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!”
11. And Haman took the clothing and the horse, and dressed Mordechai. And he rode him in the street of the city. And he called before him, “So will be done to the man for whom the king desires his glory.”
Perhaps the verse’s repetitious detailing of Haman’s actions alludes to more information about the story, as both the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:4) detail in their own ways.
According to both sources, when Haman took the clothing and the horse to Mordechai, he found the sage teaching the laws of kemitza, the three fingersful amount of barley flour the kohanim would gather for the Temple offerings (Vayikra 2:2 and elsewhere). Rashi explains that Mordechai was discussing this topic specifically because it was the 16th of the month of Nissan, the beginning of the cycle of omer offerings.
According to the Ginzei HaMelech, they were specifically learning about the Omer in order to earn the merit to return to Eretz Yisroel in order to properly fulfill that mitzvah.
When Mordechai sees Haman coming, Mordechai warns his students to run away, but his students refuse. The Midrash has them respond that their fate should be the same as their rebbe’s. Mordechai wraps himself in a tallis, and begins to pray. While sitting and waiting for Mordechai to finish, Hamans asks the students what they are learning. They cry to him about missing the Beis HaMikdash, and explain that we would have had the kemitza of the mincha offerings to atone for us. Haman responds that this little three fingersful amount of flour pushed off the power of 10,000 loaves of silver.
A slight variant in the Midrash is that Haman is surprised that the worth of barley needed for kemitza was so little.
When Mordechai concludes praying, he tells Haman, “Wicked one! A slave who acquires something, does not his master own it?” In other words, since Mordechai was his master, the 10,000 loaves of silver Haman had offered Achashverosh for permission to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:9) did not even belong to Haman to give away.
Haman tells Mordechai to get up and get dressed and ride on the king’s horse. Mordechai tells him he must first have a haircut and bath before wearing the king’s crown. Since Esther had made a rule that all the barbershops and bathhouses were to be closed that day, Haman had to bathe Mordechai himself, and got scissors from his house to cut Mordechai’s hair.
According to the opinion that this was not the second day of Yom Tov, the Maharitz Chiyas writes that the Talmud (Moed Katan 13b) and Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 531:4) allow a person to take a haircut on Chol HaMoed (if this was not, indeed, the second day of Yom Tov) if it was impossible to get earlier, as for a prisoner released on Chol HaMoed.
Furthermore, the Derash Avraham writes that Mordechai could take a haircut and bath even on Yom Tov in order to save lives.
The Vilna Gaon asks how Esther could risk so much in having the bathhouses and barbershops closed. After all, she could not have had enough advanced notice to know this event would occur. Furthermore, Esther risked giving up the guarded secret of her Jewish background.
R’ Yehonason Eibshutz answers that this was the second day of Yom Tov, so Esther calling Jewish barbers to stay home for Halachic reasons (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 495:2). Esther felt she needed to strengthen this Rabbinic law because the Persian Jews were generally reluctant to follow Rabbinic decrees.
While cutting the hair, Haman was groaning. Mordechai asked, “Why are you groaning?” Haman responded that someone like himself, who is so important to the king, should not be degraded into the post of barber. Mordechai told him, “Wicked one! Were you not a barber in Kartzum for 22 years?”
The Beirach Yitzchak asks about the significance of the length of time. He answers that the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 1:6), in his list of people disqualified from royalty, includes a barber. In his commentary on the Mishneh Torah, Rav Yosef Karo in Kesef Mishnah explains that barbers in bygone days were responsible for administrating numerous medical treatments, many of which were repulsive and unseemly (http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-unusual-ancient-medical-techniques).
The Kesef Mishnah further limits this restriction to barbers who do this as a profession, not just a hobby or as a favor for someone. Therefore, answers the Beirach Yitzchak, Haman’s being a barber for such a long time indicates that it was his profession, and he could not weasel out of the fact that he was not fit for the royalty to which he aspired.
Furthermore, adds the Ginzei HaMelech, Mordechai was telling Haman that, had he remained contentedly a barber in Kartzum, his life would continue in relative peace. However, now that he had been elevated and become corrupted by power, Haman’s life would end tragically. When it was time to get on the horse, Mordechai was too weak from fasting, and had to climb on Haman’s back to alight on the horse.
Since the fast was supposed to last for three days (Esther 4:16), the Chiddushei Rashash writes that Mordechai was still fasting on this, the fourth day, because he added an extra private day of fasting for himself. The reason may be that he felt responsible for the Jews’ plight since he instigated Haman’s hatred by not bowing to him (Esther 3:5).
Given the opportunity, Mordechai kicked Haman in the posterior. Haman complained that it says in the TaNaCh (Mishlei 24:17) that one should not rejoice over the downfall of one’s enemies. Mordechai responded that this is true regarding Jews. However, regarding gentiles, the Torah (Devarim 33:29) writes that we can rejoice. Ginzei HaMelech wonders why it seems from this story that Mordechai and Esther appear to be working together to increase Haman’s humiliation. The answer could be, as the Ramban (to Bireishis 12:6) writes, some physical action is always necessary for us to fulfill a Divine decree. Therefore, Esther and Mordechai are performing physical actions to acquire something from the spiritual events then occurring.
Then, Haman begins to lead Mordechai on a horse through the streets of Shushan. An earlier Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:7) points out that all of Rachel’s descendants are equal; just like Yosef rode in Pharoah’s second chariot through the streets of Mitzrayim (Bireishis 41:43), so too Mordechai.
The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:5) details what everyone was saying during this procession. Mordechai was saying the verses (Tehillim 30:1-4) which praise H-Shem for elevating him, and not allowing his enemy to defeat him. Mordechai’s students were singing the next verses (ibid. 5-6), praising H-Shem for the change in the course of history that He controls for the sake of His righteous followers. Haman was saying the next verses (ibid. 7-8) bemoaning his fall from power. Esther said the next verses (ibid. 9-10) praying for success in her mission to save the Jews. The rest of the Jewish people were saying the next verses (ibid. 11-12), celebrating the changing tide from fear to jubilation.
27,000 young men led this procession, carrying pillows and golden cups and repeating Haman’s words that this is the reward for the man whom the king wishes to honor. The M’nos HaLevi explains that the purpose of these 27,000 young men was to continue this message after Haman’s voice inevitably gave out after a while.
Haman’s daughter, who was on a rooftop, dumped her chamber-pot upon her father, thinking he was Mordechai.
According to R’ Mendel Weinbach, the reason she had a chamber pot with her on the roof is that Haman had engineered Vashti’s end and the ensuing beauty contest with the goal of having the king marry his daughter. To avoid her becoming the queen, H-Shem cursed her with chronic diarrhea, so she hid from people on roof tops, always with her chamber pot. As Haman looked up to see who had done that, his daughter became ashamed, and she jumped off the roof.
The Ben Ish Chai writes that she did not recognize her own father was due to his voice becoming hoarse.
The Einei Yitzchak writes that another reason she may not have recognized her father is that Haman may have switched clothes with Mordechai in order to make sack-clothed Mordechai more presentable, and to ironically lessen his own embarrassment.