According to our answer to the previous question, Mordechai refused to bow “to him” – in other words, to Haman alone, even without his idol. M’nos HaLevi writes that Mordechai was a very humble person, as befits a tzaddik. He would bow to everybody out of respect, but he would not even bow to Haman out of token respect. It should be noted that Mordechai’s refusal put his life in danger.
- As mentioned earlier in our commentary to Esther 2:11, the Tarlaz notes that Megillas Esther uses the language of “yom v’yom” (“day and day”) in regard to Mordechai’s refusal to bow to Haman to highlight, yet again, the tzaddik’s consistency.
- The Maharatz Dushinsky says the verse uses the expression because the servants of the king hoped that Mordechai would change his mind. As class participant RS pointed out, perhaps they even did this for Mordechai’s own good. Like members of other religions attempting to win Jews over to their ideas, it need not necessarily be out of hate – but can come from their sincere care and desire to take a person out of something they view as harmful. In other words, the use of this phrase indicates that they were not merely questioning him, but were actively attempting to proselytize him to their position.
- The Ohel Moshe points out that constant pressure is one of the greatest challenges to Judaism. It breaks down our defenses, and Mordechai had the power to stand up against this constant barrage of pressure.
יא וּבְכָל–יוֹם וָיוֹם מָרְדֳּכַי מִתְהַלֵּךְ לִפְנֵי חֲצַר בֵּית–הַנָּשִׁים לָדַעַת אֶת–שְׁלוֹם אֶסְתֵּר וּמַה–יֵּעָשֶׂה בָּהּ
11. And every day and day, Mordechai would be walking in front of the courtyard of the house of women to know the condition of Esther and what was done with her.
- The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:8) says that Mordechai’s caring for Esther merited his later caring for the entire Jewish nation, as the last verse in Megillas Esther (10:3) says “he sought the good of the entire nation, and found peace for all his offspring.”
- According to Sfas Emes, the phrase “day and day” means that Mordechai checked on Esther consistently, daily. The mark of a true “tzaddik” (“righteous person”), as we said before, is consistency. Mordechai’s constant care for Esther merited his participation in the Purim miracle. The Tarlaz notes that Megillas Esther uses the same language of “yom v’yom” (“day and day”) again later (3:4) when Mordechai refuses to bow to Haman, again, consistently.
- 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!