Esther 3:14, Question 2. Why is a copy necessary at all, and what is being “revealed?”

  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:24) uses this verse to contrast Jewish prophecy from gentile prophecy. Gentile prophecy is vague to the point that all they see is, for instance “killing,” and they do not know if they will be doing the killing, or if they will be killed. As an example, the Midrash tells the following parable:

A man is walking on the road. When his legs begin to hurt, he says, “If only I had one donkey…” Just as he says this, a Roman whose she-donkey just gave birth passes by him. The Roman sees the man and orders him to carry the donkey colt on his shoulders. The man says, “I asked, but did not ask correctly.” This is the prophecy of the gentile nations. They are vaguely instructed to “be ready,” (Esther 3:14) but they did not know if they were to be ready to kill or be killed. Jewish prophecy is explicit, as when it says, “…to allow the Yehudim to prepare for this day to avenge themselves from their enemies” (ibid. 8:13).

  • The Malbim explains that this is a copy for the regular people. According to him, the letters sent out previously (Esther 3:12) to the governors and lieutenant governors were sealed, so even they did not know what was happening.
  • The Vilna Gaon disagrees, and writes that the officials knew what was happening, but the general populace was kept in the dark. The Vilna Gaon and Malbim agree, however, that these copies mentioned here, like contemporary movie posters, intentionally revealed very little in order to better surprise the Jews. Quite literally, these public copies might only say, “Be prepared…”
  • The Me’am Loez writes that very little was revealed because Achashverosh and Haman feared that some fanatical Jew-haters might have acted prematurely, spoil the surprise, and accidentally allow some Jews to escape annihilation.
  • Parenthetically, there is an interesting story about the Maharil Diskin. After he passed away, his students poured over his unpublished work in hopes of finding material for publication. A note fell out of one book. It read: “tefillah b’kavanah u’bipeirush, udvidah d’chamor,” which means “prayer with intent and explanation, story of the donkey.” For a long time, the students did not know what this meant. Upon asking R’ Raphael Katennellenbogen, he explained this note referred to the above parable. When people pray, they need to be as detailed as possible. Prayer require thought and understanding. If one prays for wealth, for instance, it would be wise to mention as many specific details as possible in order to get the wealth you actually seek, and not something different.

Esther 3:10, Question 4. What is the significance of the Talmud’s pit analogy?

The Talmud (Megillah 14a) compares Achashverosh and Haman to two land owners. One has a giant mound of excess land. The other has a ditch in his field. The person who has a ditch wants land to fill in the field. The person with the dirt is looking for a ditch to dump his dirt. Simply put, this analogy indicates a symbiotic relationship between Achashverosh and Haman; the two need each other. Achashverosh has too many Jews, while Haman is looking for Jews to kill.

  • The Ben Ish Chai on the Talmud (in Sefer Benayahu) writes that this analogy means to indicate that, like the dirt-owner, Achashverosh did not accept Haman’s financial offer because he was doing him a favor ridding the nation of Jews.
  • R’ Meir Shapiro and the Chasam Sofer say that Achashverosh and Haman had different theories as to how to defeat the Jews. Achashverosh thought the best method for this was to invite them to his feast, elevate them, and watch as assimilation destroyed the Jews from within. Therefore, he built them up, like a mound. Haman, however, considered the best method degradation, making them low as if they were lower than a ditch1.
  • Similarly, R’ Mendel Weinbach writes that Achashverosh considered the Jews a threat to his power. After all, if the Jews were to rebuild their Temple, Achashverosh would lose some of his esteem. Therefore, to him, the Jews were respected, like a mound. In contrast, Haman considered the Jews disgusting and lowly, like a ditch. Rabbi Weinbach also writes that the mound and the ditch metaphors can be different ways for Jews to view assimilation. One way to avoid assimilation is to build up Jews like a mound, placing them on a pedestal by pointing out Jewish accomplishments to build up Jewish pride. Another way to avoid assimilation is to paint Jews as so different, so “uncool,” as to belong on a completely separate level, like a ditch.
  • In answering the question of why Achashverosh does not seem to be punished in the end of Megillas Esther, the Ben Ish Chai tells the following parable: two hooligans kidnap the king’s son. When the king refuses to pay their ransom, Hooligan A becomes incensed, and wants to kill the prince. Hooligan B feels this to be unnecessarily cruel, and they begin to argue. As they do, they are both captured. The king pardons Hooligan B for being kind to the prince, but Hooligan A is summarily burned for his evil intentions. Similarly, both Achashverosh and Haman are, indeed, evil. However, due to the respect Achashverosh will show the Jews (see 6:10 and 8:1-2 below), he will be treated in a kinder fashion.

1It is amazing how Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as dirty rodents on the one hand, and over-intellectual snobs on the other, ignoring the inherent contradiction in these estimations.

Esther 3:1, Question 2. Why does the king promote Haman?

  • Apparently basing itself on the idea that King here refers to H-Shem, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:1) cites a verse in Tehillim (37:20) to relate that H-Shem allowed for Haman to be elevated only in order for his fall to be all-the-more steep and painful. There is a parable told there of a horse, a donkey, and a pig. The farmer feeds the donkey and horse a limited amount, and feeds the pig without measure. One day, the horse asks the donkey, “We do actual work, yet are fed less. This is not fair!” The wise donkey tells the horse to be patient and realize that the pig is not well-fed for its own good, but to be fattened up to be eaten by the farmer.
  • In the next Midrash (ibid. 7:2) a story is told of a king who felt it beneath his dignity to kill a peasant, so he promotes him in order to execute him without degrading himself. Such is the case with Haman, made great only to be cut down the more painfully.
  • The Chida calculates that Haman was at the peak of his power for a total of seventy days. He sent out the letters to kill the Jews on the 13th of Nisan. Seventy days later, on the 23rd of Sivan, Mordechai sent out the letters for the Jews to rescue themselves. Similarly, there are seventy verses between this verse where Haman is elevated and the verse where Haman is hanged (7:10).
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that, by elevating Haman, H-Shem was rewarding him for his advice to rid the world of the evil Vashti.
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman was elevated at this point as a consequence for King Shaul’s (Mordechai and Esther’s ancestor) misdirected kindness in keeping Agag (Haman’s ancestor) alive.
  • Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (21) writes that Haman’s elevation is a reward for Agag’s sincere prayer when he was locked up in prison, awaiting his death. Because of this evil man’s last prayer, a ruler was destined to come from him, as is alluded to in the verse (Bamidbar 24:7), “and He raised from Agag his kingship.” Based on this, the Ginzei HaMelech asks, how could Haman, a thoroughly evil man only in power for 70 days, be considered a reward? He answers that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) teaches that Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah in Bnei Brak, truly a reward for anybody.
  • The Maharal writes that Haman is rewarded here instead of Mordechai because the righteous generally are not rewarded with wealth in this world, but accrue reward in the World to Come.
  • Rav Shmuel Aharon Rubin cites Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak in the Talmud (Megillah 11a), who applies the verse in Tehillim (124:2) that discusses H-Shem rescuing us from a man to the Purim story. Since kings have not free will of their own, he continues, H-Shem needed to elevate a man – since free will is the mark of humanity – to this position from which he could threaten the Jewish people. It is a bigger miracle that Pesach in that way because Pharaoh’s heart was Divinely hardened. Haman, on the other hand, could make his own decisions, and chose evil all the same.
  • The Vilna Gaon tells us that if Haman is Memuchan (as asserted before), the human king had reason to reward him, as well. After all, it was Haman who advised that Vashti should be removed. First, this advice allowed the king to marry Esther. Second, Esther helped save the king’s life from the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:21).
  • But if the motivation to elevate Haman came from Achashverosh for this, why did he not reward Mordechai? The Tirosh Vayitz’har writes that Achashverosh was unsure about Mordechai’s intention. Perhaps he was a part of the plot, after all. The only one he was sure of was Esther, so he rewarded her by elevating the man whose advice led to her being queen.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Kluger writes that, after surviving the assassination attempt, Achashverosh realized that he was at risk – especially from Haman – and knew that he needed to keep him close by. As the old saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
  • This is the exact opposite view from Chacham Tzvi, whose opinion is that Achashverosh mistrusted Haman and thought he conspired together with Esther to kill him. However, once Esther reported the assassination plot in Mordechai’s name – Mordechai being Haman’s arch rival – Achashverosh (thought he) knew that Haman was loyal.
  • According to the Malbim, the king simply forgot about Mordechai completely.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz notes that it makes little logical sense for Mordechai to have been so passed over, and instead condemned to die along with the other Jews. After all, he saved the king’s life when he had no need to. Therefore, this verse is yet another proof that it is impossible to understand the Purim story – or even Jewish history, in general – without the understanding that H-Shem miraculously protects His beloved people.

Esther 1:6, Question 5. Why does the Megillah go into these details about Achashverosh’s party at all?

  • According to the Vilna Gaon, one of the reasons to include these unusually specific details is the Torah’s desire to demonstrate how grand an earthly party can be. The Mishnah in Avos (4:22) states that the pleasure of the future world is unimaginably greater than this world’s greatest pleasure. Without this description, how would we ever know how great this world’s pleasures can be?
  • In the view of the Dubno Maggid, the Jews who attended the feast did so on purpose. He quotes the Midrash (Esther Rabba 2:5) that portrays a dialogue at the feast wherein Achashverosh asks the Jews, “Is your G-d capable of doing more than this for you in the end of days?” The Jews respond with an obscure quote from Yeshayahu (64:3), “[Since forever, nobody has listened, nor heard,] nor eye has seen, Elokim, (זולתך) except for You, what You will do for [someone] who waits for You.” There being countless verses in TaNaCh that hint to descriptions of the World to Come, how is this verse the best answer to the question? To explain, the Dubno Maggid tells a famous parable describing a rich man with an angry wife. Throughout his day, she annoys him with constant bickering. Finally, a day comes when she has to take care of something out of town for a few days. On the first day of her absence, the man asks his servant to prepare a delicious meal and serve his best wine. He eats and drinks, and truly enjoys his moments of peace. He orders a similar bill of fare for the following day. Surprisingly though, the man’s wife returns from her trip early, just before his feast. She joins him for the meal and asks him afterwards if the food was as good the previous day. He answers, “Honestly the food was better today, but it was easier to enjoy yesterday when I could eat it in peace.” The Jewish response to Achashverosh is similar in that they hinted that their future reward will at least be superior in that it will be זולתך, which can also be translated as “without you,” meaning Achashverosh. For obvious reasons, they had to choose their words carefully so that their answer would not be taken as the insult it naturally was.