Esther 9:20, Question 2. Why does the verse specify that the books are sent near and far?

  • In his introductory comments on the Talmudic tractate Megillah, the Ramban explains that the idea behind sending the books near and far means that they were sent through the entire expanse – from Hodu to Cush (Esther 1:1) – of Achashverosh’s kingdom.
  • Me’am Loez suggests that they were even sent to other countries.
  • The Dena Pishra explains that since Mordechai’s goal was to create a feeling of achdus (“unity”), he even wanted to reach those Jews whose lack of faith and subsequent fear motivated them to flea battle.
  • Rav Schwab, however, understands “close” as those Jews who were living in Shushan and celebrating on the 14th of Adar, whereas “far” refers to those Jews who returned to Eretz Yisroel and celebrated Shushan Purim on the 15th of Adar in the only place where one must certainly do so – the holy city of Yerushalayim.
  • The Sha’ar Yissachar writes that the books were sent near and far so no Jew could ever devise the excuse that they are too far from holiness. Rather, the near and far have equal access to the holiness that emanates from Purim.
  • Keser Shem Tov quotes that Talmudic (Megillah 17a) rule that Megillas Esther on Purim must be read as written, and not backwards. The Keser Shem Tov then wonders why anybody would think to read it backwards. He posits that the Talmud means that nobody should ever consider the Purim story as some ancient, historic event without real relevance to our lives.
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Esther 8:8, Question 1. Why does Achashverosh say they could write what “is good in [their] eyes”?

ח וְאַתֶּם כִּתְבוּ עַלהַיְּהוּדִים כַּטּוֹב בְּעֵינֵיכֶם בְּשֵׁם הַמֶּלֶךְ וְחִתְמוּ בְּטַבַּעַת הַמֶּלֶךְ כִּֽיכְתָב אֲשֶׁרנִכְתָּב בְּשֵׁםהַמֶּלֶךְ וְנַחְתּוֹם בְּטַבַּעַת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֵין לְהָשִׁיב

8. “And you write about the Yehudim as is good in your eyes in the name of the king and seal what is written with the ring of the king because what is written in the name of the king and sealed with the ring of the king cannot be returned.”

  • M’nos HaLevi interprets Achashverosh’s words as explicit permission for Mordechai and Esther to could write whatever they wanted since the leaders would ignore the first decree due to Haman’s being hanged and Mordechai’s being promoted. At the very least, they would be confused and will do nothing – for or against the Jews – hedging their bets.
  • Interestingly, Ramban, in his Torah commentary (on Bireishis 41:42), uses this verse as proof that the king gifting someone a ring is the same as giving one’s personalized signet, or power of attorney.

Esther 7:6, Question 2. Why does Esther use these three descriptions for Haman?

  • In the Rashbam’s commentary on the Torah (Bireishis 24:65), he writes that a grammatical rule, the word hazeh (“this”) refers to a close object, whereas the word halazeh (“ this”) refers to an object that is far. Already in this word, Esther means that the person responsible is someone close-by.
  • Similarly, the Malbim distinguishes between the two words for enemy – tzar and oyev. According to him, based on a verse in the Torah (Bamidbar 10:9) a tzar is someone who has already done harm. Based on a different verse (Devarim 21:10), an oyev is someone who wants to do harm. Both definitions fit Haman. Accordingly, Esther is answering both of Achashverosh’s questions, the first of which was who did this. Her answer: the wicked Haman. In answering his second question of the motive, Esther responds that it is an adversary and an enemy.
  • Interestingly, she answers the second question first, and then the first question, as Rabbeinu Yonah in his commentary Mishnah (Avos 5:9) recommends for wise people to do when appropriate. Similarly, the Talmud often (see Brachos 2a) comments on the latter point of a Mishnah before commenting on the former.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein and R’ Gallico write that Esther was saying that Haman is evil and dangerous for all – not just for the Jews. This is based on the Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4), which quotes a verse (Devarim 33:27) that says H-Shem will push away all of our enemies. Regarding Haman, he is an enemy below as well as above; he terrorized our forefathers and he wants to terrorize our children; he is an enemy to me, and he is an enemy to you.
  • Similarly, Midreshai Torah write that Haman hates Achashverosh as much as he hates the Jews.
  • According to R’ Chadida, Esther is saying that Haman hates Jews for historical reasons, and therefore involving Achashverosh and his kingdom unnecessarily into an ancient feud. (Today also, many international leaders and their nations stumble into the Middle East quagmire without a thorough knowledge of the historic animosities and loyalties that are endemic to that region.)
  • The Alshich writes that Esther is saying that Haman is hated below and an enemy above.
  • The Targum translates this verse as: Haman wanted to kill you last night. After failing, he suggested wearing your clothes, and even the royal crown. H-Shem made it work out that Mordechai, a Jew garnered these honors, and now Haman wants the person who saved and represents you dead. As Yossipon points out, it is Mordechai who is looking out for conspiracies and plots against you.
  • The Lekach Tov writes that Haman is called by three descriptors because he had three intentions quoted by the verse (Esther 3:13) to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate the Jews.
  • Asking why the verse uses the word hazeh (“this”), the Ben Ish Chai explains that since all people have good in them, only the evil part of Haman should be hated. He quotes the AriZal’s (Shaar HaKavanos) interpretation of the Talmudic (Megillah 7a) practice of ad d’lo yada as advising us to only bless Haman when we are drunk. This means that inside our klipa (“shell”) we all hold great potential. After all, from Haman emerged his grandson, R’ Shmuel ben Shailot. That is the good trapped within him. The Talmud (Gittin 57b) famously says Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah. Although it says in Tehillim (97:10) to hate evil people, it means that we should only hate the evil part within those people. To see how far this goes, the verse that tells us to kill out Amalek (Shemos 17:14) tells us to destroy the remembrance of Amalek, since there is some good hidden deep within them.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a), also seemingly bothered by the amount of descriptions Esther uses for Haman, writes that Esther was actually going to point to Achashverosh, but an angel pointed her finger toward Haman.
  • R’ Meir Shapiro explains that the word hu means something outward, whereas zeh means something hidden. Here, Haman is the obvious, explicit enemy. Like any deft politician, Achashverosh can claim deniability, and wash his hands of the entire plan. The Talmud is saying that Esther is hinting to Achashverosh that she considers him equally guilty of the planned annihilation of the Jews.
  • On the other hand, R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Esther was literally going to point to Achashverosh because she was upset with Achashverosh for claiming ignorance.
  • The Vilna Gaon explains that, like a Freudian slip, Esther pointed at Achashverosh at this point because it is the nature of people to say X if they are thinking of X, even when they consciously want to say Y. Since the righteous are constantly thinking of H-Shem, so Esther is pointing to the King.
  • The Chazon Ish asks why, at this critically sensitive time for the Jews, would Esther endanger their lives? He explains that she had inculcated the characteristic of emes (“truth”) to such a degree that she found it impossible to lie, implying that Achashverosh was innocent. H-Shem had to send an angel to save the day.
  • Similarly, the Ohel Moshe quotes R’ Puvarsky (Mussar V’Daas) that Esther’s body could only tell the truth. We have the power to train your body to copy your soul, as it says in Tehillim (63:2), “my soul thirsts for You, my flesh longs for You.” We have the ability to train our flesh to want what the soul wants, as it says in the Mishnah (Avos 2:4). Similarly, Chovos HaLevavos writes that introspection will benefit you in both worlds, as it says in Tehillim (119:59) “I consider my ways, and I turn my feet to Your testimonies.” That is the foundation of mussar philosophy, that the goal of self-improvement.
  • The Maharal points out that Esther would be lying saying that this was entirely Haman’s doing, since Haman could do nothing without Achashverosh. The verse in Tehillim (101:7) says, “He who performs deceit shall not dwell in My house.” A lie cannot save the Jewish people since geulah (“redemption”) cannot result from falsehood.
  • R’ Hanoch Leibowitz answers the question somewhat differently. He explains that Esther, having been forcibly taken to be his wife for twelve long years, subconsciously hated Achashverosh. She therefore pointed at him, though he was not entirely responsible for decree. Even great ones err when affected by their subconscious desires. If such a one as Esther can fall prey to such desires, all people must plan out their actions before doing anything, and then think back and investigate the motivations and results of all behaviors.
  • R’ Eliyahu Lopian says that the angel saved Esther because no harm can come to one who is performing His Will, like speaking the truth.
  • The Torah in Bamidbar (33:55) commands the Jews entering the land of Canaan that they must drive out all bad influences from there, or else the remainders would be “thorns in your eyes, and pricks in your sides” which Ramban interprets as spiritual blindness and physical harassment. Perhaps this verse can also refer to Haman, who forced everyone to bow to his idol, and he tried to physically annihilate the Jews.
  • Also interestingly, the gematria of tzar (90+200=290) (“adversary”) is the same as the word pri (80+200+10=290) (“fruit”), whereas the ­gematria of oyev (1+6+10+2=19) (“enemy”) is the same as the name Chava (8+6+5=19). Perhaps this hints to the Talmudic dictum (Chullin 139b) that the verse about the tree in Gan Eden (Bireishis 3:11) alludes to Haman.

Esther 7:4, Question 1. Why would Esther have remained silent had the Jews been sold into slavery?

ד כִּי נִמְכַּרְנוּ אֲנִי וְעַמִּי לְהַשְׁמִיד לַהֲרוֹג וּלְאַבֵּד וְאִלּוּ לַעֲבָדִים וְלִשְׁפָחוֹת נִמְכַּרְנוּ הֶחֱרַשְׁתִּי כִּי אֵין הַצָּר שׁוֶֹה בְּנֵזֶק הַמֶּלֶךְ

4. “Because I and my nation have been sold to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. And even if we were to have been sold to be slaves and maidservants, I would have been silent because the enemy is not equal to the king’s damage.”

  • The Ramban (on Bireishis 17:18) writes that the Hebrew word eelu is actually a combination of two words, eem (if) and lu (if), literally “if if,” a poetic manner of saying “if only.”
  • According to the Vilna Gaon, Esther is saying that she would have stayed silent if the Jews were been sold into slavery since slavery was then a legitimate, legal form of acquisition. After all, the decree to kill the Jews involved the transfer of money (Esther 3:9).
  • The Malbim explains that Esther is telling Achashverosh that Haman lied to him. Haman had told the king he wanted to kill out an unspecified “certain people,” (Esther 3:8) implying that this was a weak, unimportant group. Also, as the Malbim pointed out on there (see #209 above), Achashverosh did not know about the extermination, and thought Haman’s plan was to enslave the Jews. However, Esther was saying, Haman misled Achashverosh. Had it been merely their enslavement, Esther would remain silent but killing out an entire group of his people would ruin his historic legacy. Therefore, keeping Haman alive anymore would run the risk of destroying his reputation.
  • The Ben Ish Chai explains that Esther was noting that slavery happens, and it requires the transfer of moneys. However, she was asking, if Haman wanted to kill out the Jews, why was there a financial transaction? If they deserve death, there would not need to be an exchange of money, so his intent is suspect.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes about a concept in Choshen Mishpat known as ona’a, or deceit. The rule is that one may not sell an object for more than 1/6 more profit than the cost of the item. However, the Talmud (Bava Metzia 56b) writes that such a concept does not apply to the sale of slaves. Here, Esther is saying that Haman’s overcharging made this slave sale illegitimate, and therefore she had a right to protest.
  • The Ben Ish Chai quotes Rav Tzemach who writes that Achashverosh accepted the deal with Haman by telling him to do what was “hatov b’einecha” (Esther 3:11) (“good in your eyes”), or whatever you want. This phrase can also mean that whatever you do them, you must do to yourself. Therefore, if Haman’s intent was slavery, then Esther would have remained quiet seeing as Haman was already a slave. However, death is something Haman would not want. This deceptiveness was causing her to speak now to avoid the planned annihilation from hurting Achashverosh on both fronts.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes Rabbeinu Shlomo, the brother of the Vilna Gaon in explaining the verse (Ezra 9:9) “kee avadim anachnu” (“for we are slaves”). He writes that when Jews are in exile, we are like slaves in that we have fewer mitzvos. Esther is conceding that we are somewhat denigrated to the level of slaves, but annihilation is not a part of that differentiation.
  • Also, R’ Dovid Feinstein quotes the verse in Moshe’s warning to the Jews of what would occur to them if they ignore H-Shem (Devarim 28:68) that the Jews will become so low, that they would not even be valuable enough to be sold as slaves. The next step after that is either destruction or redemption. Esther didn’t say that to Achashverosh because he wouldn’t mind destroying the Jews.
  • Basing himself on the same verse, the Rokeach says that our slavery is in Torah, so Esther would have to accept it. However, actual annihilation is against the Torah’s promise (Vayikra 26:45), so Esther cannot remain mute.
  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 7:25), the threat to Jewish existence in Persia was a result of the sons of Yaakov attempting to sell their Yosef into slavery (Bireishis 37:28). Shar Bas Rabim explains that since H-Shem operates mida kineged mida (“measure for measure”), Esther was saying here that slavery was a fair punishment, but not death.
  • R’ Shmuel Aharon Rubin, father of the author of Talilei Oros, during the sale of Yosef, he was saved by Yehudah (Bireishis 37:26). This, he explains, is the reason why the verse that introduces Mordechai (Esther 2:5) uniquely mentions his mother’s lineage from Yehudah.
  • Perhaps it is noteworthy that Mordechai’s lineage is also from Binyamin, the only other brother not responsible for Yosef’s sale.

Esther 6:11, Question 1. Why does the verse repeat the details of Haman’s actions?

יא וַיִּקַּח הָמָן אֶתהַלְּבוּשׁ וְאֶתהַסּוּס וַיַּלְבֵּשׁ אֶתמָרְדֳּכָי וַיַּרְכִּיבֵהוּ בִּרְחוֹב הָעִיר וַיִּקְרָא לְפָנָיו כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ

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.

Esther 5:10, Question 2. Why does Haman restrain himself?

  • As Rashi said above, Haman’s motivation was fear of retribution without the king’s explicit permission.
  • The reason for this is, ironically, his own participation in creating a law that women have to listen to their husbands (Esther 1:22). As the Malbim wrote there, the necessity to sign such a truism into law put into question any other otherwise immutable ideas. Even a minister being disrespected did not act without the king’s command.
  • According to Rebbetzin Heller, the reason Haman restrains himself is that a good retaliation requires careful planning.
  • The Baal HaTurim (on Bireishis 43:31) points out that the word vayisapek (“and he restrained himself”) is used only twice in TaNaCh. The first is where Yosef restrains himself from revealing himself to his brothers. Just as in the Yosef story, the predicament was precarious but ended positively, so too in this story, self-restraint leads to national joy for the Jews. The Ramban’s definition (on Vayikra 19:2) of becoming holy is to restrain oneself and not to over-indulge.

Esther 2:16, Question 3. Why does the verse mention both the number and name of the month?

  • The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 7a) uses this verse to suggest we usually count the years from Rosh HaShanah every Tishrei, but we count the individual months from Nissan. The names of the months we use are not even Jewish in origin (Yerushalmi, Rosh HaShanah 1:2), so why do we use them? By mentioning the names, Ramban writes (on Shemos 12:2) we remind ourselves that we are in exile, still awaiting Mashiach, speedily in our day.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 13a) says that Achashverosh and Esther met in this month because Teves is a naturally colder month, and the warmth of bodies would be more enjoyable. This way, Achashverosh would be naturally predisposed to like Esther more than the other women. In this seemingly “natural” manner, H-Shem works His miracles.