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).
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Esther 4:7, Question 5. Why does the verse emphasize Mordechai’s telling Esther about the destruction of the Jews?

  • The Vilna Gaon writes that the verse emphasizes Mordechai’s telling Esther about the destruction of the Jews to clarify that the public documents vaguely informing Shushan to be ready actually intended the annihilation of the Jews.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz breaks apart the word “li’avdam” (“to destroy”) into the words “lo badam” (“not with blood”). In explanation, he cites the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:14) that relates the following allegorical anecdote:

[After the Satan convinced H-Shem to agree that Yisroel deserved destruction, and various levels of H-Shem’s servants respond,] Eliyahu (of Blessed Memory) ran in terror to the Patriarchs and Moshe son of Amram. And he said to them, “How long will the Patriarchs of old remain asleep? Are you not paying attention to the evils in which your children find themselves? The ministering angels, the sun, the moon, the stars and constellations, Heaven and Earth, and all the Heavenly servants are bitterly crying. And you are standing by, not paying attention?!” They said to him, “Why [were they found worthy of destruction]?” He said to them, “Because Yisroel enjoyed themselves at the feast of Achashverosh. Because of this, H-Shem decreed upon them a decree to annihilate them from the world, and to destroy their memory.” Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov said to him, “If they transgressed the Will of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and this decree is sealed, what are we able to do?” Eliyahu returned, and said to Moshe, “Trustworthy shepherd! How often have you stood in the breach for the sake of Yisroel, and nullified the decree against them to avoid their annihilation? As it is written, ‘Did not Moshe, His chosen, stand in the breach before Him to turn back His anger from destroying’ (Tehillim 106:23). How do you answer this evil?” […] Moshe said to him, “Is there anyone good in this generation?” [Eliyahu] said, “There is, and his name is Mordechai.” [Moshe] said to him, “Go and tell him that when he stands there to pray, and I from here, and he seeks mercy for them before the Holy One, Blessed is He…” [Eliyahu] said to him, “Trustworthy shepherd! It is already written, this letter of destruction of Yisroel!” Moshe said to him, “If it is written in clay, our prayers will be heard. And if it is written in blood, it is already done.” [Eliyahu] said, “It is written in clay.” Moshe our Teacher said to him, “Go and tell Mordechai.”

 R’ Eibshutz asks on this this story: What is the symbolic significance of the document being written in blood or clay? Why would a decree written in blood be irreversible? He explains that Adam was created from earth and soul (Bireishis 2:7). Clay is made from earth and the Torah testifies that blood is the essence of the nefesh, soul (Vayikra 17:14, see Ramban to Vayikra 17:11). Thus, clay represents the physical and blood represents the spiritual. In the Midrash, then, Moshe was asking Eliyahu if the decree against the Jews was written for physical reasons (i.e. their enjoying Achashverosh’s feast) or spiritual reasons (i.e. bowing to an idol of Nevuchadnetzer). Had it been for their spiritual rejection of H-Shem (G-d forbid!), the decree would stand. In our verse, Mordechai was telling Esther that the decree was “lo b’dam,” not written in blood, and thus had a physical root that could be reversed with the power of prayer1.

1It is unclear to the author why the cause should be unclear; the above-cited Midrash explicitly stated that the decree was written and sealed due to the Jews’ enjoying Achashverosh’s feast. Perhaps the question was regarding the Jews’ motivation in attending the feast, and is not related to the seeming worship of Nevuchadnetzer’s statue. Tzarich iyun.

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 3:8, Question 2. Why does Haman use “yeshno” instead of the more common “yesh” for “there is?”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 13b) and the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:12) both interpret “yeshno” (“there is”) as rooted in the Hebrew “yashan,” (“sleep”). According to the Talmud, Haman was maligning the Jews to Achashverosh by claiming their sleeping, or spiritual lethargy in performing the mitzvos that the king otherwise feared would protect them.
  • The Midrash there, likewise, interprets this word as a means for Haman to allay the fears of the rightfully nervous king by claiming that H-Shem, Himself was sleeping, or not concerned about the goings-on in the world. In the Midrash, H-Shem responds by quoting Tehillim (121:4) that “the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.”
  • In Ohr Gedalyahu, Rav Gedalya Schorr cites Nefesh HaChaim that these two opinions are not necessarily contradictory, for when the Jews act toward H-Shem with indifference, mida kineged mida (measure for measure), H-Shem will look upon them with indifference, as well.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that the reason Haman thought that H-Shem was “sleeping” was because the Jewish people were too focused on their “yesh” (“there is”), their possessions, the physical. The more the Jews focus on yesh (the physical), the more they will be yeshno (spiritually sleeping). As the Ohr Gedalyahu puts it, Jews are sleeping when they perform mitzvos without care. This is often a consequence of thinking that abandoning Jewish observance will cause the gentiles around us to behavior towards us in a a more favorable fashion. On the contrary, Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 366) writes that it is a “self-deception for us to imagine that we could buy the friendship of the peoples and permanently assure it to ourselves by discarding this Jewish distinctiveness.”
  • The Torah Ohr points out from the Talmud (Baba Basra 16a) that the Yetzer HaRah (Evil Inclination) is the Satan (Heavenly Accuser), and that is the Angel of Death. What this means is that the very thing in our lives that seduces us to sin is also our judge and executioner. Haman acts the very same way; Haman is the seducer in setting up the feast where they Jews sinned, Haman is the judge who decided the Jews deserve death, and he wishes to be the one who does the actual killing. Certainly, being seduced by the Evil Inclination is not an excuse for misbehavior. On the contrary, H-Shem gives us all precisely the very tools – whether psychological, spiritual, physical, or otherwise – needed to successfully combat the exact temptations we experience (Nesivos Olam).

Esther 1:16, Question 4. Why does the verse mention the officers and the people?

The Vilna Gaon writes in his “Simple” explanation that Memuchan, in order to play off of the king’s precarious political situation, is hinting to Achashverosh that we (officers) already know about this situation, and they (the people) will find out eventually. In his “Allegorical” interpretation, the Vilna Gaon continues with the idea that the entire Megillas Esther is an allegory for a person’s personal, internal struggles. As such, Memuchan represents the Satan, the “Yetzer Hara” (“Evil Inclination”), and the Angel of Death. Through being successful in battling evil, a person can merit to be called an officer, in control of one’s inclinations.