Esther 9:32, Question 2. Why is the “statement” attributed to Esther?

  • The Maharal explains that, on a simple level, the “statement” is attributed to Esther to emphasize that her status as queen of Persia aided in Purim’s being accepted.
  • Furthermore, Kedushas Levi points out that Esther actually argued with the Sages who wanted Purim on Nisan 16, since that was the actual day when Achashverosh punished Haman, and put an end to his plot. She argued that if Purim will then remain on the same day as Pesach, it would not be as obvious, and will end up being forgotten.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz notes that her self sacrifice is the reason for Esther’s being credited with the holiday and book in TaNaCh.
  • The Ben Ish Chai finds an allusion to this in “Eishis Chayil,” Shlomo haMelech’s praise of great women. The verse there (Mishlei 31:31), the gematria of yadeha (“her hand”) can be broken up into yad (10+4=14) and eha (10+5=15), alluding to the 14th and 15th of the month of Adar, both established by Esther’s hand.

Esther 9:31, Question 1. Why does the verse mention Purim being established in these times?

31. To establish these days of the Purim in their times as they were established on them by Mordechai the Yehudi and Esther the queen, and as they established on their souls and on their seed words of the fasts and their crying out.

  • It is difficult to imagine, but Purim was seen as an innovation. Esther and Mordechai had to push for it, especially with those Jews living in the outskirts who did not feel either the immediate threat, nor the miraculous salvation.
  • Yeetav Leiv writes that this verse’s focus on Purim’s establishment was meant to encourage people to perform it as Esther and Mordechai did it – with intent to celebrate it for the sake of Heaven.
  • The Talmud (Megilla 2a) begins its discussion of the mitzva to read Megillas Esther by writing that this verse refers to times because Purim is celebrated by different groups in different times. For instance, villages, big cities, and walled cities all fulfill their obligation of publicly reading Megillas Esther for Purim on various days between Adar 11 and 15.
  • There being five different days on which to celebrate this aspect of Purim, the Na’os HaDesheh (288) finds a hint in the fact that the word kayam (“establish”) is used five times in Megillas Esther (9:21, 9:27, 9:29, 9:31, and 9:32).
  • Furthermore, there are five minatzpech (final letters “םןץףך”), which traditionally represent the five exiles (Egypt, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome) the Jews have endured because they are end letters, and we pray for the end of our long exile.
  • R’ Yechezkiel Abramsky tells the story of the Vilna Gaon’s grandson, who lived in Warsaw. Somebody asked him for an example of what made his grandfather so great. He answered that, as a child, the Vilna Gaon was asked why the first Mishna in Megilla (1:1) says lo pachos v’lo yoser (“no more and no less”) regarding the days to read Megillas Esther, but the Mishna in Shabbos (19:5) does not use the phrase regarding the various days on which a bris (“circumcision”) can be performed. The person asking began giving the Vilna Gaon’s grandson a brilliant one-hour answer. “Very nice,” he said, “but my grandfather answered better.” The questioner asked to be given time to think about it and come back with another answer. Three days later, he came back with a longer answer. Again, the Vilna Gaon’s grandson said, “Very nice, but my grandfather answered better. The answer is that both sources indeed use that phrase.” Often, the correct answer requires one to go back to basics. Like an IT support adviser’s first question to a customer, “Is your machine plugged in?”, the Talmud (Shabbos 32a) advises travelers to stay safe on a journey by checking the safety of the boat instead of prayers and incantations.
  • The Maharsha adds that Purim is a powerful time to pray and say Tehillim. In fact, the Me’am Loez finds a hint to this in the final letters of a phrase in this verse v’al zaram divreihatzomos (“and on their seed words of the fasts”), which spell out Tehillim when re-ordered.
  • The Meshech Chochmoh writes that the verse needed to mention times in order to contradict those people who wanted to place Purim on the exact time when Haman planned to kill the Jews, which would start in the daytime like the gentile calendar. Rather, Purim needs to follow the Jewish calendar – starting at night.

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 9:15, Question 2. Why does the verse mention again that the Jews did not take the spoils?

  • Class Participant YML suggests that maybe taking the wealth would have make the Jews wealthier than Haman, raising Achashverosh’s paranoia.
  • The Sfas Emes notes that the three incidents in which the verses emphasize that the Jews did not take the spoils parallel the three actions of Shaul and his people for which the threatened annihilation of the Jews of Persia served as a tikkun – the sparing of Agag, the sparing of the livestock, and the taking of the Amalekite gold and silver.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that although the Jews did not take the spoils, the verse implies that someone did; namely, Mordechai. Mordechai did, indeed, take the spoils by accepting Haman’s house (Esther 8:2). He used this wealth to help finance the rebuilding of the Temple. In a powerful display of vinahafoch Hu (“and He reversed”), Haman’s wealth was used to build the very structure which he dedicated his life to destroy.

Esther 6:13, Question 5. Why do Haman’s advisers seem to question Mordechai’s lineage?

  • The Maharal notes that Haman’s advisers must have known that Mordechai was a Jew, as Haman, himself mentioned to them (Esther 5:13). After all, it was possible that Mordechai was brought into Persia with King Yechanya (Esther 2:6), but was not actually a Jew. Therefore, the Talmud (Megillah 16a) understands the advisers’ remarks as relating to Mordechai’s tribal lineage. In effect, they were saying that if he were from the tribe of Yehudah, Binyamin, Efrayim, or Menasheh, Haman could not expect to be successful against him. In Bireishis (49:8), Yaakov promised Yehudah that his descendants would conquer their enemies. In Tehillim (80:3), King David prays that H-Shem strengthen Efrayim, Binyamin, and Menasheh. As it happens, Mordechai could trace his paternal lineage to one of these listed tribes and his maternal lineage to another.
  • The Maharal points out that Yehudah, Efrayim and Binyamin all represent Jewish unity because the Beis HaMikdash, and the Mishkan in Shilo and Nov were all located in their tribal inheritance. As proof, the Maharal quotes from the verse (Bamidbar 16:6) in which Moshe attempts to quell the rebellion of Korach and his group by saying they should all bring fire-pans. The entire group bringing individual fire-pans would represent the very opposite of unity. In fact, the unity of Jews’ uniqueness with H-Shem’s Uniqueness fights off the doubts and confusion that Amalek represents. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:2) considers the description “Yehudi” as being derived from the adjective “yechidi” (“unique”) or the noun echad, (“one”).
  • According to the Targum, the advisers were not asking if Mordechai was a Jew, but if he were from the holier, saintly Jews. The Vilna Gaon writes that, unlike Haman’s assertion that the events he described were chance, Zeresh and the advisers were saying that it was not. After all, as a member of the Yehudim, Mordechai enjoyed the situation promised by the Talmud (Shabbos 156a, Nedarim 32a) that “ein mazal b’Yisroel” (“there is not mazal for Israel”).
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the advisers were focusing on the fact that Haman’s situation could go either way, based on Jews’ behavior.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes R’ Meir Shapiro, who focused on the word, “zerah” (“seed”). They were saying that if the Jewish youth had no serious connection to Mordechai. They considered the aged Mordechai only powerful if he still held relevant sway on the youth of his people. So when Haman told them that Mordechai was surrounded by thousands of students learning a (temporarily) outmoded law regarding grains and Temple service, the advisers realized Haman has no chance. When Judaism is relevant for the invigorated youth, our enemies stand no chance.
  • Similarly, says the Ginzei HaMelech, Mordechai has to be mizerah (“from the seed”) of Yehudim – an invigorated member of the youth in vitality – and then Haman should just give up.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Haman gave a short history lesson saying Mordechai was a descendant of Shaul, who only ruled briefly and not successfully. In response, the advisers said, that may be true, but Mordechai was also a descendant of Yehudah from his mother’s side, so he will win as promised. Homiletically, he reads the word im (if) as eim (mother).

Esther 6:12, Question 4. Why does the verse describe Haman as having a covered head?

  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), the verse describes Haman as having a covered head because he was covered with embarrassment.
  • The Me’am Loez adds that Haman did not want people to recognize him, so he had his head covered.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that there was a custom then in Persia to wear large-brimmed hats. Haman’s daughter’s waste knocked Haman’s hat off his head, ruining it. The gallows he unintentionally built for himself were calculated exactly to fit him with his hat, in order for him to be recognizable. In order to account for this otherwise extra half ama, his hat was nailed to his head on the gallows in order to show everyone that even big advisers are subject to the king’s decree.
  • According to Ben Ish Chai, Haman’s uncovered head was a reward for Shimi’s wife saving the righteous Achma’atz and Yonasan from Avshalom (Shmuel 2 17:19) by uncovering her hair. Mordechai, being Shimi’s (and his wife’s) descendant, was rescued from Haman’s evil designs in the merit of his ancestor’s pious act.

Esther 5:14, Question 2. Why did Haman’s advisers specifically advise for Mordechai to be hanged?

  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 9:2) writes that Zeresh and Haman’s other advisers recommended that Haman hang Mordechai because this is a form of death from which H-Shem had never previously saved the Jews miraculously.
  • Seeing that they were, however, saved from every other type of death, it seems strange that Zeresh could so grossly misunderstand history. Aruchas Tamid explains that Zeresh thought that the Jews had previously been rescued by using magic. Therefore, Mordechai would be unable to escape hanging since the Talmud (Sanhedrin 44b, Rashi) teaches that magicians need to be standing on the ground to perform their magic. In fact, this is one of the reasons Pharoah’s magicians could not replicate the plague of lice (Shemos 8:14, Da’as Zekeinim Baalei Tosfos), since the lice covered the ground and the magicians could not stand on it. For this reason, in the famous aggadic story in the Talmud when Shimon ben Shetach killed eight magicians (Sanhedrin 45b), he first lifted them from the ground.
  • M’nos HaLevi says that they wanted Mordechai hanged in order to avenge the hanging deaths of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:23), Haman’s friends and possibly co-conspirators. R’ Yehonasan Eibshutz reiterates that killing Mordechai was Haman’s first step in killing Achashverosh and Esther, and becoming king through his friendship with the Greeks, rivals of Persia.

Esther 3:7, Question 5. Why does the lot fall on the month of Adar?

  • Maamar Mordechai points out that, when the Jews were in Egypt, the ten plagues occurred for one month each. That being the case, the second to last plague, that of darkness, happened one month before Passover, which would mean it fell in Adar. Haman assumed the darkness was a plague that hurt the Jews since so many of them died then (see Rashi to Shemos 10:22 and 13:18). After all, four fifths of the Jews died in Egypt because they did not believe in their upcoming rescue. H-Shem killed these unfortunates during the plague of darkness to avoid the Egyptians seeing this, and assuming the Jews’ G-d is no longer with them.1 The Jews in Persia, by attending Achashverosh’s party, indicated that they, too, lost faith in their redemption, and this is why the lots falling on Adar so pleased Haman.
  • Adar is also the month when Moshe died. According to the Talmud (Megillah 13b), Haman knew this because it is so written in the end of Devarim (34:8) and can be calculated from the book of Yehoshua. According to our tradition, the seventh of Adar, his date of death, is also his date of birth. Rabbi Mendel Weinbach writes that Haman did not know this because, as opposed to his date of birth, his date of death is only found in the Oral Torah.
  • The Abudraham calculates that Adar 13 would mark the end of the seven-day mourning period (shiva) for Moshe. According to the Maharsha, that seven-day period of mourning continues in some mystical way the merits of the mourned. After that point, the dead only receive merit of others step up to take over their spiritual roles. Interestingly, Rabbi Dovid Feinstein notes that, Moshe having been born on 7 Adar, his bris (circumcision) would have been on 14 Adar, Purim!2

1It bespeaks a certain callousness that the Egyptians seemed not to notice the sudden disappearance of several million people.

2However, since Moshe was born complete and circumcised (Talmud, Sotah 12a), his bris would only require a symbolic pin-prick of blood called “hatafas dam bris” (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 262:1 and 264:1), and this procedure would not be help on a Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 260:2 and 263:1). Therefore, Moshe’s symbolic bris was held on the following day, Shushan Purim.

Esther 3:2, Question 2. Why does the king order all servants to do this?

  • The Eshkol HaKofer writes that if Achashverosh had not commanded artificial respect for Haman, he would not have received it organically. Either the people did not like Haman, as we shall see below (6:3), or as the Eshkol HaKofer suggests, they saw him for what he truly was.
  • After all, the Yalkut Shimoni and the Targum Sheini write that Haman was originally a barber – a low position in Persian culture as it implied, besides cutting hair, more menial tasks like removing warts, bleeding, etc. A person would hardly bow to such a person in those times unless commanded otherwise by the crown.
  • The M’nos HaLevi notes that the word “chein” (“so”) used here to describe the king’s command, has the gematria of 70 (20+50). Again, this represents the peak of Haman’s power because that is how long he was in power.

Esther 2:9, Question 4. Why does the verse call Esther’s maidservants fitting for her?

  • The Megillas Sesarim’s opinion is that these maidservants were Jewish. After all, the previous queen had Jewish maidservants (as we saw before), as well, so there would be little suspicion. This was “fitting for” Esther because she was surrounded by people with whom she could relate and whom she could trust. Rabbi Mendel Weinbach adds that they could even share food with her. Perhaps it was also fitting for her because she could fulfill the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta larey’acha kamocha” (“loving your fellow as yourself”) (Vayikra 19:18) by treating them well.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 13a) tells us that Esther requested Heigai to give her seven maidservants to help her count the days of the week for her to know which day was Shabbos.1
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz asks why a person would need other people to count the days. He answers that Esther, although she was hiding her Jewish identity, was still practicing Jewish law. Therefore, if all of her maidservants saw her every day, they would see that she was behaving differently on the Sabbath, and that would give away her secret. On the other hand, she could not treat every day as a rest day, but had to stay active to keep from going crazy.
  • Perhaps another reason why Esther felt she had to maintain an active lifestyle during the week is based on Rav Elie Munk’s interpretation in Call of the Torah on the verse (Shemos 20:9) that tells us “to work” during the six days preceding Shabbos. Rav Munk says that, just as there is a law forbidding work on Shabbos, we have a similar responsibility to work when it is not Shabbos. Therefore, having one maidservant per day, her maids every week from Sunday through Friday saw her active, and must have figured she was some sort of activist queen. Her weekly Shabbos maid saw her lazing about, and probably figured that she was as idle as most normal members of the noble class.
  • Parenthetically, the Rokeach points out that the last letter of “v’eis” (suf) and the first two letters of “sheva” (shin and beiz) spell the letters of Shabbos. Also, the gematria of “hana’aros hari’uyos” (“fitting maidservants”) is the same as “zu haysa moneh bahen Shabbos” (“this is she counted Shabbos using them”).
  • Another interpretation of the Talmud is that she used these maidservant to keep track of each of the days of the Shabbos, the week. After all, every day is special. As we say in the morning prayer service before the weekday psalm of Sunday, “today is the first day of the Shabbos,” and on Monday, “today is the second day of the Shabbos,” etc. We make the most out of every day.

1Presumably the Persian calendar did not have seven-day weeks, or Esther would not have needed this kind of help. There are various calendars, like the Celts, the Igbo, and the Akan, that had weeks composed of various amounts of days. Ancient Egypt even had a ten-day week.