2. The Yehudim congregated in their cities in all of the states of King Achashverosh to send their hand against those who sought bad for them. And a man did not stand before them because the fear of them fell on all the nations.
The Rosh writes that the verse stresses that the Jews gathered because they came together to pray and fast. As is mentioned in Halacha (Mishna Berura 686:2), this is the reason for fasting on Taanis Esther before Purim.
There is a power in numbers, and congregating can have powerful affects, so R’ Aryeh Leib Tzonetz and the Sfas Emes note that Haman’s spiritual power was due to the Jews being splintered and separate (Esther 3:8). Therefore, the intent of this verse, Mordechai’s order for the Jews to be gathered before Esther approached Achashverosh (Esther 4:16), and even the mishloach manos gifts (Esther 9:19) after the miracle was to unify the Jewish people.
15. And Mordechai left from before the king wearing royalty: Ticheiles, and white, and a great gold crown, and a shroud, fine linen, and purple. And the city of Shushan was shouting and happy.
According to the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) this verse is the second of four verses read aloud by the congregation during the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim.
The Midrash Shmuel quotes the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) that one who flees honor has honor thrust upon him, and the opposite is true of one who pursues honor. When Haman wanted to wear the royal clothes (Esther 5:6-8), he received nothing. In contrast, Mordechai, who asked for nothing, received the honor of wearing the royal clothes.
The Alshich notes that this is the first time in the story that Mordechai is dressed regally. Before, he was wearing sackcloth and ash, but Mordechai is now confident about the fate of the Jews. The Alshich continues that Mordechai had to display this confidence at this point because Haman’s decree was vague in other locations but explicit in Shushan, so Mordechai needed to demonstrate that the Jews were indeed in Achashverosh’s favor.
In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, it says that Mordechai became the king of the Jews. Perhaps this means that Mordechai received the authority that the Jews are supposed to give to their rabbis. The Talmud (Gittin 62a) even calls rabbis kings.
After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he sent them back to Canaan with word of his stature in Mitzrayim. At that point (Bireishis 45:22), he gifted the half-brothers with one pair of clothes each, but he gave his full brother Binyamin five pairs of clothes. The Talmud (Megillah 16b) writes that he did this in order to hint to these clothes that Mordechai, Binyamin’s descendants, would wear.
R’ Dovid Feinstein wonders why Yosef would choose this point in time to make such an allusion. He explains that Yosef intended to demonstrate to his brothers his very real appreciation for their act of selling him to slavery. A fired employee who finds a job even better than his previous boss’s may even want to thank his boss for releasing him from employment. Similarly, the righteous Yosef felt gratitude for his brothers’ part in his success and growth. By alluding to the Purim story, he foresaw that Jewish history would be a series of epochs filled with times that seemed to be the most hopeless transforming into the most productive.
The Maharil Diskin points out that there are not five items, but only four: ticheiles, white, a crown, and a shroud. He quotes the Talmud (Zevachim 18b) that defines butz as linen. Argaman implies wool. Since the two sewn together in one garment would be a violation of shatnez (“mixture of wool and linen,” see Vayikra 19:19, Devarim 22:11, and Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 298-304), Mordechai was actually wearing two separate shrouds of these materials.
The M’nos HaLevi notes that the first verse to mention Mordechai by name (Esther 2:5) and the first to be customarily read aloud during the public readings of Megillas Esther on Purim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) gives him several descriptions: Yehudi, Mordechai, ben Yair, ben Shimi, and ben Kish, He explains that “Yehudi” is a reference to kingship because Jewish royalty must come from that tribe (Bireishis 49:8-11). The Talmud (Chulin 139b) says “Mordechai” is a reference to myrrh, an ingredient in the Mishkan’s incense. This is paralleled in the ticheiles, which was an ingredient in the Mishkan’s covers (Shemos 26:1). According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b-13a), Mordechai earned his appellation of “son of Yair” by enlightening (hey’ir) the Jewish people regarding prayer, which is paralleled in the white clothes he wears. He is called the “son of Shimi” because his own prayers were heard (shema) by H-Shem. This is paralleled in the crown which represents the King of king’s powerful reaction to the requests of the righteous. He is called the “son of Kish” because he knocked (hikish) at the Gates of Mercy. This is paralleled in the linen and purple because they are the colors of nobility – those precious few who are allowed into the Palace.
linen and purple
The Vilna Gaon writes that all of these article are also related to the clothing one should wear during prayer. He writes that the royalty relates to the talis worn when we pray; ticheilis relates to the ticheilis-dyed fringes of the tzitzis; the white relates to the undyed white fringes of the tzitzis; the crown relates with the head tefillin; the wool robe relates to the straps of the head tefillin; and the purple relates to the arm tefillin.
Rav Galico also related to Mordechai’s clothes here to his and Shushan’s earlier actions. In reward for his having previously worn sackcloth (Esther 4:1), he now wears royalty; in reward for putting ash (Ibid.) on his head, he now wears a crown; in reward for Shushan being worried and confused about Haman’s decree (Esther 3:15), it is now happy.
The Rema adds that there are four aspects make a man’s life complete: wealth, health, perfection of character, and knowledge of and closeness to H-Shem. Mordechai acquired all of these, as can be seen from this verse: wealth relates to royalty, health relates to ticheiles, character development relates to humble linen, and knowledge and faith is related to the crown.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 180-1) writes that purple is historically symbolic of royalty. Ticheiles, on the other hand, represents a humble recognition of “the limits of our horizon.”
11. “That the king gave to the Yehudim who were in each city and city to gather, and to stand on their souls, to annihilate, and to kill, and to destroy any army of the nation and state who antagonize them, infants, and women. And their property they should plunder.
According to Dena Pishra, the letters required the Jews to gather because Jewish unity is a powerful method of attaining H-Shem’s assistance.
The Sfas Emes adds that Jews have an aggregate soul, and our combined effort is especially needed when we are in danger.
Furthermore, the Ginzei HaMelech asks that if the word “unify” requires two or more people, and the word “stand” implies one [as one person stands for oneself], which is the letters’ intent? Based on Rashi’s comment on the Talmud (Shabbos 127b) that “stand” means to pray, he answers that the Talmud (Bava Kama 97a) promises a Jew that when one prays for another’s needs, one’s prayers are never rejected. The Talmud (Brachos 8a) says the same idea regarding communal prayer.
For a similar question above, it was assumed that, the gematria of yud being ten, the additional yud may represents the Ten Commandments, and that perhaps the spelling implied that the Jews were rescued from the decree in the merit of their teshuva (“repentance”) (see Esther 9:27).
The total gematria of Yehudim with the extra yud (10+5+6+4+10+10+40=85) is 85, the same gematria as peh (“mouth”) (80+5=85). This represents prayer, which is what rescued the Jews from the decree.
Interestingly, with the above verse (Esther 8:1), there seems to be a reference to two mouths, perhaps implying a parallel with the verse (Shemos 33:11) in which H-Shem praises Moshe as one with whom He communicates “peh el peh” (“mouth to mouth”). Part of the reason the Jews were saved was in the merit of Moshe, as the Midrash (Esther Rabba 7:14) says explicitly. Throughout Jewish philosophy, Moshe represents the Torah that he received and taught. Taken all together, the Jews’ repentance, prayer, and acceptance of Torah rescued them from this terrible fate.
3. And Esther added and spoke before the king. And she fell before his feet, and cried, and pleaded with him to annul the evil of Haman the Aggagite and his intentions that he intended on the Yehudim.
The Maharal is troubled by the verse’s use of the word vatosef (“and she added”) when it does not initially seem that there is any conversation that is being continued here. He answers that this is a continuation of the previous verse in which Esther appointed Mordechai, seemingly verbally, as master of Haman’s estate.
M’nos HaLevi notes that the Talmud (Makkos 10b-11a) teaches that daber, the root of word vatidaber (“and she spoke”) implies a harsh language. He explains that Esther was speaking in a forceful and direct manner to the king, saying that Haman lied to him. She then regretted her boldness, and fell pleading for mercy.
According to the Malbim, Esther performs all of these actions because she tried various methods to convince Achashverosh – rhetoric, and logic, and emotion. As is well-known, when logic fails, the emotional appeal can still be effective.
As the M’nos HaLevi points out, the Talmud (Brachos 32b) teaches that since the time the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, only the gates of tears remain open.
In a famous comment on this verse, the Vilna Gaon teaches in the name of the Zohar that genuine crying always comes from the heart, and cannot be artificially manufactured. He also connects Esther’s behavior in this verse to various stages of the Jew’s regular prayer routine. He writes that vatosef (“and she added”) is a reference to Pesukei Dezimra (introductory verses of praise) because the Talmud (Brachos 32a) teachers that these were added by the Rabbis to help people concentrate during Shemoneh Esrei; vatidaber (“and she spoke”) is a reference to Shema (“verses in which we accept the authority of H-Shem”) because the Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 9a, 9b) teaches that the Shema has references to the Ten Commandments, the Asseres HaDibros, vatipol (“and she fell”) is a reference to nefilas apayim (“putting down the face,” or Tachanun), vateiv’k (“and she cried”) is a reference to tefilla (“the silent prayer, or Shemoneh Esrei”), and vatit’chanen (“and she pleaded”) is a reference to Elokai Nitzur (the additional prayers after tefillah). Esther’s act of pleading before the king, was also her pleading before the King of kings.
The Dena Pishra writes similarly that the verse references the king because Esther was really praying to H-Shem to spare the Jews.
The Ginzei HaMelech writes that Esther did all of these actions because she saw the cause of Achashverosh’s previous behavior as passion due to anger. Now that she saw him calm down, she was concerned that he would return to his old, anti-Semitic self. She was really risking her life because his anger could have returned at any moment.
Continuing his thoughts on the previous verse, the Vilna Gaon writes that Esther’s rising up alludes to the end of the morning prayer service, and her standing alludes to the kaddish prayer.
Similarly, the Dena Pishra explains that Esther was standing here because she was pleading before H-Shem, and this is why the verse refers to Him as King.
The Shelah writes that we should stand in prayer before H-Shem the same way we do before a human king.
R’ Moshe Feinstein would famously stand still during prayer instead of shukeling back and forth, as many do. The source of this custom was an incident in which, as a rabbi in communist Russia, he was called before the police commandant. He recalled that one of the most frightening events of his life was standing there, stock still, unable to move. Realizing that one is standing before an authority should cause one to avoid any movement.
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!”