Esther 1:20, Question 3. To whom or what does the phrase “great is she” refer?

  • According to the Alshich, the phrase, “great is she,” refers to Achashverosh’s kingdom.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:10) has an argument regarding this, and says another possibility is that Vashti’s transgression was great. Ibn Ezra states that Vashti’s transgression was multiplied by the fact that she transgressed against such a great kingdom.
  • In citing these opinions, the Maharal in Ohr Chadash that both the kingdom and Vashti required a great amount of spiritual repair (tikkun). The Maharal (and the Malbim) also write that the decree, itself, was great1. Class participant ES suggested that this masculine/ feminine mixing demonstrates the gender confusion Achashverosh so feared.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that it is the king who is being called great2.
  • Finally, the Maharal writes that what is great is what this decree will bring with it – namely, the miraculous rescue of the Jews of Persia.

1Grammatically, there is a problem in that the Hebrew for “it” here is “hee,” a feminine term. In his translation of the Malbim’s commentary of Megillas Esther, Rabbi Jonathan Taub suggests that the Malbim intends that the kingdom (feminine) is going to be improved by means of the decree.

2He does not seem to deal with the grammatical anomaly mentioned above.

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Esther 1:20, Question 1. Exactly which “word of the King” will be heard?

כ וְנִשְׁמַע פִּתְגָם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁריַֽעֲשֶׂה בְּכָלמַלְכוּתוֹ כִּי רַבָּה הִיא וְכָלהַנָּשִׁים יִתְּנוּ יְקָר לְבַעְלֵיהֶן לְמִגָּדוֹל וְעַדקָטָן

“And the word of the King will be heard (that he made in the entire kingdom) because great is she, and all the women will give supremacy to their husbands, from the great to the small.”

  • In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal writes that the “word of the king” means that Achashverosh the king will advertise the fact that he killed Vashti.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:10) teaches that phrase in hinting to the final redemption with the coming of Moshiach. It relates it to the King’s (H-Shem’s) decree (Shemos 17:14), which will finally be heard when all of the final vestiges of Amalek are eliminated. The Rokeach writes that the initial letters of the phrase here, “hee v‘chol hanashim yitnu” (“she, and all the women will give”) spells the Tetragrammaton four-letter name of H-Shem. This indicates that Achashverosh’s decree actually stems from H-Shem.
  • M’nos HaLevi notes from Rabbeinu Bachya on Bamidbar (1:51) that any instance (like here) of the Tetragrammaton spelled backwards indicates the use of H-Shem’s characteristic of judgment (midas hadin). This is the very characteristic He will utilize in conquering the influence of Amalek. Perhaps it is for this message of our positive future that, in his commentary on the Torah (Shemos 28:35), the Baal HaTurim notes that the word “venishma” (“and will be heard”), appears three times in TaNaCh: there, regarding, the garments of a Kohen ministering in the Temple, earlier (ibid. 24:7) regarding the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and in our verse regarding Achashverosh’s decree. According to the Baal HaTurim, this series of verses hints to the idea mentioned in the Talmud (Megillah 3b) that the mitzvah of hearing the Megillah on Purim takes precedence over learning Torah and prayer. Despite a verse regarding Torah (study) and a verse regarding the Temple (service), “the word of the King” (Megillah) will be heard. Indeed, in Halacha, despite the fact that Torah study generally has supremacy over all other mitzvos (Talmud, Shabbos 127a), Jews are enjoined to leave their Torah study to hear the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 687:2, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 7).

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.

Esther 1:10, Question 5. Why are there two “and”s in the list of chamberlains?

According to the Maharal in Ohr Chadash, the word “and” is used – as in English – in a list to indicate the final item listed. In this case, there is an “and” on both the fifth and seventh chamberlain. The Maharal writes that this is due to the fact that it was customary for Persian kings to have either five chamberlains or seven at their command at one time. The list could have ended at the fifth, or (as it does in our case) at the seventh. Either one would be a “final” of members listed. Seemingly, to stoke his own ego, Achashverosh took all precautions and used all the servants at his disposal for the purpose of self-aggrandizement.

Esther 1:10, Question 2. Why does the verse describe Achashverosh’s heart as “like it was gratified” instead of “it was gratified” with wine?

  • If the intention of the verse is to indicate Achashverosh’s drunkenness, there are simpler ways to say so. According to the Alshich, Achashverosh indeed was not drunk, but simply acting light-headed.
  • On a deeper, more allegorical level, Rav Yitzchak Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak on Purim) quotes the idea that a mention of a “king” in Megillas Esther also indicates the King of Kings, The Holy One (see our previous blogs regarding this). If so, H-Shem’s “heart” was in a positive spirit because of the distinct behavior of His chosen people.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 3:11) states that there is no true gratification amongst the nations of the world. Therefore, Achashverosh’s heart wasn’t really gratified with wine, but only seemingly so. In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal asks how this is possible. Do idolators really never experience gratification and joy? It certainly seems they do! He responds that complete gratification only comes from spiritual pleasure, and that can only be achieved through means available only to the spiritual people. Any other gratification is physical and does not have permanence. He quotes as proof the verse in Tehillim (31:20) that promises endless gratification to those who live their lives righteously. As Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch points out in his commentary on that verse, this is a reward in this world, as opposed to the stereotypical suffering tzaddik. In fact, several recent studies demonstrate that people without religion have higher stress levels (read: ungratified) than those following in the ways of Torah (http://www.healthzone.ca/health/newsfeatures/article/1119541–you-docs-having-faith-is-good-for-bodies-and-souls).

Esther 1:9, Question 1. Why does the verse emphasize that Vashti “also” had a feast?

ט גַּם וַשְׁתִּי הַמַּלְכָּה עָשְׂתָה מִשְׁתֵּה נָשִׁים בֵּית הַמַּלְכוּת אֲשֶׁר לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ

9. And also Vashti the Queen made a feast of women in the royal house which is Achashverosh the King’s.

  • Vashti’s party was a mirror of her husband’s. According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 3:9), she also wore the clothing of the Kohen Gadol, and also served foods and drinks to satisfy her guests.
  • The Maharal (Ohr Chadash) points out that she served drinks in the quantities that women enjoy. In this regard, it is interesting to note that the gematria of Vashti (716) is equivalent to (and even has the same letters as) “vayesht” (Bireishis 9:21), a verb for drinking, and the gematria of Achashverosh (821) is equivalent to “vihishkisa” (Bamidbar 20:8), another verb with a synonymous meaning.

Esther 1:8, Question 3. Who is being referred to in the phrase “man and man?”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) learns from the fact that each is called a “man” in the Megillah (Esther 2:5 and 7:6), that this verse is referring to Mordechai and Haman. Haman being at the party makes sense according to the idea that he intended to convince the Jews to sin. What, however, would Mordechai be doing at this party? Ri Pinto explains that Mordechai forced himself to come to the party he has erstwhile been railing against to make sure the Jews would not be forced to consume forbidden foods and drinks. The Dubno Maggid explains this with a parable regarding a boy who has a doting father and a stingy stepmother. One day, the boy becomes sick, and his doctors tell the father to make sure the boy does not overindulge in food until he regains his strength. Later, when the boy is about to eat what the father considers too much, the father quickly takes the food from him. The boy cries, “Father, why are you suddenly behaving like my stepmother in not allowing me to be happy?” The father answers, “True, we may be acting towards you similarly now, but it is for very different reasons.” Similarly, the Talmud has Mordechai and Haman acting similarly towards the Jews at the party, but with diametrically opposing intentions. 
  • Why does the Talmud here have to stray so far from the simple explanation that “each person” was to be satisfied? Maharal in Ohr Chadash cites the Midrash (Esther Rabba 2:14) that has H-Shem saying of Achashverosh that it was haughty of him to try to satisfy everyone. After all, H-Shem says,

        I am not able [aside from bypassing the laws of nature] to satisfy all my creations simultaneously. And yet you seek to do according to the wants of [every] man and man?! It happens in the world that two men seek to marry the same woman. Can she marry both? Either this one or that one! Also, two ships can be docked with one hoping for a northern wind, and the other waiting for a southern wind. Can one wind satisfactorily carry them both? Either this one or that one!

In other words, the Maharal continues, trying to satisfy everyone at the feast was another attempt by Achashverosh to usurp H-Shem’s Kingship by doing something even He does not do – satisfy everyone simultaneously. Perhaps, since nature is set up in a way as to make it impossible to satisfy “each person,” the Talmud needs to learn “man and man” as specific groups, or even persons, who could theoretically be satisfied at the same time.