Esther 7:4, Question 2. According to Esther, how is the enemy not equal to the king’s damage?

  • 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.

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 6:2, Question 1. Why does the verse describe the incident as “found?”

ב וַיִּמָּצֵא כָתוּב אֲשֶׁר הִגִּיד מָרְדֳּכַי עַלבִּגְתָנָא וָתֶרֶשׁ שְׁנֵי סָרִיסֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשֹּׁמְרֵי הַסַּף אֲשֶׁר בִּקְשׁוּ לִשְׁלֹחַ יָד בַּמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ

2. And it was found writing that Mordechai related on Bigsana and Seresh, two eunuchs of the king from the guards of the threshold who sought to send their arm at King Achashverosh.

  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 1:3), the verse describe the incident as “found” because, as bad as Achashverosh was, one good thing about Achashverosh was that he had everything recorded. One positive aspect of this is that he wrote both positive and negative events, a sign of humility. Another positive aspect of this is that writing down a chronicle of events helps a person grow spiritually (Pri Tzaddik, Chukas 4). After being inspired, the absence of a written record may cause that inspiration to disappear. There is an incident in which, as a young man, Rav Shlomo Brevda was walking in a poorly-maintained street when the street lights went out. He walked carefully, and when the lights cam back on, he found himself on the precipice of a large hole. He was inspired to pray the next morning with extra feeling and gratitude. However, when the next morning arrived, he found this inspiration gone like a deflated balloon. Upon asking several rabbis for an explanation of this phenomenon, he was directed to the Chazon Ish. After a rather lengthy bus ride to seek out this gadol’s advice, the Chazon Ish explained to him, “there is a special yetzer hara designed to deflate your inspiration immediately after a miracle.” One way to fight this and tap into your emotion is to write down that event.
  • The Malbim writes that Haman erased mention of Mordechai from the public document, and replaced any mention of him with his own name. Since he was unable to erase Mordechai’s name from the king’s private record, Achashverosh found it odd, if not suspicious, that Mordechai was the one who helped save him. This will help explain why his treatment of Haman and Mordechai from this point become the polar opposite of his treatment of them previously.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a), commenting on the abnormality that the verse says kasuv (“writing”) instead of kasav (“written”), which Rashi explains (there) means that it was being written anew teaches that Haman’s son, Shimshi, was attempting to erase Mordechai’s name, but the angel Gavriel was rewriting it. Interestingly, the Rokeach and M’nos HaLevi point out that the gematria of the first six words of our verse, “vayimazei chasuv asher heegeed Mordechai al” (6+10+40+90+1+20+400+6+2+1+300+200+5+3+10+4+40+200+4+20+10+70+30=1,472) is equal to this Talmud’s statement = “shimshi mochek v’Gavriel kosev” (300+40+300+10+40+6+8+100+6+3+2+200+10+1+30+20+6+400+2=1,484)1.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) continues that if something is written about the Jews below cannot be erased, how much more-so is this true in Heaven! In explanation, the Bobover Rebbe says this is hinting to H-Shem’s two books – one below and one above, mentioned in the Mishnah (Avos 2:20) in which H-Shem does His accounting for our behavior.
  • Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller stresses the tremendous effect of one human’s singular act written in a book leading the Jews to redemption. Accordingly, this is why the Rambam writes (Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:1) that just one good deed tips the scales for individual and for the whole world.

1I have yet to see a commentary explaining the apparent discrepancy of 22. Tzarich iyun.

Esther 6:1, Question 4. Why does the verse use the passive verb “nikra’im” (were read) instead of the active “koreem” (“read”)?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes that the verse uses the passive form of the verb (“were read”) because the pages of the book read themselves, since the king’s servant did not want to.
  • The Maharal explains that the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 545, and see Ezra 4:8 with Rashi there) writes that the palace scribe was one of Haman’s sons. Therefore, explains the Maharal, since he changed all references to Mordechai to say Haman, this was only true in the public book. In the private book, the king would notice the obvious inconsistencies, and would therefore have more reason to suspect Haman of conspiring against him.
  • Targum Sheini writes that the scribe did not erase Mordechai’s name, but merely skipped over his name. Therefore, the angel Gavriel turned the pages to the missing text, and the pages read themselves.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz asks why such a miracle was necessary. He answers that the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) writes that the Jews accepted the Torah at Har Sinai with the words “naaseh v’nishmah” (“we will do and we will listen”). After this, H-Shem lifted a mountain over them, and threatened to drop it over them if they would not accept the Torah. What was the reason for this if they had just done exactly that? Tosfos answers that the Jews accepted the Written Torah with complete enthusiasm, but not the Oral Torah. They re-accepted the Torah in the conclusion of Megillas Esther, when the verse (Esther 9:27) writes “kimu v’kiblu” (“they took and they accepted”). It became clear to the Jews that their downfall was caused in the beginning of the Purim story, where they ignored the words of the great leader, Mordechai. For this reason, these words which were not written down were given orally, mida kineged mida. Perhaps it is for this reason that this miracle happened on the second night of the Pesach holiday, since its observance is totally rabbinic.
  • As a proof of this phenomenon, the Rokeach points out that the words “hayamim viyihyu nikarim” (“days [Chronicles]. And they were read”) (5+10+40+10+40+6+10+5+10+6+50+100+200+1+10+40=543) have the same gematria as lomed kee hayu nikrayim me’atzmam (“we learn that they read themselves”) (30+40+4+20+10+5+10+6+50+100+200+1+10+40+40+70+90+40+40=806).
  • R’ Yitzchak Hutner writes that we can learn a fundamental philosophical rule from this verse. Namely, in life, we do not really accomplish anything; H-Shem just makes it look to us as if we do things. As a proof, he quotes the phrase (Vayikra 11:38) “kee yiton” (“if he placed”), which the Talmud (Bava Metzia 22b) says could be pronounced “kee yutan” (“if it was placed”) in the passive voice because despite a person’s intent to do something, the final act is completed only through H-Shem. We are all vessels, and H-Shem is the real Doer in this world.

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 2:9, Question 4. Why does the verse call Esther’s maidservants fitting for her?

  • The Megillas Sesarim’s opinion is that these maidservants were Jewish. After all, the previous queen had Jewish maidservants (as we saw before), as well, so there would be little suspicion. This was “fitting for” Esther because she was surrounded by people with whom she could relate and whom she could trust. Rabbi Mendel Weinbach adds that they could even share food with her. Perhaps it was also fitting for her because she could fulfill the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta larey’acha kamocha” (“loving your fellow as yourself”) (Vayikra 19:18) by treating them well.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 13a) tells us that Esther requested Heigai to give her seven maidservants to help her count the days of the week for her to know which day was Shabbos.1
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz asks why a person would need other people to count the days. He answers that Esther, although she was hiding her Jewish identity, was still practicing Jewish law. Therefore, if all of her maidservants saw her every day, they would see that she was behaving differently on the Sabbath, and that would give away her secret. On the other hand, she could not treat every day as a rest day, but had to stay active to keep from going crazy.
  • Perhaps another reason why Esther felt she had to maintain an active lifestyle during the week is based on Rav Elie Munk’s interpretation in Call of the Torah on the verse (Shemos 20:9) that tells us “to work” during the six days preceding Shabbos. Rav Munk says that, just as there is a law forbidding work on Shabbos, we have a similar responsibility to work when it is not Shabbos. Therefore, having one maidservant per day, her maids every week from Sunday through Friday saw her active, and must have figured she was some sort of activist queen. Her weekly Shabbos maid saw her lazing about, and probably figured that she was as idle as most normal members of the noble class.
  • Parenthetically, the Rokeach points out that the last letter of “v’eis” (suf) and the first two letters of “sheva” (shin and beiz) spell the letters of Shabbos. Also, the gematria of “hana’aros hari’uyos” (“fitting maidservants”) is the same as “zu haysa moneh bahen Shabbos” (“this is she counted Shabbos using them”).
  • Another interpretation of the Talmud is that she used these maidservant to keep track of each of the days of the Shabbos, the week. After all, every day is special. As we say in the morning prayer service before the weekday psalm of Sunday, “today is the first day of the Shabbos,” and on Monday, “today is the second day of the Shabbos,” etc. We make the most out of every day.

1Presumably the Persian calendar did not have seven-day weeks, or Esther would not have needed this kind of help. There are various calendars, like the Celts, the Igbo, and the Akan, that had weeks composed of various amounts of days. Ancient Egypt even had a ten-day week.

Esther 2:7, Question 1. Why does the verse use the strange word “omein” (“nursed”) to describe Mordechai’s care for Esther?

ז וַיְהִי אֹמֵן אֶתהֲדַסָּה הִיא אֶסְתֵּר בַּתדֹּדוֹ כִּי אֵין לָהּ אָב וָאֵם וְהַנַּעֲרָה יְפַתתֹּאַר וְטוֹבַת מַרְאֶה וּבְמוֹת אָבִיהָ וְאִמָּהּ לְקָחָהּ מָרְדֳּכַי לוֹ לְבַת

7. And it was that he nursed Hadassah, she is Esther, daughter of his uncle because she did not have a father and mother, and she was a young woman of beautiful form and good appearance, and in the death of her father and her mother, Mordechai took her for himself as a daughter.

  • The Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 30:8) states that Mordechai nursed Esther. Men can sometimes lactate, although this is not usual (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=strange-but-true-males-can-lactate). A story in the Talmud (Shabbos 53b) tells of a poor man whose wife died, leaving him, unable to afford nurse-maid, to have to miraculously nurse his children himself. The Ben Ish Chai says that Mordechai did this in an attempt to keep her secret – even from the nurse-maids. Class participant CL suggests that maybe this is why she may have been green. Ben Ish Chai and the Rokeach point out that there should be a vuv in “dodo” (“her uncle”). Without the vuv, it spells “dado” (“his breast”), adding another proof to this idea of Mordechai’s nursing Esther.
  • The Ben Ish Chai says another reason for this is similar to the “reason” for the laws of kosher. A bird called a chasidah (often translated as “stork”) is one of the species considered not kosher (Vayikra 11:19). The rabbis wonder why a non-kosher bird would have such a holy name, “chasid” meaning “righteous.” They answer that the bird indeed does kindness, but only within its own kind, ignoring the needs of anything “different” (Talmud, Chullin 63a). But why would its name cause us to think that it should be kosher? This is because, in a way, we really are what we eat because we somehow absorb qualities from the attributes of the animals we consume (Ramban to Vayikra 11:13). We thus acquire characteristics from the person from whom we nurse.1 Therefore, the reason for this miracle was for Esther to gain Mordechai’s characteristics.
  • Ben Ish Chai also points out that “omein” and amen have the same letters, the acronym for “kel melech ne’eman” (“G-d, the Trustworthy King”). RoS says that Mordechai knew he had a mission, and he knew that Esther needed to acquire his intense faith in H-Shem.
  • Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg teaches that the word “omein” comes from the word, “uman,” a skilled craftsman. This teaches us that Mordechai not only taught Esther as any loving parent would, but actually trained her to expertly use her gifts (which we shall see) to reach the ultimate of their potential.

1See Sotah 12b regarding Moshe’s refusal to be nursed by Egyptian wet-nurses, necessitating his being nursed (and raised) by his natural mother (Shemos 2:7).