Esther 5:2, Question 1. Why does the verse use the word “vayehi” (“and it was”) here?

ב וַיְהִי כִרְאוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶתאֶסְתֵּר הַמַּלְכָּה עֹמֶדֶת בֶּֽחָצֵר נָשְׂאָה חֵן בְּעֵינָיו וַיּוֹשֶׁט הַמֶּלֶךְ לְאֶסְתֵּר אֶתשַׁרְבִיט הַזָּהָב אֲשֶׁר בְּיָדוֹ וַתִּקְרַב אֶסְתֵּר וַתִּגַּע בְּרֹאשׁ הַשַּׁרְבִיט

2. And it was, when seen by the king was Esther the Queen standing in the courtyard, she received favor/grace in his eyes, and the king extended to Esther the gold scepter that was in his hand. And Esther came closer, and she touched the head of the scepter.

  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 10b-11a), the use of the the word “vayehi” indicates a negative event. In its simplest meaning, this was certainly a negative event for Esther, as she was risking both her life and her relationship with Mordechai by approaching the king unannounced.
  • The Maharal adds that this meeting was also bad for Achashverosh. Citing a Midrash in Yalkut Shimoni (1056) that an angel turned Achashverosh’s face towards Esther, the Maharal writes that this is bad for Achashverosh because the only thing we have in this world is our free choice. Once it is taken away, even momentarily, by an angel, we lose something of our humanity, making this a negative event, indeed.
  • Rabbi Avraham Sutton writes that H-Shem always saves us at our lowest point. Following Esther’s life of being an orphan, being raised in secret, being forced into the king’s harem, being chosen to be his wife, everything in her life seemed to her to be in a progressively worsening spiral. At this point, risking her life to save the Jews, she can be said to be at the lowest point in her life.

Esther 4:13, Question 3. What does Mordechai think Esther is thinking regarding her security?

  • Rashi’s simple explanation is that Mordechai thinks Esther believes she will be safe in the palace on the day of the massacre. Rabbi Avigdor Bonchek, however, sees in Rashi’s words an irony that Esther’s safety can only be guaranteed through self-sacrifice.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Mordechai thought that Esther was under the impression that her volunteering herself to Achashverosh was one of the carnal sins for which one should sacrifice one’s life rather than sin, even for the sake of others.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 157:1) requires a city under siege to refuse to give up any resident requested for execution by the attacking army. This is the case if this oppressive army does not specify their victim. However, if they they want a specific person, the community must give that person up to save themselves, since that person is threatened either way. This is only true when that person is threatened along with everyone else. Mordechai thinks Esther considers herself to be in this latter situation, safely tucked away in the palace.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Mordechai was saying that H-Shem will save His people, as He always does. However, if Esther acts selfishly, she will not be among the other Jews.
  • Similarly, due to the fact that Mordechai mentions the king’s palace, and every mention of the word “king” is a reference to H-Shem, R’ Dovid Moshe Valle adds that the King can reach anywhere.
  • R’ Elisha Gallico notes that, in fact, Esther was actually in more danger staying in the palace. The reason for this, explains the Maharal, is that considering Achashverosh’s virulent hate for the Jews, Esther is safer away from the man who signed the edict to annihilate her nation. The Maharal compares this to living inside a basket with a snake. This is even moreso the case if Esther thinks of herself as an individual, and thus lacking the power of the united nation.
  • The Alshich says that, in Mordechai’s estimation, the root of Esther’s mission was to fix King Shaul’s error of allowing Agag to live.
  • According to Ginzei HaMelech, this is the reason why Mordechai is giving Esther such strong rebuke here; Esther needs to know that the only reason she was in that position was for this goal. Furthermore, Ginzei HaMelech points out that Torah is honest. Here, since Megillas Esther was written by Esther, herself, she nevertheless did not censor out this scene in which she looks weak. The Ginzei HaMelech furthermore adds that this case it was not appropriate to stay private.
  • R’ Menachem Ziemba was asked before the Warsaw ghetto uprising if the Chassidim should be involved in the fighting. He answered that it is indeed a mitzvah to give up one’s life when given the choice between death or their faith. When given no such choice, it is a mitzvah to fight.
  • According to the Kisei Shlomo, Mordechai was telling Esther she was responsible for Hasach’s death, and thus more invested now in the rescue of the Jews.
  • Rav Yitzchak Hutner writes in Pachad Ytizchak that when Person A needs something, and decides to also pray for Person B who also needs that, this makes Person A’s prayer more effective (Talmud, Baba Kama 92a). Rav Hutner explains that this principle works because prayer is stronger if it is performed with the whole heart (Talmud, Sotah 5b), meaning that it is more strongly felt. Therefore, Mordechai is telling Esther that she needs the same rescue as the Jews. In other words, she was already intent on praying for the Jews; what Mordechai wanted Esther to realize was that she was in the same precarious situation. Realizing that she also needs H-Shem to rescue her would cause Esther to feel that prayer with her whole heart, making her prayer stronger, and thus more effective.

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.

Esther 4:8, Question 7. Why does Mordechai stress that Esther was to speak on behalf of her people?

  • The Alshich says that by Mordechai’s telling Esther to speak on behalf of her people, he was implying that she should reveal her lineage as a game-changing trump-card.
  • Quoting our verse, the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 30:4) writes that those people who sacrifice their lives for the good of the Jewish people are rewarded by having the Jewish people called in their names. The Yad HaMelech writes that this reward makes sense because the Jewish people really are naturally people who sacrifice themselves for their people.

Esther 4:7, Question 4. Why is the word “baYihudim” written with an extra letter “yud?”

  • In answering this question, R’ Dovid Feinstein reminds us that the Talmud (Menachos 29b) says that H-Shem made Olam HaBa (the World to Come) using a yud. Therefore, Mordechai was saying that, in threatening the extermination of the Jews, the people who believed in the World to Come, Haman was actually attempting to subvert the authority of Heaven.
  • The Maharal writes that, by writing the word “baYihudim” with an extra letter “yud,” Mordechai was indicating the kind of Jews affected by Haman’s decree. The first yud represents the Jews in general, and the second yud represents those Jews willing to sacrifice their lives to sanctify G-d if the need arises.
  • The Tzemach Tzedek takes this idea one step further. In the beginning of Creation, H-Shem created within mankind two yetzarim (inclinations) (see Rashi to Bireishis 2:7). Haman, after all, did not discriminate – he wanted to kill all Jews, good or bad. Interestingly, later when the Jews are saved, the verse (Esther 9:15) spells out Yehudim with two yuds again to testify concerning them that the spirit of teshuva that enveloped the Jews at that time made it so the yetzer for evil had no affect on them.

Esther 2:8, Question 2. For purposes of the story, why do we need to know that many other girls were taken by Achashverosh’s men?

Let’s recall that Achashverosh was looking for a number of characteristics. He was attempting to replace Vashti, a woman whose beauty was unequaled and irreplaceable (as we’ve said here before), so he therefore needed to find a woman who was superior to her in other ways. The Malbim’s view is that this number of women is one of eight indicators in theses verses that Mordechai broke the law of King Achashverosh.

        1. The verse (2:5) tells us Mordechai was “in Shushan” to tell us that he knew of the law. He could not feign ignorance since he lived in the capital city, and it was well-publicized everywhere.
        2. The verse (ibid.) also says “his name” was Mordechai, indicating that he had a “name,” or level of fame, and should have seen it as an honor to bring his adopted daughter to the king.
        3. The next verse (ibid. 6) informs us that Mordechai was “exiled.” As an immigrant, he should have felt gratitude to his host nation, wanting to give back by giving his daughter.
        4. The next verse (ibid. 7) tells us that Esther was “daughter of his uncle” meaning that he was responsible for her, and thus had the final say of whether or not she should be a part of this contest.
        5. More than that, the verse (ibid.) tells us Esther “did not have a father and mother” to stress that he had ultimate authority over her, having to answer to nobody.
        6. The additional fact that Esther had a “beautiful form” (ibid.) was all the more reason for Mordechai to bring her!
        7. By describing Esther “as daughter” to Mordechai, the verse is saying that Esther would not go without his approval, making him ultimately culpable for her being absent at the king’s casting call.
        8. In our verse, the phrase “word and law” indicates that he knew the law well, and even knew of the consequences for ignoring it.

Additionally, Mordechai saw that “many young women” were taken to the king, and could not say he was ignorant of what was going on. As the Malbim continues, despite all of this, Mordechai nevertheless ignored the law, and placed himself in great peril in order to protect Esther.