Esther 4:5, Question 4. Why does Esther phrase her question as “what is this and why is this?”

  • According to the Yerushalmi, Esther phrases her question as “what is this and why is this” to demonstrate that she was asking two questions: a) what was the meaning of weeping and b) what was Mordechai’s justification for rejecting the royal clothes she had sent.
  • Yosef Lekach writes that Esther’s phraseology likens her to a doctor, who diagnoses both the illness and then figures out the cause. Here, also, “what is this” refers to Mordechai’s seemingly strange behavior, and “why is this” refers to the root cause of his concern.
  • The Ohel Moshe points out that this verse demonstrates just how a great person deals with any tragedy. In any such situation, the great person will seek the spiritual cause, since the spiritual is the actual, whereas the physical/political/personal causes are but a mere reflection in this impermanent, transient mirror to the spiritual world.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:4) and the Talmud (Megillah 15a) both relate that Esther’s question to Mordechai of two mentions of the word, “zeh” concerned whether or not the Jews transgressed the laws of Moshe’s tablets, which are similarly described as “m’zeh l’zeh” (“from one side to the other”) (Shemos 32:15). R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that Esther was concerned with Torah at this time because she recognized in the gravity of situation that the only cause could be a failure in the Jews’ commitment to the Torah. Interestingly, the Torah was written “mzeh l’zeh” so that each letter could be seen from either side of the tablets. The reason for this, according to Rabbeinu Bachya’s commentary there, is to symbolize the hidden and revealed Torah. Perhaps we can also say that these are the Written and Oral parts of the Torah.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:4) writes that Esther’s “zeh” question concerned the Jews’ neglecting the responsibilities to which they committed themselves at the splitting of the sea, regarding which is written “zeh Keili vi’anveihu” (“this is my G-d and I will glorify Him”) (Shemos 15:2). The Beis Halevi there explains that both instances of “zeh” precipitated in Amalek’s attack of the Jews in the desert. In other words, the Jewish peoples’ disregard for Torah study and their lack of trust in H-Shem brought Amalek in the desert – and brought their descendant, Haman, in Persia generations later for the same behaviors.
  • In his unique manner, the Ben Ish Chai focuses on Esther’s use of the word “ma” (“what”). He points out that the letters immediately preceding the mem and hey of “ma” are lamed and dales and the letters immediately after mem and hey are nun and vuv. Together, these four letters spell out “nolad” (“a new creation”). The Ben Ish Chai therefore notes that Esther wanted to know if the Jews were being punished for the previously-mentioned pseudo-idolatry in the time of Nevuchadnetzer or attending Achashverosh’s feast, or perhaps for a newly created reason, altogether.

Esther 4:5, Question 3. Why does the verse say Esther sent Hasach “on” Mordechai instead of “to” Mordechai?

  • According to Beis Yaakov, Esther sent Hasach “on” Mordechai instead of “to” Mordechai as a sort of passive aggressive move since she was blaming him for the decree against the Jews. After all Haman was Mordechai’s slave. As such, Mordechai had the legal ability and responsibility to confiscate any purchases of his slave, especially here, where the purchase was the very life of the Jews.
  • Perhaps another action Esther blamed on Mordechai was his original refusal to bow to Haman.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle points out that the initial letters of the phrase “al mordechai l‘daas” (“on Mordechai to know”) are an acronym that spells out the word “amal” (“labor”), which usually represents the negative, human desire to do wrong. In other words, Esther was pointing out to Mordechai the spiritual cause of the current problem faced by the Jews.
  • Perhaps another reason for this unique turn of phrase is the verse’s attempt to demonstrate a proof that Daniel (if he is Hasach) is Mordechai’s superior.

Esther 3:12, Question 1. Why is Haman seemingly in a hurry to write this document?

יב וַיִּקָּרְאוּ סֹפְרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָרִאשׁוֹן בִּשְׁלוֹשָׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם בּוֹ וַיִּכָּתֵב כְּכָלאֲשֶׁרצִוָּה הָמָן אֶל אֲחַשְׁדַּרְפְּנֵיהַמֶּלֶךְ וְאֶלהַפַּחוֹת אֲשֶׁר ׀ עַלמְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה וְאֶלשָׂרֵי עַם וָעָם מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה כִּכְתָבָהּ וְעַם וָעָם כִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ בְּשֵׁם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרשׁ נִכְתָּב וְנֶחְתָּם בְּטַבַּעַת הַמֶּלֶךְ

12. And the scribes of the king were called in on the first month, on the thirteenth of it. And it was written like all that Haman commanded to the lieutenant governors of the king and to the governors of each state, and to the officials of each nation, each state as was written nation and nation like its language in the name of King Achashverosh did he write and seal with the ring of the king.

  • Especially since the decree was only to go into effect in eleven months, it seems strange for Haman to have been in such a rush to get the document written. According to the Malbim, Haman rushed the letter’s publication so that Achashverosh would not have discovered his true intent – the annihilation of a people.
  • The Chida and R’ Dovid Feinstein write that Haman was in a hurry because of the date, the thirteenth of Nisan. Due to the fact that the first twelve days of Nisan would give the Jews the spiritual merit of the princely gifts (Bamidbar 7:11-83) and the next days of Nisan would give the Jews the merits of the mitzvos of Pesach, this was the most inauspicious day for the Jews. Haman, seemingly a believer and practitioner in prognostication, wanted to publish this letter on a day when its goal would contain the fewest potential spiritual impediments.

Esther 3:7, Question 4. Why does the verse stress that the pur was cast “before” Haman?

  • According to the Targum Sheini’s interpretive translation, Haman’s oldest son, Shimshi, cast the pur.
  • The Malbim writes that the lot was cast for Haman – it decided when he would die since this plan to kill the Jews led to his execution (see below Esther 7:10).
  • The Chassam Sofer and the Me’am Loez write that Haman saw himself on top, and the Jews beneath him. Unfortunately for Haman, he did not interpret this correctly, as it was pointing to his hanging from the tree, and Mordechai beneath him, standing safely on the ground.
  • The Maharal says that Haman did not throw the lots himself for two reasons. The first is that he knew he was not a spiritually sensitive person. He therefore asked someone else to interpret the lots. The second reason is that he knew he had a subjective bias in the result. As such, his own subjectivity would subconsciously color his interpretation of the final result of the lots tossed. Perhaps these two answers are really one and the same. One cannot be a spiritually attuned person with biases. The more spiritual one becomes, the more objective one becomes. The entire goal of spirituality is to realize that our own wants should not have significance.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that the way Jews escape annihilation is through their performance of mitzvos, of which Torah study is the greatest (see Mishnah, Peah 1:1). That being the case, the Ben Ish Chai interprets our verse in a novel manner by writing that the lots cast pointed to the solution to Haman’s challenge being “lifnei Haman” the letters preceding the letters in Haman’s name in the Hebrew alphabet. The letters before hey (dales), mem (lamed), and nun (mem) can form the word “lamed,” (“learn”).
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Haman felt he needed to pick the right day of the week, as well as the correct month. Since, the days of the week represent the natural cycle established in the seven days of Creation, and every culture has its own fashion for establishing and measuring months, days represent a variable given Divinely. Months, however, represent a variable provided by people. Haman therefore thought the rabbis, who established the Jewish months (as mentioned above), were prone to error. Hence, Haman felt he could not be successful against H-Shem, Who established the days, but could be successful against the rabbis, who in his view represented imperfect, fallible men.

Esther 2:7, Question 2. Which is her real name, Hadassah or Esther?

  • 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!