Esther 7:7, Question 3. Why does Haman approach Esther?

  • According to Megillas Sefer, Haman was saying to Esther that if she forgives him, Achashverosh will, too.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that Haman tried to tell Esther that he didn’t know that the Jews were her people.
  • The Meshech Chochmo writes that Haman realized that the invitations came from Esther, so she is the one with the most power.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Haman tried to convince Esther that he put her in this position of power by getting rid of Vashti, so she owed him a favor. The Malbim posits that perhaps Haman would not have approached her under any normal conditions, but she was the only one left, so he tried his alternative (Plan B) excuses on her. Seeing that she is a woman, and particularly a Jewish woman, he was hoping she would show Haman mercy.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Esther fought the urge to be merciful, unlike Shaul with Agag. She accomplished this by having been exposed to Haman. In this way, she emotionally hated what she was intellectually commanded to hate. Similarly, first the verse (Devarim 25:17) commands us to remember Amalek, and only then (Devarim 25:19) to destroy it. First, one is required to have the emotion, and then to perform the act.
  • The Sfas Emes points out that, on a spiritual level, this act of Esther’s was a tikkun (“repair”) for Shaul’s error of allowing Agag to live. The Zer Zahav adds that Haman’s begging was a great test for Esther’s sense of improperly placed mercy. After all, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 2:1) writes that the ideal way to demonstrate complete repentance is to be faced with the same challenge, and to nevertheless overcome it, and this was almost a direct parallel to the story of Shaul and Agag.
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Esther 4:14, Question 5. Why does Mordechai reference Esther’s “father’s house?”

  • R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that, since Mordechai raised and taught Esther, he is in a sense her father. When Mordechai references Esther’s “father’s house,” he is saying that her apathy to the needs of the Jewish people will be a mark of shame upon him.
  • Pachad Yitzchak writes that prayer is the tool of our ancestors, so Mordechai is telling Esther to utilize the power of her “father’s house” – prayer – to save the Jews from their current threat. When someone approaches an earthly king, it is one thing to provide him with a gift, but something altogether more powerful if one has the references. The king would be more likely to listen to the request because he feels like he has more of a connection with the requester.
  • In explaining this verse, R’ Henoch Leibowitz quotes a Midrash (Tehillim 22) that advises people to “push away with the right hand, and pull people in with the left.” In this case, Mordechai’s methods of convincing Esther to approach the king include “pulling with the left” by his reminding her of her noble, royal roots, and also “pushing away with the right” by warning her to not lose her chance. As R’ Leibowitz continues, if Esther – as righteous as she is – needs this form of convincing, how much more-so do we need to utilize this in our relationships with people. Instead of yelling at a child for doing something wrong, it is important to tell the child, “Doing this is beneath you.”
  • According to the Akeidas Yitzchak, Mordechai’s reference to Esther’s “father’s house” was meant to emphasize that, considering the precarious state of the Jewish people, she should use her Jewish lineage as an explanation as to why she should be allowed to visit the king unbidden.
  • The Alshich and the Megillas Sesarim both say that the “father’s house” is a reference to King Shaul, and his sin of allowing Agag to live when he had the chance to fulfill the command to obliterate Amalek. It thus become Esther’s duty to undo that error.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz notes historically, there is always someone standing in the way of the Jews earning their rescue. In this case, it was Haman. Mordechai was thus telling Esther that he could, himself, get rid of Haman, but that would not make up for Esther’s ancestor’s mistake, which only she could accomplish. Halachically, Esther’s going to Achashverosh voluntarily would forbid her to Mordechai as a wife forever.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech also points out that Shaul did go through the steps of teshuva (Shmuel 1 15:26, 28). This being the case, why does Esther need to fix his error? Although regret is one step in teshuva, the result of his actions still remained. There is a story of a woman who felt her husband was emotionally abusive. The rabbi she consulted told her to purchase a block of wood and bag of nails. Each time she felt abused, he said, she should hammer a nail into the block of wood. After a few such incidents, the husband became curious about the loud knocking his wife would initiate after each fight. He asked her about it, and the wife told him what the rav had said, and showed him this porcupine of a block of wood. He instantly felt regret for his past deeds, and he made a deal that for every nice act of his toward her, she would remove one nail. Eventually, the block was nail-free. The husband said, “Look! It’s all better! There are no more nails!” “Yes,” she said, “The nails are gone…but the holes are still there.” A sin can be erased, but the consequences of that sin can last forever.

Esther 3:15, Question 2. Why do Haman and Achashverosh drink together at this point?

  • Dena Pishra writes that Achashverosh and Haman sat down to drink to finalize their deal.
  • Eyney Ha’Eyda, on the other hand, writes that Haman here attempted to get Achashverosh drunk to keep him from changing his mind, as he is liable to do. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we drink on Purim.
  • The fact that Achashverosh is drinking at this point is one of Malbim’s strongest proof that he did not know what was going on. Otherwise, he should worry at least, but certainly not have a drink!
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle brings a proof against the idea that Achashverosh was blissfully ignorant of Haman’s plans. He notes that the gematria of Haman (5+40+50=95) is equal to “hamelech” (“the king”) (5+40+20+30=95). Therefore, he writes, they were equal in their evil and equal in their joy.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 63a) that the Jewish court is not allowed to eat on a day it passes the death sentence on someone. The reason for this is that the court should not celebrate the taking of a human life. The fact that Haman and Achashverosh are drinking at this point is evidence that they are cheerful, thinking that they are doing the world a favor. Like many evil people in history, they allowed their good intentions to perform the worst of actions in the Machiavellian delusion that the ends justify the means.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:21) writes that this drink-fest is a consequence of Yosef’s brothers sitting down to eat after throwing him into the potentially deadly pit (Bereishis 37:25). In one view, the entire Purim story is a tikkun for the sale of Yosef. The only reason we could be punished for the sins of our ancestors is if we continue to repeat the same mistakes (Rashi to Shemos 20:5). The main sin of the brothers was that they lacked love for their brother. Again, this is why unity is one of the themes of Megillas Esther.

Esther 3:2, Question 4. Why does Mordechai not do this like everyone else?

  • One might think that the reason for Mordechai’s refusal to bow is the low regard with which the Torah holds worship of anyone or anything outside of H-Shem. According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8), however, Mordechai admits that bowing down to a person in-and-of-itself is not wrong. For example, Yaakov and his family bowed seven times to Haman’s ancestor, Eisav (Bireishis 33:3). In fact, Mordechai deflects criticism of his not acting likewise with Eisav’s descendant by citing his ancestry from Benyamin, who had not yet been born during this incident. The Maharal adds that, in reward for this, Benyamin inherited the part of Eretz Yisroel where the Kodesh Kedoshim (Holy of Holies) of the Beis HaMikdash would stand. Mordechai was concerned that bowing to Haman would cause him to lose his connection with the Shechinah (the Divine Presence), just as the Shechinah left the Kodesh Kedoshim when the Jews no longer deserved her.
  • In Michtav M’Eliyahu, R’ Eliyahu Dessler writes that Mordechai’s defiance can teach us to attack our Yetzer Hara head-on without a kernel of compromise. Any capitulation can lead to a downward spiral of spiritual loss.
  • The Malbim writes that Mordechai did not bow down to Haman to avoid ascribing divinity to him. In an era when people ascribed godliness to their rulers and the rulers’ courts, Mordechai felt compelled to demonstrate his variance with heaping any possible blandishments of divinity upon Haman.
  • Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi writes that the command to bow to Haman referred to two different groups of people – regular subjects of the king, and higher-ups sitting at the gates of the king. Mordechai did not fit into either category. As a Jew, he was not a citizen of the realm. At the same time, as an adviser of the king, he sat at the king’s gate, and was not one to pass there.
  • The Kedushas HaLevi says there were two different commands – first, everybody had to bow down. Second, Mordechai, as a favor to Esther, was ordered to not bow.
  • The Shelah HaKodesh quotes an argument in the Talmud (Megillah 12a) regarding the reason the Jews deserved death in this time period. One opinion is because they bowed to idols. The other reason is that they attended Achashverosh’s party. The Shelah continues that Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman served as a spiritual tikkun (or repair) for the Jews’ capitulating to bow to the idol of Nebuchadnetzer, and Esther’s eating seeds to avoid eating non-kosher food in Achashverosh’s palace (as mentioned previously) served as a tikkun for the Jews’ enjoying themselves at Achashverosh’s party. Together, their actions saved the Jews from the decree against them.

Esther 1:20, Question 3. To whom or what does the phrase “great is she” refer?

  • According to the Alshich, the phrase, “great is she,” refers to Achashverosh’s kingdom.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:10) has an argument regarding this, and says another possibility is that Vashti’s transgression was great. Ibn Ezra states that Vashti’s transgression was multiplied by the fact that she transgressed against such a great kingdom.
  • In citing these opinions, the Maharal in Ohr Chadash that both the kingdom and Vashti required a great amount of spiritual repair (tikkun). The Maharal (and the Malbim) also write that the decree, itself, was great1. Class participant ES suggested that this masculine/ feminine mixing demonstrates the gender confusion Achashverosh so feared.
  • The Vilna Gaon writes that it is the king who is being called great2.
  • Finally, the Maharal writes that what is great is what this decree will bring with it – namely, the miraculous rescue of the Jews of Persia.

1Grammatically, there is a problem in that the Hebrew for “it” here is “hee,” a feminine term. In his translation of the Malbim’s commentary of Megillas Esther, Rabbi Jonathan Taub suggests that the Malbim intends that the kingdom (feminine) is going to be improved by means of the decree.

2He does not seem to deal with the grammatical anomaly mentioned above.