8. And the king returned from the garden of his house to the house of the wine feast. And Haman is falling on the bed on which is Esther. And the king said, “Also to attack the queen with me in the house?!” The word went out from the mouth of the king, and Haman’s face was covered.
Rashi notes that people in those days reclined on beds or couches during meals, as was mentioned earlier (see Esther 1:16).
The Talmud (Megillah 12a) pointed out that during Achashverosh’s party in the beginning of the story, that the couches were designed to be equal in order to avoid jealousy. Here, ironically, the couch provokes the epitome of jealousy.
In a simple explanation of this verse, the Ibn Ezra writes that Haman was merely beseeching Esther, and fell from fear when Achashverosh entered.
Similarly, the Vilna Gaon states that because Haman was so deeply saddened, he could not stand.
R’ Dovid Feinstein stresses that, had Haman been simply begging for his life, he would have been on the floor, so an explanation beyond the simple understanding is in order.
The Talmud (Megillah 16a) is bothered by the verse’s use of the present tense nofal (“is falling”) instead of nafal (“fell”). It records that when Achashverosh returned from his garden, an angel was in the process of pushing Haman onto Esther’s bed. Achashverosh yelled, “Woah onto me in my house and woah onto me outside.”
R’ Avigdor Bonckek explains that the use of the present tense is meant to express the mental image in our minds like an ongoing event.
The Baal HaTurim, in his commentary on the Torah (Bereishis 48:2) points out the phrase “al hamita” (“on the bed”) is used in TaNaCh twice – here, and in reference to Yaakov giving his blessing to his grandchildren through Yosef, Menashe and Efrayim. This is meant to contrast the righteous, who lift themselves up even at their weakest moments (as Yaakov raised himself from his deathbed to bless his progeny), to the wicked, who fall even when they are at highest peak of their success (as Haman fell from the king’s grace).
The Talmud (Pesachim 100a) uses the phrase “hagam lichvosh es hamalka imi babayis” (“also to attack the queen with me in the house”) to criticize someone who follows the opinion of Rabbi A in the presence of Rabbi B when those opinions conflict. Similarly, Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells a story of the Klausenberger Rebbe who prayed one late afternoon at the grave of the tanna R’ Yehuda bar Ilai outside Meron in Eretz Yisrael. In the evening, the rebbe became unusually downcast. When he was asked about his sudden change of mood, he explained that the R’ Yehuda bar Ilai’s opinion was that mincha needed to be prayed earlier, and “hagam lichvosh es hamalka imi babayis!”
The Talmud (Sanhedrin 105a) tells us that a proof to the idea that the wicked Bilam performed magic through immoral acts is the fact that the Torah (Bamidbar 24:4) records that he called himself “fallen.” This bears a marked similarity to Haman’s situation in this verse, in which he falls. Falling onto a bed is a reference to falling into immorality.
The Maharal suggests that Haman fell over the bed because he could not see it due to his embarrassment. He refers us to the Talmud (Bava Metzia 59a) that teaches that embarrassed people behave clumsily.
Perhaps he could not see the bed because his inflated ego caused his head to be perpetually in the air, even as he is about to die.
The Ma’amar Mordechai points out that Haman knew that Achashverosh would get jealous if he saw Haman and Esther together, and, knowing that he was as good as dead already, he tried to take Esther down with himself.
The author of the website doreishtov.blogspot points out that the Talmud calls the holiday of Purim by the name, “Puraya,” which also means “bed” in Aramaic. He suggests that this event of Haman falling on Esther’s bed is more central to the story from which the holiday comes than the lots that Haman threw.
The Sfas Emes points out that Haman fell twice, once here, and again when his followers fall on the thirteenth of Adar. The Sfas Emes continues that these multiple falls were foreshadowed when Haman’s advisers said (Esther 6:13) “nafol tipol” (“falling you will surely fall”). The Sfas Emes concludes that this also foreshadows the ultimate downfall of Amalek at end of history as promised in the Torah (Bamidbar 24:20), it should be in our days.
According to Megillas Sefer, Haman was saying to Esther that if she forgives him, Achashverosh will, too.
The Vilna Gaon writes that Haman tried to tell Esther that he didn’t know that the Jews were her people.
The Meshech Chochmo writes that Haman realized that the invitations came from Esther, so she is the one with the most power.
According to the Ben Ish Chai, Haman tried to convince Esther that he put her in this position of power by getting rid of Vashti, so she owed him a favor. The Malbim posits that perhaps Haman would not have approached her under any normal conditions, but she was the only one left, so he tried his alternative (Plan B) excuses on her. Seeing that she is a woman, and particularly a Jewish woman, he was hoping she would show Haman mercy.
The Sfas Emes writes that Esther fought the urge to be merciful, unlike Shaul with Agag. She accomplished this by having been exposed to Haman. In this way, she emotionally hated what she was intellectually commanded to hate. Similarly, first the verse (Devarim 25:17) commands us to remember Amalek, and only then (Devarim 25:19) to destroy it. First, one is required to have the emotion, and then to perform the act.
The Sfas Emes points out that, on a spiritual level, this act of Esther’s was a tikkun (“repair”) for Shaul’s error of allowing Agag to live. The Zer Zahav adds that Haman’s begging was a great test for Esther’s sense of improperly placed mercy. After all, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 2:1) writes that the ideal way to demonstrate complete repentance is to be faced with the same challenge, and to nevertheless overcome it, and this was almost a direct parallel to the story of Shaul and Agag.
In the previous event in which Haman asked advice from his loved ones (Esther 5:10), Zeresh spoke first.
The Dena Pishra points out that here, Haman’s advisers speak first because Haman held Zeresh responsible for what he now considered bad advice.
According to the Sfas Emes, that verse called them “loved ones” and this verse calls them “advisers” because these were fair-weather friends, jumping on Haman’s bandwagon in the height of his rise to power, but are just advisers during his fall. He quotes the Mishna (Avos 5:6) that a love that is attached to a reason, once that reason goes away, that love disappears.
The Maharal notes that Haman’s male friends, like any good friend, were required for critical statements. The type pf woman Haman would marry is supposed to be his equal, not pointing out his flaws. The Maharal quotes a seeming contradiction between one Talmudic statement (Bava Metzia 59a) that says listening to one’s wife’s advice can lead a man to gehinom, or Hell, and another Talmudic statement (Ibid.) that advises a man with a short wife to bend to hear her advice. The Talmud explains that taking a wife’s advice in religious matters leads a man to gehinom, whereas taking her advice in worldly matters is worth bending for. The Maharal explains that, although there are exceptions, women then did not typically study Talmudic discourse, so taking their advice in that abstract, logical area would be foolish. A man should listen to his wife about the practical, worldly, real-life matters.
12. And Mordechai returned to the gate of the king. And Haman was propelled to his house mourning, and with a covered head.
It seems doubly strange for the verse to say Mordechai returned to the palace, when our commentary on the previous verse made clear the Haman found Mordechai in the house of study. According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and the Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:6), the verse emphasizes that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate instead of into because Mordechai returned to wearing sackcloth and fasting.
Rashi’s explaining that Mordechai returned to mourning seems to not be his pashut pshat, simple explanation.
The Maharsha clarifies that Mordechai could not enter the king’s gate wearing sackcloth because of their rules of propriety in those days, so he could only come as far as the gate, itself. Therefore, Mordechai, having been mourning in sackcloth for the last several days could not be said to be returning to a place where he could not have previously been.
R’ Avigdor Bonchek explains that being paraded on a horse emboldened Mordechai to defy Achashverosh’s law by going to gate in sackcloth.
The Targum writes that Mordechai returned to serving on the Sanhedrin at this point, a position that is described in TaNaCh (see Bireishis 19:1, Devarim 21:19, Ruth 4:1) as being positioned “at the gate.”
The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4) teaches that the verse says Mordechai returned because he is humble. There is a humility in accepting one’s place, as is said of Avraham whom the Torah (Bireishis 18:33) describes as having “returned to his place” after speaking with H-Shem.
R’ Henoch Leibowitz notes that the Torah (Devarim 30:8) promises us that H-Shem will return us to our Land only after we suffer from our enemies. Rav Leibowitz explains that the lesson is that a person’s prayer in times of rescue should be equal in power and intensity to that with which one prays in times of troubles. The very purpose of our troubles is to increase our attachment to H-Shem. The proper method for this is to follow Rabbeinu Bachya’s advice (on Shemos 2:23) when he says that one’s prayer is the most intense in times of difficulty and that, therefore, it is incumbent on a person to remember that feeling of intensity, and bottle up that feeling of pain in order to pray strongly in the brighter future that the troubles do not return. At our most desperate, we should try to encapsulate the emotion to use in better times.
He quotes R’ Naftoli Tropp, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin writes that a famous piyut said on Yom Kippur calls us all dalim, poor. Even the rich should recall that all is H-Shem’s and they only have their riches only by the grace of G-d.
The Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai usually wore sackcloth during davening, and then changed for court. At this point, Mordechai did not change because he felt his prayers were unsuccessful, and not answered. This is because his riding on a horse did not manifestly spell out the redemption of the Jews. The Jews were still threatened.
Rebbetzin Heller points out that, being G-d focused, Mordechai didn’t care if Achashverosh loved or honored him. This event did not change Mordechai’s humility.
The Sfas Emes writes that Mordechai still felt guilty about causing the threat to Jewish existence by refusing to bow down to Haman. True teshuvah comes from the feeling of being unworthy of kindness from H-Shem. He concludes that one should never be too confident in this.
The Iyun Yaakov points out that, on the political side, Mordechai had anticipated using his saving Achashverosh’s life as leverage when begging Achashverosh to save the Jews – not just a pony ride around town. Disappointed by the loss of his ace in the hole, Mordechai’s only remaining means to save the Jews is to pray to H-Shem.
The Ohel Moshe quotes the Brisker Rav, R’ Yitzchak Zev HaLevi Soloveitchik that in his reporting the goings-on to Esther earlier (Esther 4:5-16), Mordechai was unwilling to get out of his sackcloth for even one moment and even requiring Hasach as an intermediary because prayer and emunah are the main tools for salvation.
The Ohel Moshe also brings R’ Yehonason Eibshutz who quotes the Talmud (Brachos 5b) that a prisoner does not free himself. Somebody else needs to help somebody out. Similarly, Mordechai, once he sees himself rescued, returned to pray for the other Jews. Similarly,
R’ Dovid Bleicher of Novordok notes that Mordechai had his own needs met, but kept praying for the Jews because he had worked on himself to feel as if he was still under the threat of death.
The Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:12) states that a true Jewish leader does not stop fasting until the prayers are answered.
The Maharal notes that Mordechai was not satisfied by this honor because Achasherosh did not come to thank him, himself. He had no reason to think that Achashverosh felt actual gratitude. After all, as R’ Elie Munk points out in his commentary on Chumash (Vayikra 7:30), of all the offerings, the only one which the Torah describes as having to be brought “by his own hands” is the shelamim (peace offering) because it is brought as a way to thank H-Shem, and “when expressing one’s gratitude, it is proper to do it personally.”
Parenthetically, he also quotes this as the reason brought by Abudraham for the congregation to say the blessing of Modim (thanksgiving) during the repetition of the Amidah prayer, since the congregational leader cannot express the gratitude of another person.
The Maharal also says in a few places (Nesivos Olam) that simcha (joy) comes from shleimus (completeness). Here, too, Mordechai cannot be content since the Jews are still under the threat of annihilation, and are thus incomplete.
Perhaps the simplest explanation to why Mordechai returned to his place can be gleaned from a story told about R’ Yechezkel Abramsky. While discussing Megillas Esther with his rebbetzin, he asked her what Mordechai could have been thinking while riding on the horse. She answered, “This type of foolishness is for drunkards. I wish this will be over soon, so I can return to learning Torah!”
7. And Haman said to the king, “The man whom the king desires in glorifying him…
The Malbim writes that Haman wants to emphasize that the highest possible honor is to be the man whom the king wishes to honor.
R’ Jonathan Taub explains that the verse does not say bi’ish, (“in the man” as in the previous verse) but just ish (“man”) because that man who deserves the king’s favor needs nothing else.
Maharitz Dushinsky notes that Haman repeated this phrase because he wanted to see if Achashverosh would object to the word “desires.” The king should honor Mordechai for saving his life.
The Sfas Emes points out that one of the messages of Purim is that the King desires us. Yehoshua and Calev (Bamidbar 14:8) similarly tried to convince the Jewish people that if H-Shem desires us, nothing stands in our way.
M’nos HaLevi writes that Haman thinks that Achashverosh is referring to him because Achashverosh would only want to honor someone who already has money, so it had to be Haman.
The Iturrei Torah gives a more drush explanation. Haman focused on the fact that Achashverosh used the word “ish” (“man”). Since the Talmud (Megillah 12a) notes that Haman is called an ish, he assumed the king was referring to him. It happens to be that the same source calls the actual deserving honoree, Mordechai, an ish, as well.
Perhaps Haman also considered that the mispar katan of ish (1+1+3=5) happens to be the same as that of Haman (5+4+5=14=1+4=5).
The Sfas Emes writes that Haman was thinking that even if Achashverosh were referring to someone else, he will still do this for him later, as well.
The Ibn Ezra quotes the opinion in the Talmud (Megillah 15b) of Rebbe Eliezer that the verse’s use of the phrase “in his heart” is proof that Megillas Estherwas written with Ruach HaKodesh, Divine Inspiration, (see Introduction). After all, if Haman said something to himself, how did the authors of this book know what he was thinking privately?
The Sfas Emes, however, asks why this would prove that the entire book is written with Divine Inspiration. It should only prove that its authors, Esther and Mordechai, had Divine Inspiration. He answers that people with Ruach HaKodesh would not have written that they have it in such an obvious way. They would not show it off.
A story is told of the Rubshitzer Rav that somebody came to visit him for a bracha, but arrived at a time at which the Rav did not accept visitors. The visitor told the attending gabbai, who happened to be the Rav’s son, that he was a very important person. After the gabbai persisted in explaining that this was not the time for the Rav to receive visitors, this guest asked for a glass of water. When the gabbai gave him the water, the man said he could not drink from the cup because he could tell that it had not yet be toveled (submerged) in a mikvah since he could feel the Name of H-Shem on it. Indeed, upon investigation, the Rav’s son learned that the cup he had given the man came from a box of vessels awaiting mikvah immersion. Impressed with the man’s obvious holiness, he rushed him in to see his father, the Rubshitzer Rav. After the visit, the Rav asked the gabbai why he allowed the guest at a time when the Rav did not see visitors. His son told him then what had transpired earlier, and concluded, “I pray that one day, I am on the level to see if a cup has been toveled merely by holding it.” The Rav responded, “When you become that great, I pray you are the type of person who will not tell that to the person who gave you the glass.”
The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:3) writes that evil people are controlled by their hearts, and brings several proofs from TaNaCh of this. Righteous people, on the contrary, are in control of their hearts.
Rebbetzin Heller explains that righteous people are are rational, and evil people are emotional. The Maharal adds that an evil person’s whole being is focused on the temporary, terrestrial world, whereas the righteous are focused on the permanent, the holy – not controlled by the momentary whims and passions of their hearts.
Parenthetically, it is amazing to note that Haman who had arrived with the plan to kill Mordechai, could switch gears without missing a beat, from murder to honoring himself. Perhaps this is because both come from the same negative inclination/characteristic.