Esther 9:22, Question 4. What does the verse intend by “feasting and joy,” and why?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 7a) learns from the verse’s use of “feasting and joy” that there is a mitzva to drink ad d’lo yada, until one does not know the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai” on Purim. Although this a topic worthy of a much larger Halachic discussion, it should suffice for purposes of understanding this verse to note some varying opinions on this subject.
  • Indeed several Halachic deciders understand this literally as an injunction to become completely drunk on Purim, as is clear from the Rif (Megillah 3b) and the Tur (Orach Chaim 695:2).
  • Among others, the Peleh Yo’eitz warns that, obviously, this drinking should not be done to the point where one would miss any other mitzvos, including praying mincha with proper intent.
  • The Talmud (Pesachim 68b) teaches that holidays from the Torah should be be split evenly – half for H-Shem (i.e. with prayer, learning, etc.), and half for our own pleasure (i.e. eating, resting, etc.). However, even according to an earlier opinion there that all holidays should be completely for H-Shem, this verse’s use of the words “feasting and joy” require Purim to be completely for our pleasure.
  • The Abudraham notes that drinking is such a critical part of celebrating Purim because drinking plays a central role in Megillas Esther, including Vashti’s fall (Esther 1:10), Esther’s rise (Esther 2:18), [the decree to kill the Jews (Esther 3:15),] and Esther’s parties that led to Haman’s fall (Esther 7:1-10).
  • The Midrash Eliyahu writes that we celebrate Purim by drinking because the Talmud (Megillah 13b) relates that Haman slandered the Jews’ drinking practices when he told the king that if a fly were to touch a Jew’s cup, he would remove it and continue drinking. However, if the king were to touch a Jew’s cup, the Jew would throw the wine away, alluding to the Talmudic (Avodah Zarah 30a) law of yayin nesech.
  • The Nesivos Shalom (Purim 57-58) has a very unique reading of this Talmudic passage. He notes that the above cited teaching does not say “livsumei” (“to become intoxicated”) with wine, but rather “livsumei” in Purim. This means that one should get drunk from the day of Purim, itself, similar to the prophet’s (Yeshaya 51:21) description of being “drunk, but not from wine.” Through prayer, Torah study, and acts of kindness, Purim should cause a person to become so “drunk” on the elevated revelations of Purim that one cannot tell the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai.”
  • Malbim writes that the joy mentioned in the verse parallels “feasting and joy,” while the holiday parallels the sending of gifts. This is so because the very purpose of our lives is to separate ourselves from the physical in an effort to focus on the spiritual. That is the very-same purpose of Yom Tov!
  • Similarly, in Horeb, Rav Hirsch writes that the physical rescue of the day deserved a physical enjoyment.
  • Similarly, in R’ Tzaddok HaKohen’s contrasting between Purim and Chanukah, he focuses on the fact that Chanukah was a struggle between different philosophies, wherein the Hellenists and Greeks did not care if the Jews lived or died as long as they accepted the Hellenistic worldview. Therefore, Jews celebrate Chanukah, which was a spiritual/philosophical victory, in a spiritual manner, with additions to the daily tefillah and the lighting of the chanukiya. Jews celebrate Purim, on the other hand, which was a physical victory, in a physical manner, with feasting and joy.
  • The Bach (Orach Chaim 670) focuses his distinguishing of the two days by noting that the entire Purim story was initiated by the Jews wrongly attending Achashverosh’s feast. He quotes a Braisa that says that the Chanukah story was perpetuated by the Jews’ lack of alacrity and laziness in fulfilling the tamid offering. Therefore, Purim is celebrating with a party to make up for our attending Achashverosh’s party, and Chanukah is celebrated with the lighting of Chanukah lights to make up for the neglecting of the constant fire of the tamid offering.
  • His son-in-law, the Taz (Orach Chaim 670:3), writes that Purim is an open miracle that saved our temporal lives, wheras Chanukah commemorates a relatively hidden, spiritual miracle in the oil lasting longer than expected. Their distinct commemorations, then, are accomplished through the public feasting of Purim and through the relatively private lighting of the Chanukah menorah, respectively.
  • The Sfas Emes adds that our physical pleasure on Purim is also due to the physical nature of Eisav’s (progenitor of Amalek) blessing that Yaakov (progenitor of the Jews) took from him (Bireishis 27:28-29). Furthermore, Yaakov’s attempt to take on Eisav’s physical role in the world is yet another reason for the custom to wear masks on Purim.
  • During a Purim seudah, the Satmar Rebbe once mentioned that one might have thought that Haman’s idol would make the threat to Jewish existence on Purim a spiritual one. However, the physical and spiritual aspects of a Jew are one and the same. After all, a physical body without a soul is a corpse. Accordingly, this is another reason for the custom to drink on Purim – to see beyond the superficial, and realize that our physical health is directly related to our spiritual health.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the mitzvos of the day are intended to make Purim a day of Heavenly purpose of spiritual growth, and not for selfish joy. He bears this out from the fact that the initial letters of the four mitzvos of the day – simcha, mishteh, yom tov, manos – can be seen as an acronym that spells out shamayim (Heaven).
  • Famously, the Ari z”l quotes the Tikkunei Zohar (21) that the holiness of Yom Kippur is due to its being a “yom kiPurim” (“a day like Purim”).
  • The Ohel Moshe suggests that Yom Kippur’s holiness depends on Purim because the Talmud (Taanis 30b) says Yom Kippur was the day on which Moshe came down Mt. Sinai with the second set of luchos (“tablets”). This receiving of the Torah was not complete until the Jews accepted the following of its commands in the days of Purim with the verse’s (Esther 9:27) words “kimu v’kiblu.”
  • On another level, R’ Yitzchak Hutner explains that Purim is similar to Yom Kippur because there is a need on both days to make things right with people. The Mishna (Yuma 8:9) teaches that a person does not gain atonement for the wrongs one caused to another unless one asks for forgiveness from that person. Similarly, on Purim, the sending of mishloach manos is supposed to engender feelings of unity and peace among the Jewish people. This is done in a spiritual manner – by begging for forgiveness – on Yom Kippur, and in a physical manner – by drinking and feasting together – on Purim. In this way, the two holidays compliment each other, and become one powerful entity.
  • On one particular Purim in the Warsaw ghetto, R’ Kolonimus Kalmish (Hy”d) approached a Jew who was understandably not feeling joyous in the midst of terrible atrocity. He told this Jew that the intent of the comparison between Purim and Yom K’Purim is that just like a Jew should feel like there is no choice on Yom Kippur, and one must fast, so too, on Purim, one has no choice – one must have simcha (“joy”)!

Esther 8:16, Question 3. Why is ora (“light”) written with a seemingly extra letter hey and sasson (“joy”) spelled incompletely (without a letter vuv)?

  • In explaining how ora (“light”) represents Torah, the Ben Ish Chai writes that ora is written with a hey because it means ohr hey, or the light of H-Shem.
  • Rav Tzaddok HaKohen writes that ora is written with a letter hey because the verse intends it to be feminine since the Torah being described here is specifically Torah she’bal peh (“the Oral Law”). As Rashi (on Mishlei 1:8) writes, the Torah she’bal peh is represented by the feminine. Rav Mordechai Gifter explains that this is because the rabbis know the natural foibles of their people in the same way that a mother considers the nature of her son.
  • From the time the Jews ignored Mordechai (the leading rabbi of the generation) by attending Achashverosh’s party until they re-accepted the Oral Torah with the words (Esther 9:27) “kimu v’kiblu” (“they took and they accepted”), the Jews of that period were struggling with Torah she’bal peh, and its necessary rabbinic accompaniments.
  • Similarly, the Midrash Yerushalmi interprets yikar as denoting the judges, who were also the rabbis.
  • Midrash Chaseros v’Yitaros writes that sasson (“joy”) is spelled incomplete (without a vuv) because no joy can be complete until Moshiach comes and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheira biyameinu.
  • R’ Chaim Kanievsky writes that it is written incompletely because circumcision, which this represents, has an element of pain. He notes that sasson is spelled completely in the next verse (Esther 8:17) because we should strive to add to the joy of Purim as though nothing is missing, as the Halacha (Biur Halacha 695, dh “ad d’lo yada”) states explicitly regarding the custom to become inebriated on Purim.

Esther 7:8, Question 1. How and why does Haman fall on the bed?

ח וְהַמֶּלֶךְ שָׁב מִגִּנַּת הַבִּיתָן אֶלבֵּית ׀ מִשְׁתֵּה הַיַּיִן וְהָמָן נֹפֵל עַלהַמִּטָּה אֲשֶׁר אֶסְתֵּר עָלֶיהָ וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ הֲגַם לִכְבּוֹשׁ אֶתהַמַּלְכָּה עִמִּי בַּבָּיִת הַדָּבָר יָצָא מִפִּי הַמֶּלֶךְ וּפְנֵי הָמָן חָפוּ

8. And the king returned from the garden of his house to the house of the wine feast. And Haman is falling on the bed on which is Esther. And the king said, “Also to attack the queen with me in the house?!” The word went out from the mouth of the king, and Haman’s face was covered.

  • Rashi notes that people in those days reclined on beds or couches during meals, as was mentioned earlier (see Esther 1:16).
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) pointed out that during Achashverosh’s party in the beginning of the story, that the couches were designed to be equal in order to avoid jealousy. Here, ironically, the couch provokes the epitome of jealousy.
  • In a simple explanation of this verse, the Ibn Ezra writes that Haman was merely beseeching Esther, and fell from fear when Achashverosh entered.
  • Similarly, the Vilna Gaon states that because Haman was so deeply saddened, he could not stand.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein stresses that, had Haman been simply begging for his life, he would have been on the floor, so an explanation beyond the simple understanding is in order.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) is bothered by the verse’s use of the present tense nofal (“is falling”) instead of nafal (“fell”). It records that when Achashverosh returned from his garden, an angel was in the process of pushing Haman onto Esther’s bed. Achashverosh yelled, “Woah onto me in my house and woah onto me outside.”
  • R’ Avigdor Bonckek explains that the use of the present tense is meant to express the mental image in our minds like an ongoing event.
  • The Baal HaTurim, in his commentary on the Torah (Bereishis 48:2) points out the phrase “al hamita” (“on the bed”) is used in TaNaCh twice – here, and in reference to Yaakov giving his blessing to his grandchildren through Yosef, Menashe and Efrayim. This is meant to contrast the righteous, who lift themselves up even at their weakest moments (as Yaakov raised himself from his deathbed to bless his progeny), to the wicked, who fall even when they are at highest peak of their success (as Haman fell from the king’s grace).
  • The Talmud (Pesachim 100a) uses the phrase “hagam lichvosh es hamalka imi babayis” (“also to attack the queen with me in the house”) to criticize someone who follows the opinion of Rabbi A in the presence of Rabbi B when those opinions conflict. Similarly, Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story of the Klausenberger Rebbe who prayed one late afternoon at the grave of the tanna R’ Yehuda bar Ilai outside Meron in Eretz Yisrael. In the evening, the rebbe became unusually downcast. When he was asked about his sudden change of mood, he explained that the R’ Yehuda bar Ilai’s opinion was that mincha needed to be prayed earlier, and “hagam lichvosh es hamalka imi babayis!”
  • The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105a) tells us that a proof to the idea that the wicked Bilam performed magic through immoral acts is the fact that the Torah (Bamidbar 24:4) records that he called himself “fallen.” This bears a marked similarity to Haman’s situation in this verse, in which he falls. Falling onto a bed is a reference to falling into immorality.
  • The Maharal suggests that Haman fell over the bed because he could not see it due to his embarrassment. He refers us to the Talmud (Bava Metzia 59a) that teaches that embarrassed people behave clumsily.
  • Perhaps he could not see the bed because his inflated ego caused his head to be perpetually in the air, even as he is about to die.
  • The Ma’amar Mordechai points out that Haman knew that Achashverosh would get jealous if he saw Haman and Esther together, and, knowing that he was as good as dead already, he tried to take Esther down with himself.
  • The author of the website doreishtov.blogspot points out that the Talmud calls the holiday of Purim by the name, “Puraya,” which also means “bed” in Aramaic. He suggests that this event of Haman falling on Esther’s bed is more central to the story from which the holiday comes than the lots that Haman threw.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that Haman fell twice, once here, and again when his followers fall on the thirteenth of Adar. The Sfas Emes continues that these multiple falls were foreshadowed when Haman’s advisers said (Esther 6:13) “nafol tipol” (“falling you will surely fall”). The Sfas Emes concludes that this also foreshadows the ultimate downfall of Amalek at end of history as promised in the Torah (Bamidbar 24:20), it should be in our days.

Esther 7:1, Question 2. Why does the verse stress that they will be with Esther?

  • In contrast to the earlier party where the verse (Esther 5:5) did not mention Esther in relation to drinking, this verse does. The Vilna Gaon, Alshich, and Yosef Lekach agree that the reason for this is because Esther was fasting then, but is not at this point.
  • The M’nos HaLevi explains that Esther did not really drink in order to keep her head clear.
  • A compromise opinion seems to be that of the Avos HaRosh, who writes that Esther merely pretended to drink by putting the cup to her lips.
  • R’ Yehonosan Eibshutz writes that Esther was more confident at this party than before because Haman had an idol on his person (see #190 above) then, and one should not pray in the presence of such things (see Midrash, Shemos Rabba 12:5), or even pictures of them (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 90:23). However, Haman removed his idol before “demeaning” himself in the act of leading Mordechai on a horse throughout the town so that he would not feel degraded by a Jew. Therefore, Esther could now beseech H-Shem more confidently.
  • I would have thought to say that perhaps the idol was more appropriately covered by Haman’s daughter’s mess. But then Esther would still not have been be able to pray in the presence of such things (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 79:1).

Esther 6:3, Question 2. Why do Achashverosh’s youths answer his question?

  • Despite their natural fear of critiquing a monarch, Achashverosh’s advisers had the added restraint of having seen the paranoid king dispose of Vashti. The Talmud (Megillah 16a) clarifies that Achashverosh’s officers did not respond out of a great love for Mordechai, but a great hate for Haman.
  • The Ben Ish Chai traces their motivation to the suspicion that Haman fathered the advisers’ illegitimate children.
  • According to R’ Dovid Feinstein, this hate was motivated by the very jealousy Esther had hoped to inculcate among Achashverosh’s advisers by inviting Haman to the party.
  • The Maharsha proves that the advisers did not act out of good feelings toward Mordecahi by pointing out that the advisers used the general, diminutive word davar (“thing”) instead of the honor and glory Mordechai deserves.

Esther 5:14, Question 5. Why was Haman to be “sameach” (“happy”) at the party?

  • The M’nos HaLevi explains that Zeresh was stressing that he will be happy at the party, as opposed to the the sadness he had just finished describing to her (Esther 5:13).
  • On a deeper level, the Alshich explains that Haman’s lack of happiness was due to his status as a slave. Once Mordechai would be killed, Haman could be happy because he had no owner, and could enjoy his own sons and wealth.

Esther 5:14, Question 1. Why were the gallows specifically 50 cubits?

  • The Ma’amar Mordechai writes that the tree was supposed to be 50 amos tall to enable Haman to see Mordechai hanging while still at Esther’s party. The reason we can be certain that Mordechai would be more visible under that condition is that the Talmud (Eruvin 2b) teaches that the windows in kings’ palaces are no higher than 50 amos.
  • The Vilna Gaon teaches that the gallows certainly needed to be tall enough for Harbona to point to it (Esther 7:9). This is because of the Talmudic principle (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 26a) that hearing is not comparable to seeing.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Zeresh is advising Haman that if he gets irritated, he can simply look up and get in a good mood because Mordechai will hang from the tree seen everywhere.
  • According to Yalkut Shimoni (1054), besides throwing lots (purim) to decide on the best date to kill all of the Jews (Esther 3:7), Haman also threw lots to decide on the best species of tree to use in making this gallows. However, throughout TaNaCh, the Jews are compared to many different kinds of trees, so he decided on a cedar because Jews are not compared to it. The reason for this is that the cedar can be shattered by the wind.
  • Both the Yalkut Shimoni and the Midrash Abba Gorion continue that Haman could not find such a tall beam, so his son Parshandasa, governor of the area of Mt. Ararat, the area where Noach’s ark landed (Bireishis 8:4), gave him beam of Noach’s teivah, which would have been 50 amos long (Bireishis 6:15).
  • Rabbi Dovid Feinstein explains that the wood was from Noach’s teivah to show that killing Mordechai was important for humanity, as his refusal to bow down to Haman disturbed the “Great Chain of Being,” society’s understanding of the social hierarchy.
  • However, the Binyan Shlomo quotes the Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer (Chap. 50) that the wood taken from Holy of Holies1.
  • The Maharal notes that the teiva and the Beis HaMikdash both represent Olam HaZeh, the terrestrial world. Essentially, the idea of the Beis HaMikdash is that items of this world can be taken and elevated to greatness. Similarly, the teiva saved this physical world from destruction during the Deluge. Haman was attempting to conquer that mystical power that holds control over this world. This is what it means that Haman made of himself an object of worship, which is one of the reasons Mordechai had refused to bow to him. It is interesting to note that another connection between the teivah and the Beis HaMikdash is hidden in gematria. The gematria of ararat (1+200+200+9=410) is the same as the amount of years the first Temple stood.
  • In his usual, mysterious style, Rav Moshe David Valle writes that the 50 amos refer to the 50 gevuros (powers) of the yad hachazaka (“the strong Hand”), all of them combining against Haman. Perhaps this is a reference to the Haggadah in which Rabbi Yosi haGelili asks, “How do we know the Egyptians were struck with ten plagues in Mitzrayim and 50 at the sea?” In reply, he contrasts the verse (Shemos 8:15) in which Pharaoh’s magicians recognized the plagues as “the finger of G-d” with the verse (Shemos 14:31) describing Israel’s recognizing G-d’s might after drowning the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds, “and Israel saw the great Hand.” If one finger represents the plagues, of which there where ten, then a hand with its five fingers would be five times greater, or 50. Therefore, the 50 amos of the gallows demonstrate H-Shem’s anger with Haman.
  • According to the Sfas Emes, when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Bireishis 3:6), good and evil became confused. Kabbalistically, this resulted in 49 gates of tumah (impurity) which parallel 49 gates of kedusha (holiness). When the Talmud (Chulin 139b) states that Adam’s eating from the tree (Bireishis 3:11) is an allusion to Haman, it is because Amalek (represented by Haman), is the force that causes this confusion (the Hebrew word for confusion, safek (60+80+100=240) has the same gematria as Amalek (70+40+30+100=240). To know clearly what is right, and have not doubts at all, one needs to be above one’s area of control by leaping above to the 50th gate, a place Amalek cannot exist. Moshe’s raising his hands during the Jews’ war with Amalek (Shemos 17:11) hints to the idea of rising above one’s vantage point. Chiddushei HaRim brings this idea of confusing good with evil as another reason for the custom to drink wine on Purim ad d’lo yada.

1 Most commentators give the source for this measurement as Yechezkel 40:15, which describes the length of the boards used in the Third Temple. Being that this Temple has unfortunately not been built yet (unless this was attempted before, as Rabbi Ken Spiro suggests in his “Crash Course in Jewish History”), perhaps the intended source is Shemos 27:12-13, which describes the Mishkan’s width rather than length.