Esther 8:17, Question 2. Why do the non-Jews seemingly convert at this time?

  • 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.

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Esther 8:7, Question 4. Why is the word “Yehudim” Masoretically spelled with and extra letter, yud?

  • For a similar question above, it was assumed that, the gematria of yud being ten, the additional yud may represents the Ten Commandments, and that perhaps the spelling implied that the Jews were rescued from the decree in the merit of their teshuva (“repentance”) (see Esther 9:27).
  • The total gematria of Yehudim with the extra yud (10+5+6+4+10+10+40=85) is 85, the same gematria as peh (“mouth”) (80+5=85). This represents prayer, which is what rescued the Jews from the decree.
  • Interestingly, with the above verse (Esther 8:1), there seems to be a reference to two mouths, perhaps implying a parallel with the verse (Shemos 33:11) in which H-Shem praises Moshe as one with whom He communicates “peh el peh” (“mouth to mouth”). Part of the reason the Jews were saved was in the merit of Moshe, as the Midrash (Esther Rabba 7:14) says explicitly. Throughout Jewish philosophy, Moshe represents the Torah that he received and taught. Taken all together, the Jews’ repentance, prayer, and acceptance of Torah rescued them from this terrible fate.

Esther 7:7, Question 4. To what decision does Haman refer?

  • In a rather enigmatic comment, Rashi writes, “evil, hatred, and vengeance were decided.” Haman must have known that all negative things were being focused in his direction.
  • The Brisker Rav asks how Haman knew that evil was decided. He answers that the Targum translates Achashverosh’s asking (Esther 7:5) “ay zeh” as “where is he.” In other words, the decision to punish whoever was responsible for this evil decree was final, and only required the finding of the culprit.
  • The Ben Ish Chai answers that Haman knew bad things were in store for him because he had already been advised by his friends (Esther 6:13) that his situation was deteriorating. Besides that, Haman thought that his situation would regress because Zeresh and his advisers thereby made what the Talmud (Kesubos 8b) calls “an opening for the Satan,” – saying something that could allow the Heavenly accuser an opportunity to punish someone.
  • The Dena Pishra answered that the verse, once again, used the word melech to refer to the King, H-Shem, because Haman angered Him, and now was certain the time had come for retribution.
  • Both the Dena Pishra and R’ Moshe David Valle note that the last letters of the phrase “ki chalasa eilav hara” (“because he saw that evil was decided on him”) spell out H-Sem’s Name in order. As the Chida and Rabbeinu Bachya write, when H-Shem’s Name is encoded in order, it represents His quality of mercy. This hints to the fact that Haman must have realized that all comes from H-Shem.
  • Parenthetically,this fact does not automatically define him as righteous righteous. After all, instead of getting on his knees at this point in true repentance to H-Shem, he begs for his life from an earthly queen. However, perhaps his begging Esther for his life instead of Achashverosh indicates that he acknowledges her righteousness, and its accompanying power. This very act may be the one that earned him the merit of having descendants who the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) says learn Torah in Bnei Brak learn Torah.

Esther 6:1, Question 1. Why does the verse stress that this happened “that night?”

א בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא נָדְדָה שְׁנַת הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיֹּאמֶר לְהָבִיא אֶתסֵפֶר הַזִּכְרֹנוֹת דִּבְרֵי הַיָּמִים וַיִּהְיוּ נִקְרָאִים לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ

1. On that night, the sleep of the king was shaken. And he said to bring the book of records, the chronicles. And they were read before the king.

  • According to M’nos HaLevi, there was a miracle that occurred that night. After all the king, had just enjoyed food and drink at Esther’s feast, and he nevertheless strangely had trouble sleeping.
  • Yalkut Shimoni (1057) writes that many people had trouble sleeping that same night: Esther was up preparing the next meal, Haman was up building the gallows, and Mordechai was up learning with children.
  • Chiddushei HaRim notes that Esther was preparing the second meal instead of her servants because that second meal was to be the second seder, and her servants did not know how to prepare that.
  • The Talmud Yerushalmi writes that the verse’s use of the word “halayla,” (“the night”) alludes to the fact that this was the anniversary of the night on which Sarah was abducted by Avimelech (Bireishis 20:2-3), which the Torah describes also using the word, “halayla.” It also alludes to the idea that this was the same historic date on which H-Shem killed all of the firstborn of Egypt, since the verse that describes this (Shemos 21:29) also utilizes the word “halayla.” This was also the very night on which all the Jews – old and young – gathered together to repent.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this was specifically the second night of Pesach because the very reason behind our celebrating the second day of Pesach as a Holy Day in the diaspora is due to our being in exile. Similarly, the situation in which Esther found herself was a function of exile, as well.
  • In his commentary on Megillas Esther, Rambam writes (in an uncharacteristic mystical fashion) that this particular night was the night anger was turned into mercy.

Esther 5:4, Question 1. Why does Esther specifically invite Achashverosh and Haman to the party?

ד וַתֹּאמֶר אֶסְתֵּר אִםעַלהַמֶּלֶךְ טוֹב יָבוֹא הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן הַיּוֹם אֶלהַמִּשְׁתֶּה אֲשֶׁרעָשִׂיתִי לוֹ

4. And Esther said, “If it is good for the king, the king and Haman should come today to the drinking party that I made for him.”

The Talmud (Megillah 15b) has a total of twelve reasons for Esther to have invited Haman to the feast:

a) R’ Eliezer says she was laying traps for him, as it says in Tehillim (69:23), “their tables will be their own traps.” In other words, Haman’s presence may give him the opportunity to say or do something he shouldn’t, giving the king prerogative to have his head.

b) R’ Yehoshua says Esther learned this from the house of her father1: Mishlei (25:22) teaches, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him bread.” In other words, one method of taking on one’s enemy is by surrendering some non-essential concession to him, thereby ultimately taking control of the situation when the opportunity strikes.

c) R’ Meir says Esther did this so that Haman would not take good advice, and rebel. In other words, Esther was hoping that her invitation’s stroking Haman’s ego would encourage him to rebel.

d) R’ Yehuda says Esther invited Haman so that he would not suspect that she is a Jewess.

e) Similarly, R’ Nechemia says Esther invited Haman in order for the Jews to not become complacent from their prayers and repentance by comforting themselves that they have a “sister” in the palace who can save them from this genocide.

f) R’ Yose says Esther invited Haman so that he would be available to her at all times. In other words, she wanted her “enemies close” to be able to manipulate his behavior to the benefit of her people.

g) R’ Shimon ben Menasya says Esther invited Haman thinking that, perhaps, H-Shem will become “emotional,” either through mercy or anger, and create a miracle to rescue the Jewish people.

h) R’ Yehoshua ben Karcha says Esther invited Haman in order to smile at him, evoking the king’s jealousy, leading him to execute both Haman and Esther. She was thus willing to sacrifice herself for her people.

i) Rabban Gamliel says Esther invited Haman because Achashverosh was fickle, and prone to inconsistent behavior. If the king gets the opportunity to spend more time with Haman, the statistical chances of him changing his positive opinion of him grow exponentially. Furthermore, had Haman not been at the feast when Esther convinced Achashverosh to kill Haman, his fickleness may lead him to change his mind by the time Haman is found.

j) R’ Gamliel says that all of these answers may explain why Esther invited Haman, but we still require the answer of the R’ Eliezer the Moda’ai to explain why Esther invited only Haman, and not the other advisers. He says she intended to make the rest of the court jealous, since Haman was invited to the meal, whereas they were overlooked. Class participant CRL suggested that having the other advisers attend would require the presence of Mordechai, who should have been celebrating the Pesach seder at the time.

k) Rabba says Haman was invited because “pride comes before destruction” (Mishlei 16:18). Like the English expression, the taller they are, the harder they fall, Esther is bating Haman’s ego to help precipitate his destruction. Incidentally, the Rokeach points out that the gematria of the above phrase from Mishlei (zehu lifnei shever ga’on) (7+5+6+30+80+50+10+300+2+200+3+1+6+50=750) is equal to the words from this verse from Esther that Haman was invited to the feast (hamishteh) (5+40+300+400+5= 750).

l) Abayey and Rava both say Esther’s intent can be seen in the verse “in their heat, I prepare their meal” (Yirmiya 51:39). This verse refers to the drunken death of Balshatzar, and Esther hoped this drunken revelry, too, would kill both Haman and Achashverosh. Incidentally, the Rokeach points out that the gematria of the above word for “in their heat” (bichumam) (2+8+6+40+40=96) is equal to Haman (5+40+50=95) with its kollel.

m) When Rabba son of Avuha met with Eliyahu HaNavi, he asked him which of these opinions is correct regarding Esther’s intent. Eliyahu HaNavi answered that they are all correct.

  • Eliyahu’s answer lends support, writes Rav Shwab, to the idea that when the verse says Esther donned royalty (Esther 5:1), it means she gained ruach hakodesh, the Holy Spirit.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya points out that the initial letters of “the king and Haman should come today” (yavo hamelech viHaman hayom) spell out H-Shem’s Name. H-Shem’s Name is not ever explicitly in Megillas Esther.
  • According to Ibn Ezra, this is because this was a public document in Persia, and the Rabbis were concerned that the Persians might supplant their own gods’ names for H-Shem’s if it were there. Another reason is to teach that H-Shem is available in all situations – good and (seemingly) bad.
  • The Ari, in his list (Pri Etz Chaim) of twelve places where H-Shem’s Name is secretly hidden in Megillas Esther, lists this as one of the places.
  • The Ohel Moshe writes that H-Shem’s Name is specifically at this point because the Talmud (Sukkah 14a) writes that when the righteous pray, they overturn H-Shem’s Anger to Mercy.

1Rashi points out that, not actually growing up in her father’s house, Esther must have overheard this teaching from Mordechai’s conversations with his students.

Esther 4:16, Question 3. Why and how are the Jews expected to fast for Esther specifically?

  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the reason Esther wanted the Jews to fast for her is, as it says in the Talmud (Baba Kama 92a), when we pray for someone else to have rachamim (“pity”), we earn rachamim, too.
  • R’ Dovid Chadida points out that Esther is really the only person in danger now. The Jews, after all, are only threatened in a year from this point. To answer why Esther wants the people to fast specifically for her, he quotes the Rambam’s commentary on the Mishna (Taanis 1:5) that a city can only establish a fast day for itself for one day. This only applies when it is a city in danger. However, when we pray for one person, the fast can last for multiple days.
  • The Me’am Loez brings another Mishnah (Taanis 2:1) that fasting alone is meaningless; the point is to pray, cry ,and perform teshuva (“repentance”).
  • Esther’s emphasis on fasting is to help the Jews realize that attending Achashverosh’s feast was the act for which they were to repent. Assuming she did not attend the feast, then, Ginzei HaMelech asks why Esther has to fast. He suggests the Jews went to the party because, on some level, they had a lack of faith in their relationship with H-Shem, thinking they were unworthy of His love and concern. According to the Ginzei HaMelech, Esther has been displaying a similar lack of faith in herself.
  • Incidentally, the Ben Ish Chai writes that she asked the Jews to fast eilai, for her, which can be spelled ayin (seventy) lee (“for me”), meaning that she, herself would only fast for seventy hours, which will be explained later, G-d Willing.

Esther 4:12, Question 1. Why does the verse use the plural “vayagidu” instead of the singular “vayaged?”

יב וַיַּגִּידוּ לְמָרְדֳּכָי אֵת דִּבְרֵי אֶסְתֵּר

12. And they elaborated to Mordechai the words of Esther.

  • The simplest explanation as to why the verse uses the plural “vayagidu” (“and they elaborated”) instead of the singular “vayaged” (“and he elaborated”) comes from the Malbim. He writes that Hasach simply had other messengers with whom he worked, and they are the ones who delivered this message.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15a) understands that Hasach avoided delivering this message personally because he was reluctant to deliver a negative message – in this case, a message negating Mordechai’s order. This is because of the ethical principle that, as much as possible, we try not to deliver bad news.
  • The Maharal writes that Hasach did not want to go back alone in order to avoid arousing suspicion.
  • The Targum writes, “Haman the wicked saw Hasach, also named Daniel, going in and out of Esther’s room. He went and he killed him. The message was delivered from Esther through Michael and Gavriel.” In this version, Haman seems suspicious of Esther’s close relationship with a Jew. Yalkut Shimoni and Talmud Yerushalmi say similarly.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that Haman realized that Hasach was speaking to Mordechai in code. The code to which he is referring is the deeper levels of the last few verses.
  • R’ Mendel Weinbach points out that we sometimes have to deliver bad news, but only if it will practically change something. Pointless bad news need not be delivered. When Rav Elyashiv was ill and his daughter, Rebbetzin Kanievsky, passed away, the current halachic authorities advised that he not be told of her passing. He was not in condition to sit shiva, and the news might have actually affected his erstwhile frail health.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why, if this is indeed a negative message, did Hasach not reprove Esther? After all, there is a halacha (Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Deyos 6:7) which says a person has the responsibility to correct those who are in the wrong. The reason is that Esther was not necessarily in the wrong. She had a legitimate halachic opinion, as follows: The Pischei Teshuva (Yoreh Deah, 252:2) writes that one is forbidden to risk one’s own life for the life of another. Therefore, Esther had a legitimate reason to avoid risking her life. However, had Esther not maintained a halachic basis for her rejection of Mordechai’s order to visit the king, Hasach would, indeed, have had reason to be reluctant in reporting this to Mordechai, based on the Talmudic dictum that we avoid sending negative messages.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab asks why this is the first time Hasach felt this reticence. After all, had not this entire conversation of the last few verses (Esther 4:7-12) been negative? Rav Schwab answers that, actually, even the threatened extermination of the Jewish people is not bad news as long as they have the opportunity to do teshuva! However, the fact that Esther refuses to sacrifice for the sake of her people is negative, and this is the information Hasach does not want to deliver to Mordechai.
  • Rav Henach Leibowitz quotes the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 10b) where Rav Chanina ben Chama brought the Roman Caesar Antoninus’s slave back to life to avoid having to tell him that his slave had died. Rav Leibowitz writes that this shows the extent to which we are expected to avoid delivering bad news. This is despite the fact that this idea is not explicit in the Torah, but is only implicit in the behavior of Hasach. He concludes that so, too, must we be careful to accustom ourselves to the behavioral and ethical lessons of the Torah.
  • R’ Eliezer Schwartz, the rabbi of Ohev Tzedek, brings from Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik that part of the conflict between Esther and Mordechai is the oft-repeated conflict between women and men in TaNaCh. For example, he says that women and men acted differently with regard to the Golden Calf is that women see a wider view of a given situation. This is the reason for the Kli Yakar’s comment (on Bamidbar 13:2) that when H-Shem criticizes Moshe for “the men he sent,” He is implying that He would have preferred that women be sent to spy out the land of Canaan. Female spies would have seen the situation differently, and would have come up with the correct, positive interpretation of the events they witnessed. Similarly, women like Sarah in regard to Yishmael, Rivkah with Eisav, and numerous other examples show that women can see the long-range big picture, whereas men are limited to a short-term view of a situation. Here, Esther sees this situation as one that needs time to plan. Mordechai, however, seeks immediate action.