Esther 7:8, Question 2. Why is Achashverosh upset?

  • According to a Midrash, Achashverosh is upset at this point because, in the garden, Achashverosh remembered that Haman (as Memuchan) was responsible for Vashti’s demise (Esther 1:16).
  • The Dena Pishra adds that Achashverosh was upset that Haman was speaking to Esther behind his back. He even considered that if she pleads for his life, Achashverosh would still not listen to her.
  • The Yosef Lekach notes that Achashverosh took Haman’s silence as admission of guilt, based on this principle in the Talmud (Yevamos 87b) that people are expected to speak up for themselves when accused unjustly.
  • The Malbim writes that Achashverosh was angered that Esther seemed included in decree without his expressed agreement. The Malbim adds that this anger created an unsafe environment in the palace, despite its providing political and legal sanctuary.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Talmud (Shabbos 33a) teaches that dropsy and its attending discoloration affect people who are guilty of immorality. Thus, Achashverosh suspected Haman of immoral acts due to his face coloring.
  • R’ Moshe David Valle notes that Achashverosh could only think immorality was on Haman’s mind at a time like this if he so was inspired by H-Shem.
  • Perhaps some insight may be gained on this topic from the Talmud’s (Horiyos 10b) understanding of the story (Shoftim 4:17-22) between Sisera and Yael. There, Sisera is in mortal danger, and yet is easily seduced by Yael. Violence and immorality sometimes go together.
  • However, according to Midrash Shmuel, Achashverosh did not really think anything immoral was happening. In fact, he did not even accuse Haman of anything like that. Rather, H-Shem had the words come out of the king’s mouth to make Haman more nervous.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Achashverosh simply thought Haman intended Esther harm. Perhaps, this anger was pretense, and was Achashverosh’s method for ridding himself of Haman in the most politically expedient fashion. Interestingly, none of these answers explaining Achashverosh’s anger need be exclusive; the combined reasons create a massive, unappeasable anger that justifies the king’s next act.

Esther 7:7, Question 1. Why does Achashverosh leave?

ז וְהַמֶּלֶךְ קָם בַּחֲמָתוֹ מִמִּשְׁתֵּה הַיַּיִן אֶלגִּנַּת הַבִּיתָן וְהָמָן עָמַד לְבַקֵּשׁ עַלנַפְשׁוֹ מֵאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה כִּי רָאָה כִּיכָלְתָה אֵלָיו הָרָעָה מֵאֵת הַמֶּלֶךְ

7. And the king rose in his fury from the wine feast to the garden of his house. And Haman stood to ask for his life from Queen Esther because he saw that evil was decided on him from the king.

  • It is very likely that Achashverosh left to “cool off.”
  • The Yad HaMelech points out that the verse stresses that Achashverosh left specifically when he was “in his fury.” Otherwise, he would have realized that it would be unwise to leave Esther alone with the murderous Haman. Alas, anger causes people to make silly mistakes.
  • Similarly, the Maharal sees the verse as stressing that Aschashverosh left from the feast.
  • Megillas Sesarim explains that his current state of inebriation increased his anger.
  • Rav Galico points out that although Achashverosh went to cool off, this is actually another example of hashgacha pratis (H-Shem’s supervision of the world) in order to incriminate Haman more.
  • On the other hand, R’ Moshe David Valle explains that Achashverosh was really upset with himself for giving Haman authority in the first place.
  • Perhaps Achashverosh was actually looking for a way to scapegoat Haman and consequently rid himself of him without seeming politically weak.

Esther 6:12, Question 1. Why does the verse emphasize that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate?

יב וַיָּשָׁב מָרְדֳּכַי אֶלשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן נִדְחַף אֶלבֵּיתוֹ אָבֵל וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ

12. And Mordechai returned to the gate of the king. And Haman was propelled to his house mourning, and with a covered head.

  • It seems doubly strange for the verse to say Mordechai returned to the palace, when our commentary on the previous verse made clear the Haman found Mordechai in the house of study. According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and the Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:6), the verse emphasizes that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate instead of into because Mordechai returned to wearing sackcloth and fasting.
  • Rashi’s explaining that Mordechai returned to mourning seems to not be his pashut pshat, simple explanation.
  • The Maharsha clarifies that Mordechai could not enter the king’s gate wearing sackcloth because of their rules of propriety in those days, so he could only come as far as the gate, itself. Therefore, Mordechai, having been mourning in sackcloth for the last several days could not be said to be returning to a place where he could not have previously been.
  • R’ Avigdor Bonchek explains that being paraded on a horse emboldened Mordechai to defy Achashverosh’s law by going to gate in sackcloth.
  • The Targum writes that Mordechai returned to serving on the Sanhedrin at this point, a position that is described in TaNaCh (see Bireishis 19:1, Devarim 21:19, Ruth 4:1) as being positioned “at the gate.”
  • The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4) teaches that the verse says Mordechai returned because he is humble. There is a humility in accepting one’s place, as is said of Avraham whom the Torah (Bireishis 18:33) describes as having “returned to his place” after speaking with H-Shem.
  • R’ Henoch Leibowitz notes that the Torah (Devarim 30:8) promises us that H-Shem will return us to our Land only after we suffer from our enemies. Rav Leibowitz explains that the lesson is that a person’s prayer in times of rescue should be equal in power and intensity to that with which one prays in times of troubles. The very purpose of our troubles is to increase our attachment to H-Shem. The proper method for this is to follow Rabbeinu Bachya’s advice (on Shemos 2:23) when he says that one’s prayer is the most intense in times of difficulty and that, therefore, it is incumbent on a person to remember that feeling of intensity, and bottle up that feeling of pain in order to pray strongly in the brighter future that the troubles do not return. At our most desperate, we should try to encapsulate the emotion to use in better times.
  • He quotes R’ Naftoli Tropp, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin writes that a famous piyut said on Yom Kippur calls us all dalim, poor. Even the rich should recall that all is H-Shem’s and they only have their riches only by the grace of G-d.
  • The Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai usually wore sackcloth during davening, and then changed for court. At this point, Mordechai did not change because he felt his prayers were unsuccessful, and not answered. This is because his riding on a horse did not manifestly spell out the redemption of the Jews. The Jews were still threatened.
  • Rebbetzin Heller points out that, being G-d focused, Mordechai didn’t care if Achashverosh loved or honored him. This event did not change Mordechai’s humility.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Mordechai still felt guilty about causing the threat to Jewish existence by refusing to bow down to Haman. True teshuvah comes from the feeling of being unworthy of kindness from H-Shem. He concludes that one should never be too confident in this.
  • The Iyun Yaakov points out that, on the political side, Mordechai had anticipated using his saving Achashverosh’s life as leverage when begging Achashverosh to save the Jews – not just a pony ride around town. Disappointed by the loss of his ace in the hole, Mordechai’s only remaining means to save the Jews is to pray to H-Shem.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes the Brisker Rav, R’ Yitzchak Zev HaLevi Soloveitchik that in his reporting the goings-on to Esther earlier (Esther 4:5-16), Mordechai was unwilling to get out of his sackcloth for even one moment and even requiring Hasach as an intermediary because prayer and emunah are the main tools for salvation.
  • The Ohel Moshe also brings R’ Yehonason Eibshutz who quotes the Talmud (Brachos 5b) that a prisoner does not free himself. Somebody else needs to help somebody out. Similarly, Mordechai, once he sees himself rescued, returned to pray for the other Jews. Similarly,
  • R’ Dovid Bleicher of Novordok notes that Mordechai had his own needs met, but kept praying for the Jews because he had worked on himself to feel as if he was still under the threat of death.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:12) states that a true Jewish leader does not stop fasting until the prayers are answered.
  • The Maharal notes that Mordechai was not satisfied by this honor because Achasherosh did not come to thank him, himself. He had no reason to think that Achashverosh felt actual gratitude. After all, as R’ Elie Munk points out in his commentary on Chumash (Vayikra 7:30), of all the offerings, the only one which the Torah describes as having to be brought “by his own hands” is the shelamim (peace offering) because it is brought as a way to thank H-Shem, and “when expressing one’s gratitude, it is proper to do it personally.”
  • Parenthetically, he also quotes this as the reason brought by Abudraham for the congregation to say the blessing of Modim (thanksgiving) during the repetition of the Amidah prayer, since the congregational leader cannot express the gratitude of another person.
  • The Maharal also says in a few places (Nesivos Olam) that simcha (joy) comes from shleimus (completeness). Here, too, Mordechai cannot be content since the Jews are still under the threat of annihilation, and are thus incomplete.
  • Perhaps the simplest explanation to why Mordechai returned to his place can be gleaned from a story told about R’ Yechezkel Abramsky. While discussing Megillas Esther with his rebbetzin, he asked her what Mordechai could have been thinking while riding on the horse. She answered, “This type of foolishness is for drunkards. I wish this will be over soon, so I can return to learning Torah!”

Esther 6:1, Question 3. Why does the king ask for the record book(s)?

  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:1) explains that Achashverosh was certain that the reason he was afraid of an assassination attempt was because he had overlooked rewarding somebody. Indeed, they found the incident earlier (Esther 2:21) when Mordechai warned the king about Bigsan and Seresh’s assassination attempt.
  • M’lo HaOmer points out that it is a miracle that, although Achashverosh wanted to sleep, he asked to be read a record book which would seemingly have the opposite effect. After all, he was the king, and affairs of state, regional power struggles, palace intrigue, and other similar events recorded in such a record would more likely excite the king instead of put him calmly to bed.
  • Yosef Lekach writes that the entire records book was simply a list of the king’s personal debts.
  • Ibn Ezra, however, states that the book was a list of vows, and the king was feeling guilty and was under the assumption that his insomnia was a punishment for an unfulfilled vow.
  • The Malbim writes that Achashverosh was frustrated about what Esther’s request might be. Therefore, he asked for the records book to investigate if Esther’s request might merely be for him to reward someone for a favor done for him.
  • According to the Vilna Gaon, the verse is discussing two separate books – a chronicle of the nation’s entire history, and records book of the king’s personal enactments. Similarly, the Malbim points out that the big book is a public book, available to all the citizens. The smaller book is private, and only available to the king. As we shall see (be”H), the difference is that one is more likely to be manipulated.

Esther 3:8, Question 3. Why does Haman emphasize that the Jews are “one nation?”

  • Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Horowitz writes that, on the simple level, it is easy to see that Haman, being the constantly conniving, calculating political creature he is, Haman intentionally does not want to specify which nation he intends to destroy because he is concerned that the king or new queen might harbor positive feelings for the Jews. After all, it is poor form to suggest the destruction of a nation for whom the king has a positive bias.
  • The Ginzei Melech writes that Haman is asserting that the Jews consider themselves an “am echad” (“one nation”) – a united front – even against those greater than them. In other words, the Jews as a unit disrespected Mordechai in attending Achashverosh’s party. Thereby, they weakened Mordechai’s ability to influence them, and therefore put themselves at risk. In Haman’s estimation, this is a weakness he can exploit to the Jews’ detriment. This feeling that all Jews are equal goes along well with the famous exchange between President Harry Truman and the first president of the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann. When Truman complained that he was “the President of so many millions of Americans,” Weizmann replied that his own job was harder since he was “the President of a million presidents!” As a people, Jews can be hard to lead since they consider themselves united, even against authority.
  • Of course, everything Haman said in the negative about the Jews has a positive side he is intentionally ignoring. After all, as Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch writes (Collected Writings, Volume II, 385-6) “The Jewish nation, however [in contrast to other nations (see Koheles 5:8)], exiled throughout the world, uniquely maintains its identity, remains a stranger among the nations and is unable to be fully absorbed.” Being an “am echad,” the Jews retain their individual nationality, allowing them to better influence the world.

Esther 1:18, Question 2. Why does Memuchan scare Achashverosh with both “disrespect” and “anger?”

  • According to the Vilna Gaon, both statements refer to the king. He should have felt disrespected by Vashti’s calling him the son of a stable boy, and he should have felt angered for the sake of the monarchy. This dual, personal/ political point of view fits nicely with the Chida’s explanation of the severity of the punishment Memuchan is about to suggest (see previous blogs).
  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:8), there is a kind of anger leads to disrespect, and a kind of disrespect that leads to anger. In this particular case, according to Memuchan, Vashti’s actions would cause both. This is the case on the earthly plane. On the spiritual plane, the Midrash continues, since Vashti’s father disrespected H-Shem’s holy vessels (as mentioned earlier), this caused H-Shem to focus His anger upon Vashti. On the subject of H-Shem being “angry” at someone for something their parents did (Shemos 20:5), the Talmud (Sanhedrin 27b) states that this is the case only when the child follows in the said parent’s path of evil, which is certainly true in the case of Vashti (as mentioned in previous blogs).