atonement for the 70 years of exile which they had caused upon themselves.
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that these 70 days represented the 70 nations of the world were allowed to think that they were in control of the fate of the Jews.
9. And they called the scribes of the king at that time, in the third month – it is the month of Sivan – on the twenty-third of it. And they wrote all that Mordechai commanded to the Yehudim, and to the governors, and their underlings, and the officers of the states that are from Hodu until Cush – one hundred and twenty-seven states – each state according to its script and each nation according to its language, and to the Yehudim according to their script and their language.
The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 7a) notes that there are different opinions as to the order of the months in the Jewish calendar. Accordingly, this longest verse in TaNaCh stresses that this event occurred in Sivan to teach that Sivan is the third month, making Nisan the first month. The year begins with Rosh Hashanah, in Tishrei, but the spiritual counting of the months for the purposes of holidays and seasons starts with Nisan.
Interestingly, the previous verses (Esther 8:1-8) and later verses (Esther 8:15) all occurred in Nisan, while these next few verses (Esther 8:9-14) occurred in Sivan. R’ Meir Zlotowitz explains that Achashverosh gave permission (Esther 8:8) to write these letters, so the text continues with the details of the letters, and will then backtrack to the chronology of the event.
The Lekach Tov notes that Sivan is the month of the holy day of Shavuos, when the Jewish people received the Torah. The merit of the Torah stood for Jews at this time.
Similarly, the Sfas Emes elaborates that the physical threat to the Jews had weakened, but the spiritual threat that snowballed into this potentially disastrous fate remained. Therefore, Mordechai joined the fight with H-Shem’s war against Amalek (Shemos 17:16) with a pledged renewal of the Jews’ commitment to the Torah.
12. And the scribes of the king were called in on the first month, on the thirteenth of it. And it was written like all that Haman commanded to the lieutenant governors of the king and to the governors of each state, and to the officials of each nation, each state as was written nation and nation like its language in the name of King Achashverosh did he write and seal with the ring of the king.
Especially since the decree was only to go into effect in eleven months, it seems strange for Haman to have been in such a rush to get the document written. According to the Malbim, Haman rushed the letter’s publication so that Achashverosh would not have discovered his true intent – the annihilation of a people.
The Chida and R’ Dovid Feinstein write that Haman was in a hurry because of the date, the thirteenth of Nisan. Due to the fact that the first twelve days of Nisan would give the Jews the spiritual merit of the princely gifts (Bamidbar 7:11-83) and the next days of Nisan would give the Jews the merits of the mitzvos of Pesach, this was the most inauspicious day for the Jews. Haman, seemingly a believer and practitioner in prognostication, wanted to publish this letter on a day when its goal would contain the fewest potential spiritual impediments.
7. In the first month – it is the month of Nissan – in the twelfth year of the King Achashverosh, he cast a “pur” – it is a lottery – before Haman, from day to day and from month to the twelfth month – it is Adar.
Both the Ibn Ezra and Malbim write that this event occurring in Nissan to give the Jews the opportunity to do teshuva. The only reason the Jews were not killed is because of the deep repentance they performed for the sin of disobeying Mordechai by attending Achashverosh’s party. Indeed, the teshuva was complete when all of the Jews – who had previously ignored Mordechai’s pleas – obeyed his command to fast. Mothers could only keep food from their children for three days by submitting their will to the will of the sages.
The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 7a) uses this verse to suggest we usually count the years from Rosh HaShanah every Tishrei, but we count the individual months from Nissan. The names of the months we use are not even Jewish in origin (Yerushalmi, Rosh HaShanah 1:2), so why do we use them? By mentioning the names, Ramban writes (on Shemos 12:2) we remind ourselves that we are in exile, still awaiting Mashiach, speedily in our day.
The Talmud (Megillah 13a) says that Achashverosh and Esther met in this month because Teves is a naturally colder month, and the warmth of bodies would be more enjoyable. This way, Achashverosh would be naturally predisposed to like Esther more than the other women. In this seemingly “natural” manner, H-Shem works His miracles.
13. And the king said to the wise men who know the times – since such is the way of the king before all those who know knowledge and justice.
According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b), the wise men whom the king approached after being insulted by his wife were none other than the Jewish Sages. The idea that they “know the times” means that our Sages are in control of the times and can have a hand in the calendar by, for instance, adding a thirteenth month (Adar Sheini) by declaring a leap year when necessary to balance the lunar months with the solar seasons (see Talmud, Sanhedrin 11b). Relevant to Tu B’Shvat this week, in the laws of orlah, a tree’s fruit cannot be eaten during the first three years of its life (Vayikra 19:23). The Sages’ ability to mandate a thirteenth month forces a farmer to wait an entire month longer for a tree to turn three years-old. We allude to this rabbinic power in our prayers. In the Musaf prayer of Shabbos (a day which cannot be set by the Sages) we say, “Blessed are You, H-Shem, Who sanctified the Shabbos,” whereas in the Musaf prayer of a Yom Tov (a day which can be set by the Sages) we say “Blessed are You, H-Shem, Who sanctified Israel and the times,” alluding to the fact that Israel can affect the calendar. Both the Ibn Ezra and Rav Dovid Feinstein add that, on a more mystical plane, the Sages were equally aware of astrology and which times have which spiritual energies (and how best to use these) as learned from Sefer Yetzira (Chapter 5).1
Rav Yehonoson Eibshutz writes that Achashverosh was hoping that the Sages, knowing these spiritual times as they do, would find that Vashti’s mazal (cosmic, spiritual influence) would allow her to live.
On a practical level, the Ben Ish Chai writes that the Sages could find ways to excuse any crime. For reasons too complex to explain here2, they were trained to do so because a unanimous decision would expatiate a perpetrator. In order to find a way to discredit a given exhibit of evidence, the Sages needed to then be completely aware of situations to best judge them.
As the Malbim writes, the Sages knew best how to apply laws to situations. The Maharal adds that a Sage, a righteous person by definition, always knows how to act under a given situation.
According to the Talmud (ibid.) the Sages found a way to not give advice because they realized that they were in a bind, a Catch-22. On the one hand, telling him to kill her as is expected of an insulted monarch may backfire and cause more Jew-hatred. On the other hand, sparing her meant subjecting Jewish women to untold humiliation under Vashti’s evil hands. To get out of having to give advice in this matter, the Sages simply pointed out that they could not judge capital cases ever since the Temple was destroyed. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss reminds us that one of the recurring themes of Megillas Esther is mida kineged mida, measure for measure. Here, Vashti’s halting the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash effectively ended her own life. Had there been a Temple, and it accompanying Sanhedrin, the Sages would have been able to pardon her.
1 My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yisroel Simcha Schorr, shlita, would often remind us that Pesach came before the exodus from Egypt. The time, itself, had the strength needed for an exodus. This is why Lot offered matzos to his visiting angels in Nisan (Bireishis 19:3, see Rashi there) before there was even an exodus to obligate the eating of matza. From the time of Creation, that time had the spiritual energy to be a vehicle for the Egyptian exodus.
2See Talmud (Sanhedrin 17a) for the details of this rule.