- The Talmud (Megillah 5b) explains each of the different expressions for this holiday to mean a different method for celebrating the day. Simcha (“joy”) is interpreted as not giving eulogies (in the event of a death); v’mishteh (“and feasting”) is interpreted as prohibiting fasting; and v’yom tov (“and the holiday”) is interpreted as prohibiting work on Purim. Later, the Talmud (Megillah 7a) interprets the phrase mishloach manos (“sending gifts”) as the requirement to send through a messenger at least two kinds of food to at least one friend.
- The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 2:15) writes that even two poor people are required to send another poor person some food to fulfill their obligations.
- The Trumas HaDeshen writes that the exchange of food is intended to make sure everyone has enough for the feast.
- M’nos HaLevi writes that we send gifts to promote friendship because achdus (“unity”) rescued the Jews.
- The Midrash HaGadol on Devarim points out that this demonstrates the greatness of chesed because we were rescued because of it.
- Ginzei HaMelech writes that we use a messenger because this shows achdus (“unity”) in requiring another person to get involved in this mitzva. Similarly, he points out, this is why Megillas Esther always uses Yehudim for Jews, since the root of that word is echad, one. Furthermore, the giving of gifts through messengers acts as an additional tikkun for Yaakov’s giving gifts (Bireishis 32:14-17) to Eisav, the ancestor of Amalek, through messengers.
- The Vilna Gaon and Midrash Shmuel note that the Jews’ celebrating in this way parallels the three parts of Haman’s plan (Esther 3:13); the joy serves to counteract Haman’s plan to destroy the Jews, the feasting serves to counteract Haman’s plan to kill the Jews, and the Yom Tov serves to counteract Haman’s plan to annihilate the Jews.
- The Vilna Gaon writes that, eventually, Purim was not accepted as a full Yom Tov because that would keep people from performing the other mitzvos of Purim.
- In his introduction to Yosef Lekach, Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi notes that a significant difference between Chanukah and Purim is that one is not required to celebrate Chanukah with a feast, per se. Since there were Jews still perishing in battle on Chanukah, we cannot institute a national feast. On Purim, however, the celebration requires both feasting and joy because not one single Jew died.
- According to the Ben Ish Chai, we need both actions to celebrate both the spiritual renewal, and the physical safety.
- The Sfas Emes emphasizes this by noting that, grammatically, the verse uses the word v’aso (“and he made”), implying that H-Shem made this into a day of joy and celebration.
- R’ Yitzchak Hutner notes that any holiday from the Written Torah requires a degree of joy, as the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yom Tov 6:18) makes clear. The holidays from the Oral Torah require drinking. Since this holiday contains aspects of both the Written and Oral Torahs, Purim requires both joy and feasting.
טו וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ הַיְּהוּדִיים [הַיְּהוּדִים] אֲשֶׁר–בְּשׁוּשָׁן גַּם בְּיוֹם אַרְבָּעָה עָשָׂר לְחֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר וַיַּהַרְגוּ בְשׁוּשָׁן שְׁלשׁ מֵאוֹת אִישׁ וּבַבִּזּה לֹא שָׁלְחוּ אֶת–יָדָם
15. And the Yehudim who were in Shushan gathered also on the fourteenth of the month of Adar. And they killed in Shushan three hundred man. And in their spoils they did not send their hands.
- The Targum Sheini indicates that the three hundred mentioned in this verse were all leaders among Amalek. It continues that Zeresh ran away (see # 521 above) together with 70 remaining sons of Haman, Shimshi was killed in battle, and Haman’s other sons were among the 300 killed. The point is that nobody left alive could positively be traced to Haman’s family. He was wiped out mida kineged mida, as he had planned to do to the Jews.
- Maamar Mordechai writes that these 300 came to fight in order to avenge the death of Haman, their former leader.
- On the other hand, Yad HaMelech explains that fewer people were killed because they were afraid of the Jews’ military prowess.
- The Ginzei HaMelech notes that the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 1:5) states that Shushan Purim is fully celebrated as Purim on the fifteenth of Adar in cities that were walled from the days of Yehoshua. The Ginzei HaMelech explains that this is the reference point because in the days of Yehoshua (Yehoshua 11:20), too, H-Shem instilled a false sense of confidence into the minds of the Jews’ enemies. Similarly, these 300 enemies illogically felt emboldened to do battle against the Jews despite the obvious fallacy of their imagined success. The prophet (Yechezkiel 39:2-3) promises that a similar incident will happen in the time of Moshiach, bimheira biyameinu.
- Bireishis Rabbasi (Bireishis 45:22) notes that these 300 enemies were killed in the merit of the 300 silver coins Yosef gave Binyamin.
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Megillah 2:5) uses this verse to prove that one can only fulfill one’s obligation on Purim of reading Megillas Esther in daytime after sunrise. Later, the Yerushalmi (Megillah 2:6) also uses this verse to prove that one fulfills one’s obligation to read the Megillas Esther until the end of the day since the entire day of Purim is permissible for fulfillment of this mitzvah.
R’ Yitzchak Hutner notes that this verse is emphasizing that this day will be great with Purim, and will remain great even after the coming of Moshiach. After all, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Megillah 2:18) writes that when Moshiach comes (quickly, in our day), all other holidays will be annulled from irrelevance; Purim, however, will remain because it is always relevant.
- 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.
- 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.
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.