Esther 9:12, Question 1. How does Achashverosh feel about his dead citizens?

יב וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה הָרְגוּ הַיְּהוּדִים וְאַבֵּד חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת אִישׁ וְאֵת עֲשֶׂרֶת בְּנֵיהָמָן בִּשְׁאָר מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ מֶה עָשׂוּ וּמַהשְּׁאֵלָתֵךְ וְיִנָּתֵן לָךְ וּמַהבַּקָּשָׁתֵךְ עוֹד וְתֵעָשׂ

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.

Esther 6:1, Question 4. Why does the verse use the passive verb “nikra’im” (were read) instead of the active “koreem” (“read”)?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes that the verse uses the passive form of the verb (“were read”) because the pages of the book read themselves, since the king’s servant did not want to.
  • The Maharal explains that the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 545, and see Ezra 4:8 with Rashi there) writes that the palace scribe was one of Haman’s sons. Therefore, explains the Maharal, since he changed all references to Mordechai to say Haman, this was only true in the public book. In the private book, the king would notice the obvious inconsistencies, and would therefore have more reason to suspect Haman of conspiring against him.
  • Targum Sheini writes that the scribe did not erase Mordechai’s name, but merely skipped over his name. Therefore, the angel Gavriel turned the pages to the missing text, and the pages read themselves.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz asks why such a miracle was necessary. He answers that the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) writes that the Jews accepted the Torah at Har Sinai with the words “naaseh v’nishmah” (“we will do and we will listen”). After this, 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 took and they accepted”). It became clear to the Jews that their downfall was caused in the beginning of the Purim story, where they ignored the words of the great leader, Mordechai. For this reason, these words which were not written down were given orally, mida kineged mida. Perhaps it is for this reason that this miracle happened on the second night of the Pesach holiday, since its observance is totally rabbinic.
  • As a proof of this phenomenon, the Rokeach points out that the words “hayamim viyihyu nikarim” (“days [Chronicles]. And they were read”) (5+10+40+10+40+6+10+5+10+6+50+100+200+1+10+40=543) have the same gematria as lomed kee hayu nikrayim me’atzmam (“we learn that they read themselves”) (30+40+4+20+10+5+10+6+50+100+200+1+10+40+40+70+90+40+40=806).
  • R’ Yitzchak Hutner writes that we can learn a fundamental philosophical rule from this verse. Namely, in life, we do not really accomplish anything; H-Shem just makes it look to us as if we do things. As a proof, he quotes the phrase (Vayikra 11:38) “kee yiton” (“if he placed”), which the Talmud (Bava Metzia 22b) says could be pronounced “kee yutan” (“if it was placed”) in the passive voice because despite a person’s intent to do something, the final act is completed only through H-Shem. We are all vessels, and H-Shem is the real Doer in this world.

Esther 6:1, Question 1. Why does the verse stress that this happened “that night?”

א בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא נָדְדָה שְׁנַת הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיֹּאמֶר לְהָבִיא אֶתסֵפֶר הַזִּכְרֹנוֹת דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים וַיִּהְיוּ נִקְרָאִים לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ

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.

Esther 5:4, Question 3. Why does Esther describe the party as one she made?

  • 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.

Esther 5:4, Question 1. Why does Esther specifically invite Achashverosh and Haman to the party?

ד וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר אִםעַלהַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב יָבוֹא הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן הַיּוֹם אֶלהַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁרעָשִׂיתִי לוֹ

4. And Esther said, “If it is good for the king, the king and Haman should come today to the drinking party that I made for him.”

The Talmud (Megillah 15b) has a total of twelve reasons for Esther to have invited Haman to the feast:

a) R’ Eliezer says she was laying traps for him, as it says in Tehillim (69:23), “their tables will be their own traps.” In other words, Haman’s presence may give him the opportunity to say or do something he shouldn’t, giving the king prerogative to have his head.

b) R’ Yehoshua says Esther learned this from the house of her father1: Mishlei (25:22) teaches, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him bread.” In other words, one method of taking on one’s enemy is by surrendering some non-essential concession to him, thereby ultimately taking control of the situation when the opportunity strikes.

c) R’ Meir says Esther did this so that Haman would not take good advice, and rebel. In other words, Esther was hoping that her invitation’s stroking Haman’s ego would encourage him to rebel.

d) R’ Yehuda says Esther invited Haman so that he would not suspect that she is a Jewess.

e) Similarly, R’ Nechemia says Esther invited Haman in order for the Jews to not become complacent from their prayers and repentance by comforting themselves that they have a “sister” in the palace who can save them from this genocide.

f) R’ Yose says Esther invited Haman so that he would be available to her at all times. In other words, she wanted her “enemies close” to be able to manipulate his behavior to the benefit of her people.

g) R’ Shimon ben Menasya says Esther invited Haman thinking that, perhaps, H-Shem will become “emotional,” either through mercy or anger, and create a miracle to rescue the Jewish people.

h) R’ Yehoshua ben Karcha says Esther invited Haman in order to smile at him, evoking the king’s jealousy, leading him to execute both Haman and Esther. She was thus willing to sacrifice herself for her people.

i) Rabban Gamliel says Esther invited Haman because Achashverosh was fickle, and prone to inconsistent behavior. If the king gets the opportunity to spend more time with Haman, the statistical chances of him changing his positive opinion of him grow exponentially. Furthermore, had Haman not been at the feast when Esther convinced Achashverosh to kill Haman, his fickleness may lead him to change his mind by the time Haman is found.

j) R’ Gamliel says that all of these answers may explain why Esther invited Haman, but we still require the answer of the R’ Eliezer the Moda’ai to explain why Esther invited only Haman, and not the other advisers. He says she intended to make the rest of the court jealous, since Haman was invited to the meal, whereas they were overlooked. Class participant CRL suggested that having the other advisers attend would require the presence of Mordechai, who should have been celebrating the Pesach seder at the time.

k) Rabba says Haman was invited because “pride comes before destruction” (Mishlei 16:18). Like the English expression, the taller they are, the harder they fall, Esther is bating Haman’s ego to help precipitate his destruction. Incidentally, the Rokeach points out that the gematria of the above phrase from Mishlei (zehu lifnei shever ga’on) (7+5+6+30+80+50+10+300+2+200+3+1+6+50=750) is equal to the words from this verse from Esther that Haman was invited to the feast (hamishteh) (5+40+300+400+5= 750).

l) Abayey and Rava both say Esther’s intent can be seen in the verse “in their heat, I prepare their meal” (Yirmiya 51:39). This verse refers to the drunken death of Balshatzar, and Esther hoped this drunken revelry, too, would kill both Haman and Achashverosh. Incidentally, the Rokeach points out that the gematria of the above word for “in their heat” (bichumam) (2+8+6+40+40=96) is equal to Haman (5+40+50=95) with its kollel.

m) When Rabba son of Avuha met with Eliyahu HaNavi, he asked him which of these opinions is correct regarding Esther’s intent. Eliyahu HaNavi answered that they are all correct.

  • Eliyahu’s answer lends support, writes Rav Shwab, to the idea that when the verse says Esther donned royalty (Esther 5:1), it means she gained ruach hakodesh, the Holy Spirit.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya points out that the initial letters of “the king and Haman should come today” (yavo hamelech viHaman hayom) spell out H-Shem’s Name. H-Shem’s Name is not ever explicitly in Megillas Esther.
  • According to Ibn Ezra, this is because this was a public document in Persia, and the Rabbis were concerned that the Persians might supplant their own gods’ names for H-Shem’s if it were there. Another reason is to teach that H-Shem is available in all situations – good and (seemingly) bad.
  • The Ari, in his list (Pri Etz Chaim) of twelve places where H-Shem’s Name is secretly hidden in Megillas Esther, lists this as one of the places.
  • The Ohel Moshe writes that H-Shem’s Name is specifically at this point because the Talmud (Sukkah 14a) writes that when the righteous pray, they overturn H-Shem’s Anger to Mercy.

1Rashi points out that, not actually growing up in her father’s house, Esther must have overheard this teaching from Mordechai’s conversations with his students.

Esther 4:17, Question 1. What does Mordechai pass in following Esther’s instructions?

יז וַיַּעֲבֹר מָרְדָּכָי וַיַּעַשׂ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁרצִוְּתָה עָלָיו אֶסְתֵּר

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).

Esther 4:16, Question 5. Why does Esther require three days of fasting?

  • 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).