Esther 3:8, Question 6. Why does Haman stress that the Jews do not follow the laws of the king?

  • It is clear throughout Haman’s diatribe that he is attempting to malign the Jews for their lack of respect for the gentile king’s laws vis-a-vis their own laws. As Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 423) writes, “by refusing to submit every aspect of its life to the laws of the king […] this nation, of course, demonstrates that there is indeed one area that cannot be touched by the laws of the state […and] if need be, will openly resist the king’s power […] This nation proclaims the truth that there is one power before which even a king’s majesty fades away.”
  • Although that is certainly one aspect of Haman’s claim, the very opposite can be simultaneously true, as well. In other words, as Rav Asher of Rofshutz explains, Haman was making the claim that the Jews were weak in their performance of the laws of – not the earthly king, but – the King in Heaven. In this, Haman is correct. After all, it was the Jews’ weakened observance that led to the threat on their very survival.
  • In Kol Sason, the author writes that the Jewish people always had two things protecting then – Torah and unity. Haman’s attack emphasizes that we had neither of these two. In a sense, all of the mitzvot of Purim – reading the Megillah, handing out gifts to the poor and our friends, etc. – are all about increasing Torah and unity.
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Esther 3:8, Question 5. Why does Haman stress that Jewish laws are different from the laws of others?

  • Many cultures in large nations like Achashverosh’s would have their own unique set of rules, customs, and even mores. Here, Haman is stressing that Jewish laws not only different, but even antagonistic to the laws of the land. According to the Talmud (Megillah 13b), Haman is complaining that the Jews “won’t eat our food, won’t marry from us, won’t marry to us.” Haman even uses his knowledge of Jewish law to defame Judaism. He tells the king that if a fly were to touch a Jew’s cup, he would remove it and continue drinking. However, if the king were to touch a Jew’s cup, the Jew would throw the wine away. Alluding to the law of yayin nesech (see Talmud, Avodah Zarah 30a), Haman is telling the king that the Jews view the Persians as unclean (see the Targum Sheini).
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman is saying the Jews view their own laws as superior, and therefore even trumping, the king’s gentile law. On one hand, he is right. Although the Talmud in numerous places (Gittin 10b, Baba Kama 113a, Baba Basra 54b, Nedarim 28a) notes a concept called “dina d’malchusa dina” (“the law of the kingdom is the law”) which means is that Jews are expected to follow the laws of the lands in which we find ourselves, this is only true as long as those laws do not directly contradict Jewish law.
  • On the other hand, as Megillas Sefer learns, Haman is saying that the Jews even go to the extreme measure of mutilating their sons (through circumcision) to avoid intermarrying with the gentiles around us. Poor, little innocent children are cut for their parents’ religious fanaticism. Interestingly, had it not been a command, its cruelty would make it abhorrent. Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 385) writes, “In exile, in disrepute, tiny to behold, yet always conspicuous, it is a nation which calls attention to itself, prods others into action and yet, despite its dispersal, manages to preserve its unique heritage and even to transmit it from one generation to the other.”
  • The Targum Sheini writes that Haman’s criticism of the Jews here was that the Jews “have warm water in winter and cold water in summer.” The Ben Ish Chai explains that Haman is saying the Jews focus on physical pleasure. He also says notes that the Jews manipulate their own calendars from twenty-nine to thirty days, depending on when they want Rosh Chodesh to fall out. In Haman’s estimation, these designations are arbitrary and to the Jews’ own benefit.

Esther 3:8, Question 3. Why does Haman emphasize that the Jews are “one nation?”

  • Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Horowitz writes that, on the simple level, it is easy to see that Haman, being the constantly conniving, calculating political creature he is, Haman intentionally does not want to specify which nation he intends to destroy because he is concerned that the king or new queen might harbor positive feelings for the Jews. After all, it is poor form to suggest the destruction of a nation for whom the king has a positive bias.
  • The Ginzei Melech writes that Haman is asserting that the Jews consider themselves an “am echad” (“one nation”) – a united front – even against those greater than them. In other words, the Jews as a unit disrespected Mordechai in attending Achashverosh’s party. Thereby, they weakened Mordechai’s ability to influence them, and therefore put themselves at risk. In Haman’s estimation, this is a weakness he can exploit to the Jews’ detriment. This feeling that all Jews are equal goes along well with the famous exchange between President Harry Truman and the first president of the State of Israel, Chaim Weizmann. When Truman complained that he was “the President of so many millions of Americans,” Weizmann replied that his own job was harder since he was “the President of a million presidents!” As a people, Jews can be hard to lead since they consider themselves united, even against authority.
  • Of course, everything Haman said in the negative about the Jews has a positive side he is intentionally ignoring. After all, as Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch writes (Collected Writings, Volume II, 385-6) “The Jewish nation, however [in contrast to other nations (see Koheles 5:8)], exiled throughout the world, uniquely maintains its identity, remains a stranger among the nations and is unable to be fully absorbed.” Being an “am echad,” the Jews retain their individual nationality, allowing them to better influence the world.

Esther 3:8, Question 2. Why does Haman use “yeshno” instead of the more common “yesh” for “there is?”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 13b) and the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:12) both interpret “yeshno” (“there is”) as rooted in the Hebrew “yashan,” (“sleep”). According to the Talmud, Haman was maligning the Jews to Achashverosh by claiming their sleeping, or spiritual lethargy in performing the mitzvos that the king otherwise feared would protect them.
  • The Midrash there, likewise, interprets this word as a means for Haman to allay the fears of the rightfully nervous king by claiming that H-Shem, Himself was sleeping, or not concerned about the goings-on in the world. In the Midrash, H-Shem responds by quoting Tehillim (121:4) that “the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.”
  • In Ohr Gedalyahu, Rav Gedalya Schorr cites Nefesh HaChaim that these two opinions are not necessarily contradictory, for when the Jews act toward H-Shem with indifference, mida kineged mida (measure for measure), H-Shem will look upon them with indifference, as well.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that the reason Haman thought that H-Shem was “sleeping” was because the Jewish people were too focused on their “yesh” (“there is”), their possessions, the physical. The more the Jews focus on yesh (the physical), the more they will be yeshno (spiritually sleeping). As the Ohr Gedalyahu puts it, Jews are sleeping when they perform mitzvos without care. This is often a consequence of thinking that abandoning Jewish observance will cause the gentiles around us to behavior towards us in a a more favorable fashion. On the contrary, Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 366) writes that it is a “self-deception for us to imagine that we could buy the friendship of the peoples and permanently assure it to ourselves by discarding this Jewish distinctiveness.”
  • The Torah Ohr points out from the Talmud (Baba Basra 16a) that the Yetzer HaRah (Evil Inclination) is the Satan (Heavenly Accuser), and that is the Angel of Death. What this means is that the very thing in our lives that seduces us to sin is also our judge and executioner. Haman acts the very same way; Haman is the seducer in setting up the feast where they Jews sinned, Haman is the judge who decided the Jews deserve death, and he wishes to be the one who does the actual killing. Certainly, being seduced by the Evil Inclination is not an excuse for misbehavior. On the contrary, H-Shem gives us all precisely the very tools – whether psychological, spiritual, physical, or otherwise – needed to successfully combat the exact temptations we experience (Nesivos Olam).

Esther 1:6, Question 4. Why is gold mentioned before silver?

Again (as we said before on Dec. 30, ’11) propriety would expect the more distinguished item to be listed last. According to the Sfas Emes, gold is mentioned before silver to imply that the legs were golden since (according to the Maharal in Ohr Chadash) gold is stronger than silver1, and would thus provide stronger support for such a heavy piece of furniture.

1 This is a matter of gemological debate according to class participant RhS. One way gold is stronger than silver is in its symbolic nature. According to Rav Hirsch in his essay, “Jewish Symbolism” (pg. 171), gold is always strong in TaNaCH, whereas silver is sometimes described as “worthless” or “drossy.”