וּבְשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה הָרְגוּ
הַיְּהוּדִים וְאַבֵּד חֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת
6. And in Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man.
The M’nos HaLevi translates habira, not as “the capital,” but as the “palace,” so the verse is intimating, according to R’ Yosef Gakon, how safe the Jews felt in the palace compound to have killed 500 servants of the king in his presence.
Similarly, the Ibn Ezra adds that, outside Shushan, the Jews feared the influence of Haman and his sons.
Interestingly, the Vilna Gaon notes that the verse uses the word vi’abed (“and destroyed”) because the Jews destroyed the property of their enemies. The reason for this is to assist the Persians in forgetting this event ever took place. Nations in general have poor memories, and the lack of physical reminders can help avoid the anti-Jewish sentiment this massacre could later conjure.
Considering the Jews’ natural dislike of violence, this verse’s description that “they did to their enemies as they wanted,” seemingly without regard for the rules of engagement, appears strangely out of character.
Rav Yechezkiel Levenstein writes that the verse can be read as “they, the Jews, did to their enemies as they – the enemies – wanted,” or that they treated them with respect rather than killed them.
In a similar reading, the Alshich and the Vilna Gaon suggest that the verse can be read as “they did to their enemies as they – the enemies – wanted to do to them.”
Also, the Yosef Lekach writes that the Jews took the spoils in the small towns because “they, the Jews, did to their enemies as they (the Jews) wanted,” and not as Mordechai wanted.
According to the Midrash, the Jews killed the enemies inside their houses with the sword, but killed those who were outside with other methods. Those who were hiding needed to be brought out to the battlefield.
The Alshich explains that some gentiles openly threatened the Jews, while others harbored hate privately. Each group received a punishment commensurate with their behavior – some were wounded with the sword, some were killed, and yet others were destroyed together with their possessions.
The Maharal points out that hitting the enemies with the sword could potentially kill them, and once they are killed, they may need to be buried. But once they are destroyed, the enemies are gone.
R’ Moshe Katzenellenbogen writes that, in big cities, Jews could only kill bigger, more obvious enemies. In the smaller cities, the Jews stripped the weaker leaders of their power and humiliated them.
The Vilna Gaon explains these three methods were utilized at different stages of the battle. During the first stage, the Jews used swords, then graduated to burning those hiding out of the buildings, and finally arrested the residents.
The Ben Ish Chai points out that the rearranged initial letters (not counting the article letter vuv‘s) of makas cherev vi’hereg vi’avdal (“striking of the sword, and killed, and destroyed”) spell out the word emcheh (“I will destroy”). H-Shem (Shemos 17:14) uses this very word in His promise to eradicate Amalek, the nation responsible for this massacre. He also points out that these three expressions parallel Haman’s plan (Esther 3:13) to kill, destroy, and annihilate the Jews. The Jews merited to overcome this triple fate by fasting for three days (Esther 4:16).
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the destruction in this verse refers to the Jews destroyed the property of their enemies. This was done to demonstrate that their intent was not to conquer the wealth of others. Perhaps this was also intentionally contrary to Achasverosh’s order (Esther 4:11) in order to have the excuse that they could not take the possessions, since they were destroyed.
ה וַיַּכּוּ הַיְּהוּדִים בְּכָל–אֹיְבֵיהֶם מַכַּת–חֶרֶב וְהֶרֶג וְאַבְדָן וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְשׂנְאֵיהֶם כִּרְצוֹנָם
5. And the Yehudim struck all of their enemies striking of the sword, and killed, and destroyed, and they did with their adversaries as they wanted.
Like the Vilna Gaon’s answer to a similar question earlier (Esther 9:1), the M’nos HaLevi says that an oyeiv (“enemy”) hates openly and a soneh (“adversary”) hates secretly. The secret enemy is far more dangerous, as it is difficult to predict an attack from a hidden foe.
Malbim, however, reverses these definitions, and suggests that the hidden enemies were not killed, but were merely humiliated.
4. Because Mordechai was great in the house of the king, and his reputation went out in all of the states because the man Mordechai was becoming greater.
The Vilna Gaon explains that the verse stresses that Mordechai is growing in greatness because he kept growing in greatness gradually. This is because, as the Talmud Yerushalmi points out, the righteous do not become great overnight, but rather require much effort. As the verse (Mishlei 4:18) says, the way of the righteous holech va’or “increases its brightness.”
The Alshich adds that the governors and other political leaders at the time were especially nervous about Mordechai’s new power because he hanged Haman, and Haman was much more powerful than those governors, so their lives were especially cheap at the time.
Yosef Lekach writes that although Mordechai was not yet the viceroy, knowing the ways of the palace as they did, they recognized that Mordechai was on his way to that position.
Malbim notes that there are three major areas of political power: in the palace (chief of staff), domestically (governor), and in foreign affairs (Secretary of State). Mordechai reached greatness in all three of these areas, as the verse testifies by mentioning the beis hamelech (“house of the king”), kol medinos (“all of the states”), and holech v’gadol (“leaving [the country] and being great”).
Nachal Eshkol points out that some people are powerful, but they are relatively unknown by the general public. Mordechai, however, was both great in name and reputation.
The Vilna Gaon writes that this verse stresses that these people feared Mordechai, as opposed to the general populace mentioned in the previous verse. This was a more powerful deterrent because the officials knew how Mordechai’s power translated in the inner circles of the palace.
Malbim adds that, having the more detailed versions of the original decree, these officials had to choose between supporting the enemies or the Jews. Because they feared Mordechai, they decided to do the politically expedient thing – nothing.
The Rishon L’Tzion suggests from a verse in the Torah (Shemos 17:16) that enemies always means the nation of Amalek.
The Vilna Gaon says that an oyev (“enemy”) is someone who wants to commit harm, whereas a soneh (“hater”) is someone who rejoices in others’ misfortune and harm. In this case, the redemption was so complete, that both were attacked.