Esther 6:2, Question 2. Why does the verse call the first conspirator Bigsana with an extra aleph?

  • The Alshich and M’nos HaLevi explain that the verse calls the first conspirator Bigsana with an extra letter aleph appended to his name because Haman’s son, to minimize Mordechai’s action, in describing the attempt on the king’s life, wrote “Bigsan o Seresh” (“Bigsan or Seresh”), as if Mordechai didn’t know which. If this were to be the case, then both were thereby punished and killed, one innocently so. Therefore, Mordechai would stand unworthy of reward. The angel, Gavriel, moved the letter vuv in between the names to the end of Bigsan’s name.

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Esther 6:2, Question 1. Why does the verse describe the incident as “found?”

ב וַיִּמָּצֵא כָתוּב אֲשֶׁר הִגִּיד מָרְדֳּכַי עַלבִּגְתָנָא וָתֶרֶשׁ שְׁנֵי סָרִיסֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ מִשֹּׁמְרֵי הַסַּף אֲשֶׁר בִּקְשׁוּ לִשְׁלֹחַ יָד בַּמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ

2. And it was found writing that Mordechai related on Bigsana and Seresh, two eunuchs of the king from the guards of the threshold who sought to send their arm at King Achashverosh.

  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 1:3), the verse describe the incident as “found” because, as bad as Achashverosh was, one good thing about Achashverosh was that he had everything recorded. One positive aspect of this is that he wrote both positive and negative events, a sign of humility. Another positive aspect of this is that writing down a chronicle of events helps a person grow spiritually (Pri Tzaddik, Chukas 4). After being inspired, the absence of a written record may cause that inspiration to disappear. There is an incident in which, as a young man, Rav Shlomo Brevda was walking in a poorly-maintained street when the street lights went out. He walked carefully, and when the lights cam back on, he found himself on the precipice of a large hole. He was inspired to pray the next morning with extra feeling and gratitude. However, when the next morning arrived, he found this inspiration gone like a deflated balloon. Upon asking several rabbis for an explanation of this phenomenon, he was directed to the Chazon Ish. After a rather lengthy bus ride to seek out this gadol’s advice, the Chazon Ish explained to him, “there is a special yetzer hara designed to deflate your inspiration immediately after a miracle.” One way to fight this and tap into your emotion is to write down that event.
  • The Malbim writes that Haman erased mention of Mordechai from the public document, and replaced any mention of him with his own name. Since he was unable to erase Mordechai’s name from the king’s private record, Achashverosh found it odd, if not suspicious, that Mordechai was the one who helped save him. This will help explain why his treatment of Haman and Mordechai from this point become the polar opposite of his treatment of them previously.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a), commenting on the abnormality that the verse says kasuv (“writing”) instead of kasav (“written”), which Rashi explains (there) means that it was being written anew teaches that Haman’s son, Shimshi, was attempting to erase Mordechai’s name, but the angel Gavriel was rewriting it. Interestingly, the Rokeach and M’nos HaLevi point out that the gematria of the first six words of our verse, “vayimazei chasuv asher heegeed Mordechai al” (6+10+40+90+1+20+400+6+2+1+300+200+5+3+10+4+40+200+4+20+10+70+30=1,472) is equal to this Talmud’s statement = “shimshi mochek v’Gavriel kosev” (300+40+300+10+40+6+8+100+6+3+2+200+10+1+30+20+6+400+2=1,484)1.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) continues that if something is written about the Jews below cannot be erased, how much more-so is this true in Heaven! In explanation, the Bobover Rebbe says this is hinting to H-Shem’s two books – one below and one above, mentioned in the Mishnah (Avos 2:20) in which H-Shem does His accounting for our behavior.
  • Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller stresses the tremendous effect of one human’s singular act written in a book leading the Jews to redemption. Accordingly, this is why the Rambam writes (Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:1) that just one good deed tips the scales for individual and for the whole world.

1I have yet to see a commentary explaining the apparent discrepancy of 22. Tzarich iyun.

Esther 6:1, Question 3. Why does the king ask for the record book(s)?

  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:1) explains that Achashverosh was certain that the reason he was afraid of an assassination attempt was because he had overlooked rewarding somebody. Indeed, they found the incident earlier (Esther 2:21) when Mordechai warned the king about Bigsan and Seresh’s assassination attempt.
  • M’lo HaOmer points out that it is a miracle that, although Achashverosh wanted to sleep, he asked to be read a record book which would seemingly have the opposite effect. After all, he was the king, and affairs of state, regional power struggles, palace intrigue, and other similar events recorded in such a record would more likely excite the king instead of put him calmly to bed.
  • Yosef Lekach writes that the entire records book was simply a list of the king’s personal debts.
  • Ibn Ezra, however, states that the book was a list of vows, and the king was feeling guilty and was under the assumption that his insomnia was a punishment for an unfulfilled vow.
  • The Malbim writes that Achashverosh was frustrated about what Esther’s request might be. Therefore, he asked for the records book to investigate if Esther’s request might merely be for him to reward someone for a favor done for him.
  • According to the Vilna Gaon, the verse is discussing two separate books – a chronicle of the nation’s entire history, and records book of the king’s personal enactments. Similarly, the Malbim points out that the big book is a public book, available to all the citizens. The smaller book is private, and only available to the king. As we shall see (be”H), the difference is that one is more likely to be manipulated.

Esther 5:14, Question 2. Why did Haman’s advisers specifically advise for Mordechai to be hanged?

  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 9:2) writes that Zeresh and Haman’s other advisers recommended that Haman hang Mordechai because this is a form of death from which H-Shem had never previously saved the Jews miraculously.
  • Seeing that they were, however, saved from every other type of death, it seems strange that Zeresh could so grossly misunderstand history. Aruchas Tamid explains that Zeresh thought that the Jews had previously been rescued by using magic. Therefore, Mordechai would be unable to escape hanging since the Talmud (Sanhedrin 44b, Rashi) teaches that magicians need to be standing on the ground to perform their magic. In fact, this is one of the reasons Pharoah’s magicians could not replicate the plague of lice (Shemos 8:14, Da’as Zekeinim Baalei Tosfos), since the lice covered the ground and the magicians could not stand on it. For this reason, in the famous aggadic story in the Talmud when Shimon ben Shetach killed eight magicians (Sanhedrin 45b), he first lifted them from the ground.
  • M’nos HaLevi says that they wanted Mordechai hanged in order to avenge the hanging deaths of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:23), Haman’s friends and possibly co-conspirators. R’ Yehonasan Eibshutz reiterates that killing Mordechai was Haman’s first step in killing Achashverosh and Esther, and becoming king through his friendship with the Greeks, rivals of Persia.

Esther 3:4, Question 5. What exactly is Mordechai’s claim?

  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8) teaches that, by answering that he is a Jew, Mordechai really intended to emphasize that, as a Jew, he is forbidden to worship anyone or anything besides H-Shem.
  • Rav Shlomo Kluger says that “Mordechai’s words” indicate his reporting the plot of Bigsan and Seresh. Mordechai wanted to see if his demonstrated loyalty to the king would be enough to excuse him (and perhaps the other Jews) from this bowing.
  • The Chasam Sofer says that the words “that he is a Yehudi” refers to Haman. As mentioned in the Talmud (Megillah 15a), Haman sold himself as a slave to Mordechai. Yalkut Shimoni (953) tells us there was rebellion against Achashverosh in one of his Indian states. Haman and Mordechai were chosen to command two of Achashverosh’s battalions. Due to his spending practices, Haman ran out of provisions. Mordechai, due to his righteous care for his resources (see Rashi to Bireishis 32:25 and Talmud, Chullin 91a), did not. Haman begged Mordechai for some of his rations, on condition that Mordechai sell himself to him as a slave, to which Haman agreed. Having nothing on which to write handy, Mordechai wrote the deed on his shoe, or armor he had on his feet. That being the case, a slave to a Jew who then goes free becomes Jewish, himself (Talmud, Chagigah 4a and brought down in Halachah in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 267:3-5, 11). According to the Chasam Sofer, then, Mordechai was saying that he does not have to bow down to him since Haman was once his slave. For that reason, according to the Midrash, every time Haman would pass by, Mordechai would point down to his shoe.
  • The verse makes it sound as though the servants did not trust Mordechai, and Mi’archei Lev writes that Mordechai gave them reason to respond this way. After all, it was well-known that he was from Benyamin, but he aroused suspicion by saying he was a Yehudi.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz writes that Haman felt confident about conquering Mordechai as he was from Benyamin. Here, Mordechai is pointing out that he comes from another tribe as well – Yehudah. Yehudah, being the tribe of Moshiach, is the great challenge to the power of Amalek. Mordechai represents the Yehudi who can conquer the power of evil. Rav Eibshutz also writes that Haman set up a test for Mordechai by one time coming out without a statue. Nevertheless, Mordechai still refused to bow to him. Even though Mordechai knew there was no statue, other people didn’t know, and this would constitute maaris ayin.

Esther 3:1, Question 2. Why does the king promote Haman?

  • Apparently basing itself on the idea that King here refers to H-Shem, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:1) cites a verse in Tehillim (37:20) to relate that H-Shem allowed for Haman to be elevated only in order for his fall to be all-the-more steep and painful. There is a parable told there of a horse, a donkey, and a pig. The farmer feeds the donkey and horse a limited amount, and feeds the pig without measure. One day, the horse asks the donkey, “We do actual work, yet are fed less. This is not fair!” The wise donkey tells the horse to be patient and realize that the pig is not well-fed for its own good, but to be fattened up to be eaten by the farmer.
  • In the next Midrash (ibid. 7:2) a story is told of a king who felt it beneath his dignity to kill a peasant, so he promotes him in order to execute him without degrading himself. Such is the case with Haman, made great only to be cut down the more painfully.
  • The Chida calculates that Haman was at the peak of his power for a total of seventy days. He sent out the letters to kill the Jews on the 13th of Nisan. Seventy days later, on the 23rd of Sivan, Mordechai sent out the letters for the Jews to rescue themselves. Similarly, there are seventy verses between this verse where Haman is elevated and the verse where Haman is hanged (7:10).
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that, by elevating Haman, H-Shem was rewarding him for his advice to rid the world of the evil Vashti.
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman was elevated at this point as a consequence for King Shaul’s (Mordechai and Esther’s ancestor) misdirected kindness in keeping Agag (Haman’s ancestor) alive.
  • Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (21) writes that Haman’s elevation is a reward for Agag’s sincere prayer when he was locked up in prison, awaiting his death. Because of this evil man’s last prayer, a ruler was destined to come from him, as is alluded to in the verse (Bamidbar 24:7), “and He raised from Agag his kingship.” Based on this, the Ginzei HaMelech asks, how could Haman, a thoroughly evil man only in power for 70 days, be considered a reward? He answers that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) teaches that Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah in Bnei Brak, truly a reward for anybody.
  • The Maharal writes that Haman is rewarded here instead of Mordechai because the righteous generally are not rewarded with wealth in this world, but accrue reward in the World to Come.
  • Rav Shmuel Aharon Rubin cites Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak in the Talmud (Megillah 11a), who applies the verse in Tehillim (124:2) that discusses H-Shem rescuing us from a man to the Purim story. Since kings have not free will of their own, he continues, H-Shem needed to elevate a man – since free will is the mark of humanity – to this position from which he could threaten the Jewish people. It is a bigger miracle that Pesach in that way because Pharaoh’s heart was Divinely hardened. Haman, on the other hand, could make his own decisions, and chose evil all the same.
  • The Vilna Gaon tells us that if Haman is Memuchan (as asserted before), the human king had reason to reward him, as well. After all, it was Haman who advised that Vashti should be removed. First, this advice allowed the king to marry Esther. Second, Esther helped save the king’s life from the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:21).
  • But if the motivation to elevate Haman came from Achashverosh for this, why did he not reward Mordechai? The Tirosh Vayitz’har writes that Achashverosh was unsure about Mordechai’s intention. Perhaps he was a part of the plot, after all. The only one he was sure of was Esther, so he rewarded her by elevating the man whose advice led to her being queen.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Kluger writes that, after surviving the assassination attempt, Achashverosh realized that he was at risk – especially from Haman – and knew that he needed to keep him close by. As the old saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
  • This is the exact opposite view from Chacham Tzvi, whose opinion is that Achashverosh mistrusted Haman and thought he conspired together with Esther to kill him. However, once Esther reported the assassination plot in Mordechai’s name – Mordechai being Haman’s arch rival – Achashverosh (thought he) knew that Haman was loyal.
  • According to the Malbim, the king simply forgot about Mordechai completely.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz notes that it makes little logical sense for Mordechai to have been so passed over, and instead condemned to die along with the other Jews. After all, he saved the king’s life when he had no need to. Therefore, this verse is yet another proof that it is impossible to understand the Purim story – or even Jewish history, in general – without the understanding that H-Shem miraculously protects His beloved people.

Esther 2:23, Question 2. Why are Bigsan and Seresh seemingly hanged on one tree?

  • The Ibn Ezra says that the phraseology simply means that each of the two was hanged.
  • On the other hand, as class attendant LM noted, the verse’s phrase “on the tree” would imply their being on top of the killing device, and impaling would require a wooden spike on the ground onto which the victim is thrust. This would lend credence to the Yad HaMelech’s opinion that the hanging of Bigsan and Seresh is described in the singular because they were first impaled, and then hanged, thereby being on the tree (from which the spike is made).
  • The Maharal writes that the hanging is written in the singular to foreshadow the hanging of Haman, which was also performed “on” a tree (see 7:10 below).