Esther 4:3, Question 6. Why does the verse emphasize that only “many” people wore sack and ash, instead of all?

  • R’ Meir Arama explains the “many” to include the more prominent, less conformed Jews together with the poorer, more conformed Jews in the act of wearing sack and ash.
  • The Yerushalmi and Panim Acherim translate “rabim” (“many”) as meaning “the Rabbis.”
  • The Yosef Lekach writes that this is a reference to the reshus harabbim, the public thoroughfare. Perhaps he means to suggest that this phrase implies the participation of the general masses of Jews, like those who travel the public road. Otherwise, this may be a reference to the last stage of the five-step repentance program described in the Mishnah (Taanis 2:1), in which the aron — the synagogue Ark — is taken out into the public square, and ashes are placed on it and the community leaders.
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Esther 3:7, Question 4. Why does the verse stress that the pur was cast “before” Haman?

  • According to the Targum Sheini’s interpretive translation, Haman’s oldest son, Shimshi, cast the pur.
  • The Malbim writes that the lot was cast for Haman – it decided when he would die since this plan to kill the Jews led to his execution (see below Esther 7:10).
  • The Chassam Sofer and the Me’am Loez write that Haman saw himself on top, and the Jews beneath him. Unfortunately for Haman, he did not interpret this correctly, as it was pointing to his hanging from the tree, and Mordechai beneath him, standing safely on the ground.
  • The Maharal says that Haman did not throw the lots himself for two reasons. The first is that he knew he was not a spiritually sensitive person. He therefore asked someone else to interpret the lots. The second reason is that he knew he had a subjective bias in the result. As such, his own subjectivity would subconsciously color his interpretation of the final result of the lots tossed. Perhaps these two answers are really one and the same. One cannot be a spiritually attuned person with biases. The more spiritual one becomes, the more objective one becomes. The entire goal of spirituality is to realize that our own wants should not have significance.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that the way Jews escape annihilation is through their performance of mitzvos, of which Torah study is the greatest (see Mishnah, Peah 1:1). That being the case, the Ben Ish Chai interprets our verse in a novel manner by writing that the lots cast pointed to the solution to Haman’s challenge being “lifnei Haman” the letters preceding the letters in Haman’s name in the Hebrew alphabet. The letters before hey (dales), mem (lamed), and nun (mem) can form the word “lamed,” (“learn”).
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Haman felt he needed to pick the right day of the week, as well as the correct month. Since, the days of the week represent the natural cycle established in the seven days of Creation, and every culture has its own fashion for establishing and measuring months, days represent a variable given Divinely. Months, however, represent a variable provided by people. Haman therefore thought the rabbis, who established the Jewish months (as mentioned above), were prone to error. Hence, Haman felt he could not be successful against H-Shem, Who established the days, but could be successful against the rabbis, who in his view represented imperfect, fallible men.

Esther 3:6, Question 2. Why does the verse mention both Yehudim and Mordechai’s nation?

  • The Alshich says that the nation refers specifically to Benyamin, Mordechai’s ancestor.
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 13b), the nation to which Haman aims his hatred is the rabbis – the elite leadership of the nation. M’nos HaLevi tells us that killing the rabbis would leave the Jews as sheep without a shepherd. The Jewish nation cannot survive without Torah leadership. The Yad HaMelech says Haman did not want to kill out the Jews, but only wanted to kill out the rabbis. His intent would be to enrage the Jews over the death of the rabbis, and blame Mordechai. They would then kill Mordechai, themselves. Haman believed that, this way, they would deserve to be wiped out by H-Shem. This idea of causing the Jews to deserve their own destruction is nothing new. Both Bilaam and Haman attempted just such a strategy in the incident of the daughters of Moav (Bamidbar 25:1-3) and Achashverosh’s party (Esther 1:1-10), respectively.
  • Why such hatred? Why did Haman so want to kill out the Jews? The Malbim and Akeidas Yitzchak posit that, since Mordechai refused to bow to him on religious grounds, Haman desired the death of that nation that followed those self-same tenets.
  • In his Vedibarta Bam on Megillas Esther, Rabbi Bogomilsky brings that Haman realized that all of the Yehudim were an “am Mordechai” – a nation of Mordechais. Even if Haman were to eliminate that Mordechai who won’t bow to him, there will be other “Mordechais” who will pop up to do the same.
  • Rabbi Yitzchak Blazer asks why, if Haman wanted everyone to bow to him, did he not simply decree that Mordechai have to do it. Seeing their leader doing so should inspire most people to ape that behavior. Rav Blazer answers that Jews are different. If we see our leader acting contrary to our beliefs, we feel disgusted by that leader, and want nothing to do with him.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, he wanted to kill the Jews due to his slave status. As his master, Mordechai could take possession over everything Haman owned. With Mordechai dead, a relative or other heir would become lord over Haman’s assets, leaving him virtually powerless. As long as there is a Jew alive, Haman could not have power. Power-hungry to his core, Haman needed to be rid of all possible heirs to Mordechai’s property, and this included all of the Jews.

Esther 1:13, Question 1. Who are these wise men Achashverosh approached and what does it mean that they “know the times?”

יג וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לַחֲכָמִים יֹדְעֵי הָעִתִּים כִּיכֵן דְּבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ לִפְנֵי כָּליֹדְעֵי דָּת וָדִין

13. And the king said to the wise men who know the times – since such is the way of the king before all those who know knowledge and justice.

  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b), the wise men whom the king approached after being insulted by his wife were none other than the Jewish Sages. The idea that they “know the times” means that our Sages are in control of the times and can have a hand in the calendar by, for instance, adding a thirteenth month (Adar Sheini) by declaring a leap year when necessary to balance the lunar months with the solar seasons (see Talmud, Sanhedrin 11b). Relevant to Tu B’Shvat this week, in the laws of orlah, a tree’s fruit cannot be eaten during the first three years of its life (Vayikra 19:23). The Sages’ ability to mandate a thirteenth month forces a farmer to wait an entire month longer for a tree to turn three years-old. We allude to this rabbinic power in our prayers. In the Musaf prayer of Shabbos (a day which cannot be set by the Sages) we say, “Blessed are You, H-Shem, Who sanctified the Shabbos,” whereas in the Musaf prayer of a Yom Tov (a day which can be set by the Sages) we say “Blessed are You, H-Shem, Who sanctified Israel and the times,” alluding to the fact that Israel can affect the calendar. Both the Ibn Ezra and Rav Dovid Feinstein add that, on a more mystical plane, the Sages were equally aware of astrology and which times have which spiritual energies (and how best to use these) as learned from Sefer Yetzira (Chapter 5).1
  • Rav Yehonoson Eibshutz writes that Achashverosh was hoping that the Sages, knowing these spiritual times as they do, would find that Vashti’s mazal (cosmic, spiritual influence) would allow her to live.
  • On a practical level, the Ben Ish Chai writes that the Sages could find ways to excuse any crime. For reasons too complex to explain here2, they were trained to do so because a unanimous decision would expatiate a perpetrator. In order to find a way to discredit a given exhibit of evidence, the Sages needed to then be completely aware of situations to best judge them.
  • As the Malbim writes, the Sages knew best how to apply laws to situations. The Maharal adds that a Sage, a righteous person by definition, always knows how to act under a given situation.
  • According to the Talmud (ibid.) the Sages found a way to not give advice because they realized that they were in a bind, a Catch-22. On the one hand, telling him to kill her as is expected of an insulted monarch may backfire and cause more Jew-hatred. On the other hand, sparing her meant subjecting Jewish women to untold humiliation under Vashti’s evil hands. To get out of having to give advice in this matter, the Sages simply pointed out that they could not judge capital cases ever since the Temple was destroyed. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss reminds us that one of the recurring themes of Megillas Esther is mida kineged mida, measure for measure. Here, Vashti’s halting the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash effectively ended her own life. Had there been a Temple, and it accompanying Sanhedrin, the Sages would have been able to pardon her.

1 My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yisroel Simcha Schorr, shlita, would often remind us that Pesach came before the exodus from Egypt. The time, itself, had the strength needed for an exodus. This is why Lot offered matzos to his visiting angels in Nisan (Bireishis 19:3, see Rashi there) before there was even an exodus to obligate the eating of matza. From the time of Creation, that time had the spiritual energy to be a vehicle for the Egyptian exodus.

2See Talmud (Sanhedrin 17a) for the details of this rule.