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 4:12, Question 1. Why does the verse use the plural “vayagidu” instead of the singular “vayaged?”

יב וַיַּגִּידוּ לְמָרְדֳּכָי אֵת דִּבְרֵי אֶסְתֵּר

12. And they elaborated to Mordechai the words of Esther.

  • The simplest explanation as to why the verse uses the plural “vayagidu” (“and they elaborated”) instead of the singular “vayaged” (“and he elaborated”) comes from the Malbim. He writes that Hasach simply had other messengers with whom he worked, and they are the ones who delivered this message.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15a) understands that Hasach avoided delivering this message personally because he was reluctant to deliver a negative message – in this case, a message negating Mordechai’s order. This is because of the ethical principle that, as much as possible, we try not to deliver bad news.
  • The Maharal writes that Hasach did not want to go back alone in order to avoid arousing suspicion.
  • The Targum writes, “Haman the wicked saw Hasach, also named Daniel, going in and out of Esther’s room. He went and he killed him. The message was delivered from Esther through Michael and Gavriel.” In this version, Haman seems suspicious of Esther’s close relationship with a Jew. Yalkut Shimoni and Talmud Yerushalmi say similarly.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that Haman realized that Hasach was speaking to Mordechai in code. The code to which he is referring is the deeper levels of the last few verses.
  • R’ Mendel Weinbach points out that we sometimes have to deliver bad news, but only if it will practically change something. Pointless bad news need not be delivered. When Rav Elyashiv was ill and his daughter, Rebbetzin Kanievsky, passed away, the current halachic authorities advised that he not be told of her passing. He was not in condition to sit shiva, and the news might have actually affected his erstwhile frail health.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why, if this is indeed a negative message, did Hasach not reprove Esther? After all, there is a halacha (Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Deyos 6:7) which says a person has the responsibility to correct those who are in the wrong. The reason is that Esther was not necessarily in the wrong. She had a legitimate halachic opinion, as follows: The Pischei Teshuva (Yoreh Deah, 252:2) writes that one is forbidden to risk one’s own life for the life of another. Therefore, Esther had a legitimate reason to avoid risking her life. However, had Esther not maintained a halachic basis for her rejection of Mordechai’s order to visit the king, Hasach would, indeed, have had reason to be reluctant in reporting this to Mordechai, based on the Talmudic dictum that we avoid sending negative messages.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab asks why this is the first time Hasach felt this reticence. After all, had not this entire conversation of the last few verses (Esther 4:7-12) been negative? Rav Schwab answers that, actually, even the threatened extermination of the Jewish people is not bad news as long as they have the opportunity to do teshuva! However, the fact that Esther refuses to sacrifice for the sake of her people is negative, and this is the information Hasach does not want to deliver to Mordechai.
  • Rav Henach Leibowitz quotes the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 10b) where Rav Chanina ben Chama brought the Roman Caesar Antoninus’s slave back to life to avoid having to tell him that his slave had died. Rav Leibowitz writes that this shows the extent to which we are expected to avoid delivering bad news. This is despite the fact that this idea is not explicit in the Torah, but is only implicit in the behavior of Hasach. He concludes that so, too, must we be careful to accustom ourselves to the behavioral and ethical lessons of the Torah.
  • R’ Eliezer Schwartz, the rabbi of Ohev Tzedek, brings from Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik that part of the conflict between Esther and Mordechai is the oft-repeated conflict between women and men in TaNaCh. For example, he says that women and men acted differently with regard to the Golden Calf is that women see a wider view of a given situation. This is the reason for the Kli Yakar’s comment (on Bamidbar 13:2) that when H-Shem criticizes Moshe for “the men he sent,” He is implying that He would have preferred that women be sent to spy out the land of Canaan. Female spies would have seen the situation differently, and would have come up with the correct, positive interpretation of the events they witnessed. Similarly, women like Sarah in regard to Yishmael, Rivkah with Eisav, and numerous other examples show that women can see the long-range big picture, whereas men are limited to a short-term view of a situation. Here, Esther sees this situation as one that needs time to plan. Mordechai, however, seeks immediate action.

Esther 3:12, Question 3. Who actually wrote the letter?

  • The verse seems to intentionally obscure the identity of the letter’s author. Although the scribes were called in, it does not say who actually wrote it. The Yosef Lekach notes that the word “nichtav” (“he wrote”) is a verb grammatically in the singular form because H-Shem was the Author of the decree to destroy the Jews. In fact, as has been mentioned previously, there is a discussion in the Talmud (Megillah 12a) regarding the reason the Jews deserve such a harsh decree at this time. One opinion is that, decades earlier, the Jews bowed down to a statue of Nevuchadnetzer (Daniel 3:6). The other opinion is that the Jews enjoyed the feast celebrating their exile in the beginning of Megillas Esther.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab writes that the Jews then performed both of these action to maintain good relations with the nation around them – not to actually worship idols or celebrate their exile, G-d forbid. For whatever reason, H-Shem decided it was deserving, and this is the fate He sealed. He is the King referred to in this verse, Whose ring sealed the Jews’ fate. Of course, every sealed fate can still be re-opened with the power of Teshuva (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 1:3).

Esther 2:22, Question 6. Why does Esther report the information in Mordechai’s name?

This verse is quoted throughout Rabbinic literature – including the Talmud (Chulin 104b), the Mishnah (Avos 6:6), and Tanna D’vei Eliyahu – as proof of the importance of quoting one’s sources. It says, “one who says a thing in the name of the speaker brings redemption to the world.” This is not mere intellectual honesty, and there must be a deeper relationship between quoting in a speaker’s name and redeeming the world.

  • The Imrei Emes writes that when you give Torah, you get Torah back. When you teach in somebody else’s name, you receive that person’s Torah in return.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab quotes the Talmud (Yevamos 97a) that when you quote the words of a Torah scholar, his lips move in the grave. This leads to redemption because, as the Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 98) says, when two people say the same thing, that is the end of argument. Symbolically, when you and that scholar are saying the same thing, that is the definition of the end to argument. As class participant CL pointed out, disunity destroyed the Beis HaMikdash, and it shall be rebuilt (speedily, in our time) through the unity Jews gain from sharing in the Torah of those who came before us.
  • The Maharal in Derech Chaim points out that the root of an original thought comes from the soul of the person saying it. By repeating somebody else’s original thought, you are replanting the root back from where it came. That, too, is redemption because the definition of redemption is putting things back to their ideal state.
  • In Pachad Yitzchak, Rav Yitzchak Hutner quotes the Talmud’s (Brachos 17a) prayer that we want to do H-Shem’s Will, but exile restrains us. Rav Hutner continues that, on a personal level, exile means when a soul cannot grow and feels restrained. Therefore, redemption is bringing action back into the soul’s potential. By reporting Mordechai’s words – which are all Torah – Esther brings about the redemption of the Purim story, and eventually leads to the building of the Second Temple.

Esther 1:6, Question 3. Were there different couches at Achashverosh’s party? If so, why?

The Talmud (Megillah 12a) gives two different opinions on the matter of couches. The first opinion, that of R’ Yehudah  states that there were golden couches for those who deserved them, and silver couches for people of lesser status who did not deserve gold couches. R’ Nechemiah disagrees that this could have been the case, and insists that the couches were all equally made of gold and silver. After all, this would otherwise cause jealousy among the party participants. In Mayan Beis HaSho’eivah (pg. 446-7), Rav Shimon Schwab (zt”l) asks why R’ Nechemiah would think that Achashverosh would put forethought into avoiding jealousy. He answers that the entire design of the party was to make everybody happy, and a person cannot be happy when jealous.

Esther 1:2, Question 3. What does the verse mean by the phrase “throne of His kingship?” Whose kingship is it?

The Midrash (Esther Rabba 1:13) asks how Achashverosh can be said to have kingship if “kingship is H-Shem’s” (Tehillim 22:29), and only He is the real king? The Midrash answers that since Israel lost – through its sins – ruler-ship over themselves, H-Shem gave dominion over them to the nations of the world. In Mayan Beis HaShoeivah (pg. 470-1), Rav Shimon Schwab (zt”l)  asks how this answers the question of the Midrash. What does the dominion of the other nations over Israel have to do with H-Shem’s control of the world? He answers that H-Shem rules the world in a unique way; Being the King of kings, He controls the rulers of the world like a chess master moving the pieces. Like the verse in Mishlei (21:1) says, “lev hamelech b’yad H-Shem” (“the heart of a king is in the hand of H-Shem.”) In His direct supervision of the Jewish people, H-Shem influences the decisions of powerful people more-so than other people’s decisions. Rav Schwab uses this idea to explain a puzzling statement of the Sages. The Talmud (Megillah 15b), in interpreting Chapter 22 in Tehillim as a prophetic vision of the Purim story, says that Esther momentarily lost the sense of the Shechinah (the Divine Presence) as a result of calling Achashverosh a dog (cf. Tehillim 22:21). Why would there be such a punishment if Achashverosh was not someone worthy of defending, as we shall see in the coming days? In light of the idea that kingship is given and controlled by H-Shem, it begins to be clear. H-Shem is concerned about the honor due a king – even one as evil as Achashverosh – because kingship is a gift He bestowed upon someone He felt was deserving. (Rav Schwab writes similarly regarding H-Shem’s commanding Moshe to treat Pharoah with respect (Shemos 6:13).) One of the more famous teachings of the Midrash (Esther Rabba 3:10) regarding Megillas Esther is that every mention of “King Achashverosh,” as in our current verse, means just Achashverosh. Any generic mention of just a “king” mean both Achashverosh and H-Shem. Practically speaking, how would this work? If, theoretically, a verse in Esther would say, “The King agreed,” who actually agreed: Achashverosh or H-Shem? Actually, a verse like this would mean that both Achashverosh and H-Shem agreed. In effect, H-Shem’s agreeing is the reason Achashverosh agrees, too – because H-Shem is controlling him.