Esther 5:14, Question 1. Why were the gallows specifically 50 cubits?

  • The Ma’amar Mordechai writes that the tree was supposed to be 50 amos tall to enable Haman to see Mordechai hanging while still at Esther’s party. The reason we can be certain that Mordechai would be more visible under that condition is that the Talmud (Eruvin 2b) teaches that the windows in kings’ palaces are no higher than 50 amos.
  • The Vilna Gaon teaches that the gallows certainly needed to be tall enough for Harbona to point to it (Esther 7:9). This is because of the Talmudic principle (Talmud, Rosh HaShanah 26a) that hearing is not comparable to seeing.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Zeresh is advising Haman that if he gets irritated, he can simply look up and get in a good mood because Mordechai will hang from the tree seen everywhere.
  • According to Yalkut Shimoni (1054), besides throwing lots (purim) to decide on the best date to kill all of the Jews (Esther 3:7), Haman also threw lots to decide on the best species of tree to use in making this gallows. However, throughout TaNaCh, the Jews are compared to many different kinds of trees, so he decided on a cedar because Jews are not compared to it. The reason for this is that the cedar can be shattered by the wind.
  • Both the Yalkut Shimoni and the Midrash Abba Gorion continue that Haman could not find such a tall beam, so his son Parshandasa, governor of the area of Mt. Ararat, the area where Noach’s ark landed (Bireishis 8:4), gave him beam of Noach’s teivah, which would have been 50 amos long (Bireishis 6:15).
  • Rabbi Dovid Feinstein explains that the wood was from Noach’s teivah to show that killing Mordechai was important for humanity, as his refusal to bow down to Haman disturbed the “Great Chain of Being,” society’s understanding of the social hierarchy.
  • However, the Binyan Shlomo quotes the Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer (Chap. 50) that the wood taken from Holy of Holies1.
  • The Maharal notes that the teiva and the Beis HaMikdash both represent Olam HaZeh, the terrestrial world. Essentially, the idea of the Beis HaMikdash is that items of this world can be taken and elevated to greatness. Similarly, the teiva saved this physical world from destruction during the Deluge. Haman was attempting to conquer that mystical power that holds control over this world. This is what it means that Haman made of himself an object of worship, which is one of the reasons Mordechai had refused to bow to him. It is interesting to note that another connection between the teivah and the Beis HaMikdash is hidden in gematria. The gematria of ararat (1+200+200+9=410) is the same as the amount of years the first Temple stood.
  • In his usual, mysterious style, Rav Moshe David Valle writes that the 50 amos refer to the 50 gevuros (powers) of the yad hachazaka (“the strong Hand”), all of them combining against Haman. Perhaps this is a reference to the Haggadah in which Rabbi Yosi haGelili asks, “How do we know the Egyptians were struck with ten plagues in Mitzrayim and 50 at the sea?” In reply, he contrasts the verse (Shemos 8:15) in which Pharaoh’s magicians recognized the plagues as “the finger of G-d” with the verse (Shemos 14:31) describing Israel’s recognizing G-d’s might after drowning the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds, “and Israel saw the great Hand.” If one finger represents the plagues, of which there where ten, then a hand with its five fingers would be five times greater, or 50. Therefore, the 50 amos of the gallows demonstrate H-Shem’s anger with Haman.
  • According to the Sfas Emes, when Adam ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Bireishis 3:6), good and evil became confused. Kabbalistically, this resulted in 49 gates of tumah (impurity) which parallel 49 gates of kedusha (holiness). When the Talmud (Chulin 139b) states that Adam’s eating from the tree (Bireishis 3:11) is an allusion to Haman, it is because Amalek (represented by Haman), is the force that causes this confusion (the Hebrew word for confusion, safek (60+80+100=240) has the same gematria as Amalek (70+40+30+100=240). To know clearly what is right, and have not doubts at all, one needs to be above one’s area of control by leaping above to the 50th gate, a place Amalek cannot exist. Moshe’s raising his hands during the Jews’ war with Amalek (Shemos 17:11) hints to the idea of rising above one’s vantage point. Chiddushei HaRim brings this idea of confusing good with evil as another reason for the custom to drink wine on Purim ad d’lo yada.

1 Most commentators give the source for this measurement as Yechezkel 40:15, which describes the length of the boards used in the Third Temple. Being that this Temple has unfortunately not been built yet (unless this was attempted before, as Rabbi Ken Spiro suggests in his “Crash Course in Jewish History”), perhaps the intended source is Shemos 27:12-13, which describes the Mishkan’s width rather than length.

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Esther 4:7, Question 1. What does the verse mean that Mordechai relates “what happened to him?”

ז וַיַּגֶּדלוֹ מָרְדֳּכַי אֵת כָּלאֲשֶׁר קָרָהוּ וְאֵת ׀ פָּרָשַׁת הַכֶּסֶף אֲשֶׁר אָמַר הָמָן לִשְׁקוֹל עַלגִּנְזֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּיְּהוּדִיים [בַּיְּהוּדִים] לְאַבְּדָם

7. And Mordechai told him all that happened to him and the account of the silver that Haman said to weigh out on the king’s treasury in the Yehudim to annihilate them.

  • According to M’nos HaLevi, when the verse says that Mordechai related to Hasach “what happened to him,” it means that Mordechai told him absolutely everything – his refusal to bow to Haman, the Jews’ sin, and even the answer from the three students cited earlier.
  • Megillas Sesarim points out that Mordechai emphasized that this was happening to him personally because he felt responsible for this turn of events. Therefore, due to the Talmudic concept of “ein kateigor naaseh sineigor” (“the prosecutor cannot be the defender”) (see Rosh HaShanah 26a), Mordechai needed Esther to act in his stead.
  • Other commentators focus on alternative meanings to the Hebrew word karahu, “what happened to him.” For instance, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:5) writes that Mordechai was telling Esther that a descendant of the nation that which karcha, “happened upon” (Devarim 25:18) the Jewish people in the desert, had launched an attack. That verse is explicitly about Amalek, ancestor of Haman. This is important, writes the Ginzei HaMelech, because Mordechai was indicating that the Jewish people were being punished by a specific enemy for a specific sin. In other words, since H-Shem gave Amalek permission, as it were, to attack the Jews for their laxity in Torah study (see Rashi to Shemos 17:8), Mordechai recognized that the solution to Haman’s threat was to infuse the Jewish people with a rejuvenated alacrity.
  • Besides the cause, this word also alludes to the manner in which this threat may be annulled – nature. The Ohel Moshe quotes the Yismach Yisroel that every battle between the Jewish people and Amalek involved nature. In the first battle, Moshe’s ordering Yehoshua to draft men to fight (Shemos 17:9) showed a stark contrast to the miraculous defeat of the Egyptians at the Sea of Reeds. The constant battle against Amalek cannot be miraculous, since H-Shem would never command us to perform something we naturally could not do.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:5) also opines that in the words “what happened to him,” Mordechai was referring to the dream he dreamed ten years earlier, alluding to the Jewish people facing mortal danger1.
  • According to the Torah Temimah, the reason Mordechai received this message in the form of a dream is because dreams generally feel as though they are b’mikra, a natural happenstance occurrence.

1The entire text of the Midrash gives the details of the dream: Behold! There was a great, strong noise and terror on the land, and fear and trembling on all its inhabitants. And behold, two great dragons, and they yelled at each other and waged war. And after hearing their voices, the nations of the land fled. And behold! Among them was one small nation. And all of the other nations rose up against the small nation to destroy its memory from the land. On that day, there was darkness over the entire world, and they bothered the small nation greatly, and they cried out to H-Shem. And the dragons warred with violent hate, and there was nothing separating them. And Mordechai saw: Behold! One small spring of water passed between these two dragons, and separated between them, from the war that they were fighting. And the spring strengthened. It flowed as strongly as the great [Mediterranean] sea. It spilled over the entire land. And he saw the sun shining over the entire land and bringing light to the world. The small nation was rising. And the big nations were brought low. And Behold! There was peace and truth throughout on the entire land.