12. And the king said to Esther the Queen, “In Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man and the ten sons of Haman. In the remaining states of the king, what did they do? What do you ask and it will be given you. And what do you request more and it will be done.”
In the first half of this verse, the tone seems to imply that Achashverosh was upset about the casualties. In fact, the Midrash Lekach Tov writes that Achashverosh was actually upset about his dead citizens, but H-Shem controls leaders, as the verse (Mishlei 21:1) teaches that the hearts of kings are in the Hands of H-Shem.
R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that the tone of the second half of the verse certainly sounds as though Achashverosh seems unaffected by this loss of life.
The Talmud (Megillah 16b) describes this sudden change of heart as an angel “slapping him on his lips.”
R’ Mendel Weinbach suggests that such a slap has this effect because Achashverosh suddenly felt Heaven did not want him speaking in an upset manner toward Esther. It literally hurt to speak the way he had been.
Interestingly, the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 92:7) notes this verse as one of ten kal v’chomer (“a fortiori”) arguments in TaNaCh. In other words, if the Jews killed 500 people in Shushan, how much more likely did they kill more elsewhere!
In fact, the Alshich points out that Achashverosh must have been thinking that if so many were killed in Shushan – where the informed public was ready for a fight – how much more-so in other parts of the kingdom!
On the other hand, the M’nos HaLevi quotes R’ Gakon’s opinion that the bloodthirsty Achashverosh was disappointed that such a relatively small number of his people were killed after the Jews had from Pesach until Adar 13th to prepare for battle. This is why he asked if he could do more to help.
Malbim explains that Achashverosh did not know there would be so many Jew-haters. From a place of genuine concern, he offers Esther more help.
1. On that night, the sleep of the king was shaken. And he said to bring the book of records, the chronicles. And they were read before the king.
According to M’nos HaLevi, there was a miracle that occurred that night. After all the king, had just enjoyed food and drink at Esther’s feast, and he nevertheless strangely had trouble sleeping.
Yalkut Shimoni (1057) writes that many people had trouble sleeping that same night: Esther was up preparing the next meal, Haman was up building the gallows, and Mordechai was up learning with children.
Chiddushei HaRim notes that Esther was preparing the second meal instead of her servants because that second meal was to be the second seder, and her servants did not know how to prepare that.
The Talmud Yerushalmi writes that the verse’s use of the word “halayla,” (“the night”) alludes to the fact that this was the anniversary of the night on which Sarah was abducted by Avimelech (Bireishis 20:2-3), which the Torah describes also using the word, “halayla.” It also alludes to the idea that this was the same historic date on which H-Shem killed all of the firstborn of Egypt, since the verse that describes this (Shemos 21:29) also utilizes the word “halayla.” This was also the very night on which all the Jews – old and young – gathered together to repent.
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this was specifically the second night of Pesach because the very reason behind our celebrating the second day of Pesach as a Holy Day in the diaspora is due to our being in exile. Similarly, the situation in which Esther found herself was a function of exile, as well.
In his commentary on Megillas Esther, Rambam writes (in an uncharacteristic mystical fashion) that this particular night was the night anger was turned into mercy.
The Malbim writes that Esther describes the party as one she made in order to parry off any objections to postpone the feast. Since it is made, she intimated, it is ready already.
R’ Yehonasan Eibshutz writes that, since this feast will occur on the 15th of Nisan, it is the Yom Tov of Pesach, and the meal is prepared because she had to prepare it before Yom Tov. In contrast, when Esther invites them to the second feast (Esther 5:8), she does not say she made it ready because that meal could be prepared then without the halachic restrictions of Yom Tov.
As a hint that this occurred on the 15th of Nisan, the M’nos HaLevi points out that the verse, itself, has 15 words.
17. And Mordechai passed and did like all that Esther commanded on him.
According to the Talmud (Megillah 15a), after hearing Esther’s response, Mordechai passed over either a river or the passed over (read: transgressed) the obligation to eat on the first night of Passover, since that night fell within the three days in which Esther asked the people to fast.
The Me’am Loez writes that the verse is praising Mordechai for “crossed the river,” which implies that he preferred to follow the command himself – without the use of messengers. He, himself, crossed the river to gather the Jews together in prayer, fasting, and repentance.
In explaining why Rashi, who usually gives a simpler explanation when available, decided to write the explanation that had to do with transgressing Pesach, the Torah Temimah gives two reasons: one is that the Torah always names an object being crossed when vaya’avor is used in relation to a physical object, and secondly, in actual fact, the fasting did occur through the first night of the Pesach seder.
R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that someone can fast on Shabbos to annul a bad dream if that dream is dreamed on that day (Talmud, Shabbos 11a). If so, how much more-so can one fast on Yom Tov to annul a decree, so Mordechai was not transgressing at all.
However, according to the opinion that he was, R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshis’cha explains that Mordechai felt his prayers would not be powerful enough to be listened to in the ordinary manner. Transgressing Pesach would get the Accuser, the Satan, involved. Once he gets involved, there would be a Heavenly tribunal. Once there is a trial, Heaven would recognize Mordechai’s good intent, and then would assist Mordechai in defending the Jews.
In the first chapter of Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, it says that H-Shem can ignore insults. There, it writes that Esther’s arguing was spoken in an unfit manner, and yet Mordechai let it “pass” from his mind.
M’nos HaLevi points out that crossing the river was as easy for Mordechai as jumping over a puddle. It was a small act, but the Torah records it for our benefit, so teach us the lesson of the power even in what may appear as minor, easy mitzvos (see Mishnah, Avos 2:1).
R’ Avigdor Miller points out that fasting for three days is difficult, and accomplished an unprecedented amount of teshuva.
The Talmud (Yevamos 121b) uses this verse to inform us that it is difficult, although not miraculous to be without food for that long.
The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:7) writes that these three days corresponded with the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nisan, which included the first day of Pesach. When questioned regarding why Pesach should be foregone, Esther pointed out that there would be no Pesach if the Jews were wiped out.
The M’nos HaLevi quotes from the Yalkut Shimoni that these three days were the 14th, 15th, and 16th of Nisan. The Ohel Moshe points out that the main difference is whether or not the Jews of Persia had the second Seder.
The Maylitz Yosher writes that the Jews were expected to fast on Pesach in order to shock them into realizing the seriousness of their predicament.
The M’nos HaLevi writes that the three days correspond to three sins regarding which Esther expects to be guilty: eat non-kosher food, submit herself to Achashverosh, and partial complicity in the death of Hasach.
Rabbeinu Bachya writes that H-Shem only challenges tzaddikim for three days. For example, when Avraham went to potentially sacrifice his son, he found Mount Moriah in three days (Bireishis 22:4). Also, when the brothers were taken by Yosef, they were imprisoned for three days (Ibid. 42:18). Furthermore, Yonah remained inside the big fish that swallowed him for three days (Yonah 2:1). R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the three sections of the Written Law (Torah, Nevi’im, and Kesuvim) were given to three groups of Jews (Kohanim, Levi’im, and Yisroelim) for which they needed to prepare for three days (Shemos 19:11).
The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Torah affects us on three different levels: thought, speech, and action. Therefore, Esther was telling Mordechai that the Jews need to prepare these three days to perform honest repentance through thought, speech, and action.
The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Vilna Gaon (on Bireishis 27:13) that when Rivka told the nervous Yaakov to place the blame of his upcoming deception “eilai” (“on me”), this word can be an acronym for Eisav, Lavan, and Yosef. Those may be the greatest of Yaakov’s tests in life, that came along with the blessing he gets from his father.
Also, the Ginzei HaMelech points out that these are three different types of people: Eisav represents a glutton; Lavan represents idolatry, and Yosef represents the challenge of intermarriage. These same three issues are the ones for which Jewish existence was threatened in the Purim story. Pri Tzedek quotes from the Zohar on Chukas that the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, represent three characteristics: kindness, awe, and truth. These are the polar opposites of the three characteristics which, according to the Mishnah (Avos 4:21), destroy one’s life: jealousy, lust, and honor. During these three days, then, Esther wanted the Jews to perfect themselves in these three areas.
The Ben Ish Chai points out that three days is 72 hours, and this is the gematria of chesed, (“kindness”) (8+60+4=72). Therefore, the Jews were supposed to spend these days evoking H-Shem’s Kindness.
R’ Avraham Sutton points out that 72 is also the gematria of H-Shem’s four-letter Name when each letter is spelled out with all the yuds included ([10+6+4]+[5+10]+[6+10+6]+[5+10]=72).
Esther needed to stress “and do not eat” after telling the Jews to fast in order to prove, as the Yalkut says, that the decree against the Jews was punishment for their sin of attending Achashverosh’s feast.
To explain this, R’ Shlomo Kluger tell a parable about a pauper who stole. He was caught and fined a lot of money. The thief told the court, “The money you are fining me is little to you, but is a lot to me. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind foregoing it…” The judge answered, “The fine we imposing is not for us; it is for you. The fine is meant to teach you a lesson.” Esther is therefore telling the Jews not to eat because it is meant to teach them a lesson.
R’ Elisha Gallico tells us “don’t eat” means even at the Seder, since this fast would include the first day of Pesach.
12. And the scribes of the king were called in on the first month, on the thirteenth of it. And it was written like all that Haman commanded to the lieutenant governors of the king and to the governors of each state, and to the officials of each nation, each state as was written nation and nation like its language in the name of King Achashverosh did he write and seal with the ring of the king.
Especially since the decree was only to go into effect in eleven months, it seems strange for Haman to have been in such a rush to get the document written. According to the Malbim, Haman rushed the letter’s publication so that Achashverosh would not have discovered his true intent – the annihilation of a people.
The Chida and R’ Dovid Feinstein write that Haman was in a hurry because of the date, the thirteenth of Nisan. Due to the fact that the first twelve days of Nisan would give the Jews the spiritual merit of the princely gifts (Bamidbar 7:11-83) and the next days of Nisan would give the Jews the merits of the mitzvos of Pesach, this was the most inauspicious day for the Jews. Haman, seemingly a believer and practitioner in prognostication, wanted to publish this letter on a day when its goal would contain the fewest potential spiritual impediments.