Esther 6:13, Question 7. What exactly do Haman’s advisers advise?

  • According to Iyun Yaakov, Yosef Lekach, Rashi, and the Vilna Gaon, the advisers were advising Haman to beg Mordechai for forgiveness.
  • Furthermore, as the Alshich points out, the Talmud (Yevamos 79b) defines Jews as rachmanim, merciful by nature. Therefore, Mordechai would forgive Haman. Having no other choice, Haman would eventually listen (Esther 7:8), and beg Esther for his life.
  • R’ Moshe ibn Habib is quoted in Dena Pishra as saying that the advisers were suspicious that Esther was Jewish because she decreed that all barbershops were to be closed. Therefore, they advised that Haman beg Achashverosh for forgiveness and revoke the decree against the Jews.
  • Perhaps they also intended that knowing Esther’s origins – a topic concerning which the king had not yet been satisfied – could be an effective advantage to Haman in having influence on Achashverosh.
  • The Malbim says the advisers suggested that Haman make Mordechai overconfident with continued honors, so he would stop praying and fasting. They clearly did not know that Mordechai went back to sackcloth and ashes immediately upon his return from the display of honor Mordechai perceived as merely a dog and pony show.
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Esther 6:12, Question 1. Why does the verse emphasize that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate?

יב וַיָּשָׁב מָרְדֳּכַי אֶלשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן נִדְחַף אֶלבֵּיתוֹ אָבֵל וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ

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!”

Esther 6:10, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh emphasize that Haman should follow every detail?

  • The Alshich writes that, in his desire to uncover the conspiracy he so fears, Achashverosh is emphatic that Haman should perform everything he suggested.
  • The Me’am Loez explains that the nature of a person who is forced to do something is to delay and ignore as many steps as possible.
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), once Haman saw that he would have to honor Mordechai in this degrading way, he suggested new methods of honoring him that would not detract from his own self-love, like naming a river or village after Mordechai. In an ironic twist, Achashverosh therefore stresses that Haman should follow every detail to include those other things Haman suggested, as well.
  • The Shaar Bas Rabbim writes that this phrase includes the crown. Although Achashverosh is not happy with the idea, even showing his disapproval, he nevertheless agrees to it reluctantly, not even able to say the word.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that H-Shem wanted Mordechai to be pampered with all of these honors for two reasons. First, on the Earthly level, Mordechai deserves reward for having saved the life of Achashverosh, allowing him to be pampered in palace luxury. Second, on the Heavenly plane, the Talmud (Gittin 62a) refers to scholars as royalty, deserving of the best in this life and the next.
  • In the spirit of the idea that the entire Purim story teaches us that H-Shem runs His world through mida kineged mida, M’nos HaLevi explains that when Mordechai first learned of the decree to annihilate the Jews, he is described (Esther 4:1) as putting on sackcloth, walking through the streets of Shushan, and crying bitterly. In reward for putting on the sackcloth, he is now to put on royal garments; in reward for walking through the streets, he is now to be escorted on the king’s horse; and in reward for his bitter cry, his greatness is to be proclaimed throughout the city.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle points out that the initial letters of the last three words in this verse “mikol asher dibarta” (“from all that you said”) spell out the word m’od (“much”). The Torah (Bireishis 15:1) describes Avraham’s – and by extension, every righteous person’s – reward as s’charcha harbeh m’od, “your reward will be very great.”
  • R’ Chaim Fasman once pointed out that the only part of the daily amida in which we request that somebody actually get something is in the prayer for the righteous, where we ask H-Shem that He give the righteous s’char, reward. The reason for this is that it is an inspirational kiddush H-Shem for all of us when we see the righteous rewarded.
  • The Targum Sheini, with its embedded commentary, says that Achashverosh told Haman a detailed list of the items which he was supposed to give to Mordechai, including Achashverosh’s Macedonian crown, Ethiopian sword, African cloak, and the horse he rode from the beginning of his reign named Shifrigaz. The gematria of Shifrigaz (300+10+80+200+3+7=600) is 600, the same as sheker (300+100+200=600), falsehood. Perhaps this alludes to the idea that wealth and honor are fleeting, impermanent things, as the verse in Koheles (6:2) says, “a man to whom G-d has given […] wealth and honor […] and yet G-d has not given him the opportunity to eat from it, […] this is futile and an evil disease.”

Esther 4:3, Question 6. Why does the verse emphasize that only “many” people wore sack and ash, instead of all?

  • R’ Meir Arama explains the “many” to include the more prominent, less conformed Jews together with the poorer, more conformed Jews in the act of wearing sack and ash.
  • The Yerushalmi and Panim Acherim translate “rabim” (“many”) as meaning “the Rabbis.”
  • The Yosef Lekach writes that this is a reference to the reshus harabbim, the public thoroughfare. Perhaps he means to suggest that this phrase implies the participation of the general masses of Jews, like those who travel the public road. Otherwise, this may be a reference to the last stage of the five-step repentance program described in the Mishnah (Taanis 2:1), in which the aron — the synagogue Ark — is taken out into the public square, and ashes are placed on it and the community leaders.

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 4:2, Question 2. Why are people not allowed to wear sackcloth before the king?

  • On a simple level, Ibn Ezra tells us that this lowly dress would shame the monarchy.
  • According to the Me’am Loez, people were not allowed to wear sackcloth before the king because it was considered a bad omen as such people would thereby be walking reminders of death. For this reason, we find in the Torah (Bireishis 50:4) that when Yaakov passed away, Yosef was not allowed to have an audience with Pharoah.
  • Also, the Talmud (Brachos 62b) learns a kol v’chomer (a fortiori) argument that if in our verse, a person could not wear sackcloth (which, although is ugly, it is not repulsive) before a human king, how much more-so should one be forbidden from spitting (which is physically repulsive) in a synagogue, where one stands before the King of kings.
  • The Kabbalas Rabbah takes this idea one step further. If it is inappropriate to walk in front of a hum king looking like a mourner, how much more-so is it inappropriate to appear before the King of kings looking that way. In other words, in general, having a downcast negative attitude does not befit the servant of H-Shem. Even on the night of Rosh HaShanah, when we are judged, we are instructed to leave the synagogue confident in our positive judgment.