Esther 9:27, Question 1. Why does the verse mention establishing before accepting?

כז קִיְּמוּ וְקִבְּלֻ הַיְּהוּדִים ׀ עֲלֵיהֶם ׀ וְעַלזַרְעָם וְעַל כָּלהַנִּלְוִים עֲלֵיהֶם וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר לִהְיוֹת עֹשִׂים אֵת שְׁנֵי הַיָּמִים הָאֵלֶּה כִּכְתָבָם וְכִזְמַנָּם בְּכָלשָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה

27. The Yehudim established and accepted on themselves and on their seed and on all who join them, and not to pass over the being of having done these two days as their writing and as their times each and every year.

  • On a simple level, the Maharal writes that the verse mentions establishing before accepting because the Jews established in the year following the Purim story that which they had already accepted in the year of the event.
  • In his commentary on the Torah (Bireishis 6:18), the Ramban explains this phrasing to indicate that the Jews accepted upon themselves and their descendants for perpetuity that which they had already placed upon themselves previously.
  • In a later comment on the Torah (Devorim 27:26), however, the Ramban adds that this verse means that the Jews accepted that Torah and all of her mitzvos are true.
  • The Talmud (Shevuos 39a) quotes the verse in the Torah (Devorim 29:13-14) in which H-Shem establishes a covenant with all of the Jews at that time, and forever. The Talmud then uses the present verse’s phrase of “kimu v’kiblu” (“they established and accepted”) to explain how we could know that future generations of Jews accepted to take on any future, additional mitzvos.
  • The Talmud (Megilla 7a, Makkos 23b) teaches that the Heavenly court established above what was accepted by the Jews below.
    • R’ Shmuel Aharon Rubin explains that this means that Heaven confirmed the earthly ruling – like witnesses – giving it legitimacy.
    • Kol Eliyahu notes that this is the idea behind the Talmud’s (Megilla 7a) proof that Megillas Esther is written with Ruach HaKodesh (see Introduction). Otherwise, how would Mordechai and Esther have known that Heaven accepted the Jews’ pronouncement?
  • The Talmud (Shabbos 88a) tells the story of the Jews’ accepting the Torah at Har Sinai. Once they accepted the Torah with the words (Shemos 24:7) “naaseh v’nishmah” (“we will do and we will listen”), H-Shem lifted a mountain over them, and threatened to drop it over them if they would not accept the Torah. What was the reason for this if they had just done exactly that?
    • Tosfos answers that the Jews accepted the Written Torah with complete enthusiasm, but not the Oral Torah. They re-accepted the Torah in the conclusion of Megillas Esther, when the verse (Esther 9:27) writes “kimu v’kiblu” (“they established accepted”). Many commentators are bothered by the implied coercion in this tactic.
    • Firstly, Rashi (on the Talmud there) notes that the coercion was intended for the Jews to use as defense in the future to lessen any punishment. A Jew thereby always has a ready excuse in the Heavenly court that he never accepted the Torah’s responsibilities willingly.
    • The Sfas Emes notes that the word order parallels “naaseh v’nishmah” (“we will do and we will listen”) (Shemos 24:7). Tosfos explains that, after accepting the Torah, the Jews got scared by the fires around the mountain, and back-paddled, taking back their promise.
    • The Maharal (Tiferes Yisroel 32) argues on Tosfos, saying that the message H-Shem imparted on the Jewish people for the rest of history by holding the mountain over them was that the Torah was not simply a subject that they could accept or not, at their whim – rather, the entire world was only made for the purpose of our serving the Torah, and rejecting it (chas v’Shalom) was not a viable option within the scope of our prerogative. Their re-acceptance in the time of Purim, therefore, was an act of consenting to these terms. The Maharal quotes the Midrash (Tanchuma, Noach 3) that the Jews at Mt. Sinai only accepted the Written Law. This did not include the effort, discipline, study, and observance of the Oral Law. The Maharal continues that coercion was necessary to show the world that accepting the Torah was not just a nice gesture to voluntary accept, but a necessary part of life for the world’s continued existence.
    • However, the Ramban and the Ran learn this passage as H-Shem threatening the Jews that if they do not accept the Torah, they would not receive Eretz Yisroel. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105a) quotes the prophet (Yechezkiel 20:32) that “what comes to your mind shall definitely not occur; in that which you say, ‘We will be like the nations, like the families of the lands, to serve wood and stone.’” The Talmud explains that – like the other nations of the world – once the Jews were no longer in their land, they felt that they were no longer responsible to keep Torah. They realized the error of this philosophy after the Purim miracle, leading to their re-acceptance of the Torah.
    • The Ritva points out that such is just the weak argument of the heretic. The Talmud’s statement means that even if there was coercion, it was re-accepted on Purim.
    • In the “Drashos” section of Oneg Yom Tov, the author writes that just as a marriage could theoretically be annulled by a precondition, so too one could argue that the Jews accepted the Torah at Sinai under the precondition of receiving the land of Israel. This precondition was annulled by the Jews’ renewed acceptance in Persia.
    • The Torah Temimah and the Rayach Dodayim both point out that the word order of “established and accepted” implies that one should first accept, and only then fulfill the Torah.
    • The Chofetz Chaim writes that the generation of the desert was not reluctant to accept the Torah, but was merely concerned about the difficulties to be endured by future generations of Jews keeping the Torah through their future exiles. They knew that the Torah’s many mitzvos would effectively alienate us from our surrounding neighbors. Purim proves that the Jews can keep the Torah even in the most hostile of environments. As the Sages say, the Torah protects us and rescues us. The Torah is not counterproductive to our survival in exile – quite the opposite; the Torah is our key to continued existence.
    • The Dubno Maggid quotes a Talmudic (Yerushalmi Megilla 1:5) debate between H-Shem and the gentile nations. The nations ask, “why did You not lift mountain over our heads? We would have accepted the Torah, too!” In response, the Dubno Maggid tells a parable about two fathers who come to a doctor with their two sons. Both boys refuse to eat, the first one being sick, and the other who is weaning. The doctor tells the father of the sick boy to keep his son away from food and that will force him to eat on his own when he becomes hungry. The doctor tells the father of the weaning boy to force open the boy’s mouth, and to stuff the most delicious foods into it. When the fathers showed surprise regarding the two different suggestions for seemingly the same ailment, the doctor explained that the sick child’s body is repulsed by food, and he needs to stay away from food that can otherwise cause him harm. The weaning child, however, has never had solid food before, and must be force-feed in order to taste food’s sweetness. Like the sick boy, H-Shem knew that the that the gentiles would not appreciate Torah anyway, so He kept it away from them. Furthermore, similar to a weaning boy, the Jewish people were simply unaccustomed to Torah, and needed to be somewhat forced into accepting it. After experiencing its sweetness, the Jews would naturally choose to continue on the right path.
    • In the view of the Sfas Emes, during the first acceptance, the Jews only accepted the Torah verbally – not in hearts, as is hinted to by our singer (Tehillim 78:36) “they tried to trick Him with their mouths.” The situation was very different in Persia, where their hearts were completely invested. He also notes that, just like first acceptance followed the defeat of Amalek, so too in Persia.
    • R’ Yisroel Simcha Schorr notes that, interestingly, the Mishna’s three day allowance to publicly read Megillas Esther for Purim (Megilla 1:1) parallel the three days of preparation the Jews needed to receive the Torah.
    • Perhaps all of this is why, as R’ Dovid Feinstein writes, anyone who wants to join Jews must first accept Purim.
    • Rav Shach writes in Mach’shavos Mussar that, since Purim is an appropriate time to re-accept the Torah, it should be celebrated with learning – not drunken revelry.
    • R’ Henoch Leibowitz notes that at the acceptance of the Torah at Sinai, since so much time (49 days) passed since miracles in Mitzrayim, it was difficult for person to wake oneself up.
    • On these points, Tefillas Chana says that the Jews accepted the Torah because they realized that everything, even nature, is from H-Shem.
    • R’ Yaakov Kaminetsky explains the significance of this acceptance of Torah. Miracles are, after all, easy to accept as G-dly, but seeing H-Shem’s guiding Hand in nature leaves a far more lasting impression.

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.