Esther 8:16, Question 2. What do these different expressions signify?

  • According to Malbim, since the previous verse (Esther 8:15) testifies to the fact that everybody was happy, the various expressions in this verse underscore the fact that the Jews were especially joyous.
  • Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 405) writes that this verse demonstrates that the Jews could now survive any difficulty in history because they “preserved their own light and joy.”
  • The Rambam (Perakim Hatzlacha, Chapter 2) emphasizes that all of the good that the Jews received was due to their return to Torah. Based on this, the Binyan Shlomo points out that it is a very praiseworthy custom to learn Torah on the holiday of Purim (see Rema, Orach Chaim 695:2).
  • The Sharis Yosef teaches that objects going from darkness to light is yet another source for the custom to wear costumes on Purim.
  • The Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) writes that this description mirrors how the Jews will be redeemed with the coming of Moshiach.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16b) interprets this verse’s expressions thus: light is Torah; happiness is Yom Tov; joy is circumcision; and glory is tefillin.
  • Rashi comments on the Talmud that Haman made decrees forbidding Jews from fulfilling these mitzvos. The Yad HaMelech points out that Jews may have neglected circumcision at that time, as they sometimes have done on times of persecution to pass as non-Jews.
  • The Megillas Sesarim writes that Mordechai’s wearing tefillin earlier (Esther 8:15) put that mitzva back in vogue.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab finds it impossible for the Jews to have been successfully banned from these mitzvos, en masse. Rather, he explains that the Jews at that time studied Torah, but without light; they commemorated holidays, but without happiness; they performed circumcisions, but without joy; they wore tefillin, but without glory. Without caring, without thinking, and without these precious mitzvos affecting their souls.
  • Rav Yehonason Eibshutz points out that it is a natural, human reaction for the emotional impact of an event to fade in subsequent anniversaries of that event. For instance, as happy as a child’s birthday celebration may be, it pales in comparison to the happiness felt at the actual successful birth. However, when that event is attached to a mitzva that is repeated every year, the original happiness felt at the event is retained (and perhaps enhanced) with the performance of the mitzva. This is the reason for the Talmud to equate happiness with Yom Tov; with each occurrence of Purim, its mitzvos reignite its accompanying joy.
  • The Sfas Emes asks a fundamental question: why does the verse uses metaphors instead of explicitly writing that the Jews garnered Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin? He answers that, with the miracle of Purim, the Jews recognized the real nature of light, happiness, joy, and glory; light comes from Torah, happiness comes from Yom Tov, joy comes from circumcision, and glory comes from tefillin.
  • The Ohr Gedalyahu adds that all of these misapplied emotions point to the Jews’ ancient battle against Amalek, a nation described (Devarim 25:17) as having cooled us. Amalek wins when Jews perform mitzvos without an accompanying fire of emotion. He quotes the Sefer Yetzira that the month of Adar is represented by the letter kuf, meaning kedusha (“holiness”), which he defines as keeping something special and invigorating.
  • The Ohel Moshe similarly writes that simcha (“happiness”) is the antidote to Amalek’s cooling effect. The Vilna Gaon notes that all four of these mitzvos – Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin – are regularly called osos (“signs”) and eidus (“testimonies”). He explains that these all testify that there is one G-d, and that the Jewish people are uniquely His people. He adds that taking the first letters (roshei teivos) of the words ora (“light”), simcha (“happiness”), sasson (“joy”), and yikar (“glory”) – aleph, sin, sin, and yud respectively – produces a gematria (1+300+300+10=611) equal to that of Torah (400+6+200+5=611). He continues by quoting a cryptic Talmudic tale (Sukkah 48b) about a character named Sasson speaking with another named Simcha. In this piece of Aggadeta, the two are trying to outdo each other by quoting verses throughout TaNaCh in which one or the other appears first. When Sasson and Simcha finally consult with Rebbe Abahu, he tells them that if a person has a water flask but never fills it, but merely keeps it next to him, he will die of thirst.
  • The Vilna Gaon’s explanation is beyond the author’s erudition and the scope of this work, but the Shem M’Shmuel explains that conversation by distinguishing between the exact spiritual nature of these two almost synonymous emotions, happiness and joy. He writes that happiness is the emotion felt after careful planning yields a successful result, whereas joy is the emotion felt when one experiences an unexpected windfall. The debate between Sasson and Simcha, then, is whether success is better felt in the former type of situation, or the latter. For instance, should an organization carefully plan its charitable giving, or bypass the planning and initiate the giving as quickly and haphazardly as possible? Having one necessarily means lacking the other. Rebbe Abahu’s allegoric answer, then, is that there needs to be spiritual content (water) inside the emotion (water flask) to gain anything beyond failure (thirst). Therefore, in our verse, the Jews had both emotions – happiness from the prearranged success, and joy from the unexpected success.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why the great mitzvah of teshuva (“repentance”) seems missing in this list of mitzvos the Jews are performing. After all, the Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that Achashverosh giving his signet ring to Haman created the greatest wave of teshuva in history. He answers that exactly these mitzvos are actual teshuva! Sitting around feeling sorry is not genuine repentance; improving our performance of H-Shem’s service is how we return to Him.
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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.