5. And King Achashverosh said and he said to Esther the queen, “Who is he? And where is he who fills his heart to do like this?”
According to the Ibn Ezra, Achashverosh repeats himself due to agitation and excitement.
The Midrash Lekach Tov says there was an implied conversation here: Achashverosh asked his guards, “who did this?” The response was, “Haman.” Achashverosh responds with, “He couldn’t have…”
Similarly, the Alshich writes that Achashverosh spoke twice to ask whether Esther meant him or Haman, or whether she was accusing both of them.
The Vilna Gaon says that he spoke twice because he was speaking about the two different topics Esther brought up, he request and her plea. Regarding the former, he was asking who would kill Esther; regarding the latter, he was asking who would kill a nation.
The Talmud (Megillah 16a) explains that Achashverosh would previously usually speak to Esther through an interpreter. Now that she tells him that she is Jewish, and a descendant of King Shaul – and thus also royal – he speaks to her directly, as is fitting for nobles. For all of this time, he did not respect her as an equal.
M’nos HaLevi adds that this interpretation also explains why the verse uses the otherwise seemingly redundant word, hamalka (“the queen”).
Rebbetzin Heller writes that Achashverosh spoke directly to Esther to further humiliate Haman.
R’ David Feinstein points out that this genealogy also explains Haman’s hate for Esther. After all, Shaul had spared Agag, and people tend to hate those to whom they feel beholden. He references the Talmud (Chullin 139b) that asks for an allusion to Haman in the Torah. It answers there that it is in the verse (Bireishis 3:11) “did you eat from the tree?,” wherein the word “hamin” (“from the”) is spelled with the same letters as “Haman.” Since this story highlights the very essence of man’s ingratitude, it is a fitting allusion.
Both R’ Moshe David Valle and the Brisker Rav say that Achashverosh is speaking twice because he indeed spoke twice, from both ends of his mouth – what he said to Haman while making the deal (Esther 3:9), and what he said to Esther now.
The Kedushas Levi quotes the AriZal’s explanation of the Talmudic idea (Sukkah 27b) that a person should see one’s rebbi on Shabbos and Yom Tov. He explains that being close to one’s rebbi allows their holiness to rub off. Based on this, the Kedushas Levi writes that even though Achashverosh hated the Jews, he seems to care about them in this verse due to the direct communication with Esther has allowed for some of her holiness to rub off on him.
Seemingly, Esther’s point is that the loaves of silver paid during Haman’s deal with the king (Esther 3:9) was a bad deal for the king. However, as the Maharal points out, Achashverosh returned the money (Esther 3:11), so an alternative interpretation is necessary.
According to Rebbetzin Heller, Esther was saying that the humiliation that the Jews would experience would not justify bothering our great king, Achashverosh; it would be beneath his dignity to do such a thing.
Also, the enemy – Haman – is not considering the loss to the king because he only cares about himself.
As the Talmud (Megillah 16a) interprets this phrase, Haman does not care about Achashverosh. First, Haman advised the killing of Achashverosh’s beloved Vashti, and now Haman has set his sights on the king’s new beloved, Esther.
The Ibn Ezra adds that Esther was saying that Haman cares so little for Achashverosh, that he does not even mind Achashverosh’s loss of tax revenue in killing out so many citizens of the realm.
According to Rashi, Esther is pointing out that if he had cared about Achashverosh, Haman would have advised him to sell the Jews and keep the money.
R’ Yehonason Eibshutz says Esther was protecting Achashverosh from an assassination plot; if he will kill her, then he would kill the king, as well.
Like the Rokeach, the Yosef Lekach writes that Esther’s point was that enslaving the Jews is permissible by the Torah, but trying to kill them off is against Torah. Therefore, Achashverosh risked being punished for this, and Haman would not care if he were.
The Dena Pishra writes that Esther’s point was that, as a king, Achashverosh could uniquely appreciate what a loss the Jews would be to H-Shem, their King, and how He will respond for the sake of His subjects.
According to the Alshich, another point Esther was making is that, in returning the silver (Esther 3:11), Achashverosh essentially sold his own wife as slave for free.
The Holy Shelah interprets “the king’s damage” as pain being inflicted upon the King of the World.
The Ketones Or quotes the Talmud (Taanis 3b) that it is impossible for the world to exist without Jews. Accordingly, Esther’s point was that Haman does not care about that, so this plot is not to Achashverosh’s benefit.
13. And Haman related to Zeresh his wife and to all his loved ones all that chanced him. And his wise ones and Zeresh his wife said to him, “If Mordechai is from the seed of the Yehudim, that which you have begun to fall before him, you will not succeed him, since you will continue to fall before him…”
The Ben Ish Chai writes that Haman could not have been telling his friends and family about what happened that day since the fanfare with which it was performed made the day’s events common knowledge. Therefore, he must have been giving them a short history lesson.
The Maharal writes that Megillas Esther speeds up in pace during events to indicate the rushing feeling of geulah (“redemption”), may it come soon.
The Kefalim L’Toshiya writes that Haman told the events of the day, but stressed his own important role in the king’s advice. It could have sounded something like this: “I came to the king when he couldn’t sleep. He needed advice, and to whom did he turn? Me. He couldn’t wait – as soon as I walked in, instead of asking me how I was doing, he right away asked me what he should do. I gave him advice and he listened immediately. He didn’t ask anyone else for a second opinion. He listened to my advice. Not only that, but he wouldn’t even entrust anyone else with this job. He picked me to extend his thanks to somebody.” The point of telling them all of this is that Mordechai no longer has a leverage with the king, as Mordechai himself had feared; therefore Haman thinks his plan is going to work. As the verse continues, Haman’s advisers disagree.
The Yosef Lekach points out that the verse uses the phrase “kol asher karahu” (“all that chanced him”) because Haman viewed all the preceding events as matters of chance.
Rebbetzin Heller notes that the same expression was used by Mordechai earlier (Esther 4:7), where he emphasized how all historical events flow together for a reason. Even things we see as chance occurrences actually fit together intentionally in a puzzle designed and arranged by H-Shem. Haman’s use of the phrase has the exact opposite meaning.
As the Ohel Moshe reminds us, being from Amalek, Haman represents the nation that the Torah (Devarim 25:18) describes as “asher karcha baderech” (“that chanced upon you on the road”). Amalek sees all events – event the Exodus from Mitzrayim – as chance.
The Malbim adds that Haman was merely reassuring his friends and family that the embarrassing events of the day were but just chance, and not a consequence of his planned request to hang Mordechai, which hadn’t yet occurred.
At a Purim seudah once, the Ben Ish Chai noted that there was a custom then among women to shave their heads when in mourning, so this verse uses the word vayisaper (usually translated as “told” or “related”) which can also mean “and he sheared” to imply that Haman sheared the heads of the women in his home at this time.
12. And Mordechai returned to the gate of the king. And Haman was propelled to his house mourning, and with a covered head.
It seems doubly strange for the verse to say Mordechai returned to the palace, when our commentary on the previous verse made clear the Haman found Mordechai in the house of study. According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and the Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:6), the verse emphasizes that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate instead of into because Mordechai returned to wearing sackcloth and fasting.
Rashi’s explaining that Mordechai returned to mourning seems to not be his pashut pshat, simple explanation.
The Maharsha clarifies that Mordechai could not enter the king’s gate wearing sackcloth because of their rules of propriety in those days, so he could only come as far as the gate, itself. Therefore, Mordechai, having been mourning in sackcloth for the last several days could not be said to be returning to a place where he could not have previously been.
R’ Avigdor Bonchek explains that being paraded on a horse emboldened Mordechai to defy Achashverosh’s law by going to gate in sackcloth.
The Targum writes that Mordechai returned to serving on the Sanhedrin at this point, a position that is described in TaNaCh (see Bireishis 19:1, Devarim 21:19, Ruth 4:1) as being positioned “at the gate.”
The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4) teaches that the verse says Mordechai returned because he is humble. There is a humility in accepting one’s place, as is said of Avraham whom the Torah (Bireishis 18:33) describes as having “returned to his place” after speaking with H-Shem.
R’ Henoch Leibowitz notes that the Torah (Devarim 30:8) promises us that H-Shem will return us to our Land only after we suffer from our enemies. Rav Leibowitz explains that the lesson is that a person’s prayer in times of rescue should be equal in power and intensity to that with which one prays in times of troubles. The very purpose of our troubles is to increase our attachment to H-Shem. The proper method for this is to follow Rabbeinu Bachya’s advice (on Shemos 2:23) when he says that one’s prayer is the most intense in times of difficulty and that, therefore, it is incumbent on a person to remember that feeling of intensity, and bottle up that feeling of pain in order to pray strongly in the brighter future that the troubles do not return. At our most desperate, we should try to encapsulate the emotion to use in better times.
He quotes R’ Naftoli Tropp, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin writes that a famous piyut said on Yom Kippur calls us all dalim, poor. Even the rich should recall that all is H-Shem’s and they only have their riches only by the grace of G-d.
The Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai usually wore sackcloth during davening, and then changed for court. At this point, Mordechai did not change because he felt his prayers were unsuccessful, and not answered. This is because his riding on a horse did not manifestly spell out the redemption of the Jews. The Jews were still threatened.
Rebbetzin Heller points out that, being G-d focused, Mordechai didn’t care if Achashverosh loved or honored him. This event did not change Mordechai’s humility.
The Sfas Emes writes that Mordechai still felt guilty about causing the threat to Jewish existence by refusing to bow down to Haman. True teshuvah comes from the feeling of being unworthy of kindness from H-Shem. He concludes that one should never be too confident in this.
The Iyun Yaakov points out that, on the political side, Mordechai had anticipated using his saving Achashverosh’s life as leverage when begging Achashverosh to save the Jews – not just a pony ride around town. Disappointed by the loss of his ace in the hole, Mordechai’s only remaining means to save the Jews is to pray to H-Shem.
The Ohel Moshe quotes the Brisker Rav, R’ Yitzchak Zev HaLevi Soloveitchik that in his reporting the goings-on to Esther earlier (Esther 4:5-16), Mordechai was unwilling to get out of his sackcloth for even one moment and even requiring Hasach as an intermediary because prayer and emunah are the main tools for salvation.
The Ohel Moshe also brings R’ Yehonason Eibshutz who quotes the Talmud (Brachos 5b) that a prisoner does not free himself. Somebody else needs to help somebody out. Similarly, Mordechai, once he sees himself rescued, returned to pray for the other Jews. Similarly,
R’ Dovid Bleicher of Novordok notes that Mordechai had his own needs met, but kept praying for the Jews because he had worked on himself to feel as if he was still under the threat of death.
The Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:12) states that a true Jewish leader does not stop fasting until the prayers are answered.
The Maharal notes that Mordechai was not satisfied by this honor because Achasherosh did not come to thank him, himself. He had no reason to think that Achashverosh felt actual gratitude. After all, as R’ Elie Munk points out in his commentary on Chumash (Vayikra 7:30), of all the offerings, the only one which the Torah describes as having to be brought “by his own hands” is the shelamim (peace offering) because it is brought as a way to thank H-Shem, and “when expressing one’s gratitude, it is proper to do it personally.”
Parenthetically, he also quotes this as the reason brought by Abudraham for the congregation to say the blessing of Modim (thanksgiving) during the repetition of the Amidah prayer, since the congregational leader cannot express the gratitude of another person.
The Maharal also says in a few places (Nesivos Olam) that simcha (joy) comes from shleimus (completeness). Here, too, Mordechai cannot be content since the Jews are still under the threat of annihilation, and are thus incomplete.
Perhaps the simplest explanation to why Mordechai returned to his place can be gleaned from a story told about R’ Yechezkel Abramsky. While discussing Megillas Esther with his rebbetzin, he asked her what Mordechai could have been thinking while riding on the horse. She answered, “This type of foolishness is for drunkards. I wish this will be over soon, so I can return to learning Torah!”
The Ibn Ezra quotes the opinion in the Talmud (Megillah 15b) of Rebbe Eliezer that the verse’s use of the phrase “in his heart” is proof that Megillas Estherwas written with Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, (see Introduction). After all, if Haman said something to himself, how did the authors of this book know what he was thinking privately?
The Sfas Emes, however, asks why this would prove that the entire book is written with Divine Inspiration. It should only prove that its authors, Esther and Mordechai, had Divine Inspiration. He answers that people with Ruach HaKodesh would not have written that they have it in such an obvious way. They would not show it off.
A story is told of the Rubshitzer Rav that somebody came to visit him for a bracha, but arrived at a time at which the Rav did not accept visitors. The visitor told the attending gabbai, who happened to be the Rav’s son, that he was a very important person. After the gabbai persisted in explaining that this was not the time for the Rav to receive visitors, this guest asked for a glass of water. When the gabbai gave him the water, the man said he could not drink from the cup because he could tell that it had not yet be toveled (submerged) in a mikvah since he could feel the Name of H-Shem on it. Indeed, upon investigation, the Rav’s son learned that the cup he had given the man came from a box of vessels awaiting mikvah immersion. Impressed with the man’s obvious holiness, he rushed him in to see his father, the Rubshitzer Rav. After the visit, the Rav asked the gabbai why he allowed the guest at a time when the Rav did not see visitors. His son told him then what had transpired earlier, and concluded, “I pray that one day, I am on the level to see if a cup has been toveled merely by holding it.” The Rav responded, “When you become that great, I pray you are the type of person who will not tell that to the person who gave you the glass.”
The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:3) writes that evil people are controlled by their hearts, and brings several proofs from TaNaCh of this. Righteous people, on the contrary, are in control of their hearts.
Rebbetzin Heller explains that righteous people are are rational, and evil people are emotional. The Maharal adds that an evil person’s whole being is focused on the temporary, terrestrial world, whereas the righteous are focused on the permanent, the holy – not controlled by the momentary whims and passions of their hearts.
Parenthetically, it is amazing to note that Haman who had arrived with the plan to kill Mordechai, could switch gears without missing a beat, from murder to honoring himself. Perhaps this is because both come from the same negative inclination/characteristic.
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.
The Vilna Gaon writes that Mordechai did not get up as if Haman were not even there.
The Ohel Moshe reminds us that Nefesh HaChaim (3:12) writes that a powerful spiritual power we have is to internalize the idea that no influence can affect us besides H-Shem. Mordechai’s believing this is one reason he refuses to even rise for Haman.
The Maharal writes the two actions of standing and stirring refer to Mordechai giving no sign of respect to either Haman, nor the idol he had constantly about him. He quotes the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8) that Mordechai felt Haman made himself into an idolatry. In other words, borrowing a phrase from Yeshaya (2:24) such a person has “his soul in his nose,” or considers his own self-aggrandizement before anything else. For this self-worship is what Mordechai could not stir.
Rebbetzin Heller writes that when the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch was is Russia, he quoted a Talmud (Sanhedrin 74a-b) that there are three things for which Jews should give up their lives to avoid transgressing. Put simply, these three “cardinal sins” are idolatry, adultery, and murder. However, that is only true under regular circumstances. However, if a nation attempts to destroy Judaism altogether, even the “smallest” of sins cannot be committed under threat of death. Therefore, in communist Russia too, where their laws added up to a struggle against Judaism, all of their laws could be ignored.
In an interesting gematria, the phrase v’lo kam v’lo za (“he did not rise and he did not stir”) (6+30+1+100+40+6+30+1+7+70=291) less the two mentions of v’lo (“and he did not”) (6+30+1=37×2=74) is equivalent to 217, the numerical value of eretz (“land”) (1+200+90=291). Perhaps this indicates that Mordechai’s refusal to do these actions helped the Jews merit re-entry into the Land of Israel in the following Persian reigns.