Esther 8:15, Question 1. Why does Mordechai wear these items?

טו וּמָרְדֳּכַי יָצָא ׀ מִלִּפְנֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ מַלְכוּת תְּכֵלֶת וָחוּר וַעֲטֶרֶת זָהָב גְּדוֹלָה וְתַכְרִיךְ בּוּץ וְאַרְגָּמָן וְהָעִיר שׁוּשָׁן צָהֲלָה וְשָׂמֵחָה

15. And Mordechai left from before the king wearing royalty: Ticheiles, and white, and a great gold crown, and a shroud, fine linen, and purple. And the city of Shushan was shouting and happy.

  • According to the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) this verse is the second of four verses read aloud by the congregation during the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim.
  • The Midrash Shmuel quotes the Talmud (Eruvin 13b) that one who flees honor has honor thrust upon him, and the opposite is true of one who pursues honor. When Haman wanted to wear the royal clothes (Esther 5:6-8), he received nothing. In contrast, Mordechai, who asked for nothing, received the honor of wearing the royal clothes.
  • The Alshich notes that this is the first time in the story that Mordechai is dressed regally. Before, he was wearing sackcloth and ash, but Mordechai is now confident about the fate of the Jews. The Alshich continues that Mordechai had to display this confidence at this point because Haman’s decree was vague in other locations but explicit in Shushan, so Mordechai needed to demonstrate that the Jews were indeed in Achashverosh’s favor.
  • In Pirkei d’Rebbe Eliezer, it says that Mordechai became the king of the Jews. Perhaps this means that Mordechai received the authority that the Jews are supposed to give to their rabbis. The Talmud (Gittin 62a) even calls rabbis kings.
  • After Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he sent them back to Canaan with word of his stature in Mitzrayim. At that point (Bireishis 45:22), he gifted the half-brothers with one pair of clothes each, but he gave his full brother Binyamin five pairs of clothes. The Talmud (Megillah 16b) writes that he did this in order to hint to these clothes that Mordechai, Binyamin’s descendants, would wear.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein wonders why Yosef would choose this point in time to make such an allusion. He explains that Yosef intended to demonstrate to his brothers his very real appreciation for their act of selling him to slavery. A fired employee who finds a job even better than his previous boss’s may even want to thank his boss for releasing him from employment. Similarly, the righteous Yosef felt gratitude for his brothers’ part in his success and growth. By alluding to the Purim story, he foresaw that Jewish history would be a series of epochs filled with times that seemed to be the most hopeless transforming into the most productive.
  • The Maharil Diskin points out that there are not five items, but only four: ticheiles, white, a crown, and a shroud. He quotes the Talmud (Zevachim 18b) that defines butz as linen. Argaman implies wool. Since the two sewn together in one garment would be a violation of shatnez (“mixture of wool and linen,” see Vayikra 19:19, Devarim 22:11, and Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 298-304), Mordechai was actually wearing two separate shrouds of these materials.
  • The M’nos HaLevi notes that the first verse to mention Mordechai by name (Esther 2:5) and the first to be customarily read aloud during the public readings of Megillas Esther on Purim (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim, Mishnah Berura 689:16) gives him several descriptions: Yehudi, Mordechai, ben Yair, ben Shimi, and ben Kish, He explains that “Yehudi” is a reference to kingship because Jewish royalty must come from that tribe (Bireishis 49:8-11). The Talmud (Chulin 139b) says “Mordechai” is a reference to myrrh, an ingredient in the Mishkan’s incense. This is paralleled in the ticheiles, which was an ingredient in the Mishkan’s covers (Shemos 26:1). According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b-13a), Mordechai earned his appellation of “son of Yair” by enlightening (hey’ir) the Jewish people regarding prayer, which is paralleled in the white clothes he wears. He is called the “son of Shimi” because his own prayers were heard (shema) by H-Shem. This is paralleled in the crown which represents the King of king’s powerful reaction to the requests of the righteous. He is called the “son of Kish” because he knocked (hikish) at the Gates of Mercy. This is paralleled in the linen and purple because they are the colors of nobility – those precious few who are allowed into the Palace.

Esther 2:5

Esther 8:15

Yehudi royalty
Mordechai ticheiles
ben Yair white
ben Shimi crown
ben Kish linen and purple
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that all of these article are also related to the clothing one should wear during prayer. He writes that the royalty relates to the talis worn when we pray; ticheilis relates to the ticheilis-dyed fringes of the tzitzis; the white relates to the undyed white fringes of the tzitzis; the crown relates with the head tefillin; the wool robe relates to the straps of the head tefillin; and the purple relates to the arm tefillin.
  • Rav Galico also related to Mordechai’s clothes here to his and Shushan’s earlier actions. In reward for his having previously worn sackcloth (Esther 4:1), he now wears royalty; in reward for putting ash (Ibid.) on his head, he now wears a crown; in reward for Shushan being worried and confused about Haman’s decree (Esther 3:15), it is now happy.
  • The Rema adds that there are four aspects make a man’s life complete: wealth, health, perfection of character, and knowledge of and closeness to H-Shem. Mordechai acquired all of these, as can be seen from this verse: wealth relates to royalty, health relates to ticheiles, character development relates to humble linen, and knowledge and faith is related to the crown.
  • Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 180-1) writes that purple is historically symbolic of royalty. Ticheiles, on the other hand, represents a humble recognition of “the limits of our horizon.”

Esther 8:9, Question 4. Why does the verse mention both the script and the language?

  • Rashi explains that the verse uses the words kiksavam (“like their writing”) and chilshonam (“like their language”) to refer to the written letters and spoken sounds of the language, respectively. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 22a) deduces from this verse proof that neither the Hebrew script nor spoken language has ever changed.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that one reason for this was for the illiterate Jews who may otherwise become incensed over the knowledge of the gentile decree, and might react violently. The idea was that the scholars who read the decree would be able to calm the restless rabble.
  • Furthermore, as the Talmud (Shabbos 12b) teaches, angels only understand Hebrew.
  • According to Rebbetzin Heller, keeping the language is an additional merit that helped rescue the Jews. As the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 32:5) teaches, even the Jews in Mitzrayim, although they maintained next to no Jewish observance, had the merit of retaining their language. This dedication to Jewish “culture” demonstrated the people’s desire to retain a bond with their Creator.
  • The Yerushalmi (Megillah 2:1) learns from this verse that the public reading of Megillas Esther on Purim must be read in Hebrew. This is brought down as the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 690:8-9).
  • Class Participant BR suggested that the intent of this may have been to keep the secret messages and lessons of Megillas Esther hidden exclusively for the Jewish people.

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 5:8, 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 4:13, Question 3. What does Mordechai think Esther is thinking regarding her security?

  • Rashi’s simple explanation is that Mordechai thinks Esther believes she will be safe in the palace on the day of the massacre. Rabbi Avigdor Bonchek, however, sees in Rashi’s words an irony that Esther’s safety can only be guaranteed through self-sacrifice.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Mordechai thought that Esther was under the impression that her volunteering herself to Achashverosh was one of the carnal sins for which one should sacrifice one’s life rather than sin, even for the sake of others.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that the Halacha (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 157:1) requires a city under siege to refuse to give up any resident requested for execution by the attacking army. This is the case if this oppressive army does not specify their victim. However, if they they want a specific person, the community must give that person up to save themselves, since that person is threatened either way. This is only true when that person is threatened along with everyone else. Mordechai thinks Esther considers herself to be in this latter situation, safely tucked away in the palace.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that Mordechai was saying that H-Shem will save His people, as He always does. However, if Esther acts selfishly, she will not be among the other Jews.
  • Similarly, due to the fact that Mordechai mentions the king’s palace, and every mention of the word “king” is a reference to H-Shem, R’ Dovid Moshe Valle adds that the King can reach anywhere.
  • R’ Elisha Gallico notes that, in fact, Esther was actually in more danger staying in the palace. The reason for this, explains the Maharal, is that considering Achashverosh’s virulent hate for the Jews, Esther is safer away from the man who signed the edict to annihilate her nation. The Maharal compares this to living inside a basket with a snake. This is even moreso the case if Esther thinks of herself as an individual, and thus lacking the power of the united nation.
  • The Alshich says that, in Mordechai’s estimation, the root of Esther’s mission was to fix King Shaul’s error of allowing Agag to live.
  • According to Ginzei HaMelech, this is the reason why Mordechai is giving Esther such strong rebuke here; Esther needs to know that the only reason she was in that position was for this goal. Furthermore, Ginzei HaMelech points out that Torah is honest. Here, since Megillas Esther was written by Esther, herself, she nevertheless did not censor out this scene in which she looks weak. The Ginzei HaMelech furthermore adds that this case it was not appropriate to stay private.
  • R’ Menachem Ziemba was asked before the Warsaw ghetto uprising if the Chassidim should be involved in the fighting. He answered that it is indeed a mitzvah to give up one’s life when given the choice between death or their faith. When given no such choice, it is a mitzvah to fight.
  • According to the Kisei Shlomo, Mordechai was telling Esther she was responsible for Hasach’s death, and thus more invested now in the rescue of the Jews.
  • Rav Yitzchak Hutner writes in Pachad Ytizchak that when Person A needs something, and decides to also pray for Person B who also needs that, this makes Person A’s prayer more effective (Talmud, Baba Kama 92a). Rav Hutner explains that this principle works because prayer is stronger if it is performed with the whole heart (Talmud, Sotah 5b), meaning that it is more strongly felt. Therefore, Mordechai is telling Esther that she needs the same rescue as the Jews. In other words, she was already intent on praying for the Jews; what Mordechai wanted Esther to realize was that she was in the same precarious situation. Realizing that she also needs H-Shem to rescue her would cause Esther to feel that prayer with her whole heart, making her prayer stronger, and thus more effective.

Esther 4:8, Question 4. Why does Mordechai stress that Esther had to be commanded?

  • The Vilna Gaon says that Mordechai knew that Esther, being a righteous woman, never voluntarily submitted to Achashverosh carnally. In addition to the fact that he was a gentile, we learned earlier that Esther was married to Mordechai before she was forcibly removed from his home. Accordingly, Esther would need the force of a command to submit to Achashverosh voluntarily. There is a story told of a community rav who was in a situation in which circumstances were such that he had to build a synagogue where a mikvah once stood. Otherwise, his congregation would have no home. Knowing that Halacha (see Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat I, Siman 40) does not allow for a shul to be built in such a place, he asked the Chazon Ish for advice. The Chazon Ish reportedly told the rav that he was right, and that building the shul in such a location would earn him punishment in this world and the next. Nevertheless, he still had to do it. His congregation needed a home, and, as a leader, he had the responsibility to accept punishment for their benefit. Here, too, Esther was required to perform this sin for the benefit of the entire nation. Esther would not have gone to Achashverosh voluntarily.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle quotes the verse in Koheles (3:7) that there is “a time to be silent, and a time to speak.” In other words, Mordechai was telling Esther that there was a time when he commanded her to remain silent regarding her ancestry (see 2:10); now, he was rescinding that command and telling her to speak.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein gives another reason why Esther needed to be commanded. Quoting a Rashi in Vayikra 6:2 (in Parshas Tzav), he writes that the word, “tzav” (“command”) is only used when the person performing the action is reluctant to do it because there is something they stand to lose. Here, Mordechai has to command Esther because he realizes her self-sacrifice. Recalling that Mordechai is speaking to Hasach (Daniel) that he has to command Esther because he is a greater Torah scholar. As such, Esther would be more likely to listen to the command.

Esther 4:2, Question 1. Why does Mordechai go to the king’s palace at this point?

ב וַיָּבוֹא עַד לִפְנֵי שַׁעַרהַמֶּלֶךְ כִּי אֵין לָבוֹא אֶלשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ בִּלְבוּשׁ שָׂק

2. And he went until before the gate of the king because one could not go to the gate of the king wearing sackcloth.

  • The Vilna Gaon suggests that Mordechai went to the palace because he simply did not know that he would be barred from it.
  • The Malbim adds that Mordechai wanted to inform the king of the goings-on, not knowing that the king did not know that the Jews were targeted for genocide.
  • R’ Zalman Sorotskin in Mayleetz Yosher notes that Mordechai knew that he could change his clothing to discuss his issue with the king, and then change back into his sackcloth. The reason Mordechai chooses to act otherwise is because he actually felt a sense of mourning for the state of the Jewish people. Changing clothes would also show the Jewish people a lack of concern for their predicament.
  • R’ Eliezer Ashkenazi clarifies that Mordechai’s actions were a part of prayer. Prayer being the Jews’ strongest weapon, Mordechai knew he had to pray before performing any other activity, and therefore the removal of the sackcloth would have been considered tantamount to ceasing prayer.
  • Basing itself on a verse in Tehillim (85:14), the Talmud (Brachos 14a) teaches that we are not allowed to fulfill our own daily needs before performing our duties to H-Shem. This is also brought down in Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 89:3, Mishnah Berurah ibid., sub-paragraph 17). Even our forefather, Yaakov, in preparing for his meeting with Eisav prayed before doing anything else (Bireishis 32:10-13).