Esther 7:9, Question 5. Why does Charvona mention the height of the gallows?

  • The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach write that since Charvona was one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to the feast (Esther 6:14), he overheard Haman’s plot, and that is how he knew the height of the gallows.
  • According to the Malbim, Charvona mentions the height of the gallows now because it would add an additional layer of embarrassment for Achashverosh because, at such a height, Mordechai would have been seen publicly hanging while wearing royal robes in which the king dressed him1.
  • A more conspiratorial explanation comes from the Dena Pishra, who writes that Charvona mentions the height because it is obviously too high to serve the purpose of hanging only Mordechai. Clearly, then, Haman also wanted to hang more people, namely Achashverosh and his advisers.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes a Mishnah (Bava Basra 2:9) that a dead body, if it is not buried deeply enough, must be buried 50 amos from a city due to its offensive odor. Since Mordechai is righteous, and the righteous do not decompose, then the 50 amos height of the gallows were indented for someone else – the king.
  • According to Targum Sheini (on Esther 2:1), Achashverosh had been angry with the advisers who convinced him to remove Vashti, and had them hanged. The Aruchas Tamid writes that Haman, the adviser who originates the plan, was actually hanged along with the other advisers, but miraculously fell from the gallows alive. As a precursor to America’s rule of “double jeopardy,” Persian law then dictated that a condemned criminal could not hang twice for the same crime. The Aruchas Tamid continues that since Haman fell when hanged before, Achashverosh was concerned that he might be freed again as per that Persian law. However, these gallows’ height being 50 cubits meant that Haman would die even if he were to fall free.

1Class Participant YML pointed out that Haman could not have intended on Mordechai being hanged on those gallows while wearing the king’s robes. After all, it was only that morning that Mordechai was paraded in the streets of Shushan wearing the royal garb, and Haman built the gallows the night before that – not knowing what the next 24 hours had in store for him and his plans. Perhaps, as the king’s adviser, Mordechai regularly wore clothing akin to a uniform which identified him as belonging to the king’s court.

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Esther 6:10, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh emphasize that Haman should follow every detail?

  • The Alshich writes that, in his desire to uncover the conspiracy he so fears, Achashverosh is emphatic that Haman should perform everything he suggested.
  • The Me’am Loez explains that the nature of a person who is forced to do something is to delay and ignore as many steps as possible.
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), once Haman saw that he would have to honor Mordechai in this degrading way, he suggested new methods of honoring him that would not detract from his own self-love, like naming a river or village after Mordechai. In an ironic twist, Achashverosh therefore stresses that Haman should follow every detail to include those other things Haman suggested, as well.
  • The Shaar Bas Rabbim writes that this phrase includes the crown. Although Achashverosh is not happy with the idea, even showing his disapproval, he nevertheless agrees to it reluctantly, not even able to say the word.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that H-Shem wanted Mordechai to be pampered with all of these honors for two reasons. First, on the Earthly level, Mordechai deserves reward for having saved the life of Achashverosh, allowing him to be pampered in palace luxury. Second, on the Heavenly plane, the Talmud (Gittin 62a) refers to scholars as royalty, deserving of the best in this life and the next.
  • In the spirit of the idea that the entire Purim story teaches us that H-Shem runs His world through mida kineged mida, M’nos HaLevi explains that when Mordechai first learned of the decree to annihilate the Jews, he is described (Esther 4:1) as putting on sackcloth, walking through the streets of Shushan, and crying bitterly. In reward for putting on the sackcloth, he is now to put on royal garments; in reward for walking through the streets, he is now to be escorted on the king’s horse; and in reward for his bitter cry, his greatness is to be proclaimed throughout the city.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle points out that the initial letters of the last three words in this verse “mikol asher dibarta” (“from all that you said”) spell out the word m’od (“much”). The Torah (Bireishis 15:1) describes Avraham’s – and by extension, every righteous person’s – reward as s’charcha harbeh m’od, “your reward will be very great.”
  • R’ Chaim Fasman once pointed out that the only part of the daily amida in which we request that somebody actually get something is in the prayer for the righteous, where we ask H-Shem that He give the righteous s’char, reward. The reason for this is that it is an inspirational kiddush H-Shem for all of us when we see the righteous rewarded.
  • The Targum Sheini, with its embedded commentary, says that Achashverosh told Haman a detailed list of the items which he was supposed to give to Mordechai, including Achashverosh’s Macedonian crown, Ethiopian sword, African cloak, and the horse he rode from the beginning of his reign named Shifrigaz. The gematria of Shifrigaz (300+10+80+200+3+7=600) is 600, the same as sheker (300+100+200=600), falsehood. Perhaps this alludes to the idea that wealth and honor are fleeting, impermanent things, as the verse in Koheles (6:2) says, “a man to whom G-d has given […] wealth and honor […] and yet G-d has not given him the opportunity to eat from it, […] this is futile and an evil disease.”

Esther 6:4, Question 3. Why does the verse mention that the gallows were prepared “for him?”

Gallows

  • Besides stressing that the verse mention that the gallows were prepared “for him,” R’ Shlomo Kluger in Ma’amar Mordechai points out that in order to be consistent with Zeresh’s advice earlier (Esther 5:14), the verse should have written “asher asa lo” (“that he made for him”) instead of “asher heichin lo” (“that he prepared for him”).
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) explains that the gallows Haman had built were prepared in the ironic sense that they would unintentionally be used for his own hanging.
  • The Vilna Gaon explains that, as opposed to something whose purpose changes, the gallows were never meant for Mordechai at all, and were always for Haman. Some things historically had an intended purpose, and were then appropriated for some other use. T.N.T., for instance, was meant to be used solely for construction. Its being adopted for use in war so traumatized its inventor, Alfred Nobel, that he developed the Nobel Peace Prize for those who allegedly bring peace to the world. These gallows, by contrast, from their inception, were always intended for Haman’s downfall.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the gallows had to be a perfect fit for Haman, since he and his sons all fit on the same gallows (see Targum Sheini to Esther 9:14). See attached chart.
  • According to the opinion that the gallows were made from the beams of the Beis HaMikdash, the Ben Ish Chai asks how Mordechai could have the right to use them as he will when he hangs Haman (Esther 7:10) since he would thereby desecrate these holy objects (Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 50). However, answers the Ben Ish Chai, Haman’s using the beams first took away their sanctity, preparing the beams for use in his own death.
  • Using Newtonian physics, the Maharal points out that if an object that is thrown at a wall drops straight down upon impact, this shows the amount of force applied by the thrower. However, if the object bounces back upon impact, this means the thrower applied more force, and it was only the wall’s strength that kept the object from its intended place. Similarly, in yet another example of mida kineged mida, what happened to Haman (and his sons) reflects the vehemence with which they planned to dispatch Mordechai.
  • According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz in Yaaros Dvash, Haman intended hang a completely different “him” – the king. After all, Haman had planned a conspiracy to take over the monarchy.
  • On a Halachic point, the Chasam Sofer notes that hachana (“preparation”) usually implies in the legal world preparing for the next days. In this case, where Haman prepared the gallows earlier that morning, why is this hachana for the same say? He answers that hachana for gentiles does not need to be for the next days since the Talmud describes them as “holech achar hayom,” that they follow a solar schedule, controlled by the sun.
  • The Belzer Rebbe adds that Halacha recognizes the need for mitzvos to have hachana; this is not true for sins. For example, consider how much planning you needed to put into learning right now, versus how much planning you would have needed to waste your time in front of a tv or computer screen, instead. Therefore, the gallows must have been for Haman since killing out the nation of Amalek is a mitzvah (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 6:4).

Esther 6:1, Question 4. Why does the verse use the passive verb “nikra’im” (were read) instead of the active “koreem” (“read”)?

  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes that the verse uses the passive form of the verb (“were read”) because the pages of the book read themselves, since the king’s servant did not want to.
  • The Maharal explains that the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni 545, and see Ezra 4:8 with Rashi there) writes that the palace scribe was one of Haman’s sons. Therefore, explains the Maharal, since he changed all references to Mordechai to say Haman, this was only true in the public book. In the private book, the king would notice the obvious inconsistencies, and would therefore have more reason to suspect Haman of conspiring against him.
  • Targum Sheini writes that the scribe did not erase Mordechai’s name, but merely skipped over his name. Therefore, the angel Gavriel turned the pages to the missing text, and the pages read themselves.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz asks why such a miracle was necessary. He answers that the Talmud (Shabbos 88a) writes that the Jews accepted the Torah at Har Sinai with the words “naaseh v’nishmah” (“we will do and we will listen”). After this, H-Shem lifted a mountain over them, and threatened to drop it over them if they would not accept the Torah. What was the reason for this if they had just done exactly that? Tosfos answers that the Jews accepted the Written Torah with complete enthusiasm, but not the Oral Torah. They re-accepted the Torah in the conclusion of Megillas Esther, when the verse (Esther 9:27) writes “kimu v’kiblu” (“they took and they accepted”). It became clear to the Jews that their downfall was caused in the beginning of the Purim story, where they ignored the words of the great leader, Mordechai. For this reason, these words which were not written down were given orally, mida kineged mida. Perhaps it is for this reason that this miracle happened on the second night of the Pesach holiday, since its observance is totally rabbinic.
  • As a proof of this phenomenon, the Rokeach points out that the words “hayamim viyihyu nikarim” (“days [Chronicles]. And they were read”) (5+10+40+10+40+6+10+5+10+6+50+100+200+1+10+40=543) have the same gematria as lomed kee hayu nikrayim me’atzmam (“we learn that they read themselves”) (30+40+4+20+10+5+10+6+50+100+200+1+10+40+40+70+90+40+40=806).
  • R’ Yitzchak Hutner writes that we can learn a fundamental philosophical rule from this verse. Namely, in life, we do not really accomplish anything; H-Shem just makes it look to us as if we do things. As a proof, he quotes the phrase (Vayikra 11:38) “kee yiton” (“if he placed”), which the Talmud (Bava Metzia 22b) says could be pronounced “kee yutan” (“if it was placed”) in the passive voice because despite a person’s intent to do something, the final act is completed only through H-Shem. We are all vessels, and H-Shem is the real Doer in this world.

Esther 3:8, Question 5. Why does Haman stress that Jewish laws are different from the laws of others?

  • Many cultures in large nations like Achashverosh’s would have their own unique set of rules, customs, and even mores. Here, Haman is stressing that Jewish laws not only different, but even antagonistic to the laws of the land. According to the Talmud (Megillah 13b), Haman is complaining that the Jews “won’t eat our food, won’t marry from us, won’t marry to us.” Haman even uses his knowledge of Jewish law to defame Judaism. He tells the king that if a fly were to touch a Jew’s cup, he would remove it and continue drinking. However, if the king were to touch a Jew’s cup, the Jew would throw the wine away. Alluding to the law of yayin nesech (see Talmud, Avodah Zarah 30a), Haman is telling the king that the Jews view the Persians as unclean (see the Targum Sheini).
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman is saying the Jews view their own laws as superior, and therefore even trumping, the king’s gentile law. On one hand, he is right. Although the Talmud in numerous places (Gittin 10b, Baba Kama 113a, Baba Basra 54b, Nedarim 28a) notes a concept called “dina d’malchusa dina” (“the law of the kingdom is the law”) which means is that Jews are expected to follow the laws of the lands in which we find ourselves, this is only true as long as those laws do not directly contradict Jewish law.
  • On the other hand, as Megillas Sefer learns, Haman is saying that the Jews even go to the extreme measure of mutilating their sons (through circumcision) to avoid intermarrying with the gentiles around us. Poor, little innocent children are cut for their parents’ religious fanaticism. Interestingly, had it not been a command, its cruelty would make it abhorrent. Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 385) writes, “In exile, in disrepute, tiny to behold, yet always conspicuous, it is a nation which calls attention to itself, prods others into action and yet, despite its dispersal, manages to preserve its unique heritage and even to transmit it from one generation to the other.”
  • The Targum Sheini writes that Haman’s criticism of the Jews here was that the Jews “have warm water in winter and cold water in summer.” The Ben Ish Chai explains that Haman is saying the Jews focus on physical pleasure. He also says notes that the Jews manipulate their own calendars from twenty-nine to thirty days, depending on when they want Rosh Chodesh to fall out. In Haman’s estimation, these designations are arbitrary and to the Jews’ own benefit.

Esther 3:2, Question 2. Why does the king order all servants to do this?

  • The Eshkol HaKofer writes that if Achashverosh had not commanded artificial respect for Haman, he would not have received it organically. Either the people did not like Haman, as we shall see below (6:3), or as the Eshkol HaKofer suggests, they saw him for what he truly was.
  • After all, the Yalkut Shimoni and the Targum Sheini write that Haman was originally a barber – a low position in Persian culture as it implied, besides cutting hair, more menial tasks like removing warts, bleeding, etc. A person would hardly bow to such a person in those times unless commanded otherwise by the crown.
  • The M’nos HaLevi notes that the word “chein” (“so”) used here to describe the king’s command, has the gematria of 70 (20+50). Again, this represents the peak of Haman’s power because that is how long he was in power.

Esther 2:10, Question 3. Why does the verse stress that Mordechai commanded Esther to keep these secrets?

  • According to Targum Sheini, Mordechai was concerned that the king would become upset with Esther at some point, and take his anger out on her people. This is similar to what actually happens when Haman becomes angry with one Jew, Mordechai, and decides to exterminate his entire people as a consequence (see below 3:6).
  • The Ibn Ezra quotes commentators critical of Mordechai for this order, saying his selfish intent was for Esther to not be chosen by Achashverosh, so that she could return to being Mordechai’s wife. He rejects these opinions, and comments that Esther’s keeping this secret allowed her to stay Jewish because the king would have used violence in an attempt to force Esther to convert had he known her background.
  • Rabbi Eliezer of Worms writes that Mordechai knew that Esther’s very presence in the harem of the king meant that she was placed there for a reason. After all, wherever we are in life, H-Shem wants us there for a reason, though we often do not readily know what it is.
  • Rav Moshe Meir Weiss adds that even if Esther did not understand the reason for her secrecy, or even if she disagreed, this verse is a praise to her for listening to the words of Mordechai, the Gadol HaDor (greatest rabbi of her generation). When we trust the Sages, things go well for us.