Esther 4:16, Question 7. Why does Esther mention her maidens fasting?

  • The Maharal writes that Esther’s servants fasted because, if Achashverosh accuses Esther of lacking fear for him by approaching him without being summoned, she can explain that she feared him so much, she fasted. If she is no believed, she can point to the fact that even her servants fasted.
  • According to the Ohel Moshe, Esther has her maidens fast because of the Talmudic concept (Brachos 34b) that the agent of a person is the extension of that person.
  • The Sefer HaChaim writes that, grammatically, atzum (“I will fast”) is in the singular, and Esther meant that she could only encourage her servants to fast.
  • The Maharal writes that the idea that there is power in numbers is only relevant for men because women never lose their individual identities, as men should in gatherings like a minyan. This is why Esther uses the singular form of the word here.
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Esther 4:12, Question 1. Why does the verse use the plural “vayagidu” instead of the singular “vayaged?”

יב וַיַּגִּידוּ לְמָרְדֳּכָי אֵת דִּבְרֵי אֶסְתֵּר

12. And they elaborated to Mordechai the words of Esther.

  • The simplest explanation as to why the verse uses the plural “vayagidu” (“and they elaborated”) instead of the singular “vayaged” (“and he elaborated”) comes from the Malbim. He writes that Hasach simply had other messengers with whom he worked, and they are the ones who delivered this message.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 15a) understands that Hasach avoided delivering this message personally because he was reluctant to deliver a negative message – in this case, a message negating Mordechai’s order. This is because of the ethical principle that, as much as possible, we try not to deliver bad news.
  • The Maharal writes that Hasach did not want to go back alone in order to avoid arousing suspicion.
  • The Targum writes, “Haman the wicked saw Hasach, also named Daniel, going in and out of Esther’s room. He went and he killed him. The message was delivered from Esther through Michael and Gavriel.” In this version, Haman seems suspicious of Esther’s close relationship with a Jew. Yalkut Shimoni and Talmud Yerushalmi say similarly.
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle writes that Haman realized that Hasach was speaking to Mordechai in code. The code to which he is referring is the deeper levels of the last few verses.
  • R’ Mendel Weinbach points out that we sometimes have to deliver bad news, but only if it will practically change something. Pointless bad news need not be delivered. When Rav Elyashiv was ill and his daughter, Rebbetzin Kanievsky, passed away, the current halachic authorities advised that he not be told of her passing. He was not in condition to sit shiva, and the news might have actually affected his erstwhile frail health.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why, if this is indeed a negative message, did Hasach not reprove Esther? After all, there is a halacha (Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Deyos 6:7) which says a person has the responsibility to correct those who are in the wrong. The reason is that Esther was not necessarily in the wrong. She had a legitimate halachic opinion, as follows: The Pischei Teshuva (Yoreh Deah, 252:2) writes that one is forbidden to risk one’s own life for the life of another. Therefore, Esther had a legitimate reason to avoid risking her life. However, had Esther not maintained a halachic basis for her rejection of Mordechai’s order to visit the king, Hasach would, indeed, have had reason to be reluctant in reporting this to Mordechai, based on the Talmudic dictum that we avoid sending negative messages.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab asks why this is the first time Hasach felt this reticence. After all, had not this entire conversation of the last few verses (Esther 4:7-12) been negative? Rav Schwab answers that, actually, even the threatened extermination of the Jewish people is not bad news as long as they have the opportunity to do teshuva! However, the fact that Esther refuses to sacrifice for the sake of her people is negative, and this is the information Hasach does not want to deliver to Mordechai.
  • Rav Henach Leibowitz quotes the Talmud (Avodah Zarah 10b) where Rav Chanina ben Chama brought the Roman Caesar Antoninus’s slave back to life to avoid having to tell him that his slave had died. Rav Leibowitz writes that this shows the extent to which we are expected to avoid delivering bad news. This is despite the fact that this idea is not explicit in the Torah, but is only implicit in the behavior of Hasach. He concludes that so, too, must we be careful to accustom ourselves to the behavioral and ethical lessons of the Torah.
  • R’ Eliezer Schwartz, the rabbi of Ohev Tzedek, brings from Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik that part of the conflict between Esther and Mordechai is the oft-repeated conflict between women and men in TaNaCh. For example, he says that women and men acted differently with regard to the Golden Calf is that women see a wider view of a given situation. This is the reason for the Kli Yakar’s comment (on Bamidbar 13:2) that when H-Shem criticizes Moshe for “the men he sent,” He is implying that He would have preferred that women be sent to spy out the land of Canaan. Female spies would have seen the situation differently, and would have come up with the correct, positive interpretation of the events they witnessed. Similarly, women like Sarah in regard to Yishmael, Rivkah with Eisav, and numerous other examples show that women can see the long-range big picture, whereas men are limited to a short-term view of a situation. Here, Esther sees this situation as one that needs time to plan. Mordechai, however, seeks immediate action.

Esther 2:12, Question 1. Why are the women discussed in the singular?

יב וּבְהַגִּיעַ תֹּר נַעֲרָ֨ה וְנַעֲרָ֜ה לָבוֹא ׀ אֶלהַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ מִקֵּץ הֱיוֹת לָהּ כְּדַת הַנָּשִׁים שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר חֹדֶשׁ כִּי כֵּן יִמְלְאוּ יְמֵי מְרוּקֵיהֶן שִׁשָּׁה חֳדָשִׁים בְּשֶׁמֶן הַמֹּר וְשִׁשָּׁה חֳדָשִׁים בַּבְּשָׂמִים וּבְתַמְרוּקֵי הַנָּשִׁים

12. And when the turn came for each young woman to come to the king Achashverosh at the end of her being like the law of women twelve months because so were filled the days of their anointing: six months in myrrh oil and six months in spices and cosmetics of women.

In literature, an author often chooses to write about singular characters to make an stronger emotional impact on a reader. For instance, in the classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck writes about the American Dust Bowl of the early 1930’s, but focuses in on a particular fictional family, the Joad’s to humanize the issues discussed in the other chapters of the book. Perhaps, the verse wants us as readers to put our feet into the shoes of the poor girls (here and in the next verse) put into this position.

Esther 1:22, Question 3. Why did the decree demand that every man must speak the language of the people?

According to the Yerushalmi, “the language of the people” here indicates that the decree forced every woman – against her will – to speak the language of the man of the house. Although there is some contemporary discussion regarding exceptions to this rule in American families with two working parents (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061030183039.htm), a child typically first learns speech patterns and language from its mother, and later matures to the point of communicating with more people by learning the language of the father (http://psychology.about.com/od/developmentalpsychology/ss/early-childhood-development_4.htm). The force of Achashverosh’s decree robbed women even of this natural capacity.

Esther 1:20, Question 5. Why does the verse use the unusual order of “from the great to the small?”

The Vilna Gaon writes that the decree would force all women – greater or lesser than their husbands – to nevertheless give supremacy to their husbands. The Malbim writes that Achashverosh’s decree would require even the greatest of women to give respect to the least of men. Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi points out that this is a perfect reflection of the story that snowballed into this decree, for Vashti was greater than Achashverosh and his feeling disrespected led to this miscarriage of justice.

Esther 1:9, Question 2. Why did the women have a separate feast?

Although it would ordinarily seem that a women-only party would be more conducive to certain standards of modesty, the Talmud on the bottom of Megillah 12a makes clear that Vashti wanted to tempt the men to sin just as her husband intended (as mentioned in a previous post). As the Maharsha points out in his commentary to the Talmud, had Vashti wanted real privacy in accordance with moral standards of the day, she would have held her party in the women’s palace. However, Vashti’s party was neighboring the men’s party. Rabbi Dovid Feinstein points out that her party was separate in accordance with the laws of modesty. However, there is an added sensual pleasure in a sin’s being almost within the law. The moral code regarding what was forbidden them was slowly being eroded.