Rashi translates the unusual verb misyahadim as “converted.” Seemingly, because of their fear of Jewish reprisal, many gentiles converted to Judaism.
Agaddas Bireishis (15) explains that non-Jews always want to convert to Judaism whenever the Jews are fulfilling their responsibilities to H-Shem.
The Alshich points out that this shows a sharp contrast between the Jews and gentiles. When faced with annihilation, the Jews strengthened their faith with teshuva (“repentance”), whereas the gentiles abandoned the empty faiths of their powerless gods.
The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why this contrast occurred at this point, and not in Moshe’s time. In other words, one would expect a lot more converts during the Jews’ exodus and miraculous stay in the desert. He answers that there were so few converts in Moshe’s time because the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) teaches that the Jews were coerced then to accept the Torah. One needs to feel inspired to inspire others, as the Jews felt at the end of the Purim story.
The Ralbag disagrees with Rashi’s translation, and suggests that they did not convert, but merely pretended to be Jews.
The Vilna Gaon explains that they did not really convert because they would have been motivated by fear.
After all, Meseches Geirim (1:7) writes that if a person’s motivation for conversion to Judaism is women, love, or fear, their act is not considered a real conversion.
Interestingly, according to R’ Moshe Dovid Valle, Mordechai accepted even the insincere converts, just as had Moshe when accepting the eruv rav, Egyptians who converted to Judaism insincerely when they saw that the Jews were successfully and miraculously leaving Egypt. According to him, their descendants caused problems during second Beis HaMikdash.
However, according to M’nos HaLevi, they were not accepted because the Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) writes that converts can be difficult to the Jews. He continues that these gentiles nevertheless dressed in Jewish clothing. The Sfas Emes notes that this is yet another source for the custom to masquerade on Purim.
In Likkutei Sichos, the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that “am ha’aretz” can represent the “basic, fundamental human.” In other words, basic human behavior like sleeping, eating, etc. are obviously applicable to both Jews and gentiles, alike. The actions are the same, but there are different attitudes. For instance, a Jew is required to eat with appreciation and with intent to have a closer bond with H-Shem, to sleep in order to better perform mitzvos the next day, etc. Therefore, even in base, human behaviors, these particular gentiles acted like Jews.
- In explaining how ora (“light”) represents Torah, the Ben Ish Chai writes that ora is written with a hey because it means ohr hey, or the light of H-Shem.
- Rav Tzaddok HaKohen writes that ora is written with a letter hey because the verse intends it to be feminine since the Torah being described here is specifically Torah she’bal peh (“the Oral Law”). As Rashi (on Mishlei 1:8) writes, the Torah she’bal peh is represented by the feminine. Rav Mordechai Gifter explains that this is because the rabbis know the natural foibles of their people in the same way that a mother considers the nature of her son.
- From the time the Jews ignored Mordechai (the leading rabbi of the generation) by attending Achashverosh’s party until they re-accepted the Oral Torah with the words (Esther 9:27) “kimu v’kiblu” (“they took and they accepted”), the Jews of that period were struggling with Torah she’bal peh, and its necessary rabbinic accompaniments.
- Similarly, the Midrash Yerushalmi interprets yikar as denoting the judges, who were also the rabbis.
- Midrash Chaseros v’Yitaros writes that sasson (“joy”) is spelled incomplete (without a vuv) because no joy can be complete until Moshiach comes and the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, bimheira biyameinu.
- R’ Chaim Kanievsky writes that it is written incompletely because circumcision, which this represents, has an element of pain. He notes that sasson is spelled completely in the next verse (Esther 8:17) because we should strive to add to the joy of Purim as though nothing is missing, as the Halacha (Biur Halacha 695, dh “ad d’lo yada”) states explicitly regarding the custom to become inebriated on Purim.
- 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.
יב בְּיוֹם אֶחָד בְּכָל–מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁה עָשָׂר לְחֹדֶשׁ שְׁנֵים–עָשָׂר הוּא–חֹדֶשׁ אֲדָר
12. “On one day in all the states of King Achashverosh, on the thirteenth of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.”
Rashi explains that the gentiles’ property was only included in the letter because the Jews’ property had been threatened in Haman’s original decree.
The Vilna Gaon writes that the Jews did not want to plunder, and it would have been enough for them to be out of this great danger, but Mordechai and Esther had to have parallel language to Haman’s decree (Esther 3:13).
The Maamar Mordechai points out that when a government kills someone, it seizes that person’s property; here, Achashverosh wanted to give it to the Jews.
Malbim notes that there was less time for looting to stress that the Jews were really focused on self-defense.
In Yosef Lekach’s opinion, Achashverosh gave permission to take spoils, but Mordechai limited the time in which it could be done to lessen the Jews’ ability to enjoy the plunder in order to avoid the same problem as occurred in the time of Shaul (Shmuel 1 15:9), when they did not completely wipe out the property of Amalek for the sake of their flocks.
R’ Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the Torah (Devarim 19:18) speaks of eidim zomemim, who are false witnesses proven to have not been in the location of the crime regarding which they are testifying. Their punishment is to receive the same consequences their testimony would have incurred on the person about whom they testified. Here, too, the enemies of the Jews – having testified falsely about the Jews – receive the consequences they wanted for us.
יא אֲשֶׁר נָתַן הַמֶּלֶךְ לַיְּהוּדִים ׀ אֲשֶׁר בְּכָל–עִיר–וָעִיר לְהִקָּהֵל וְלַעֲמֹד עַל–נַפְשָׁם לְהַשְׁמִיד וְלַהֲרֹג וּלְאַבֵּד אֶת–כָּל–חֵיל עַם וּמְדִינָה הַצָּרִים אֹתָם טַף וְנָשִׁים וּשְׁלָלָם לָבוֹז
11. “That the king gave to the Yehudim who were in each city and city to gather, and to stand on their souls, to annihilate, and to kill, and to destroy any army of the nation and state who antagonize them, infants, and women. And their property they should plunder.
According to Dena Pishra, the letters required the Jews to gather because Jewish unity is a powerful method of attaining H-Shem’s assistance.
The Sfas Emes adds that Jews have an aggregate soul, and our combined effort is especially needed when we are in danger.
Furthermore, the Ginzei HaMelech asks that if the word “unify” requires two or more people, and the word “stand” implies one [as one person stands for oneself], which is the letters’ intent? Based on Rashi’s comment on the Talmud (Shabbos 127b) that “stand” means to pray, he answers that the Talmud (Bava Kama 97a) promises a Jew that when one prays for another’s needs, one’s prayers are never rejected. The Talmud (Brachos 8a) says the same idea regarding communal prayer.
- The Vilna Gaon points out that Mordechai provided these animals to the couriers because he wanted them to hurry. This, despite the fact that they were exhausted from having just traversed the largest nation in the world to deliver Haman’s original decree. Seeing that they were tired, he gave them the fastest possible horses.
- The Malbim writes that Mordechai sent the messengers on horses in contrast with Haman. In explanation, R’ Chaim Kanievsky writes that Haman had plenty of time – he had eleven months. Mordechai is in a hurry to save lives.
- Interestingly, the Talmud (Megillah 18a) writes that the sages were unsure as to the translation of the couriers’ transportation.
- Rashi translates achashtirans as swift camels.
- The Ibn Ezra writes that these are a species of mule. After all, the verse says they are bred from ramachs, and the Mishnah (Kilayim 8:5) considers a ramach a mare, mother of a mule. Also, the Arabic word, ramach means mare.
- R’ Yosef Kimchi concurs and he adds that achash in Median means large and tiran (misrain) means two. Therefore, the combination of the two words means the mating of two large animals: the horse and the donkey.
- R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume IV, 286) translates rachash as a draft horse. Parenthetically, he adds that the symbolic meaning of these in TaNaCh indicates a reluctance to listening to one’s master.
- R’ Yehoshua Leib Diskin writes that these untranslatable words answer another question from the Talmud (Megillah 3b), which says one must interrupt Torah learning to hear the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim. This is also brought down as the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 687:2). The Halacha (Mishnah Berurah Orach Chaim 690:26) further states from this verse that one fulfills one’s obligation in Hebrew despite not knowing the meaning. But is not Megillas Esther also Torah?! Rav Diskin explains that it is not considered Torah study if one does not understand it. Understanding is an essential component of Torah study. Hearing the reading is still an obligation because persumei nisa (publicizing a miracle) is even greater than Torah study.
- Rashi explains that the verse uses the words kiksavam (“like their writing”) and chilshonam (“like their language”) to refer to the written letters and spoken sounds of the language, respectively. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 22a) deduces from this verse proof that neither the Hebrew script nor spoken language has ever changed.
- R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that one reason for this was for the illiterate Jews who may otherwise become incensed over the knowledge of the gentile decree, and might react violently. The idea was that the scholars who read the decree would be able to calm the restless rabble.
- Furthermore, as the Talmud (Shabbos 12b) teaches, angels only understand Hebrew.
- According to Rebbetzin Heller, keeping the language is an additional merit that helped rescue the Jews. As the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 32:5) teaches, even the Jews in Mitzrayim, although they maintained next to no Jewish observance, had the merit of retaining their language. This dedication to Jewish “culture” demonstrated the people’s desire to retain a bond with their Creator.
- The Yerushalmi (Megillah 2:1) learns from this verse that the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim must be read in Hebrew. This is brought down as the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 690:8-9).
- Class Participant BR suggested that the intent of this may have been to keep the secret messages and lessons of Megillas Esther hidden exclusively for the Jewish people.