- The Malbim points out how this verse shows how selfless Esther was. According to him, what Esther was saying was that, if she is punished for approaching the king, at least only she will die – and the rest of the Jews will remain.
- The Talmud (Megillah 15a) writes that Esther’s repeating “I will be destroyed” means that, just as she lost her father by being orphaned, so is she expecting to lose to her relationship to Mordechai through this act.
- R’ Henach Leibowitz explains the Talmud’s use of the phrase “my father’s house” that one of our duties in life is to utilize our past experiences to further our personal growth. He continues that an orphan, like Esther, should use the loss of their parents to reawaken the feeling of trust in H-Shem that orphan had when still with parents.
- R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that Esther used this phrase to indicate that she knew she would be disappointing one king or another – either Achashverosh or the King of kings. Either way, she was concerned she would be losing one king.
- R’ Shimon Schwab wonders why Esther is concerned about losing her husband if she is anyway using a sheid to get out of relations with Achashverosh. He explains that the demon was created miraculously in reward for her resisting the gentile king. Such a miracle would not occur once she submits to him.
- R’ David Forman writes in The Queen You Thought You Knew that there is a parallel verse in the Torah where the word ka’asher is followed by a double-verb. When Yaakov allows his sons to bring Binyamin to Mitzrayim he says, “ka’asher shakolti, shakolti” (“as I am mourning, so I am mourning”) (Bireishis 33:14). The parallel phrasing also parallels similar situations of national strife; Just as there, friction between Jews caused the threat on Jewish existence, and peace between Jews would bring their redemption.
- Class participant RS pointed out another parallel in the fact that Esther descends from King Shaul, who was from the tribe of Binyamin.
יא כָּל–עַבְדֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְעַם–מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ יֽוֹדְעִים אֲשֶׁר כָּל–אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יָבוֹא–אֶל–הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל–הֶחָצֵר הַפְּנִימִית אֲשֶׁר לֹא–יִקָּרֵא אַחַת דָּתוֹ לְהָמִית לְבַד מֵאֲשֶׁר יוֹשִׁיט–לוֹ הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת–שַׁרְבִיט הַזָּהָב וְחָיָה וַאֲנִי לֹא נִקְרֵאתִי לָבוֹא אֶל–הַמֶּלֶךְ זֶה שְׁלוֹשִׁים יוֹם
11. “All of the servants of the king and nation of states of the king know that any man and woman who go to the king to the inner courtyard who was not called have one law – to kill, unless that the king would extend to him his gold scepter, and live. And I have not been called to come to the king these thirty days.”
- The Alshich gives three reasons why Esther refuses Mordechai’s order, at least for the time being:
- First, he points out that Esther points out to Mordechai that there were eleven months between the decree (in Nisan) and its fulfillment (Adar). There would therefore not be a need to risk the death penalty for coming to the king without having been summoned.
- Incidentally, the Targum writes that this rule was established by Haman in order to avoid the possibility of Jews petitioning the king unannounced to beg him to change the decree against them. Besides, the king also did not want to be petitioned by Jews for permission to rebuild the Temple.
- The Alshich’s second reason for Esther’s desire to delay approaching the king is that she felt there was a high probability of her appeal failing.
- Finally, with eleven months left until the fulfillment of the decree, Esther saw no need to come before the king since there was a good chance that he would summon her at some point before then, anyway.
- R’ Eliezer Ginzburg writes that Esther’s refusal here is because she felt that she had been suffering all of the humiliations of this forced marriage to Achashverosh to create a “tikun” (“repair”) for the sins of that generation.
- Perhaps, since Esther was a humble person, she felt unworthy of such this monumental mission.
- R’ Ginzburg then quotes the Zichron Shmuel who notes that the initial letters of “me’asher yosheet lo hamelech” (“that the king would extend to him”) spell out “milah” (“circumcision”). This is a hint to the idea mentioned earlier that, in reluctance to have relations with an uncircumcised gentile, Esther would ordinarily send a sheid to take her place. Now, she was afraid that she would have to appear before Achashverosh alone, without the aid of a demon.
The word “vatavona” (“came”) is pronounced differently than it is written. Perhaps the reason for this difference can be gleaned from gematria. Written in full, with a yud, the gematria of the word is equal (6+400+2+6+1+10+50+5) to 480, the same as the name of the demon, Lillis (30+10+30+10+400=480), the act of giving birth, “moledes” (40+6+30+4+400=480), and bread, “pas” (80+400=480). These three words may refer to Esther’s attempts to hide her identity. The demon and the giving birth may reference the sheid Esther sent out in order to get out of having relations with Achashverosh. The bread may be a reference to the seeds Esther ate to avoid eating non-kosher food.
- The Vilna Gaon points out that “ma’amar” (“instruction”) is a word connoting a gentle form of speaking. Esther, being queen, still followed Mordechai’s instructions like a daughter following the gentle reproach of a parent even after leaving his authority. Rashi adds that Mordechai sat at the king’s gate (see next verse), gently reminding Esther that she was Jewish and thus had responsibilities to H-Shem.
- The Talmud (Megillah 13b) says that Esther showed her niddah questions to Mordechai, as it may be necessary at times to seek rabbinic advice in this area according to the halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 193:1). In fact, the Yerushalmi states that Esther asked Mordechai other questions in regard to rabbinic law. In other words, she was asking specifically issues of rabbinic law.
- Rabbi Dovid Feinstein says that Esther was following Mordechai’s advice because she knew she was a part of H-Shem’s plan, but did not know how, and did not want to get in the way of this Divine plan.
- Rabbi Tzvi HaCohen Kaplan writes that Esther’s prophecy mentioned earlier (mentioned previously) was a direct result of her fidelity to Mordechai, trusting the Torah of the Rabbis in these difficult times.
- Another opinion in the Talmud there is that Esther had relations with Achashverosh, went to the mikvah, and then had relations with Mordechai. Although she was taken by force, and so allowed to Mordechai, Esther seemingly should have waited the requisite three months (Yevamos 35a) before having relations with her husband, unless it was actually a sheid (as mentioned in previous posts) having relations with the king. Perhaps going to the mikvah was Esther’s way to feel more pure, even if she wasn’t so in actual fact.
יז וַיֶּאֱהַב הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת–אֶסְתֵּר מִכָּל–הַנָּשִׁים וַתִּשָּׂא–חֵן וָחֶסֶד לְפָנָיו מִכָּל–הַבְּתוּלוֹת וַיָּשֶׂם כֶּתֶר–מַלְכוּת בְּרֹאשָׁהּ וַיַּמְלִיכֶהָ תַּחַת וַשְׁתִּי
17. And the king loved Esther from all of the women, and she placed favor/grace and kindness before him from all of the virgins and he put the crown of royalty on her head and he coronated her in the place of Vashti.
In the Talmud (Pesachim 22b), Rabbi Akiva famously holds that every “es” is meant to include something else besides what is specifically mentioned in the verse. Rabbi Meir Eisenshtaat says that, in this verse discussing what Achashverosh loved, this “es” is meant to include Esther’s sheid, or demon (as we mentioned before). This is perhaps one more reason that H-Shem inspired Achashverosh to prefer relations at night – in order for him to be unable to see Esther’s demon.
- The Rabbis of the Talmud (Megillah 13a) heavily debate whether the title character’s real name was Hadassah or Esther. One opinion (R’ Meir) was that her name was Esther, but she was righteous, and the righteous are compared to myrtles (“hadas”) in beauty based on a verse in Zecharya (1:8). Why is the myrtle an appropriate plant to which to compare a tzaddik? Alshich says a myrtle is as successful in the summer as it is in winter. A Tzaddik is righteous all the time, consistently, and not different at home than outside. Avraham who was 75 when he left Haran (Bireishis 12:4). The Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 39:13) says H-Shem told Avraham that in the merit of his leaving everything he knows and loves at the age of 75, the rescuer of the Jews (presumably in the Purim story) will also be 75 years old. Hadassah (5+4+60+5) is the gematria of 74, and with the principle of im hakollel, the numbers can be equal. Rabbi Shaul of Amsterdam points out another proof to Hadassah’s age being 75. The Talmud (Megillah 14a) calls her one of the seven prophetesses of Israel. According to the Talmud (Moed Katan 25a), prophecy can only occur in Israel (which is the reason Yonah tried to flee). Esther was then born in Israel, which occurred at least seventy years before, since that was when the Temple was destroyed and Mordechai was exiled, and she would have needed to be at least at an age of some consciousness (presumably, 5) to experience prophecy.
- The second opinion in the Talmud (R’ Yehudah) is that her name was Hadassah, but she kept the secret (“hester”) of her nationality. Maharal points out that this secrecy is also indicative of tznius, modesty, the stamp of a Jewess. The idea of modesty is not the hiding of something evil, but rather the protecting of that thing to keep it special. It is the defining characteristic of a Jew, contrasting sharply against the characteristic of Eisav and his spiritual/ philosophical descendants. This is seen in the verse (Bireishis 27:22) “the voice is the voice of Yaakov, and the hands are the hands of Eisav.” In other words, the primary actions of the spiritual Jew is non-physical, represented by the invisible, ephemeral voice. The primary world-view of Eisav’s heirs is rooted in the visible, represented by the creative, physical hand. Rav Hutner similarly adds that Purim is an example of H-Shem’s modesty in that the miracles in Megillas Esther, as we have seen, are hidden behind the political, natural events of the written story. According to the Zohar (Devarim 226a), H-Shem kept Hadassah hidden by allowing her to utilize mystical powers to create a “sheid,” or demon, to get out of having relations with Achashverosh.
- A third Talmudic opinion (R’ Nechemya) states that her name was Hadassah, but she was called Esther because the nations of the world call her Sahara, which means moon in Aramaic. The moon represents beauty as in Shir HaShirim 6:10), and the nations of the world thus compliment Hadassah’s appearance. Another possibility is that the nations of the world call her Ashtahar, which Yalkut Shimoni informs us is Estera, the Greek name for the planet Venus. Class participant CL informs us that this is the brightest planet from Earth’s perspective.
- A fourth opinion in the Talmud (Ben Azzai) says that she was called Esther because she was neither tall nor short, but medium height. In Chana’s prayer for a child, she asks for “zerah anashim” (“male seed”) (Shmuel 1 1:11). Rav Dimi’s interpretation of this phrase (Talmud, Brachos 31b) is that she wants a son “like other men,” of average height, so that he would not stand out. In Ripley’s Believe It Or Not museum, we find a model of the tallest person and the shortest person, but no average-est. Being “normal” according to the standards of the time and location is what makes people attractive, but one should not use that line on a first date!
- A final opinion (Rabbi Yehoshua ben Karcha) says her name was Esther, but she was called Hadassah because she was as green as a myrtle. This either means that she was beautiful, with an olive-green complexion popular in the Middle East and elsewhere. Otherwise, it is indeed not easy being green, and this pale, unseemly color made her ordinarily unattractive. She thus had to attract the king miraculously through a “string of kindness,” as we shall see, with H-Shem’s help when we study 5:2 below. Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg teaches that Esther smelled as sweet as hadassim, and notes an interesting point regarding the custom to use myrtles for Havdalah. The sweet smell of myrtles, he says, is only harvested when the myrtles are crushed. So, too, Esther’s greatness became manifest through her difficult life. Taken together in the final analysis, this debate in the Talmud whether Esther/Hadassah was righteous, secret, beautiful, average, or green indicates an amazing idea – our title character is so hidden, we do not even know her name!