Esther 4:17, Question 2. Why does the verse call Esther’s instructions “commands?”

  • The Ginzei HaMelech uses this verse to show how humble Mordechai was, in that this giant of his generation still lowered himself to serve Esther like a servant. He writes further that this act was in direct defiance to Achashverosh’s earlier decree that men should be in charge of women (Esther 1:22).
  • Perhaps this use of language is what Tanna D’vei Eliyahu refers to when it writes that Esther spoke with Mordechai in a disrespectful manner.

Esther 4:17, Question 1. What does Mordechai pass in following Esther’s instructions?

יז וַיַּעֲבֹר מָרְדָּכָי וַיַּעַשׂ כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁרצִוְּתָה עָלָיו אֶסְתֵּר

17. And Mordechai passed and did like all that Esther commanded on him.

  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 15a), after hearing Esther’s response, Mordechai passed over either a river or the passed over (read: transgressed) the obligation to eat on the first night of Passover, since that night fell within the three days in which Esther asked the people to fast.
  • The Me’am Loez writes that the verse is praising Mordechai for “crossed the river,” which implies that he preferred to follow the command himself – without the use of messengers. He, himself, crossed the river to gather the Jews together in prayer, fasting, and repentance.
  • In explaining why Rashi, who usually gives a simpler explanation when available, decided to write the explanation that had to do with transgressing Pesach, the Torah Temimah gives two reasons: one is that the Torah always names an object being crossed when vaya’avor is used in relation to a physical object, and secondly, in actual fact, the fasting did occur through the first night of the Pesach seder.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that someone can fast on Shabbos to annul a bad dream if that dream is dreamed on that day (Talmud, Shabbos 11a). If so, how much more-so can one fast on Yom Tov to annul a decree, so Mordechai was not transgressing at all.
  • However, according to the opinion that he was, R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshis’cha explains that Mordechai felt his prayers would not be powerful enough to be listened to in the ordinary manner. Transgressing Pesach would get the Accuser, the Satan, involved. Once he gets involved, there would be a Heavenly tribunal. Once there is a trial, Heaven would recognize Mordechai’s good intent, and then would assist Mordechai in defending the Jews.
  • In the first chapter of Tanna D’vei Eliyahu, it says that H-Shem can ignore insults. There, it writes that Esther’s arguing was spoken in an unfit manner, and yet Mordechai let it “pass” from his mind.
  • M’nos HaLevi points out that crossing the river was as easy for Mordechai as jumping over a puddle. It was a small act, but the Torah records it for our benefit, so teach us the lesson of the power even in what may appear as minor, easy mitzvos (see Mishnah, Avos 2:1).

Esther 3:1, Question 2. Why does the king promote Haman?

  • Apparently basing itself on the idea that King here refers to H-Shem, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:1) cites a verse in Tehillim (37:20) to relate that H-Shem allowed for Haman to be elevated only in order for his fall to be all-the-more steep and painful. There is a parable told there of a horse, a donkey, and a pig. The farmer feeds the donkey and horse a limited amount, and feeds the pig without measure. One day, the horse asks the donkey, “We do actual work, yet are fed less. This is not fair!” The wise donkey tells the horse to be patient and realize that the pig is not well-fed for its own good, but to be fattened up to be eaten by the farmer.
  • In the next Midrash (ibid. 7:2) a story is told of a king who felt it beneath his dignity to kill a peasant, so he promotes him in order to execute him without degrading himself. Such is the case with Haman, made great only to be cut down the more painfully.
  • The Chida calculates that Haman was at the peak of his power for a total of seventy days. He sent out the letters to kill the Jews on the 13th of Nisan. Seventy days later, on the 23rd of Sivan, Mordechai sent out the letters for the Jews to rescue themselves. Similarly, there are seventy verses between this verse where Haman is elevated and the verse where Haman is hanged (7:10).
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that, by elevating Haman, H-Shem was rewarding him for his advice to rid the world of the evil Vashti.
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman was elevated at this point as a consequence for King Shaul’s (Mordechai and Esther’s ancestor) misdirected kindness in keeping Agag (Haman’s ancestor) alive.
  • Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (21) writes that Haman’s elevation is a reward for Agag’s sincere prayer when he was locked up in prison, awaiting his death. Because of this evil man’s last prayer, a ruler was destined to come from him, as is alluded to in the verse (Bamidbar 24:7), “and He raised from Agag his kingship.” Based on this, the Ginzei HaMelech asks, how could Haman, a thoroughly evil man only in power for 70 days, be considered a reward? He answers that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) teaches that Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah in Bnei Brak, truly a reward for anybody.
  • The Maharal writes that Haman is rewarded here instead of Mordechai because the righteous generally are not rewarded with wealth in this world, but accrue reward in the World to Come.
  • Rav Shmuel Aharon Rubin cites Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak in the Talmud (Megillah 11a), who applies the verse in Tehillim (124:2) that discusses H-Shem rescuing us from a man to the Purim story. Since kings have not free will of their own, he continues, H-Shem needed to elevate a man – since free will is the mark of humanity – to this position from which he could threaten the Jewish people. It is a bigger miracle that Pesach in that way because Pharaoh’s heart was Divinely hardened. Haman, on the other hand, could make his own decisions, and chose evil all the same.
  • The Vilna Gaon tells us that if Haman is Memuchan (as asserted before), the human king had reason to reward him, as well. After all, it was Haman who advised that Vashti should be removed. First, this advice allowed the king to marry Esther. Second, Esther helped save the king’s life from the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:21).
  • But if the motivation to elevate Haman came from Achashverosh for this, why did he not reward Mordechai? The Tirosh Vayitz’har writes that Achashverosh was unsure about Mordechai’s intention. Perhaps he was a part of the plot, after all. The only one he was sure of was Esther, so he rewarded her by elevating the man whose advice led to her being queen.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Kluger writes that, after surviving the assassination attempt, Achashverosh realized that he was at risk – especially from Haman – and knew that he needed to keep him close by. As the old saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
  • This is the exact opposite view from Chacham Tzvi, whose opinion is that Achashverosh mistrusted Haman and thought he conspired together with Esther to kill him. However, once Esther reported the assassination plot in Mordechai’s name – Mordechai being Haman’s arch rival – Achashverosh (thought he) knew that Haman was loyal.
  • According to the Malbim, the king simply forgot about Mordechai completely.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz notes that it makes little logical sense for Mordechai to have been so passed over, and instead condemned to die along with the other Jews. After all, he saved the king’s life when he had no need to. Therefore, this verse is yet another proof that it is impossible to understand the Purim story – or even Jewish history, in general – without the understanding that H-Shem miraculously protects His beloved people.

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.