Esther 8:6, Question 2. Why does Esther mention two conditions she considers unbearable?

  • The Malbim writes that Esther’s two conditions refer to separate factors. The first, “seeing evil” refers to possible anti-Jewish attacks before the decree date. The second, “seeing the destruction” refers to people perhaps not believing the second (erstwhile unmentioned) document, and attacking the Jews nevertheless.
  • In Nachal Eshkol, the Chida explains that Esther is telling the king that – having not been present during the meeting that spawned Haman’s decree – she does not know if, by using the term li’avdam (Esther 3:9), Achashverosh meant to enslave or kill the Jews. On that basis, can’t bear evil (enslavement) nor the destruction (killing) of the Jews.
  • The Vilna Gaon notes that the verse uses the word, eicha (“how”) twice – once for the first Beis HaMikdash, and the second for the second Beis HaMikdash. Indeed, Esther was mourning for two things – the potential destruction of the Jews in exile from the first Beis HaMikdash, and the inevitable destruction of the Jews of the future if they do not learn from their past mistakes.
  • Contrary to the previous opinions, the Yosef Lekach writes that Esther is not worried the people will be destroyed. After all, H-Shem already promised never to kill them out (Vayikra 26:44). However, there was no such promise about individual families, and that was a cause of concern for Esther. The Jewish people would survive, but Esther’s second eicha indicates that she worries about her future progeny surviving.
  • Perhaps she had good reason to worry, since Mordechai had threatened her offspring with as much when he convinced her to approach the king (Esther 4:14), and it is a well-known Talmudic (Kesubos 103b) dictum that what the righteous speak, H-Shem fulfills.
  • The Beis HaLevi (on his commentary to Ki Sisa) writes that by using “my nation,” Esther refers to those who would not renounce their Judaism if that is what Achashverosh is planning to do. By saying “my kin,” Esther refers to those people who would (chas v’shalom) give up their Judaism to save their lives.
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Esther 8:6, Question 1. Why does Esther use a unique form of the word “eicha” (“how”)?

ו כִּי אֵיכָכָה אוּכַל וְרָאִיתִי בָּרָעָה אֲשֶׁריִמְצָא אֶתעַמִּי וְאֵיכָכָה אוּכַל וְרָאִיתִי בְּאָבְדַן מוֹלַדְתִּי

6. “Because how can I [be] and see the evil which my nation will find? And how can I [be] and see the destruction of my kin?”

  • According to the Alshich, by adding an extra letter ches to the word, eicha (“how”) – making it the unique word, eichicha – the Esther puts a stress on her utter misery over her perceived notion that anti-Semites had already begun attacking the Jews because of the first decree. After all, once they see that the Jews are not in the monarchy’s favor, they can presume that any acts of violence or harassment against them will go unpunished.
  • The Megillas Sesarim adds that Esther blamed herself for the origins of Haman’s decree. This is because Haman’s decree was seemingly a consequence for Mordechai’s not bowing down to Haman (Esther 3:5-6). Mordechai behaved this way while at the king’s gate, and he was only there to look out for Esther’s well-being (Esther 2:19). This is why Esther felt somewhat responsible for the resulting decree. This is the way of the righteous: to feel responsible for a situation despite the fact that they were forced into it and the fault clearly lies in others.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that this is a second eicha; the first is Yirmiya’s prophetic work, Eicha, written during the destruction of first Beis HaMikdash, and second the is Esther’s, said during the threat of annihilation in exile if the king would not save the Jews.

Esther 6:11, Question 1. Why does the verse repeat the details of Haman’s actions?

יא וַיִּקַּח הָמָן אֶתהַלְּבוּשׁ וְאֶתהַסּוּס וַיַּלְבֵּשׁ אֶתמָרְדֳּכָי וַיַּרְכִּיבֵהוּ בִּרְחוֹב הָעִיר וַיִּקְרָא לְפָנָיו כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ

11. And Haman took the clothing and the horse, and dressed Mordechai. And he rode him in the street of the city. And he called before him, “So will be done to the man for whom the king desires his glory.”

  • Perhaps the verse’s repetitious detailing of Haman’s actions alludes to more information about the story, as both the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:4) detail in their own ways.
  • According to both sources, when Haman took the clothing and the horse to Mordechai, he found the sage teaching the laws of kemitza, the three fingersful amount of barley flour the kohanim would gather for the Temple offerings (Vayikra 2:2 and elsewhere). Rashi explains that Mordechai was discussing this topic specifically because it was the 16th of the month of Nissan, the beginning of the cycle of omer offerings.
  • According to the Ginzei HaMelech, they were specifically learning about the Omer in order to earn the merit to return to Eretz Yisroel in order to properly fulfill that mitzvah.
  • When Mordechai sees Haman coming, Mordechai warns his students to run away, but his students refuse. The Midrash has them respond that their fate should be the same as their rebbe’s. Mordechai wraps himself in a tallis, and begins to pray. While sitting and waiting for Mordechai to finish, Hamans asks the students what they are learning. They cry to him about missing the Beis HaMikdash, and explain that we would have had the kemitza of the mincha offerings to atone for us. Haman responds that this little three fingersful amount of flour pushed off the power of 10,000 loaves of silver.
  • A slight variant in the Midrash is that Haman is surprised that the worth of barley needed for kemitza was so little.
  • When Mordechai concludes praying, he tells Haman, “Wicked one! A slave who acquires something, does not his master own it?” In other words, since Mordechai was his master, the 10,000 loaves of silver Haman had offered Achashverosh for permission to destroy the Jews (Esther 3:9) did not even belong to Haman to give away.
  • Haman tells Mordechai to get up and get dressed and ride on the king’s horse. Mordechai tells him he must first have a haircut and bath before wearing the king’s crown. Since Esther had made a rule that all the barbershops and bathhouses were to be closed that day, Haman had to bathe Mordechai himself, and got scissors from his house to cut Mordechai’s hair.
  • According to the opinion that this was not the second day of Yom Tov, the Maharitz Chiyas writes that the Talmud (Moed Katan 13b) and Halacha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 531:4) allow a person to take a haircut on Chol HaMoed (if this was not, indeed, the second day of Yom Tov) if it was impossible to get earlier, as for a prisoner released on Chol HaMoed.
  • Furthermore, the Derash Avraham writes that Mordechai could take a haircut and bath even on Yom Tov in order to save lives.
  • The Vilna Gaon asks how Esther could risk so much in having the bathhouses and barbershops closed. After all, she could not have had enough advanced notice to know this event would occur. Furthermore, Esther risked giving up the guarded secret of her Jewish background.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz answers that this was the second day of Yom Tov, so Esther calling Jewish barbers to stay home for Halachic reasons (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 495:2). Esther felt she needed to strengthen this Rabbinic law because the Persian Jews were generally reluctant to follow Rabbinic decrees.
  • While cutting the hair, Haman was groaning. Mordechai asked, “Why are you groaning?” Haman responded that someone like himself, who is so important to the king, should not be degraded into the post of barber. Mordechai told him, “Wicked one! Were you not a barber in Kartzum for 22 years?”
  • The Beirach Yitzchak asks about the significance of the length of time. He answers that the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Melachim 1:6), in his list of people disqualified from royalty, includes a barber. In his commentary on the Mishneh Torah, Rav Yosef Karo in Kesef Mishnah explains that barbers in bygone days were responsible for administrating numerous medical treatments, many of which were repulsive and unseemly (http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-unusual-ancient-medical-techniques).
  • The Kesef Mishnah further limits this restriction to barbers who do this as a profession, not just a hobby or as a favor for someone. Therefore, answers the Beirach Yitzchak, Haman’s being a barber for such a long time indicates that it was his profession, and he could not weasel out of the fact that he was not fit for the royalty to which he aspired.
  • Furthermore, adds the Ginzei HaMelech, Mordechai was telling Haman that, had he remained contentedly a barber in Kartzum, his life would continue in relative peace. However, now that he had been elevated and become corrupted by power, Haman’s life would end tragically. When it was time to get on the horse, Mordechai was too weak from fasting, and had to climb on Haman’s back to alight on the horse.
  • Since the fast was supposed to last for three days (Esther 4:16), the Chiddushei Rashash writes that Mordechai was still fasting on this, the fourth day, because he added an extra private day of fasting for himself. The reason may be that he felt responsible for the Jews’ plight since he instigated Haman’s hatred by not bowing to him (Esther 3:5).
  • Given the opportunity, Mordechai kicked Haman in the posterior. Haman complained that it says in the TaNaCh (Mishlei 24:17) that one should not rejoice over the downfall of one’s enemies. Mordechai responded that this is true regarding Jews. However, regarding gentiles, the Torah (Devarim 33:29) writes that we can rejoice. Ginzei HaMelech wonders why it seems from this story that Mordechai and Esther appear to be working together to increase Haman’s humiliation. The answer could be, as the Ramban (to Bireishis 12:6) writes, some physical action is always necessary for us to fulfill a Divine decree. Therefore, Esther and Mordechai are performing physical actions to acquire something from the spiritual events then occurring.
  • Then, Haman begins to lead Mordechai on a horse through the streets of Shushan. An earlier Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:7) points out that all of Rachel’s descendants are equal; just like Yosef rode in Pharoah’s second chariot through the streets of Mitzrayim (Bireishis 41:43), so too Mordechai.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:5) details what everyone was saying during this procession. Mordechai was saying the verses (Tehillim 30:1-4) which praise H-Shem for elevating him, and not allowing his enemy to defeat him. Mordechai’s students were singing the next verses (ibid. 5-6), praising H-Shem for the change in the course of history that He controls for the sake of His righteous followers. Haman was saying the next verses (ibid. 7-8) bemoaning his fall from power. Esther said the next verses (ibid. 9-10) praying for success in her mission to save the Jews. The rest of the Jewish people were saying the next verses (ibid. 11-12), celebrating the changing tide from fear to jubilation.
  • 27,000 young men led this procession, carrying pillows and golden cups and repeating Haman’s words that this is the reward for the man whom the king wishes to honor. The M’nos HaLevi explains that the purpose of these 27,000 young men was to continue this message after Haman’s voice inevitably gave out after a while.
  • Haman’s daughter, who was on a rooftop, dumped her chamber-pot upon her father, thinking he was Mordechai.
  • According to R’ Mendel Weinbach, the reason she had a chamber pot with her on the roof is that Haman had engineered Vashti’s end and the ensuing beauty contest with the goal of having the king marry his daughter. To avoid her becoming the queen, H-Shem cursed her with chronic diarrhea, so she hid from people on roof tops, always with her chamber pot. As Haman looked up to see who had done that, his daughter became ashamed, and she jumped off the roof.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that she did not recognize her own father was due to his voice becoming hoarse.
  • The Einei Yitzchak writes that another reason she may not have recognized her father is that Haman may have switched clothes with Mordechai in order to make sack-clothed Mordechai more presentable, and to ironically lessen his own embarrassment.

Esther 5:6, Question 3. Why might this particular verse be the end of the first half of the Megillas Esther?

  • Regarding a Talmudic passage (Brachos 55a) that describes H-Shem figuratively wearing a ring with the word emes (“truth”) imprinted on it, Rashi says one can uncover the true essence of something from its beginning, middle, and end. The letters of emes, are aleph, mem, and suf, the first, middle, and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, respectively. Rav Yosef Tropper applies this concept to Megillas Esther. The beginning of the sefer shows the Jews in mortal danger, while the end shows the Jews prepared to embark upon the resettlement of the end and the rebuilding of the second Temple. The middle of the sefer contains “my request and my petition.” In other words, the way to bring the Jews from being threatened to thriving is requesting (i.e. praying) to H-Shem.
  • Perhaps another reason is because the last word of this verse is te’as, (“and it will be done”) and the first word of the next verse is ta’an (“and she answered”), which look somewhat alike and have a difference in gematria of 250 (tzarich iyun). Perhaps there should be a split between what Achashverosh is willing to do and what Esther wants.

Esther 5:2, Question 3. What does the gold scepter represent?

  • The Maharal and Me’am Loez write that Achashverosh’s scepter simply represented his rule over the land, and that Esther was under Achashverosh’s protection.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15b) writes the length to which it was stretched was either from two amos1 to twelve, or to sixteen, or to twenty-four amos, or to sixty amos, or two hundred amos. Midrash Socher Tov (on Tehillim 22:27) writes that it grew sixty-two amos.
  • Either way, the Maharsha says the reason why this scepter needed to be extended at all is because Esther was weak from her three straight days of fasting, and the scepter was otherwise too far away. He adds that these are not random numbers: he notes that the word “vayoshet” (“and he stretched out”) is the twelfth word in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to twelve amos; “sharvit” (“scepter”) is the sixteenth word in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to sixteen amos; there are a total of twenty-four words in the verse, hinting to the idea that it grew to twenty-four amos; there are sixty letters in the verse before the word “sharvit,” hinting to the idea that it grew to sixty amos.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the length that the scepter became is not as significant as how much it grew. Therefore, if it started out as two and grew to twelve, that means it grew ten amos. The significance of ten is that the Mishnah (Avos 5:1) teaches that H-Shem created the world with ten utterances. Therefore, this miracle was supposed to intimate to Achashverosh that killing the Jews would be like destroying the world, which was made for the holy pursuits of the Jewish people (see Midrash, Bireishis Rabbah 1:2). If it started out as two and grew to sixteen, that means it grew fourteen amos. That is the gematria of David (4+6+4=14), the man responsible for beginning the construction of the Temple. If it started out as two and grew to twenty-four, that means it grew twenty-two amos. This is the number of letters of the Hebrew alphabet, with which is written the Torah that itself protects the Jewish people. If it started out as two and grew to sixty, that means it grew fifty-eight amos. This is the gematria of chein (8+50=58), or grace, which means Esther’s prayers to find grace were being favorably answered. If it started out as two and grew to two hundred, that means it grew one hundred and ninety-eight amos. This is the gematria of H-Shem’s Havaya Name (10+5+6+5=26) added to the Elokim Name (1+30+5+10+40=86) twice. This indicates that Esther had aroused H-Shem’s Characteristic of Mercy. The Ben Ish Chai concludes that all of these numbers should not seem contradictory, but were separate growths that literally occurred.
  • Not counting the opinion of the Midrash Socher Tov, the scepter grew five different times because there are five different levels of redemption – v’hotzaisee (“and I will take you out”) (Shemos 6:6), v’hitzaltee (“and I will rescue you”) (ibid.), v’gaaltee (“and I will redeem you”) (ibid.), and v’lakachtee (“and I will take accept you”) (Shemos 6:7), and v’hayvaysee (“and I will bring you”) (Shemos 6:8) – and in the merit of the five Books of the Torah2.

1One ama is approximately two feet.

2The Ben Ish Chai makes a similar observation regarding Mordechai’s five clothes (Esther 8:15). He writes that our verse shows Esther’s reward, and that later verse parallels this one to show Mordechai’s reward.

Esther 3:10, Question 4. What is the significance of the Talmud’s pit analogy?

The Talmud (Megillah 14a) compares Achashverosh and Haman to two land owners. One has a giant mound of excess land. The other has a ditch in his field. The person who has a ditch wants land to fill in the field. The person with the dirt is looking for a ditch to dump his dirt. Simply put, this analogy indicates a symbiotic relationship between Achashverosh and Haman; the two need each other. Achashverosh has too many Jews, while Haman is looking for Jews to kill.

  • The Ben Ish Chai on the Talmud (in Sefer Benayahu) writes that this analogy means to indicate that, like the dirt-owner, Achashverosh did not accept Haman’s financial offer because he was doing him a favor ridding the nation of Jews.
  • R’ Meir Shapiro and the Chasam Sofer say that Achashverosh and Haman had different theories as to how to defeat the Jews. Achashverosh thought the best method for this was to invite them to his feast, elevate them, and watch as assimilation destroyed the Jews from within. Therefore, he built them up, like a mound. Haman, however, considered the best method degradation, making them low as if they were lower than a ditch1.
  • Similarly, R’ Mendel Weinbach writes that Achashverosh considered the Jews a threat to his power. After all, if the Jews were to rebuild their Temple, Achashverosh would lose some of his esteem. Therefore, to him, the Jews were respected, like a mound. In contrast, Haman considered the Jews disgusting and lowly, like a ditch. Rabbi Weinbach also writes that the mound and the ditch metaphors can be different ways for Jews to view assimilation. One way to avoid assimilation is to build up Jews like a mound, placing them on a pedestal by pointing out Jewish accomplishments to build up Jewish pride. Another way to avoid assimilation is to paint Jews as so different, so “uncool,” as to belong on a completely separate level, like a ditch.
  • In answering the question of why Achashverosh does not seem to be punished in the end of Megillas Esther, the Ben Ish Chai tells the following parable: two hooligans kidnap the king’s son. When the king refuses to pay their ransom, Hooligan A becomes incensed, and wants to kill the prince. Hooligan B feels this to be unnecessarily cruel, and they begin to argue. As they do, they are both captured. The king pardons Hooligan B for being kind to the prince, but Hooligan A is summarily burned for his evil intentions. Similarly, both Achashverosh and Haman are, indeed, evil. However, due to the respect Achashverosh will show the Jews (see 6:10 and 8:1-2 below), he will be treated in a kinder fashion.

1It is amazing how Nazi propaganda depicted Jews as dirty rodents on the one hand, and over-intellectual snobs on the other, ignoring the inherent contradiction in these estimations.

Esther 2:22, Question 2. Why does Mordechai report the plot?

  • Rav Shmuel de Ozeida writes that, if Mordechai learned of this plot through prophecy, of course he had to do something with that knowledge. After all, one does not learn information through prophecy for naught.
  • Midrash Panim Acheirim posits that Mordechai reported this plot for three reasons:
    1. By getting in the good graces of the king, Mordechai hoped to win permission to rebuild the Temple.
    2. More generally, being liked by the king, Mordechai would be able to have influence for the sake of Jewish causes.
    3. More practically, he had to do this in order to not be blamed for this plot. Although this would be neither the first nor last time a Jew is scapegoat in political intrigue, this is especially true according to the Ma’amar Mordechai’s opinion mentioned before that the plotters had originally attempted to sway Mordechai into joining their conspiracy.
  • The Ben Ish Chai brings from the Midrash (Bireishis Rabbah 39:12) that it is the duty of a Jew to save the world. Jewish advisers to foreign kings throughout our history have rescued them from impending doom whenever possible. Mordechai could not turn his back to this ancient tradition. Furthermore, writes the Ben Ish Chai, anybody would do similarly, at the least in order to avoid suspicion. The Maharal and the Me’am Loez both quote the Mishnah (Avos 3:2) that a Jew should pray for the peace in the government because anarchy and unrestrained progressive change can be dangerous.