Esther 8:16, Question 2. What do these different expressions signify?

  • 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 custom to 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.
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Esther 8:11, Question 5. Why do the letters call the threat against the Jewish lives “al nafsham” (“on their souls”)?

  • 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.

Esther 8:11, Question 1. Why do the letters require the Jews to gather?

יא אֲשֶׁר נָתַן הַמֶּלֶךְ לַיְּהוּדִים ׀ אֲשֶׁר בְּכָלעִירוָעִיר לְהִקָּהֵל וְלַעֲמֹד עַלנַפְשָׁם לְהַשְׁמִיד וְלַהֲרֹג וּלְאַבֵּד אֶתכָּלחֵיל עַם וּמְדִינָה הַצָּרִים אֹתָם טַף וְנָשִׁים וּשְׁלָלָם לָבוֹז

11. “That the king gave to the Yehudim who were in each city and city to gather, and to stand on their souls, to annihilate, and to kill, and to destroy any army of the nation and state who antagonize them, infants, and women. And their property they should plunder.

  • According to Dena Pishra, the letters required the Jews to gather because Jewish unity is a powerful method of attaining H-Shem’s assistance.

  • The Sfas Emes adds that Jews have an aggregate soul, and our combined effort is especially needed when we are in danger.

  • Furthermore, the Ginzei HaMelech asks that if the word “unify” requires two or more people, and the word “stand” implies one [as one person stands for oneself], which is the letters’ intent? Based on Rashi’s comment on the Talmud (Shabbos 127b) that “stand” means to pray, he answers that the Talmud (Bava Kama 97a) promises a Jew that when one prays for another’s needs, one’s prayers are never rejected. The Talmud (Brachos 8a) says the same idea regarding communal prayer.

Esther 8:9, Question 1. Why does the verse stress that this occurred in Sivan?

ט וַיִּקָּרְאוּ סֹפְרֵיהַמֶּלֶךְ בָּעֵתהַהִיא בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁלִישִׁי הוּאחֹדֶשׁ סִיוָן בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁה וְעֶשְׂרִים בּוֹ וַיִּכָּתֵב כְּכָלאֲשֶׁרצִוָּה מָרְדֳּכַי אֶלהַיְּהוּדִים וְאֶל הָאֲחַשְׁדַּרְפְּנִיםוְהַפַּחוֹת וְשָׂרֵי הַמְּדִינוֹת אֲשֶׁר ׀ מֵהֹדּוּ וְעַדכּוּשׁ שֶׁבַע וְעֶשְׂרִים וּמֵאָה מְדִינָה מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה כִּכְתָבָהּ וְעַם וָעָם כִּלְשֹׁנוֹ וְאֶלהַיְּהוּדִים כִּכְתָבָם וְכִלְשׁוֹנָם

9. And they called the scribes of the king at that time, in the third month – it is the month of Sivan – on the twenty-third of it. And they wrote all that Mordechai commanded to the Yehudim, and to the governors, and their underlings, and the officers of the states that are from Hodu until Cush – one hundred and twenty-seven states – each state according to its script and each nation according to its language, and to the Yehudim according to their script and their language.

  • The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 7a) notes that there are different opinions as to the order of the months in the Jewish calendar. Accordingly, this longest verse in TaNaCh stresses that this event occurred in Sivan to teach that Sivan is the third month, making Nisan the first month. The year begins with Rosh Hashanah, in Tishrei, but the spiritual counting of the months for the purposes of holidays and seasons starts with Nisan.
  • Interestingly, the previous verses (Esther 8:1-8) and later verses (Esther 8:15) all occurred in Nisan, while these next few verses (Esther 8:9-14) occurred in Sivan. R’ Meir Zlotowitz explains that Achashverosh gave permission (Esther 8:8) to write these letters, so the text continues with the details of the letters, and will then backtrack to the chronology of the event.
  • The Lekach Tov notes that Sivan is the month of the holy day of Shavuos, when the Jewish people received the Torah. The merit of the Torah stood for Jews at this time.
  • Similarly, the Sfas Emes elaborates that the physical threat to the Jews had weakened, but the spiritual threat that snowballed into this potentially disastrous fate remained. Therefore, Mordechai joined the fight with H-Shem’s war against Amalek (Shemos 17:16) with a pledged renewal of the Jews’ commitment to the Torah.

Esther 8:5, Question 3. Why does Esther stress that it was Haman’s thoughts?

  • Both the M’nos HaLevi and Yosef Lekach write that Esther stresses that it was Haman’s thoughts in order to encourage the king that having the decree nullified would not be a slight to his honor, since it was Haman’s idea – not his own.
  • The M’nos HaLevi also points out Esther was stressing that what Haman said (Esther 3:9) was not what he meant – so she wants the king to annul Haman’s actual intentions.
  • On a more mystical plane, the Sfas Emes teaches that Amalek affects Yisroel’s thoughts. Amalek’s cooling effect mentioned in the Torah (Devarim 25:18) is the cooling of what should be the Jews’ emotionally enthusiastic performance of H-Shem’s commands.

Esther 8:2, Question 2. Why does Esther appoint Mordechai in charge of Haman’s property?

  • According to Shelom Esther, by appointing Mordechai in charge of Haman’s property, Esther was in effect making Haman’s family into Mordechai’s slaves.
  • R’ Avraham Mordechai and R’ Dovid Feinstein both quote the Talmudic (Pesachim 88b) dictum that what belongs to the slave is really the master’s. Therefore, Esther’s action returned Mordechai’s property back to him.
  • The M’nos HaLevi and R’ Shmuel de Ozeida note that Esther could not have given this to Mordechai outright because it was from Achashverosh (see Esther 8:1). It could seem like a slight to Achashverosh’s honor if she were to re-gift Haman’s property directly, so she appointed Mordechai in charge of it, instead.
  • The Sfas Emes interprets Haman’s estate as the other-worldly powers he amassed. At this point, Mordechai became the master of these. Perhaps this black magic can best be described as the power to change the spiritual world. Just as H-Shem placed us into a physical world where we can do such things as control electrical currents with switches and harness the wind with sails, He created our souls in a spiritual world which we can also affect if we want to.
  • The Maharal notes that this act points to a major theme throughout the entire Megillas Esther: that absolutely every single thing Haman attempted to do was turned around on him.

Esther 7:10, Question 3. Why does the king’s fury subside?

  • According to the Ibn Ezra, Achashverosh was angry from the time he woke up from his drunken stupor after following Haman’s decree to rid himself of Vashti (Esther 2:1) until Haman was ultimately hanged.
  • The Me’am Loez explains the subsiding of the king’s fury as calm that returned to the universe.
  • This is because, as the Sfas Emes writes, when Amalek is in power, H-Shem is more noticeable through His characteristic of din, judgment. This is similar to what Rashi writes in his commentary on Torah (Shemos 17:16).
  • Haman’s end brought with it a sense of peace. The Talmud in several places (Rosh HaShanah 12a, Sanhedrin 108b, Zevachim 113b) points out that regarding the Flood, the verse (Bireishis 8:1) says “vayishku mayim” (“and the water subsided”) when the waters cooled down, whereas the phrase in this verse is “v’chamas hamelech shichacha” (“and the fury of the king subsided”). The contrast in phrasing implies that the flood waters were hot to match the burning passions of the licentious people of that time, mida kineged mida.
  • Parenthetically, perhaps another connection between the flood and Haman’s downfall is the Midrashic opinion (Yalkut Shimoni 6:1056) that Haman built the gallows from the beams of Noach’s ark.
  • Interestingly, shachacha (“subsided”) is a unique word in TaNaCh. R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume IV, 319) comments that the word, shachach is phonetically related to shagag, (“not by choice”). In other words, the king’s anger was not something Achashverosh put effort into controlling. It came and subsided without any input from him.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) considers that the unique spelling of shacha with an extra letter chuf to read shachacha is due to the fact that two angers were cooled; one belonged to the King of the Universe and the other belonged to Achashverosh. Also, Achashverosh calmed down about the situation of Esther, and the situation of Vashti.
  • As Rashi explains, Achashverosh was doubly angry because Haman was seemingly responsible for the death of Vashti, and was now a threat to Esther.
  • The Maharsha emphasizes that Achashverosh was still angry from that point (Esther 2:1), chronologically almost a decade earlier.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that Achashverosh had held himself responsible for Vashti’s fate all of this time, but now realizes that he was deceived and manipulated.
  • The Vilna Gaon says that the king whose fury subsided was H-Shem, King of the World. This may refer to the Zohar (III 133a), which translates the verse (Tehillim 144:15) that describes the Jewish people as “ha’am shekacha Lo,” or as “the nation that calms Him,” implying that the Jewish people have a tremendous power, if only we were to utilize it.
  • The Zer Zahav writes that Esther’s not forgiving Haman finally caused Shaul to be forgiven for taking unwarranted pity on Agag, Haman’s ancestor.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Shir Ma’on quotes the Sha’aris Yisroel that quotes the great scholars who lived through the Chmielnicki Massacres of 5408-5409 (1648-1649 CE), which was one of the worst attempts at the genocide of the Jewish people in our history. They note that the large letter ches (Esther 1:6) and the large letter suf (Esther 9:29). Together, the letters spell out tach, a Hebrew way to reference the year 5408. This means that the massacre was a manifestation of Haman’s evil decree.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech heard from others the contention that the Chmielnicki Massacre was not the end of the effects of Haman’s decree. Rather, the Holocaust of tasha, 5705 (1945 CE), was the final manifestation of Haman’s decree. He proves this from the unique spelling of shachacha; since H-Shem was “calmed” about the Jewish people twice – once in tach, and once in tasha. There is proof of this in the mispar katan of the word shachacha (300+20+20+5=345= 12= 3) being the same as the mispar katan of tasha (400+300+5=705 = 12= 3). H-Shem is no longer anger.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech also quotes from Rav Michel Weissmandel that there is a hint to this in the traditional sizes of the letters in the list of Haman’s sons (Esther 9:7-9) as found in the Megillas Esther. The letters suf (400), shin (300), and zayin (7) there are smaller than the surrounding text, which refer to the year tashaz (1946 CE), the year in which ten Nazi officers were hanged at the Nuremberg Trials. There is also a large letter vuv (6), alluding to the sixth officer, Julius Streicher, who shouted “Purim Fest 1946” as he was being led to the gallows, despite the hanging taking place on Hoshana Rabba, the holiday on which the Zohar (III 31b-32a) says H-Shem judges the gentile nations. There was another Nazi who was supposed to be executed that day, Herman Goring, who committed suicide in his cell. He is likened to Haman’s daughter, who also killed herself. The comparison is extenuated by the fact that Goring famously enjoyed wearing women’s clothing.
  • Furthermore, the gematria of shachacha is the same as Moshe (40+300+5=345) because even good leaders are taken when H-Shem chooses to punish a generation. As the Talmud (Brachos 62b) teaches, a plague takes away the greatest of the generation together with the masses. Indeed, a storm sweeps away the good grain together with the chaff.
  • According to the Nachal Eshkol, another reason this gematria corresponds to Moshe is because the Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:2) says that yet another reason the Jews were saved from genocide was in the merit of Moshe. His merit should continue to be with us, and rescue us finally from this exile, bimheira biyameinu.