Esther 8:16, Question 2. What do these different expressions signify?

  • According to Malbim, since the previous verse (Esther 8:15) testifies to the fact that everybody was happy, the various expressions in this verse underscore the fact that the Jews were especially joyous.
  • Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 405) writes that this verse demonstrates that the Jews could now survive any difficulty in history because they “preserved their own light and joy.”
  • The Rambam (Perakim Hatzlacha, Chapter 2) emphasizes that all of the good that the Jews received was due to their return to Torah. Based on this, the Binyan Shlomo points out that it is a very praiseworthy custom to learn Torah on the holiday of Purim (see Rema, Orach Chaim 695:2).
  • The Sharis Yosef teaches that objects going from darkness to light is yet another source for the custom to wear costumes on Purim.
  • The Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) writes that this description mirrors how the Jews will be redeemed with the coming of Moshiach.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16b) interprets this verse’s expressions thus: light is Torah; happiness is Yom Tov; joy is circumcision; and glory is tefillin.
  • Rashi comments on the Talmud that Haman made decrees forbidding Jews from fulfilling these mitzvos. The Yad HaMelech points out that Jews may have neglected circumcision at that time, as they sometimes have done on times of persecution to pass as non-Jews.
  • The Megillas Sesarim writes that Mordechai’s wearing tefillin earlier (Esther 8:15) put that mitzva back in vogue.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab finds it impossible for the Jews to have been successfully banned from these mitzvos, en masse. Rather, he explains that the Jews at that time studied Torah, but without light; they commemorated holidays, but without happiness; they performed circumcisions, but without joy; they wore tefillin, but without glory. Without caring, without thinking, and without these precious mitzvos affecting their souls.
  • Rav Yehonason Eibshutz points out that it is a natural, human reaction for the emotional impact of an event to fade in subsequent anniversaries of that event. For instance, as happy as a child’s birthday celebration may be, it pales in comparison to the happiness felt at the actual successful birth. However, when that event is attached to a mitzva that is repeated every year, the original happiness felt at the event is retained (and perhaps enhanced) with the performance of the mitzva. This is the reason for the Talmud to equate happiness with Yom Tov; with each occurrence of Purim, its mitzvos reignite its accompanying joy.
  • The Sfas Emes asks a fundamental question: why does the verse uses metaphors instead of explicitly writing that the Jews garnered Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin? He answers that, with the miracle of Purim, the Jews recognized the real nature of light, happiness, joy, and glory; light comes from Torah, happiness comes from Yom Tov, joy comes from circumcision, and glory comes from tefillin.
  • The Ohr Gedalyahu adds that all of these misapplied emotions point to the Jews’ ancient battle against Amalek, a nation described (Devarim 25:17) as having cooled us. Amalek wins when Jews perform mitzvos without an accompanying fire of emotion. He quotes the Sefer Yetzira that the month of Adar is represented by the letter kuf, meaning kedusha (“holiness”), which he defines as keeping something special and invigorating.
  • The Ohel Moshe similarly writes that simcha (“happiness”) is the antidote to Amalek’s cooling effect. The Vilna Gaon notes that all four of these mitzvos – Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin – are regularly called osos (“signs”) and eidus (“testimonies”). He explains that these all testify that there is one G-d, and that the Jewish people are uniquely His people. He adds that taking the first letters (roshei teivos) of the words ora (“light”), simcha (“happiness”), sasson (“joy”), and yikar (“glory”) – aleph, sin, sin, and yud respectively – produces a gematria (1+300+300+10=611) equal to that of Torah (400+6+200+5=611). He continues by quoting a cryptic Talmudic tale (Sukkah 48b) about a character named Sasson speaking with another named Simcha. In this piece of Aggadeta, the two are trying to outdo each other by quoting verses throughout TaNaCh in which one or the other appears first. When Sasson and Simcha finally consult with Rebbe Abahu, he tells them that if a person has a water flask but never fills it, but merely keeps it next to him, he will die of thirst.
  • The Vilna Gaon’s explanation is beyond the author’s erudition and the scope of this work, but the Shem M’Shmuel explains that conversation by distinguishing between the exact spiritual nature of these two almost synonymous emotions, happiness and joy. He writes that happiness is the emotion felt after careful planning yields a successful result, whereas joy is the emotion felt when one experiences an unexpected windfall. The debate between Sasson and Simcha, then, is whether success is better felt in the former type of situation, or the latter. For instance, should an organization carefully plan its charitable giving, or bypass the planning and initiate the giving as quickly and haphazardly as possible? Having one necessarily means lacking the other. Rebbe Abahu’s allegoric answer, then, is that there needs to be spiritual content (water) inside the emotion (water flask) to gain anything beyond failure (thirst). Therefore, in our verse, the Jews had both emotions – happiness from the prearranged success, and joy from the unexpected success.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why the great mitzvah of teshuva (“repentance”) seems missing in this list of mitzvos the Jews are performing. After all, the Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that Achashverosh giving his signet ring to Haman created the greatest wave of teshuva in history. He answers that exactly these mitzvos are actual teshuva! Sitting around feeling sorry is not genuine repentance; improving our performance of H-Shem’s service is how we return to Him.
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Esther 8:13, Question 2. Why does atidim (“ready”) have a Masoretically different read (kri) than written (ksiv) version?

  • According to R’ Dovid Feinstein, the word for “ready” as written (atudim) with a vuv implies permanence, in a state of remaining. In other words, the Jews should remain ready for future events. He quotes the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) about the Jews being miraculously coerced by H-Shem into accepting the Torah at Sinai under a threat of annihilation. In contrast, the Jews re-accepted the Torah at the end of Megillas Esther (Esther 9:27) under no such threatening pressure, and under not such obvious miracles.
  • Ginzei HaMelech writes that this could also be an allusion to the continuing future battle of the Jewish people against Amalek. He quotes the words of the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 2:18) that all of the works of TaNaCh will no longer be needed once Moshiach comes. The exception to this is Megillas Esther. The Ginzei HaMelech explains that the war against Amalek mentioned in the Purim story will still be relevant after Moshiach. It is a day for which the Jews should continually be prepared.

Esther 8:11, Question 3. What does the word es add to the command?

  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the word es implies that the Jews were allowed to annihilate these enemies, despite the fact that Amalek is the only nation we are allowed to annihilate. This es includes nations not of Amalek involved in the attempted annihilation of the Persian Jews.

  • The Ginzei HaMelech continues by questioning how we can annihilate another nation. He quotes the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 5:4-5) who points out that the Assyrian king, Sancherev, mixed the nations that he conquered, and we no longer know the actual national pedigree of any people. He answers by quoting his friend, R’ Akiva Stolper that this permission includes any nation that exhibits the characteristics of Amalek. He proves this with a story of R’ Chaim of Volozhin, who once visited St. Petersburg. He saw a little boy there named Nikolai, about whom he confessed to his companion, “he worries me. He is Amalek.” That boy grew up to be the raging Jew hater, Czar Nikolai. Nikolai’s pedigree to the Russian royal throne was unquestionable, so the only way for him to be Amalek is in his personality.

  • Here, too, these people had the characteristics of Amalek. Despite the obvious fact that the Jews were ascending, these people were still planning an attack! Only Amalek would do something like that, as they did when they attacked the victorious Jews leaving Mitzrayim (Shemos 17:8) so many years before. The Midrash (Tanchuma, Ki Teitzei 9) compares Amalek to a person who knowingly scalds oneself by jumping into a boiling hot pool in order to convince others to do it, too.

     

Esther 8:8, Question 5. Why is Achashverosh concerned about annulling the decree?

  • According to Megillas Sesarim, Achashverosh is concerned that annulling the decree would lead his people to say that not only is the king fickle, but he is also playing favorites. Historically, nepotism has been a legitimate cause for rebellion. Many wars have begun over the choosing of an undeserving successor.
  • R’ Avigdor Bonchek writes that Achashverosh is afraid to annul the decree because he is overcompensating for his own fickleness.
  • In accordance with the previously mentioned opinion of the Rema (see #458 above), there are things stamped with the seal of the King that cannot be changed. There are sins for which teshuva (“repentance”) can gain atonement, but will still not be taken back, like chillul H-Shem (“debasement of H-Shem’s Name”). The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 1:4) writes that such a sin can only be overwritten by a diametrical act of Kiddush H-Shem (“sanctification of H-Shem’s Name”).

Esther 8:5, Question 1. Why does Esther use so many conditions?

ה וַתֹּאמֶר אִםעַלהַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב וְאִםמָצָאתִי חֵן לְפָנָיו וְכָשֵׁר הַדָּבָר לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְטוֹבָה אֲנִי בְּעֵינָיו יִכָּתֵב לְהָשִׁיב אֶתהַסְּפָרִים מַֽחֲשֶׁבֶת הָמָן בֶּן הַמְּדָתָא הָאֲגָגִי אֲשֶׁר כָּתַב לְאַבֵּד אֶתהַיְּהוּדִים אֲשֶׁר בְּכָלמְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ

5. And she said, “If it is good for the king, and if I found favor before him, and the thing is proper before the king, and I am good in your eyes, have written to return the writings thought up by Haman son of Hemdasa the Aggagite that he wrote to destroy the Yehudim who are in all of the states of the king.

  • It is important to recall that Esther’s attempt to convince Achashverosh to rescind the decree is expected to be an uphill battle. After all, It is a decree with which he agrees, and the Talmud (Megillah 14a) considers that, like a landowner with too much dirt, he would have actually instigated the genocide of all the Jews himself had it not been for Haman approaching him first.
  • The Vilna Gaon sees in Esther’s use of this many conditions three major methods to motivate somebody: the message must be pleasing to the hearer, the speaker must be likable, and the idea itself must be sensible.
  • He continues that, including the fourth condition in the next verse (Esther 8:6), these four qualifiers relate to the four letters of H-Shem’s Name. In addition to this, the verse also uses the word melech (“king”) twice, indicating that Esther was pleading before the earthly king and Heavenly King simultaneously.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that there are four conditions to change Achashverosh’s perspective because four is the number for changing something. This is why the Torah has four levels: pshat (“simple”), remez (“allusion”), drash (“homelies”), sod (“secret”). The Torah itself was received in 40 (4×10) days. Similarly, Noach’s Flood lasted 40 days. Also, the Jews required 40 years in the desert to be prepared to enter Eretz Yisroel. To be defined as sinful, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:5) writes that a congregation has to sin four times. Furthermore, a human fetus requires 40 days to develop to the point of having a gender, among other things. All of these are acts of change and development.

Esther 7:10, Question 2. Why does the verse emphasize that Haman prepared the gallows on which he dies?

  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, the verse emphasizes that Haman prepared the gallows on which he dies because if the wood of the gallows was made from the beams of the Beis HaMikdash, and the Halacha as brought down by the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shegagos 9:1) would not allow Mordechai to make use of it. However, since the wood of this beam has already been used by Haman, this removed its sanctity, making it usable to kill him.
  • According to the Ora V’Simcha the gematria of ha’eitz (“the tree”) (5+70+90=165) is the same as Haman (5+40+50=95) + 70. Seventy are the number of days Haman was in power. According to the Chida, seventy is also the number of verses between Haman’s rise to power (Esther 3:1) until his downfall (Esther 7:10). Finally, seventy is also the gematria of yayin (“wine”) (10+10+50=70). The very wine with which Haman intended to seduce the Jews of Persia to sap them of their spiritual power is what led to his undoing. This may be yet another reason for the Talmudic custom (Megillah 7b) to drink an unusually large amount of wine on Purim.
  • R’ Yechezkiel Levenstein writes that many people recognize that their suffering comes from their own sins, but they do not realize that the sin, itself, creates the punishment.

Esther 7:7, Question 3. Why does Haman approach Esther?

  • According to Megillas Sefer, Haman was saying to Esther that if she forgives him, Achashverosh will, too.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Haman tried to tell Esther that he didn’t know that the Jews were her people.
  • The Meshech Chochmo writes that Haman realized that the invitations came from Esther, so she is the one with the most power.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Haman tried to convince Esther that he put her in this position of power by getting rid of Vashti, so she owed him a favor. The Malbim posits that perhaps Haman would not have approached her under any normal conditions, but she was the only one left, so he tried his alternative (Plan B) excuses on her. Seeing that she is a woman, and particularly a Jewish woman, he was hoping she would show Haman mercy.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Esther fought the urge to be merciful, unlike Shaul with Agag. She accomplished this by having been exposed to Haman. In this way, she emotionally hated what she was intellectually commanded to hate. Similarly, first the verse (Devarim 25:17) commands us to remember Amalek, and only then (Devarim 25:19) to destroy it. First, one is required to have the emotion, and then to perform the act.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that, on a spiritual level, this act of Esther’s was a tikkun (“repair”) for Shaul’s error of allowing Agag to live. The Zer Zahav adds that Haman’s begging was a great test for Esther’s sense of improperly placed mercy. After all, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 2:1) writes that the ideal way to demonstrate complete repentance is to be faced with the same challenge, and to nevertheless overcome it, and this was almost a direct parallel to the story of Shaul and Agag.