Esther 8:16, Question 2. What do these different expressions signify?

  • According to Malbim, since the previous verse (Esther 8:15) testifies to the fact that everybody was happy, the various expressions in this verse underscore the fact that the Jews were especially joyous.
  • Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume III, 405) writes that this verse demonstrates that the Jews could now survive any difficulty in history because they “preserved their own light and joy.”
  • The Rambam (Perakim Hatzlacha, Chapter 2) emphasizes that all of the good that the Jews received was due to their return to Torah. Based on this, the Binyan Shlomo points out that it is a very praiseworthy custom to learn Torah on the holiday of Purim (see Rema, Orach Chaim 695:2).
  • The Sharis Yosef teaches that objects going from darkness to light is yet another source for the custom to wear costumes on Purim.
  • The Talmud Yerushalmi (Brachos 1:1) writes that this description mirrors how the Jews will be redeemed with the coming of Moshiach.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16b) interprets this verse’s expressions thus: light is Torah; happiness is Yom Tov; joy is circumcision; and glory is tefillin.
  • Rashi comments on the Talmud that Haman made decrees forbidding Jews from fulfilling these mitzvos. The Yad HaMelech points out that Jews may have neglected circumcision at that time, as they sometimes have done on times of persecution to pass as non-Jews.
  • The Megillas Sesarim writes that Mordechai’s wearing tefillin earlier (Esther 8:15) put that mitzva back in vogue.
  • Rav Shimon Schwab finds it impossible for the Jews to have been successfully banned from these mitzvos, en masse. Rather, he explains that the Jews at that time studied Torah, but without light; they commemorated holidays, but without happiness; they performed circumcisions, but without joy; they wore tefillin, but without glory. Without caring, without thinking, and without these precious mitzvos affecting their souls.
  • Rav Yehonason Eibshutz points out that it is a natural, human reaction for the emotional impact of an event to fade in subsequent anniversaries of that event. For instance, as happy as a child’s birthday celebration may be, it pales in comparison to the happiness felt at the actual successful birth. However, when that event is attached to a mitzva that is repeated every year, the original happiness felt at the event is retained (and perhaps enhanced) with the performance of the mitzva. This is the reason for the Talmud to equate happiness with Yom Tov; with each occurrence of Purim, its mitzvos reignite its accompanying joy.
  • The Sfas Emes asks a fundamental question: why does the verse uses metaphors instead of explicitly writing that the Jews garnered Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin? He answers that, with the miracle of Purim, the Jews recognized the real nature of light, happiness, joy, and glory; light comes from Torah, happiness comes from Yom Tov, joy comes from circumcision, and glory comes from tefillin.
  • The Ohr Gedalyahu adds that all of these misapplied emotions point to the Jews’ ancient battle against Amalek, a nation described (Devarim 25:17) as having cooled us. Amalek wins when Jews perform mitzvos without an accompanying fire of emotion. He quotes the Sefer Yetzira that the month of Adar is represented by the letter kuf, meaning kedusha (“holiness”), which he defines as keeping something special and invigorating.
  • The Ohel Moshe similarly writes that simcha (“happiness”) is the antidote to Amalek’s cooling effect. The Vilna Gaon notes that all four of these mitzvos – Torah, Yom Tov, circumcision, and tefillin – are regularly called osos (“signs”) and eidus (“testimonies”). He explains that these all testify that there is one G-d, and that the Jewish people are uniquely His people. He adds that taking the first letters (roshei teivos) of the words ora (“light”), simcha (“happiness”), sasson (“joy”), and yikar (“glory”) – aleph, sin, sin, and yud respectively – produces a gematria (1+300+300+10=611) equal to that of Torah (400+6+200+5=611). He continues by quoting a cryptic Talmudic tale (Sukkah 48b) about a character named Sasson speaking with another named Simcha. In this piece of Aggadeta, the two are trying to outdo each other by quoting verses throughout TaNaCh in which one or the other appears first. When Sasson and Simcha finally consult with Rebbe Abahu, he tells them that if a person has a water flask but never fills it, but merely keeps it next to him, he will die of thirst.
  • The Vilna Gaon’s explanation is beyond the author’s erudition and the scope of this work, but the Shem M’Shmuel explains that conversation by distinguishing between the exact spiritual nature of these two almost synonymous emotions, happiness and joy. He writes that happiness is the emotion felt after careful planning yields a successful result, whereas joy is the emotion felt when one experiences an unexpected windfall. The debate between Sasson and Simcha, then, is whether success is better felt in the former type of situation, or the latter. For instance, should an organization carefully plan its charitable giving, or bypass the planning and initiate the giving as quickly and haphazardly as possible? Having one necessarily means lacking the other. Rebbe Abahu’s allegoric answer, then, is that there needs to be spiritual content (water) inside the emotion (water flask) to gain anything beyond failure (thirst). Therefore, in our verse, the Jews had both emotions – happiness from the prearranged success, and joy from the unexpected success.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why the great mitzvah of teshuva (“repentance”) seems missing in this list of mitzvos the Jews are performing. After all, the Talmud (Megillah 14a) says that Achashverosh giving his signet ring to Haman created the greatest wave of teshuva in history. He answers that exactly these mitzvos are actual teshuva! Sitting around feeling sorry is not genuine repentance; improving our performance of H-Shem’s service is how we return to Him.
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Esther 8:14, Question 2. Why does the verse use the term daas (“law”)?

  • According to Dena Pishra and Yad HaMelech, this verse can be interpreted homiletically as meaning that the Jew accepted the daas (“law”) of the Torah. This was not just an acceptance of the Written Torah, but as daas Torah implies in later works, the Jews accepted Rabbinic authority, especially that of Mordechai (see Esther 8:14).

Esther 8:10, Question 1. Why does the verse stress that Mordechai signed in the name of the King, Achashverosh?

י וַיִּכְתֹּב בְּשֵׁם הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרשׁ וַיַּחְתֹּם בְּטַבַּעַת הַמֶּלֶךְ וַיִּשְׁלַח סְפָרִים בְּיַד הָרָצִים בַּסּוּסִים רֹכְבֵי הָרֶכֶשׁ הָאֲחַשְׁתְּרָנִים בְּנֵי הָרַמָּכִים

10. And he wrote in the name of the king, Achashverosh, and he sealed with the king’s ring, and he sent books through runners on horses, riders on the rechesh the achashtirans, sons of the ramachs.

  • Yad HaMelech writes that the verse stresses that Mordechai signed in the name of Achashverosh because Achashverosh indeed drafted these documents physically by his own hand, something he had never done before. Then, Mordechai signed it.
  • Megillas Sesarim, though, explains that the decree against the Jews’ enemies was sealed by the King of kings, H-Shem.

Esther 8:1, Question 2. Why does Achashverosh give this to Esther?

  • It seems problematic that Achashverosh gave Haman’s property to Esther since the Mechilta (on Shemos 17:14) says Amalek – of which Haman descended – is to be completely destroyed together with its property, so nobody should ever say they gained from Amalek.
  • Esther may have been allowed Haman’s property because the Rabbeinu Bachya (on Bishalach) answers that this Mechilta only refers to possessions obtained in the course of war.
  • In Vedibarta Bam, Rabbi Bogamilsky points out from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 48b) that such property actually belongs to Achashverosh.
  • Similarly, the Talmud (Gittin 38a) teaches that the Jews were allowed the possessions of Moav and Amon because Sichon had already conquered them previously.
  • Given that Esther was allowed Haman’s property, the Alshich writes that Achashverosh gave it to her because the kingdom did not need Haman’s house, after all. This is especially true if Haman destroyed his own home by utilizing its crossbeam in the building of his gallows.
  • The Alshich adds that the decree to kill out the Jews had not yet been revoked, and Achashverosh wanted to show that Esther and Mordechai were exempt.
  • On the other hand, the Yad HaMelech says that the king did this so that those who knew of the decree would not harm the Jews, effectively annulling the decree.
  • The M’nos HaLevi explains that Achashverosh gave her the property to reassure Esther, that although she had seen him angry that day, the anger was not directed at her.
  • The Malbim writes that this was Haman’s property, which should belong to Achashverosh after his rebellious behavior. However, in a continued effort to salvage his honor, Achashverosh wanted to show that Haman was really going against the queen and her people. Accordingly, the verse emphasizes that Haman was the tzorer (“antagonizer”) of the Yehudim.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech explains that Achashverosh’s main concern was his security, especially around Haman’s presumed allies. He therefore said Haman tried to seduce the queen, and therefore owed her money. A similar incident occurred when Avimelech took Sarah, and then gave Avraham money (Bireishis 20:14) as a testament of Sarah’s virtue.
  • The Vilna Gaon quotes a verse (Koheles 2:26) that a person who deserves H-Shem’s Pleasure receives wisdom, intelligent, and joy, but a sinner must constantly accumulate. The Talmud (Megillah 10b) says that this verse applies to Mordechai because the wicked Haman accrued the very wealth through which the righteous prospered.
  • The Maharal asks why the righteous should prosper from the efforts of the wicked. After all, should the righteous not prosper from their own efforts? He answers that the wicked work and work tirelessly to gain more wealth because they are never satisfied. The righteous are easily satisfied, so they do not have to go through the grunt work of acquiring wealth.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains this as yet another example of mida kineged mida “measure for measure” because Haman wanted to take what was most precious to Esther – the lives of her people. Therefore, he lost what was most precious to him – his money.
  • The Me’am Loez says that another example of mida kineged mida is that since Haman wanted to hang Mordechai in his house, Haman’s hanging occurred in what is now Mordechai’s house.
  • Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller adds that Achashverosh took the property because Haman was Mordechai’s slave. According to Jewish law, the property always really belonged to Haman’s master, Mordechai. With the property comes Haman’s identity. She suggests that taking over someone’s identity is another reason  for the custom to masquerade on Purim.

Esther 6:10, Question 3. Why does Achashverosh stress that Mordechai sits at the gate of the king?

  • The Yad HaMelech points out that Achashverosh stresses that Mordechai sits at the king’s gate in order to allay Haman’s concern that honoring Mordechai may be beneath his dignity. This is not to imply that Achashverosh suddenly cares about Haman’s honor; in fact, if Haman were to honor somebody lowly, that could reflect poorly on Achashverosh, his king.
  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a), Haman attempted to stall by pretending to not know which Mordechai Achashverosh had in mind, and the king had to narrow down the identity of this particular Mordechai.
  • The Maharal says that the reason Haman’s advice of giving the honoree the crown (Esther 6:8) is not mentioned again is because the king should ordinarily give these items, himself. However, in the case of this person who is a major adviser who “sits at the gate of the king,” Haman can bring him the crown.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech notes that Achashverosh here does not describe Mordechai as one “who sits at my gate,” but rather the “gate of the king” because he is alluding to the fact that Mordechai sits at the gate of the King, H-Shem. Earlier (Esther 2:5), when Mordechai was referred to as the “son of Kish,” the Talmud (Megillah 12b-13a) understood that to mean that he knocked (“hikish”) at the Gates of Mercy. His praying therefore qualified him to be called one who sits at the gate of the King.

Esther 6:5, Question 3. Why does the king tell his youths to let Haman come in?

  • According to Yad HaMelech, the king tell his officers to let Haman come in because Achashverosh wants to see how long Haman will wait. Therefore, he did not want them to show him in, but rather let him enter on his own.
  • Perhaps another reason for this phraseology is that the last word in this verse matches the first word in the next verse. This phenomenon helps to stress the immediacy of Haman’s entrance and upcoming downfall.
  • Also, the gematria of the word yavo (“let him come in”) (10+2+6+1=19) is the same as that of oyev (“enemy”) (1+6+10+2=19). This indicates that the king has begun to recognize Haman as his foe. The two words even contain the same letters.
  • Perhaps another approach to understanding the use of this word here may be the method used by Rabbeinu Bachya, Vilna Gaon, and others who say that the true meaning of a word can be garnered from its first appearance in the Torah. In the first usage of yavo (Bireishis 32:9), Yaakov plans his potentially dangerous meeting with Eisav, Haman’s ancestor in both the genetic and ethical sense of the word. Achashverosh is therefore coming to terms with the idea that Haman represents the constant enemy of the Jews.

Esther 4:8, Question 7. Why does Mordechai stress that Esther was to speak on behalf of her people?

  • The Alshich says that by Mordechai’s telling Esther to speak on behalf of her people, he was implying that she should reveal her lineage as a game-changing trump-card.
  • Quoting our verse, the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 30:4) writes that those people who sacrifice their lives for the good of the Jewish people are rewarded by having the Jewish people called in their names. The Yad HaMelech writes that this reward makes sense because the Jewish people really are naturally people who sacrifice themselves for their people.