Esther 4:17, Question 1. What does Mordechai pass in following Esther’s instructions?

יז וַיַּעֲבֹר מָרְדָּכָי וַיַּעַשׂ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁרצִוְּתָה עָלָיו אֶסְתֵּר

17. And Mordechai passed and did like all that Esther commanded on him.

  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 15a), after hearing Esther’s response, Mordechai passed over either a river or the passed over (read: transgressed) the obligation to eat on the first night of Passover, since that night fell within the three days in which Esther asked the people to fast.
  • The Me’am Loez writes that the verse is praising Mordechai for “crossed the river,” which implies that he preferred to follow the command himself – without the use of messengers. He, himself, crossed the river to gather the Jews together in prayer, fasting, and repentance.
  • In explaining why Rashi, who usually gives a simpler explanation when available, decided to write the explanation that had to do with transgressing Pesach, the Torah Temimah gives two reasons: one is that the Torah always names an object being crossed when vaya’avor is used in relation to a physical object, and secondly, in actual fact, the fasting did occur through the first night of the Pesach seder.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that someone can fast on Shabbos to annul a bad dream if that dream is dreamed on that day (Talmud, Shabbos 11a). If so, how much more-so can one fast on Yom Tov to annul a decree, so Mordechai was not transgressing at all.
  • However, according to the opinion that he was, R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshis’cha explains that Mordechai felt his prayers would not be powerful enough to be listened to in the ordinary manner. Transgressing Pesach would get the Accuser, the Satan, involved. Once he gets involved, there would be a Heavenly tribunal. Once there is a trial, Heaven would recognize Mordechai’s good intent, and then would assist Mordechai in defending the Jews.
  • In the first chapter of Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, it says that H-Shem can ignore insults. There, it writes that Esther’s arguing was spoken in an unfit manner, and yet Mordechai let it “pass” from his mind.
  • M’nos HaLevi points out that crossing the river was as easy for Mordechai as jumping over a puddle. It was a small act, but the Torah records it for our benefit, so teach us the lesson of the power even in what may appear as minor, easy mitzvos (see Mishnah, Avos 2:1).
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Esther 4:16, Question 6. Why does Esther mention night and day?

  • The Ibn Ezra writes that this is simply a long time to fast, which demonstrated the Jews’ renewed loyalty to H-Shem.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes that Esther mentions both night and day because days and nights added together equal six regular, Halachic days. This is the amount of time the Jews spent at the seven day feast of Achashverosh (see 1:5) because they were not there for Shabbos.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes R’ Yosef Rozofsky that three full days of fasting naturally affect a person’s grace and beauty, which are the characteristics Achashverosh saw in Esther. This is why Esther only fasted for 70 hours, instead of three full days.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that night and day represent different kinds of Torah. The Torah one learns at night should be Oral and the Torah one learns in the day should be from the Written Torah, TaNaCh. Esther’s stressing both of these times means that she wants the Jews to learn both kinds of Torah to gain a closer relationship with H-Shem.
  • Perhaps she mentions night first because, historically, the Oral Law begins shortly after this period. Megillas Esther is full of hidden miracles, which are flushed out through concentrated, deliberate thought – the very essence of Oral Law.

Esther 4:3, Question 4. Why does the verse mention six responses of the Jews?

  • The Jews responded to this news with a total of six actions: they mourned, fasted, cried, eulogized, and donned sack and ash. The M’nos HaLevi writes that there is significance to this number. These six actions correspond to the six days in which the Jews participated in Achashverosh’s party (see Esther 1:5). Indeed it was a seven-day party, and the Jews took a break from the last day because it was Shabbos.
  • Since the verse that describes Achashverosh’s party (1:4), the verse says the party lasted for many days (yamim rabim), and gives the number of days as 180, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz wonders why the phrase “yamim rabim” is not superfluous. He answers that this phrase refers to the kind of days they were, long summer days, concluding with Yom Kippur. This is the day on which no Jew sins. In fact, he adds that the gematria of the Satan (hasatan) is 364 (5+300+9+50), one less than the total amount of days in a solar year, indicating that the Evil Inclination has no hold on us for one days out of the year – Yom Kippur. Therefore, there were only six days for which the Jews needed to atone.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Sfas Emes views Megillas Esther as the beginning of the Oral Law. Mordechai was even a member of the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) that began the establishment of Rabbinic law. The Oral Law is represented by the number six, as that is the total number of Orders in the Mishnah – Seeds, Festivals, Women, Damages, Holy Items, Purity. The Jews mourned in six different ways in to show their new-found reverence for the Oral Law.
  • Interestingly, according to the Vilna Gaon, there are not six actions here, but five. In his understanding, the great mourning is not a separate action, but is one general action described with the remaining five detailed descriptions. According to him, these five correspond to the five actions Jews are supposed to take (Mishnah, Taanis 1:3-7) when they are suffering agriculturally.

Esther 3:7, Question 5. Why does the lot fall on the month of Adar?

  • Maamar Mordechai points out that, when the Jews were in Egypt, the ten plagues occurred for one month each. That being the case, the second to last plague, that of darkness, happened one month before Passover, which would mean it fell in Adar. Haman assumed the darkness was a plague that hurt the Jews since so many of them died then (see Rashi to Shemos 10:22 and 13:18). After all, four fifths of the Jews died in Egypt because they did not believe in their upcoming rescue. H-Shem killed these unfortunates during the plague of darkness to avoid the Egyptians seeing this, and assuming the Jews’ G-d is no longer with them.1 The Jews in Persia, by attending Achashverosh’s party, indicated that they, too, lost faith in their redemption, and this is why the lots falling on Adar so pleased Haman.
  • Adar is also the month when Moshe died. According to the Talmud (Megillah 13b), Haman knew this because it is so written in the end of Devarim (34:8) and can be calculated from the book of Yehoshua. According to our tradition, the seventh of Adar, his date of death, is also his date of birth. Rabbi Mendel Weinbach writes that Haman did not know this because, as opposed to his date of birth, his date of death is only found in the Oral Torah.
  • The Abudraham calculates that Adar 13 would mark the end of the seven-day mourning period (shiva) for Moshe. According to the Maharsha, that seven-day period of mourning continues in some mystical way the merits of the mourned. After that point, the dead only receive merit of others step up to take over their spiritual roles. Interestingly, Rabbi Dovid Feinstein notes that, Moshe having been born on 7 Adar, his bris (circumcision) would have been on 14 Adar, Purim!2

1It bespeaks a certain callousness that the Egyptians seemed not to notice the sudden disappearance of several million people.

2However, since Moshe was born complete and circumcised (Talmud, Sotah 12a), his bris would only require a symbolic pin-prick of blood called “hatafas dam bris” (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 262:1 and 264:1), and this procedure would not be help on a Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 260:2 and 263:1). Therefore, Moshe’s symbolic bris was held on the following day, Shushan Purim.

Esther 2:23, Question 3. Why was this event written in the king’s chronicles?

  • The Alshich and Malbim both point out that H-Shem inspired the king to arrange for Mordechai to be recorded and not rewarded at this point in order to prepare for the future rescue of the Jewish people (as we shall see when we get to 6:2-10 later).
  • Since the verse is written in a passive voice, with no explicit mention of an author for this book of chronicles, the Me’am Loez quotes a Rashi to Ezra (4:7) that Achashverosh’s scribes were Haman’s sons, and they did not want to write this into the king’s chronicles1. Therefore, continues the Me’am Loez, this writing must be seen as miraculous.
  • Taking another perspective to this verse, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:14), teaches that the behaviors written down in the books of flesh and blood are all-the-more-so written in the Books of H-Shem. After all, everything we do is written in the book of H-Shem (Mishnah, Avos 2:1), and that Book will be read to us in the end of our days (after 120 years), and we will have to give excuses for the things we have done. The Torah Temimah adds that, in contrast to a human book, the “Author” of this Book knows all (and is forgiving), so will record all of the important factors that led to our decisions.
  • The Rema in Machir Yayin writes that being “written in the book of chronicles” gives a person the power of “shamor” (“guard”) and “zachor” (“remember”). These are the two verbs used in the Ten Commandments regarding observance of Shabbos (in Shemos 20:8 and Devarim 5:12). They are also a reference to H-Shem’s relationship with the Jewish people, whom He “guards” from troubles and “remembers” for blessing, meaning He cares about us constantly. In other words, the Rema may be saying that the way to grow in a Jewish life is to keep a “cheshbon hanefesh” (“spiritual journal”) that chronicles one’s behavior and thoughts – whether good or bad. Writing things down is the way to grow in our relationship with H-Shem.

1Considering the opinion shared by Yalkut Shimoni and Yossipon that Haman was the instigator of this rebellion (as we said in the last post), Haman’s sons had ample motivation to cut this piece of history out of the chronicles, in addition to their hate for Mordechai and chronic anti-Semitism.

Esther 2:10, Question 2. What is the difference between nationality and lineage?

  • Is Judaism a nationality or a lineage? It is neither, really. Judaism is unique in that it breaks through all of the sociological definitions of groups. It is not a religion because one can be Jewish and yet not observant and not a believer in Jewish ideals, and still can be counted for a minyan. It is not a nationality because one has to be (or have parents who are) from a particular place, and Judaism has converts. It is not a “race” because Jews can have different colors, body types, hair textures, and any of the other qualifiers for this designation.
  • According to the Iyun Yaakov, everybody in Persia wanted to know Esther’s nationality because she looked like she could come from any nation, as the Talmud (Megillah 13a) asserts. Only the king was interested in her lineage to see if she was fitting for a king to marry. He would have less problem marrying her if she were not a commoner, but of royal blood.
  • The Rambam notes in his commentary on Megillas Esther that it is interesting that, although Achashverosh offered tax exemptions and other rewards for anyone who would share information regarding Esther’s background, the Jews unanimously refused to give her up, despite their dire poverty. Regarding this, the Rambam comments, paraphrasing a blessing in Mincha for Shabbos, “Mi ka’amcha, Yisroel!” (“Which nation is like you, Israel!”)

Esther 2:9, Question 4. Why does the verse call Esther’s maidservants fitting for her?

  • The Megillas Sesarim’s opinion is that these maidservants were Jewish. After all, the previous queen had Jewish maidservants (as we saw before), as well, so there would be little suspicion. This was “fitting for” Esther because she was surrounded by people with whom she could relate and whom she could trust. Rabbi Mendel Weinbach adds that they could even share food with her. Perhaps it was also fitting for her because she could fulfill the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta larey’acha kamocha” (“loving your fellow as yourself”) (Vayikra 19:18) by treating them well.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 13a) tells us that Esther requested Heigai to give her seven maidservants to help her count the days of the week for her to know which day was Shabbos.1
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz asks why a person would need other people to count the days. He answers that Esther, although she was hiding her Jewish identity, was still practicing Jewish law. Therefore, if all of her maidservants saw her every day, they would see that she was behaving differently on the Sabbath, and that would give away her secret. On the other hand, she could not treat every day as a rest day, but had to stay active to keep from going crazy.
  • Perhaps another reason why Esther felt she had to maintain an active lifestyle during the week is based on Rav Elie Munk’s interpretation in Call of the Torah on the verse (Shemos 20:9) that tells us “to work” during the six days preceding Shabbos. Rav Munk says that, just as there is a law forbidding work on Shabbos, we have a similar responsibility to work when it is not Shabbos. Therefore, having one maidservant per day, her maids every week from Sunday through Friday saw her active, and must have figured she was some sort of activist queen. Her weekly Shabbos maid saw her lazing about, and probably figured that she was as idle as most normal members of the noble class.
  • Parenthetically, the Rokeach points out that the last letter of “v’eis” (suf) and the first two letters of “sheva” (shin and beiz) spell the letters of Shabbos. Also, the gematria of “hana’aros hari’uyos” (“fitting maidservants”) is the same as “zu haysa moneh bahen Shabbos” (“this is she counted Shabbos using them”).
  • Another interpretation of the Talmud is that she used these maidservant to keep track of each of the days of the Shabbos, the week. After all, every day is special. As we say in the morning prayer service before the weekday psalm of Sunday, “today is the first day of the Shabbos,” and on Monday, “today is the second day of the Shabbos,” etc. We make the most out of every day.

1Presumably the Persian calendar did not have seven-day weeks, or Esther would not have needed this kind of help. There are various calendars, like the Celts, the Igbo, and the Akan, that had weeks composed of various amounts of days. Ancient Egypt even had a ten-day week.