Esther 8:16, Question 2. What do these different expressions signify?

  • 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.
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Esther 4:11, Question 1. Why does Esther refuse Mordechai’s order?

יא כָּלעַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְעַםמְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ יֽוֹדְעִים אֲשֶׁר כָּלאִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יָבוֹאאֶלהַמֶּלֶךְ אֶלהֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית אֲשֶׁר לֹאיִקָּרֵא אַחַת דָּתוֹ לְהָמִית לְבַד מֵאֲשֶׁר יוֹשִׁיטלוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶתשַׁרְבִיט הַזָּהָב וְחָיָה וַאֲנִי לֹא נִקְרֵאתִי לָבוֹא אֶלהַמֶּלֶךְ זֶה שְׁלוֹשִׁים יוֹם

11. “All of the servants of the king and nation of states of the king know that any man and woman who go to the king to the inner courtyard who was not called have one law – to kill, unless that the king would extend to him his gold scepter, and live. And I have not been called to come to the king these thirty days.”

  • The Alshich gives three reasons why Esther refuses Mordechai’s order, at least for the time being:
  • First, he points out that Esther points out to Mordechai that there were eleven months between the decree (in Nisan) and its fulfillment (Adar). There would therefore not be a need to risk the death penalty for coming to the king without having been summoned.
  • Incidentally, the Targum writes that this rule was established by Haman in order to avoid the possibility of Jews petitioning the king unannounced to beg him to change the decree against them. Besides, the king also did not want to be petitioned by Jews for permission to rebuild the Temple.
  • The Alshich’s second reason for Esther’s desire to delay approaching the king is that she felt there was a high probability of her appeal failing.
  • Finally, with eleven months left until the fulfillment of the decree, Esther saw no need to come before the king since there was a good chance that he would summon her at some point before then, anyway.
  • R’ Eliezer Ginzburg writes that Esther’s refusal here is because she felt that she had been suffering all of the humiliations of this forced marriage to Achashverosh to create a “tikun” (“repair”) for the sins of that generation.
  • Perhaps, since Esther was a humble person, she felt unworthy of such this monumental mission.
  • R’ Ginzburg then quotes the Zichron Shmuel who notes that the initial letters of “me’asher yosheet lo hamelech” (“that the king would extend to him”) spell out “milah” (“circumcision”). This is a hint to the idea mentioned earlier that, in reluctance to have relations with an uncircumcised gentile, Esther would ordinarily send a sheid to take her place. Now, she was afraid that she would have to appear before Achashverosh alone, without the aid of a demon.

Esther 3:8, Question 4. Why does Haman use both “scattered” and “dispersed” to describe the Jews?

  • Generally, the implication of the word “scattered” is that the object under discussion is weakened and no longer whole. On the contrary, the implication of the word “dispersed” is that the object retains its original strength, and has spread. Rav Dovid Feinstein writes that, by using the word “scattered,” Haman is implying to the king that the Jews should have assimilated into Persian culture by now, but they stubbornly refuse by making themselves “dispersed,” retaining their own culture.
  • Rabbi Naftali of Rofshutz writes that Haman also describes the Jews in this way to address Achashverosh’s concern that no other nation has been able to destroy the Jews – how could he dare try? Haman’s response to this would be to not worry about the Jews’ previous longevity. True, they used to be united as an “am echad,” but now they are scattered and therefore disjointed. Only Jewish unity can save the nation from exile.
  • The Malbim says that Haman is attempting to emphasize that these Jews – these vermin of evil influence, as was echoed in history – are everywhere. We don’t know where they are; they can be hiding everywhere. Even today, the average anti-Semite is under the impression that there are billions of Jews everywhere, and they own the banks, Hollywood, and the government, whereas the truth is that the Jews number merely 0.4% of the world’s population.
  • According to the Alshich, Haman is emphasizing that, as a minority, the Jews are virtually loners, and no other nation would come to their aid in their time of need.
  • Mystically, as mentioned previously, one of the purposes of life in this world is to gain sparks of holiness. Just as sparks are scattered, the Jews have been spread in exile to gather together these sparks. Therefore, the Sfas Emes writes, although the Jewish people are spread out to find these sparks as individuals, we mustn’t lose sight of the need to retain communal unity. Other Jews may need our help to find their intended sparks.
  • Rav Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the acronym of “mefuraz umeforad” (“scattered and dispersed”) spell out the word “mum” (“defect”). By saying this, Haman is attempting to prove to Achashverosh that the Jews are lacking, and can be defeated.
  • Emphasizing the positive in this statement, the Sfas Emes points out that although the Jews are spread out, weakened, and incomplete, they nevertheless do not intermarry, and attempt to identify with their Jewish roots.

Esther 1:20, Question 1. Exactly which “word of the King” will be heard?

כ וְנִשְׁמַע פִּתְגָם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁריַֽעֲשֶׂה בְּכָלמַלְכוּתוֹ כִּי רַבָּה הִיא וְכָלהַנָּשִׁים יִתְּנוּ יְקָר לְבַעְלֵיהֶן לְמִגָּדוֹל וְעַדקָטָן

“And the word of the King will be heard (that he made in the entire kingdom) because great is she, and all the women will give supremacy to their husbands, from the great to the small.”

  • In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal writes that the “word of the king” means that Achashverosh the king will advertise the fact that he killed Vashti.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:10) teaches that phrase in hinting to the final redemption with the coming of Moshiach. It relates it to the King’s (H-Shem’s) decree (Shemos 17:14), which will finally be heard when all of the final vestiges of Amalek are eliminated. The Rokeach writes that the initial letters of the phrase here, “hee v‘chol hanashim yitnu” (“she, and all the women will give”) spells the Tetragrammaton four-letter name of H-Shem. This indicates that Achashverosh’s decree actually stems from H-Shem.
  • M’nos HaLevi notes from Rabbeinu Bachya on Bamidbar (1:51) that any instance (like here) of the Tetragrammaton spelled backwards indicates the use of H-Shem’s characteristic of judgment (midas hadin). This is the very characteristic He will utilize in conquering the influence of Amalek. Perhaps it is for this message of our positive future that, in his commentary on the Torah (Shemos 28:35), the Baal HaTurim notes that the word “venishma” (“and will be heard”), appears three times in TaNaCh: there, regarding, the garments of a Kohen ministering in the Temple, earlier (ibid. 24:7) regarding the acceptance of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and in our verse regarding Achashverosh’s decree. According to the Baal HaTurim, this series of verses hints to the idea mentioned in the Talmud (Megillah 3b) that the mitzvah of hearing the Megillah on Purim takes precedence over learning Torah and prayer. Despite a verse regarding Torah (study) and a verse regarding the Temple (service), “the word of the King” (Megillah) will be heard. Indeed, in Halacha, despite the fact that Torah study generally has supremacy over all other mitzvos (Talmud, Shabbos 127a), Jews are enjoined to leave their Torah study to hear the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 687:2, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 7).