Therefore, the unfortified Yehudim in the unfortified cities made the
fourteenth day of the month of Adar [a day of] joy, feasting, and
holiday, and from sending gifts a man to his fellow.
According to Rashi, quoting the Talmud (Megillah 2b) “unfortified cities” are those that were not surrounded by walls in the days of Yehoshua.
The Ziv HaMinhagim writes that this definitely includes only Yerushalayim. There is a doubt regarding Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beit Sha’an, Gush Khaloav, Hebron, Haifa, Tiberias, Jaffa, Lod, Gaza, Acco, Safed, Ramleh, and Shechem.
R’ Ovadya of Bartenura explains that the times of Yehoshua are the reference point for the definition of walled cities in order to remind us of the root hatred of Amalek is their attacking us when we were leaving Mitrzrayim, when they battled Yehoshua.
The Sfas Emes adds that, by recalling Yerushalayim, we remember that the purpose of Purim was the rebuilding of the Beis HaMikdash.
In his introduction to Yosef Lekach, Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi notes that a significant difference between Chanukah and Purim is that one is not required to celebrate Chanukah with a feast, per se. Since there were Jews still perishing in battle on Chanukah, we cannot institute a national feast. On Purim, however, the celebration requires both feasting and joy because not one single Jew died.
According to the Ben Ish Chai, we need both actions to celebrate both the spiritual renewal, and the physical safety.
The Sfas Emes emphasizes this by noting that, grammatically, the verse uses the word v’aso (“and he made”), implying that H-Shem made this into a day of joy and celebration.
R’ Yitzchak Hutner notes that any holiday from the Written Torah requires a degree of joy, as the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yom Tov 6:18) makes clear. The holidays from the Oral Torah require drinking. Since this holiday contains aspects of both the Written and Oral Torahs, Purim requires both joy and feasting.
16. And the remaining Yehudim who were in the states of the king gathered and stood on their souls, and were relieved of their enemies, and killed five and seventy thousand of their haters. And in their spoils they did not send their hands.
As Malbim points out, the army of the king was with the Jews in Shushan.
However, outside of Shushan, Dena Pishra writes, the verse had to mention that the Yehudim were “standing on their souls,” meaning they had more concern for their lives.
According to the Sfas Emes, unlike the days of Moshe (Devarim 4:10) where they needed to be artificially gathered together, the Jews united themselves together in a show of oneness. However, they knew that such displays were not enough, and they also “stood on their souls,” meaning they focused on the emotional hate for everything Amalek.
2. The Yehudim congregated in their cities in all of the states of King Achashverosh to send their hand against those who sought bad for them. And a man did not stand before them because the fear of them fell on all the nations.
The Rosh writes that the verse stresses that the Jews gathered because they came together to pray and fast. As is mentioned in Halacha (Mishna Berura 686:2), this is the reason for fasting on Taanis Esther before Purim.
There is a power in numbers, and congregating can have powerful affects, so R’ Aryeh Leib Tzonetz and the Sfas Emes note that Haman’s spiritual power was due to the Jews being splintered and separate (Esther 3:8). Therefore, the intent of this verse, Mordechai’s order for the Jews to be gathered before Esther approached Achashverosh (Esther 4:16), and even the mishloach manos gifts (Esther 9:19) after the miracle was to unify the Jewish people.
Rashi translates the unusual verb misyahadim as “converted.” Seemingly, because of their fear of Jewish reprisal, many gentiles converted to Judaism.
Agaddas Bireishis (15) explains that non-Jews always want to convert to Judaism whenever the Jews are fulfilling their responsibilities to H-Shem.
The Alshich points out that this shows a sharp contrast between the Jews and gentiles. When faced with annihilation, the Jews strengthened their faith with teshuva (“repentance”), whereas the gentiles abandoned the empty faiths of their powerless gods.
The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why this contrast occurred at this point, and not in Moshe’s time. In other words, one would expect a lot more converts during the Jews’ exodus and miraculous stay in the desert. He answers that there were so few converts in Moshe’s time because the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) teaches that the Jews were coerced then to accept the Torah. One needs to feel inspired to inspire others, as the Jews felt at the end of the Purim story.
The Ralbag disagrees with Rashi’s translation, and suggests that they did not convert, but merely pretended to be Jews.
The Vilna Gaon explains that they did not really convert because they would have been motivated by fear.
After all, Meseches Geirim (1:7) writes that if a person’s motivation for conversion to Judaism is women, love, or fear, their act is not considered a real conversion.
Interestingly, according to R’ Moshe Dovid Valle, Mordechai accepted even the insincere converts, just as had Moshe when accepting the eruv rav, Egyptians who converted to Judaism insincerely when they saw that the Jews were successfully and miraculously leaving Egypt. According to him, their descendants caused problems during second Beis HaMikdash.
However, according to M’nos HaLevi, they were not accepted because the Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) writes that converts can be difficult to the Jews. He continues that these gentiles nevertheless dressed in Jewish clothing. The Sfas Emes notes that this is yet another source for the custom to masquerade on Purim.
In Likkutei Sichos, the Lubavitcher Rebbe writes that “am ha’aretz” can represent the “basic, fundamental human.” In other words, basic human behavior like sleeping, eating, etc. are obviously applicable to both Jews and gentiles, alike. The actions are the same, but there are different attitudes. For instance, a Jew is required to eat with appreciation and with intent to have a closer bond with H-Shem, to sleep in order to better perform mitzvos the next day, etc. Therefore, even in base, human behaviors, these particular gentiles acted like Jews.
According to Malbim, since the previous verse (Esther 8:15) testifies to the fact that everybody was happy, the various expressions in this verse underscore the fact that the Jews were especially joyous.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 405) writes that this verse demonstrates that the Jews could now survive any difficulty in history because they “preserved their own light and joy.”
The Rambam (Perakim Hatzlacha, Chapter 2) emphasizes that all of the good that the Jews received was due to their return to Torah. Based on this, the Binyan Shlomo points out that it is a very praiseworthy custom to learn Torah on the holiday of Purim (see Rema, Orach Chaim 695:2).
The Sharis Yosef teaches that objects going from darkness to light is yet another source for the customto wear costumes on Purim.
The Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) writes that this description mirrors how the Jews will be redeemed with the coming of Moshiach.
The Talmud (Megillah 16b) interprets this verse’s expressions thus: light is Torah; happiness is Yom Tov; joy is circumcision; and glory is tefillin.
Rashi comments on the Talmud that Haman made decrees forbidding Jews from fulfilling these mitzvos. The Yad HaMelech points out that Jews may have neglected circumcision at that time, as they sometimes have done on times of persecution to pass as non-Jews.
The Megillas Sesarim writes that Mordechai’s wearing tefillin earlier (Esther 8:15) put that mitzva back in vogue.
Rav Shimon Schwab finds it impossible for the Jews to have been successfully banned from these mitzvos, en masse. Rather, he explains that the Jews at that time studied Torah, but without light; they commemorated holidays, but without happiness; they performed circumcisions, but without joy; they wore tefillin, but without glory. Without caring, without thinking, and without these precious mitzvos affecting their souls.
Rav Yehonason Eibshutz points out that it is a natural, human reaction for the emotional impact of an event to fade in subsequent anniversaries of that event. For instance, as happy as a child’s birthday celebration may be, it pales in comparison to the happiness felt at the actual successful birth. However, when that event is attached to a mitzva that is repeated every year, the original happiness felt at the event is retained (and perhaps enhanced) with the performance of the mitzva. This is the reason for the Talmud to equate happiness with Yom Tov; with each occurrence of Purim, its mitzvos reignite its accompanying joy.
The Sfas Emes asks a fundamental question: why does the verse uses metaphors instead of explicitly writing that the Jews garnered Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin? He answers that, with the miracle of Purim, the Jews recognized the real nature of light, happiness, joy, and glory; light comes from Torah, happiness comes from Yom Tov, joy comes from circumcision, and glory comes from tefillin.
The Ohr Gedalyahu adds that all of these misapplied emotions point to the Jews’ ancient battle against Amalek, a nation described (Devarim 25:17) as having cooled us. Amalek wins when Jews perform mitzvos without an accompanying fire of emotion. He quotes the Sefer Yetzira that the month of Adar is represented by the letter kuf, meaning kedusha (“holiness”), which he defines as keeping something special and invigorating.
The Ohel Moshe similarly writes that simcha (“happiness”) is the antidote to Amalek’s cooling effect. The Vilna Gaon notes that all four of these mitzvos – Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin – are regularly called osos (“signs”) and eidus (“testimonies”). He explains that these all testify that there is one G-d, and that the Jewish people are uniquely His people. He adds that taking the first letters (roshei teivos) of the words ora (“light”), simcha (“happiness”), sasson (“joy”), and yikar (“glory”) – aleph, sin, sin, and yud respectively – produces a gematria (1+300+300+10=611) equal to that of Torah (400+6+200+5=611). He continues by quoting a cryptic Talmudic tale (Sukkah 48b) about a character named Sasson speaking with another named Simcha. In this piece of Aggadeta, the two are trying to outdo each other by quoting verses throughout TaNaCh in which one or the other appears first. When Sasson and Simcha finally consult with Rebbe Abahu, he tells them that if a person has a water flask but never fills it, but merely keeps it next to him, he will die of thirst.
The Vilna Gaon’s explanation is beyond the author’s erudition and the scope of this work, but the Shem M’Shmuel explains that conversation by distinguishing between the exact spiritual nature of these two almost synonymous emotions, happiness and joy. He writes that happiness is the emotion felt after careful planning yields a successful result, whereas joy is the emotion felt when one experiences an unexpected windfall. The debate between Sasson and Simcha, then, is whether success is better felt in the former type of situation, or the latter. For instance, should an organization carefully plan its charitable giving, or bypass the planning and initiate the giving as quickly and haphazardly as possible? Having one necessarily means lacking the other. Rebbe Abahu’s allegoric answer, then, is that there needs to be spiritual content (water) inside the emotion (water flask) to gain anything beyond failure (thirst). Therefore, in our verse, the Jews had both emotions – happiness from the prearranged success, and joy from the unexpected success.
The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why the great mitzvah of teshuva (“repentance”) seems missing in this list of mitzvos the Jews are performing. After all, the Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that Achashverosh giving his signet ring to Haman created the greatest wave of teshuva in history. He answers that exactly these mitzvos are actual teshuva! Sitting around feeling sorry is not genuine repentance; improving our performance of H-Shem’s service is how we return to Him.
In Machir Yayin, the Rema writes that the verse’s use of the phrase “al nafsham” (“on their souls”) rather than “al gufam” (“on their bodies”) implies that the Jews’ targets were their spiritual enemies, not their physical enemies. In other words, Jewish survival depends upon their defending themselves from sin.
The Sfas Emes focuses on the word al (“on”). He explains in this context that teshuva out of a sense of love is greater than teshuva out of fear. According to him, the Jews were on a higher level at this point – no longer threatened with annihilation – and the verse therefore uses the word al.