Esther 4:17, Question 1. What does Mordechai pass in following Esther’s instructions?

יז וַיַּעֲבֹר מָרְדָּכָי וַיַּעַשׂ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁרצִוְּתָה עָלָיו אֶסְתֵּר

17. And Mordechai passed and did like all that Esther commanded on him.

  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 15a), after hearing Esther’s response, Mordechai passed over either a river or the passed over (read: transgressed) the obligation to eat on the first night of Passover, since that night fell within the three days in which Esther asked the people to fast.
  • The Me’am Loez writes that the verse is praising Mordechai for “crossed the river,” which implies that he preferred to follow the command himself – without the use of messengers. He, himself, crossed the river to gather the Jews together in prayer, fasting, and repentance.
  • In explaining why Rashi, who usually gives a simpler explanation when available, decided to write the explanation that had to do with transgressing Pesach, the Torah Temimah gives two reasons: one is that the Torah always names an object being crossed when vaya’avor is used in relation to a physical object, and secondly, in actual fact, the fasting did occur through the first night of the Pesach seder.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that someone can fast on Shabbos to annul a bad dream if that dream is dreamed on that day (Talmud, Shabbos 11a). If so, how much more-so can one fast on Yom Tov to annul a decree, so Mordechai was not transgressing at all.
  • However, according to the opinion that he was, R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshis’cha explains that Mordechai felt his prayers would not be powerful enough to be listened to in the ordinary manner. Transgressing Pesach would get the Accuser, the Satan, involved. Once he gets involved, there would be a Heavenly tribunal. Once there is a trial, Heaven would recognize Mordechai’s good intent, and then would assist Mordechai in defending the Jews.
  • In the first chapter of Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, it says that H-Shem can ignore insults. There, it writes that Esther’s arguing was spoken in an unfit manner, and yet Mordechai let it “pass” from his mind.
  • M’nos HaLevi points out that crossing the river was as easy for Mordechai as jumping over a puddle. It was a small act, but the Torah records it for our benefit, so teach us the lesson of the power even in what may appear as minor, easy mitzvos (see Mishnah, Avos 2:1).

Esther 4:16, Question 6. Why does Esther mention night and day?

  • The Ibn Ezra writes that this is simply a long time to fast, which demonstrated the Jews’ renewed loyalty to H-Shem.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes that Esther mentions both night and day because days and nights added together equal six regular, Halachic days. This is the amount of time the Jews spent at the seven day feast of Achashverosh (see 1:5) because they were not there for Shabbos.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes R’ Yosef Rozofsky that three full days of fasting naturally affect a person’s grace and beauty, which are the characteristics Achashverosh saw in Esther. This is why Esther only fasted for 70 hours, instead of three full days.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that night and day represent different kinds of Torah. The Torah one learns at night should be Oral and the Torah one learns in the day should be from the Written Torah, TaNaCh. Esther’s stressing both of these times means that she wants the Jews to learn both kinds of Torah to gain a closer relationship with H-Shem.
  • Perhaps she mentions night first because, historically, the Oral Law begins shortly after this period. Megillas Esther is full of hidden miracles, which are flushed out through concentrated, deliberate thought – the very essence of Oral Law.

Esther 4:3, Question 4. Why does the verse mention six responses of the Jews?

  • The Jews responded to this news with a total of six actions: they mourned, fasted, cried, eulogized, and donned sack and ash. The M’nos HaLevi writes that there is significance to this number. These six actions correspond to the six days in which the Jews participated in Achashverosh’s party (see Esther 1:5). Indeed it was a seven-day party, and the Jews took a break from the last day because it was Shabbos.
  • Since the verse that describes Achashverosh’s party (1:4), the verse says the party lasted for many days (yamim rabim), and gives the number of days as 180, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz wonders why the phrase “yamim rabim” is not superfluous. He answers that this phrase refers to the kind of days they were, long summer days, concluding with Yom Kippur. This is the day on which no Jew sins. In fact, he adds that the gematria of the Satan (hasatan) is 364 (5+300+9+50), one less than the total amount of days in a solar year, indicating that the Evil Inclination has no hold on us for one days out of the year – Yom Kippur. Therefore, there were only six days for which the Jews needed to atone.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Sfas Emes views Megillas Esther as the beginning of the Oral Law. Mordechai was even a member of the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) that began the establishment of Rabbinic law. The Oral Law is represented by the number six, as that is the total number of Orders in the Mishnah – Seeds, Festivals, Women, Damages, Holy Items, Purity. The Jews mourned in six different ways in to show their new-found reverence for the Oral Law.
  • Interestingly, according to the Vilna Gaon, there are not six actions here, but five. In his understanding, the great mourning is not a separate action, but is one general action described with the remaining five detailed descriptions. According to him, these five correspond to the five actions Jews are supposed to take (Mishnah, Taanis 1:3-7) when they are suffering agriculturally.

Esther 2:10, Question 2. What is the difference between nationality and lineage?

  • Is Judaism a nationality or a lineage? It is neither, really. Judaism is unique in that it breaks through all of the sociological definitions of groups. It is not a religion because one can be Jewish and yet not observant and not a believer in Jewish ideals, and still can be counted for a minyan. It is not a nationality because one has to be (or have parents who are) from a particular place, and Judaism has converts. It is not a “race” because Jews can have different colors, body types, hair textures, and any of the other qualifiers for this designation.
  • According to the Iyun Yaakov, everybody in Persia wanted to know Esther’s nationality because she looked like she could come from any nation, as the Talmud (Megillah 13a) asserts. Only the king was interested in her lineage to see if she was fitting for a king to marry. He would have less problem marrying her if she were not a commoner, but of royal blood.
  • The Rambam notes in his commentary on Megillas Esther that it is interesting that, although Achashverosh offered tax exemptions and other rewards for anyone who would share information regarding Esther’s background, the Jews unanimously refused to give her up, despite their dire poverty. Regarding this, the Rambam comments, paraphrasing a blessing in Mincha for Shabbos, “Mi ka’amcha, Yisroel!” (“Which nation is like you, Israel!”)

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 2:1, Question 5. What does the verse mean that Achashverosh remembered what was decreed against Vashti?

  • If it is true that Achashverosh had his wife killed for refusing to display herself in the nude at his party, Achashverosh must have regretted such an extreme punishment for so minor an offense. Considering H-Shem’s consistent use of “mida kineged mida” (“measure for measure”), Achashverosh realized that Vashti’s misuse of Jewish servant girls on Shabbos precipitated in her punishment being dealt on Shabbos.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) tells us that she caused her Jewish maids to go around unclothed.
  • The Maharil Diskin asks why this has to be noted. Was it not bad enough that our sisters were forced to desecrate the Sabbath? Did their forced immodesty truly add to Vashti’s evil? He answers that Vashti’s participation in this was especially worthy of punishment because one can reason that poor servants surrounded by expensive goods may attempt to steal what their eyes see. One might think that nudity might thus be a legitimate way to curb theft, leaving potential thieves with less opportunity to hide their loot. (It has been reported that current manufacturers of illegal drugs use this very method with their employees.) However, it was especially evil of Vashti to force the Jewish girls to go unclothed on Shabbos because they would not have stolen, anyway, seeing as theft, coupled with the fact that carrying an object from one domain to another is forbidden on Shabbos (Mishnah, Shabbos 1:1), would have definitely prevented the girls from stealing.
  • Likkutei Anshei Sheim point out that the 180 day feast was held in the beginning of Vashti’s third year of being queen. This means that she had two full years (354 days twice) and the 180 days (354×2+180=888 days), which divided by seven, come out to be 127 Shabbosos (888/7 = 126.857143)1. For causing Jewesses to desecrate 127 Sabbaths, Vashti lost the reign over 127 states.
  • Tangentially, the Chasam Sofer adds that Vashti’s Sabbath desecration was part of the reason for the mystical custom (see Zohar on Bireishis 17b, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 297:4, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 8) to use myrtle leaves for the spices in the Havdalah service after Shabbos. Since “Hadassah” (Myrtle) was one of Esther’s names, her defeating Vashti’s influence was alluded to in the verses in Yeshaya that we read on fast days (55:13, 56:4), in which the myrtle succeeds “from under [or, instead of] the thorn-bush,” (see 2:4 and 2:17 below for similar verbiage) the thorn-bush being the prickly Vashti, who caused Jewish girls to sin on Shabbos.

1Mathematically, one can round up to 127, or perhaps we can consider the last seven days as an additional week. Perhaps Vashti’s not surviving the whole day would account for the fraction missing from the whole number.

Esther 1:14, Question 3. Considering our ability to count simple numbers, why does the verse mention the total number of officers?

The Talmud (Megillah 23a) teaches that it is because of these seven advisers that Jewish law requires us to call up seven people for an aliyah each Shabbos and (in the time of the Sanhedrin) required seven judges to declare a leap year. What does one have to do with the other? In 127 Insights into Megillas Esther, Rabbi Mendel Weinbach explains that our publicly praising H-Shem and reading His Torah provides a striking contrast to Achashverosh and his ilk. Our seven represent truth, substance, and goodness, whereas his seven, and those like them, represent falsehood, superficiality, and evil.