Esther 9:15, Question 2. Why does the verse mention again that the Jews did not take the spoils?

  • Class Participant YML suggests that maybe taking the wealth would have make the Jews wealthier than Haman, raising Achashverosh’s paranoia.
  • The Sfas Emes notes that the three incidents in which the verses emphasize that the Jews did not take the spoils parallel the three actions of Shaul and his people for which the threatened annihilation of the Jews of Persia served as a tikkun – the sparing of Agag, the sparing of the livestock, and the taking of the Amalekite gold and silver.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that although the Jews did not take the spoils, the verse implies that someone did; namely, Mordechai. Mordechai did, indeed, take the spoils by accepting Haman’s house (Esther 8:2). He used this wealth to help finance the rebuilding of the Temple. In a powerful display of vinahafoch Hu (“and He reversed”), Haman’s wealth was used to build the very structure which he dedicated his life to destroy.
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Esther 7:4, Question 2. According to Esther, how is the enemy not equal to the king’s damage?

  • Seemingly, Esther’s point is that the loaves of silver paid during Haman’s deal with the king (Esther 3:9) was a bad deal for the king. However, as the Maharal points out, Achashverosh returned the money (Esther 3:11), so an alternative interpretation is necessary.
  • According to Rebbetzin Heller, Esther was saying that the humiliation that the Jews would experience would not justify bothering our great king, Achashverosh; it would be beneath his dignity to do such a thing.
  • Also, the enemy – Haman – is not considering the loss to the king because he only cares about himself.
  • As the Talmud (Megillah 16a) interprets this phrase, Haman does not care about Achashverosh. First, Haman advised the killing of Achashverosh’s beloved Vashti, and now Haman has set his sights on the king’s new beloved, Esther.
  • The Ibn Ezra adds that Esther was saying that Haman cares so little for Achashverosh, that he does not even mind Achashverosh’s loss of tax revenue in killing out so many citizens of the realm.
  • According to Rashi, Esther is pointing out that if he had cared about Achashverosh, Haman would have advised him to sell the Jews and keep the money.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz says Esther was protecting Achashverosh from an assassination plot; if he will kill her, then he would kill the king, as well.
  • Like the Rokeach, the Yosef Lekach writes that Esther’s point was that enslaving the Jews is permissible by the Torah, but trying to kill them off is against Torah. Therefore, Achashverosh risked being punished for this, and Haman would not care if he were.
  • The Dena Pishra writes that Esther’s point was that, as a king, Achashverosh could uniquely appreciate what a loss the Jews would be to H-Shem, their King, and how He will respond for the sake of His subjects.
  • According to the Alshich, another point Esther was making is that, in returning the silver (Esther 3:11), Achashverosh essentially sold his own wife as slave for free.
  • The Holy Shelah interprets “the king’s damage” as pain being inflicted upon the King of the World.
  • The Ketones Or quotes the Talmud (Taanis 3b) that it is impossible for the world to exist without Jews. Accordingly, Esther’s point was that Haman does not care about that, so this plot is not to Achashverosh’s benefit.

Esther 4:7, Question 2. Why does the verse use the word “parashas?”

  • According to R’ Eliezer of Worms, the verse use the word “parashas” (“chapter”) to describe Haman’s meeting with Achashverosh in order to emphasize that this event was not just talk – a financial exchange took place, giving the event legal significance and legally binding consequences.
  • In fact, as the Divrei Shaul points out, Mordechai was communicating to Esther the fact that Achashverosh could not be easily bought off, since Haman had already given/ offered him money (see above 3:11).
  • As R’ Dovid Feinstein notes, Achashverosh’s refusal to accept the bribe only stresses the ferocity of his hate for the Jews, making this a very serious threat to Jewish existence, indeed. Convincing Achashverosh to change his mind would require nothing short of a miracle.
  • Parenthetically, According to Yaaros Dvash, the fact that Achashverosh refused the money was covered up by Haman in an attempt to deny people the opportunity to intercede on behalf of the Jews.
  • The Chasam Sofer writes that Mordechai’s giving the details of this entire episode here served a vital purpose later. In fact, Esther uses this event in detail to convince the king to save the Jews from Haman’s decree. In the Chasam Sofer’s view of the events, Achashverosh refused Haman’s money (see 3:11 above) because he reasoned that killing such a people was a worthwhile responsibility of his, and taking payment for this would be unethical. In Achashverosh’s mind, Haman’s offer and and his refusal were secret. Since Mordechai’s knowledge of this came through a Ruach HaKodesh-like dream, Mordechai kept the information under wraps to be used later, if necessary. Once Esther tells Achashverosh that her people had been “sold” (see 7:4 below), Achashverosh begins to suspect that Haman had libelously spread the rumor that he had, indeed, accepted Haman’s payment. Therefore, he responds by asking who would do such a thing (see 7:5 below). It seems improbable that Achashverosh had forgotten the entire incident, so he is asking who would spread such a rumor.
  • The Brisker Rav interprets the word “parasha” as being related to “lihafreesh” (“to set aside”). In his view, Mordechai was informing Esther of the money that was set aside, or designated for the purchase of killing out the Jews. Such money was legally binding, and eventually, Achashverosh’s only way out of the deal would have be to kill the “buyer” – Haman.
  • Alshich uses Rashi’s seemingly simple explanation that “parsha” means explanation to mean that Mordechai related all of the details of Haman’s and Achashverosh’s meeting, including the mystical interpretations for the reasons Haman had to offer 10,000 loaves of silver.
  • Finally, the Sfas Emes translates “parashas” to mean “sum,” emphasizing Haman’s generosity in contributing towards the kingdom. In view of the concept of “zeh l’umas zeh,” the Jews need to be generous with charity in order to counterbalance the generosity of our enemies.

Esther 3:11, Question 2. Why does Achashverosh give silver rather than return it?

  • The Malbim writes that Achashverosh gave silver rather than returning it to show his humility – that he did everything selflessly for the kingdom.
  • The Sha’aris Yosef writes that Achashverosh refused money, as opposed to Yosef’s brothers before him (Bereishis 37:28), in an attempt to deflect responsibility.
  • Class Participant CRL points out that the mispar katan of “nasun” (“given”) (50+500+6+50=506, so 5+0+6=11) is eleven, the number of people (Haman and his ten sons) who are eventually hanged on the gallows.

Esther 3:11, Question 1. Why does Achashverosh stress the silver?

יא וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לְהָמָן הַכֶּסֶף נָתוּן לָךְ וְהָעָם לַעֲשׂוֹת בּוֹ כַּטּוֹב בְּעֵינֶיךָ

11. And the king said to Haman, “The silver is given you. And the nation, do to it like is good in your eyes.”

  • The Malbim, again going according to his theory, says that Achashverosh mentions silver because that material represents kindness. In his estimation, it would be a kindness to help the Jews acculturate.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:21) and Tosvos (Megillah 13b d.h. “hacesef”) both note that the gematria of “hakesef” (“the silver”) (5+20+60+80=165) equals that of “ha’eitz” (“the tree”) (5+70+90=165). The Midrash continues that the lesson to be learned is that what Haman planned to do to the Jews was turned around onto him when he was hanged on the very gallows he built for Mordechai. According to the Ginzei HaMelech, the tree may also be a reference to the “Tree of the Knowledge Good and Evil.”

Esther 3:10, Question 1. What is the significance of Achashverosh giving Haman his ring?

י וַיָּסַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶתטַבַּעְתּוֹ מֵעַל יָדוֹ וַיִּתְּנָהּ לְהָמָן בֶּןהַמְּדָתָא הָאֲגָגִי צֹרֵר הַיְּהוּדִים

10. And the king removed his ring from his hand and gave it to Haman son of Hamdasa the Aggagite, enemy of the Yehudim.

  • According to M’nos HaLevi, the significance of Achashverosh giving Haman his ring is a sign that he consents to an agreement with Haman.
  • The Midrash here (Esther Rabbah 7:20) that Achashverosh hates the Jews more than Haman. After all, “the custom of the world is for the buyer to give a pledge to the seller. But here, the seller [Achashverosh] is giving the pledge [the ring].”
  • The Alshich writes therefore, that this giving of the ring is a legal transaction indicating an acceptance of Haman’s offer, an amount Haman is not likely to be carrying with him.
  • The Megillas Sesarim writes the ring means Achashverosh is giving Haman full authority to do anything he likes.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 14a) writes that the removal of the ring was stronger than forty prophets and seven prophetesses. None of them could encourage the Jews to repent as much as this one act. The Jews seemingly do not repent en mass until their very survival is threatened. R’ Mendel Weinbach says that this act is particularly frightening for the Jews because they know Achashverosh is capricious, and is famous for changing his mind. Once he gives authority to Haman, though, the Jews realize that they are in serious danger.
  • The Bircas Chaim asks why, when Mordechai is elevated to Haman’s position (Esther 8:2), does Achashverosh immediately give Mordechai his ring? In contrast with Mordechai at that point, Achashverosh does not trust Haman. However, now that Haman is willing to give this great amount of silver to the government, Achashverosh is under the mistaken impression that he is patriotic.
  • In Pachad Yitzchak, Rav Yitzchak Hutner wonders why the Talmud calls this incident the “removal of the ring” when it is Haman’s desire to kill the Jews which should be the focus. In response, he writes that whenever the descendants of Eisav or Yaakov prosper, the descendants of the other fall (see Rashi to Bereishis 25:23). Therefore, Achashverosh’s raising up of Haman necessitates a corresponding lessening of the Jews in the esteem of the king.

Esther 3:9, Question 3. Why does Haman choose the specific number of 10,000 loaves of silver?

Many commentators, the Rambam included, believe that numbers have no significance in the Torah. According to them, the main purpose served by numerology and gematria is pedagogic; they can serve as mnemonic learning tools to help students better remember key information. In the philosophy of the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:46), a particular number of sacrifices is mentioned in reference to one sacrifice over another only to emphasize its seriousness. If we were to ask why a particular number is used rather than another number, we could never be satisfied. In our case here, had Haman offered 9,000 loaves of silver, would we not ask why that number? Moreover, would we not be able to think of a great many powerful reasons? Despite this, the vast majority of opinions accord with the idea that numbers do have symbolic significance throughout the Written and Oral Torahs. Especially in a book like Megillat Esther, which we have seen is densely coded to add levels of meaning, numbers seem to play a significant role in understanding the text1.

  • The Vilna Gaon says here that the significance of this number of Haman’s offer is that it is a monstrously huge amount. A shekel is 0.8 ounces of silver. A loaf (or bar) of silver is 30,000 shekels, or 24,000 ounces of silver. Therefore, Haman’s 10,000 loaves of silver are equal to 24,000,000 ounces, or 750 tons, of silver. Class participant JS calculated that such an amount would be equivalent to $941,280,000 in 2012 standards.
  • According to Ibn Ezra, this is amplified. He considers this an abbreviated phrase, and that the money offered by Haman is 100,000 loaves of silver.
  • Rav Dovid Feinstein says Haman offered this particular amount because he projected this to be the cost of killing off the Jews.
  • The Targum translates this verse as “100 times their amount.” What is meant is probably related to the Talmud (Megillah 13b) that states that H-Shem, for Whom time does not exist, gave the Jews the law of giving the half-shekel (Mishnah, Shekalim 1:1) to counteract the effect of Haman’s offer.
  • According to Ben Ish Chai, this ratio is alluded to in a blessing for the Jews (Vayikra 26:8) that “one hundred of you will pursue ten thousand.”
  • According to the Rambam, such is the power of a mitzvah that each Jew’s individual half-shekel is enough to outweigh the worth of any number of loaves of silver, or anything else.
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), upon confronting Mordechai before leading him though the city on the king’s horse (6:11 below), Haman himself acknowledges to Mordechai that the half-shekel given by the Jews overpowered his offer to the king.
  • According to Tosvos on that page (d.h. “Vidachei”), the half-shekel given by the Jews leaving Egypt equaled exactly the 10,000 loaves of silver. Tosvos, however, note there is a difficulty with the math. Otherwise, why would the half-shekel of 600,000 men aged 20-70 leaving Egypt, which should equal 300,000 shekels, be comparable to 10,000 loaves of silver, or 30,000 shekels?
  • Rav Yaakov Emden’s solution to this problem is to point out that in earlier manuscripts of Tosvos, it does not say “chetzi shekel” (“half-shekel”), but the acronym “Ch’Sh,” which could mean “chamishim shekel” (“fifty shekel”). When fifty shekel are multiplied by 600,000, the result is 30,000,000 shekel, the value of Haman’s offer.
  • The Bach answers Tosvos’s math problem by explaining that in an average lifetime of seventy years (see Tehillim 90:10), a man will give a half-shekel fifty times between the ages of twenty and seventy, or twenty-five shekels. 600,000 men giving twenty-five shekels would be 15,000,000 shekels. These 15,000,000 shekels divided by 1500 shekalim (the value of a Beis HaMikdash loaf) would be exactly 10,000 loaves.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya (on Shemos 38:25) and the Torah Temimah answer Tosvos’s math problem differently. According to them, the half-shekel given by the Jews in the desert was a dedication of money representing the valuation of their own worth. According to the Torah (Vayikra 27:2), each man is worth 50 shekels. All 600,000 men donating their own worth of 50 shekels each would be worth 30,000,000 shekels. These 30,000,000 divided by the 3000 totals 10,000. When they actually gave this half-shekel, the Torah testifies (Shemos 38:25) that this silver totaled one hundred loaves, plus one thousand seven hundred seventy-five shekels. Therefore, Haman’s loaves were one hundred times more than the hundred loaves of the Jews leaving Egypt. Furthermore, the number of Jews contributing is given in the next verse (ibid. 26) as 603,550. The additional 1755 shekels were given by the 3550 people.
  • Rabbi Aryeh Naiman reminds us that the whole purpose of the half-shekel was to an indirect form of census-taking. The more direct form, actually counting individuals is a sure recipe for plague, as the Torah (Shemos 30:12) warns. Rashi there explains that because of “ayin hara” (“the evil eye”). The evil eye is caused by people being jealous of what others possess. When Person A becomes jealous, he begins to question why Person B deserves the luxury Person A desires. In Heaven, too, where the Heavenly angels mirror our behavior (see Nefesh HaChaim 1:7), they also begin to question why Person B deserved that object. After all, who is truly worthy of all the blessings bestowed upon us by H-Shem? It is only through the Chesed (kindness) of H-Shem that we are not judged more harshly. He, in His Mercy, over-values our merits, and temporarily overlooks our deficiencies to give us the opportunity to improve (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 3:5). When the Heavenly court focuses on one person due to our jealousy, that person’s good fortune will be restrained. Rashi (on Shemos 30:12) points out that this taking of a person out of the general populace and examining him or her with more scrutiny is the cause of plague. Incidentally, in the laws of kashrus, too, Rabbi Naiman points out, if a drop of milk falls into a pot of beef stew, the milk would probably be nullified in the majority. However, if that drop is recognizable still, even if the pot were the size of football stadium, the milk would not be nullified, since there is a rule (Talmud, Zevachim 73b) that one cannot nullify what is recognizable. Regarding people, too, without a community, one does not have the merits of the community with which to stand judgment. Regarding the half-shekel, everybody – rich and poor – gave the same amount (Shemos 30:15). Also, everybody gave one half of a shekel, rather than a complete amount. In a symbolic sense, Person A’s half-shekel was made “whole” only with Person B’s contribution. In the desert, the shekels were used to cast the sockets of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) (see Rashi to Shemos 30:16). Each individual socket was used as the base for the beam just like each individual in a community helps make a foundation for everyone else. When there were later censuses taken, the half-shekels were used to fund communal offerings (see Rashi to Shemos 30:15). Interestingly, Amalek first attacked the Jewish people (Shemos 17:8) when the Jews began to speak in first-person, individual language (ibid. 3). Amalek gains strength when Jews lose focus of their nationhood. Rabbi Naiman quotes R’ Yeshayahu Horowitz as saying that Haman’s claim to Achashverosh is that the Jewish people are vulnerable because they do not care about their national identity. Only then can Haman’s 10,000 loaves overpower their offerings. This is why it was so important for the Jews to unify in order to nullify Haman’s decree.
  • Another answer comes from Rabbi Mordechai Kornfeld who brings the Vilna Gaon in Kol Eliyahu on the Talmud (Kiddushin 12a) that dates in Persia were once worth more than silver. If silver was so devalued, Haman’s 10,000 loaves were indeed equal to the Jews’ contribution in the desert.
  • Rabbi Zev Reichman quotes Rabbi Moshe Wolfson with an interesting question; assuming the 600,000 people’s half-shekel pieces correspond with 10,000 loaves of silver, what does Haman make of the extra 1775 shekel pieces given by the extra 3550 people in the census? There were people of the tribe of Dan who walked through the desert worshiping idols, oblivious to the open miracles all around them. In fact, when Amalek attacked, their victims were these “nechshalim” (“stragglers”) (Devarim 25:18). According to the Maharal (Gevuras H-Shem), the 600,000 is a symbolic number. It represents perfection. The remaining 3550 represent the people lacking in their spiritual perfection. Amalek attacks those very people because they sense their weakness. Haman, too, ignores their contribution because, in his estimation, the G-d of the Jews should not care about them. Indeed, his silver loaves match the contributions of the 600,000. But it was the 1775 shekels of the Jews Haman thought G-d forgot that outmatched Haman’s offering, and effectively rescued the Jews. Incidentally, the gematria for the Hebrew word “kikar” (“loaf”) (20+20+200=240) equals exactly the gematria of Amalek (70+40+30+100).
  • On another level, the Rabbeinu Bachya writes that Haman’s 10,000 loaves of silver were meant to counter the power of the Ten Commandments since Haman’s word “eshkol” (“will be weighed out”) can be broken up into “eish” (“fire”) and “kol” (“voice/sound”). Fire and sounds marked the giving of the Ten Commandments (Shemos 19:18-19).
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Jews of Achashverosh’s reign, confident that the Temple would be rebuilt, were accruing funds for that purpose. The money they gathered were called adrochanya, worth two shekel. 600,000 representative number of Jews gathering these 800 loaves for the twelve years of Achashverosh’s reign would be 9600 loaves of silver, 400 less than Haman’s. This is why the Jews needed from that Nisan to the next Adar to gather 800 more loaves. This totaled 10,400. The additional 400 represent the 400 men who came with Eisav when he met up with Yaakov (Bereishis 33:1). According to Kabbalistic literature, this number thus represents 400 forces of impurity. This extra number of loaves overpower Haman – descendant of Eisav.
  • The Steipler Gaon asks why this number has to match at all. After all, Haman is evil, and the charity given by the Jews is pure. When Yaakov met up with Eisav, he told him he had lived with Lavan (Bereishis 32:5) as a sign of humility. He was saying that he lived with Lavan, but did not learn from him (see Rashi there). What could Yaakov learn from the evil Lavan? Enthusiasm. Yaakov should have learned to perform mitzvos with the same enthusiasm with which Lavan sinned. The Steipler says that the Jews’ gifts need to match up mathematically with Haman’s offer because the Jews, too, need to match his enthusiasm for hate in order to overpower it. In short, as is true in various areas of Jewish philosophy, R’ Gedalya Schorr brings up that there needs to be a certain amount of good to balance out the bad, a concept known as “zeh l’umas zeh” (“this instead of this”, a phrase borrowed from Koheles 7:14). One could imagine spirituality as a bottle. This bottle is always full. Like all other things in nature, spirituality abhors a vacuum. So, if there is less holiness in that bottle, evil will take up that space so that the bottle is complete. The same zeh l’umas zeh dichotomy exists in all areas of life – love and hate, beauty and ugliness, kindness and meanness, etc.2

1 Otherwise, why does the text mention Achashverosh’s party lasting for 180 days? Why does the text mention the day of the party on which Vashti was killed? Why does the text mention the number of Achashverosh’s officers? Why does the text name and number certain months? Why does the text mention the number of Haman’s sons)? Why does the text mention the number of Persians killed by the Yehudim?

2This idea helps explain why prophecy ended when H-Shem fulfilled the Rabbis’ prayer to remove the desire for idol worship from the world (Talmud, Yoma 69b). Prophecy and idol worship, after all, are just different sides of the same coin.