Esther 8:3, Question 1. Why does Esther perform all of these actions?

ג וַתּוֹסֶף אֶסְתֵּר וַתְּדַבֵּר לִפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וַתִּפֹּל לִפְנֵי רַגְלָיו וַתֵּבְךְּ וַתִּתְחַנֶּןלוֹ לְהַעֲבִיר אֶתרָעַת הָמָן הָאֲגָגִי וְאֵת מַחֲשַׁבְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר חָשַׁב עַלהַיְּהוּדִים

3. And Esther added and spoke before the king. And she fell before his feet, and cried, and pleaded with him to annul the evil of Haman the Aggagite and his intentions that he intended on the Yehudim.

  •  The Maharal is troubled by the verse’s use of the word vatosef (“and she added”) when it does not initially seem that there is any conversation that is being continued here. He answers that this is a continuation of the previous verse in which Esther appointed Mordechai, seemingly verbally, as master of Haman’s estate.
  • M’nos HaLevi notes that the Talmud (Makkos 10b-11a) teaches that daber, the root of word vatidaber (“and she spoke”) implies a harsh language. He explains that Esther was speaking in a forceful and direct manner to the king, saying that Haman lied to him. She then regretted her boldness, and fell pleading for mercy.
  • According to the Malbim, Esther performs all of these actions because she tried various methods to convince Achashverosh – rhetoric, and logic, and emotion. As is well-known, when logic fails, the emotional appeal can still be effective.
  • As the M’nos HaLevi points out, the Talmud (Brachos 32b) teaches that since the time the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed, only the gates of tears remain open.
  • In a famous comment on this verse, the Vilna Gaon teaches in the name of the Zohar that genuine crying always comes from the heart, and cannot be artificially manufactured. He also connects Esther’s behavior in this verse to various stages of the Jew’s regular prayer routine. He writes that vatosef (“and she added”) is a reference to Pesukei Dezimra (introductory verses of praise) because the Talmud (Brachos 32a) teachers that these were added by the Rabbis to help people concentrate during Shemoneh Esrei; vatidaber (“and she spoke”) is a reference to Shema (“verses in which we accept the authority of H-Shem”) because the Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 9a, 9b) teaches that the Shema has references to the Ten Commandments, the Asseres HaDibros, vatipol (“and she fell”) is a reference to nefilas apayim (“putting down the face,” or Tachanun), vateiv’k (“and she cried”) is a reference to tefilla (“the silent prayer, or Shemoneh Esrei”), and vatit’chanen (“and she pleaded”) is a reference to Elokai Nitzur (the additional prayers after tefillah). Esther’s act of pleading before the king, was also her pleading before the King of kings.
  • The Dena Pishra writes similarly that the verse references the king because Esther was really praying to H-Shem to spare the Jews.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that Esther did all of these actions because she saw the cause of Achashverosh’s previous behavior as passion due to anger. Now that she saw him calm down, she was concerned that he would return to his old, anti-Semitic self. She was really risking her life because his anger could have returned at any moment.

Esther 6:1, Question 2. Why does the verse describe the king’s sleep as “shaken?”

  • Me’am Loez writes that this was the first time Achashverosh felt anything like insomnia, and he was therefore greatly concerned. Since this strange, out of the ordinary event transpires in this verse, perhaps this is the reason for the custom (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 690:15, Mishnah Berurah 690:52) to read this verse in a unique tune1.
  • The Midrash writes that Achashverosh had trouble sleeping because he was afraid Haman would try to kill him.
  • R’ Rephael Shapiro of Volozhin wonders why the crux of the Purim miracle hangs on this seeming lie; after all, Haman was not planning on killing the king at this point. He answers that Achashverosh saw in his dream that Haman wanted to kill Esther’s husband. What he did not know was that Esther’s actual husband was not Achashverosh, but Mordechai.
  • Since every reference to the “king” is really a reference to the King of Kings – H-Shem – the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 10:1) continues that H-Shem was “awakened” from His throne of Glory. How could H-Shem, who neither sleeps nor slumbers (Tehillim 121:4) have been sleeping? The Midrash explains that H-Shem can be said to be “sleeping” when the Jews are not living up to the standard set for them, as it says elsewhere in Tehillim (78:65). Torah Temimah explains that H-Shem ignores our needs sometimes, and only prayer and repentance can “awaken” Him.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) cites an argument about which king’s sleep was disturbed. The first opinion says it was H-Shem’s “sleep.” The second opinion is that the sleep of both the upper world and the lower world was disturbed. The third opinion is that it was Achashverosh’s sleep, and that it was due to his concern over the nature of the relationship between Esther and Haman, as she had intended by inviting Haman to her feast (see below). Achashverosh thus becomes concerned that nobody seems to be saving him.
  • Interestingly, Rashi uncharacteristically quotes both the miraculous and natural interpretations of this verse. R’ Avigdor Bonchek writes that Rashi does so to emphasize that the main theme of Megillas Esther is that the true, miraculous nature of things is constantly concealed within seemingly everyday events. Maharal points out that this can be seen in the verse’s choice of calling Him/him “king” without mentioning Achashverosh’s name. If the verse is discussing H-Shem, it is fitting to call Him King. If the verse is discussing Achashverosh, it must be that he was concerned about kingly, political affairs.
  • Furthermore, Maharsha notes that any instant in TaNaCh in which someone’s sleep is disturbed, the next verse explains the reason. For example, when Yaakov had a dream about the ladder, the next verse (Bireishis 28:10) explains why. Also, when Pharoah had his prophetic, confusing dreams about cows, the next verse (Bireishis 41:1) explains the reason. This verse’s lack of explanation leads one to conclude that something else is going on – namely, H-Shem’s “sleep” is also being “disturbed.”
  • Based on the fact that the root of “nadidah” (“shaking”) is “nada,” R’ Mendel Weinbach points out that the verse’s use of two letter daleds indicates that there were two disturbances – one in the Heavens and one on Earth. The Midrash Abba Gurion writes that the angel, Gavriel, kept Achashverosh awake telling him, “do good for the one who did good to you.”
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that “nadidah” can be read as “nadad Hey,” or “H-Shem Stirred.” He writes it can also be read as “fifty (gematria of the letter nun) dadah.” Since “dadah” can be seen as the root of “edadeim” (“movement”) in Tehillim (42:5), Ben Ish Chai writes that fifty moved Achashverosh. Specifically, he quotes the Ari Z”l that the first verse in Shema contains twenty-five letters. Since we typically say Shema twice every evening and twice every morning, these fifty letters (twenty-five letters repeated) Mordechai was saying came to protect Mordechai. These fifty letters saved Mordechai from the fifty amos of the gallows Haman prepared, zeh l’umas zeh.

1 The classically given answer for this custom is because this verse is the one in which there is a turnabout – when obviously good things are in store for the Jews.

Esther 5:14, Question 3. Why did Haman’s advisers advise him to go to the king in the morning?

  • The Malbim writes that they wanted Mordechai hanged in the morning because that is when public executions were performed in order to show the strength of the monarchy.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that Zeresh was, in effect, telling Haman that Mordechai was in prayer at that time, he wouldn’t be aggravated by the sight of him.
  • The Maharal says that morning represents geulah (redemption). This is why the very next verse (Esther 6:1) begins the positive upswing of Megillas Esther.
  • R’ Yehonasan Eibshutz quotes the Midrash Abba Guria that Zeresh wanted Mordechai to be killed during the time of Shema. That way, Mordechai would be unable to connect geulah to tefillah (prayer)1, which the Talmud promises would have otherwise protected him (Brachos 9b).

1This is a Halachic concept (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 66:7, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 33) that forbids any interruption between the morning prayer ending in “ga’al Yisroel” (“Savior of Israel”) and the Amidah.

Esther 5:8, Question 3. Why is the next party specifically tomorrow?

  • According to Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller, Esther planned for the next party to specifically occur the next day in order to “intensify the effect of her plan.” This would make the tension between Achashverosh and Haman more palpable.
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, this immediacy of the next party would pique Achashverosh’s curiosity, and keep him in suspense. Besides this, it is important to remember that the Jews were already fasting for two straight days, and Esther had asked the Jews to fast for three days, culminating in the next day. The merit of their fasting will both spiritually and psychologically support Esther’s efforts at that day’s feast.
  • According to R’ Meir Arama, pushing the next party into the next day was Esther’s attempt to stall her inevitable request from the king. Without a clear sign from H-Shem, she was confused if she should fight Amalek using Yaakov’s method, or Moshe’s. Yaakov (Bireishis 32:9) attempted to defeat Eisav, Amalek’s ancestor, through gifts. Moshe (Shemos 17:8-13) utilized prayer and war against the nation of Amalek.
  • The Yalkut Shimoni (1056) writes that Amalek is defeated machar, tomorrow. This is because Moshe, at the first national encounter against Amalek, said “tomorrow I will stand on top of the mountain” (Shemos 17:9).
  • The Maharal explains that Amalek does not recognize an other, a tomorrow. Amalek causes religious doubt (the Hebrew word safek has the same gematria as Amalek.) by forcing the brain to consider only one approach to a Torah dilemma; if that approach does not work, there can be no other way to look at the topic.
  • Perhaps another reason why the next day was so critical to Esther’s plan can be gleaned from the gematria of the Hebrew word machar, (“tomorrow”) (40+8+200=248). This is the same number as the positive commandments (Makkos 23b-24a), which themselves correspond to the major bones and sinews in a man1. Therefore, one more day of the Jews performing positive mitzvos and teshuva will help Esther. Perhaps this is the reason why the Midrash later notes that Haman was advised to approach Achashverosh specifically baboker (“in the morning”) (Esther 5:14), which the Midrash says is the time of reading the Shema.

1The significance of this number is also the reason for adding three words to the twice daily recitation of the Shema, which would only have 245 words alone (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 61:3 and Mishnah Berurah 61:6).

Esther 3:13, Question 2. Why does the decree use three different expressions for killing the Jews?

  • In his commentary on this verse, the Vilna Gaon writes that the expressions used in this verse refer to the four components of man – the nefesh (animus, ability to move), the ruach (life force), the neshama (spiritual soul), and the guf (physical body). He writes that the nefesh and guf are really one, as according to the Zohar which writes that “the nefesh is a partner to the guf.” Haman wanted to destroy every part of the Jew; he therefore used three expressions to denote his real intent. However, the neshama is fed by performance of mitzvos, the ruach is fed by pleasure, and the guf is fed by food. The Vilna Gaon writes that this is the reason for the three mitzvos of Purim; publicly reading the Megillah (see Esther 8:26) feeds the neshama, having joy (see Esther 8:17) feeds the ruach, and feasting (ibid.) literally feeds the guf. There is also an extra mitzvah of giving gifts (ibid. 19). Perhaps Haman’s desire to plunder the Jews’ wealth is the reason we use our resources for this last mitzvah.
  • R’ Dovid Chadida writes similarly that by using the word “l’hashmid” (“to destroy”), Haman intended to kill the Jews spiritually, by using the word “l’harog” (“to kill”), Haman intended to kill the Jews’ physically, and by using the word “l’aveid” (“ to annihilate”), Haman intended to kill the Jews’ financially. In the verses of Shema (Devarim 6:5), these are the very three things with which Jews are expected to dedicate themselves to love H-Shem.