Esther 3:9, Question 4. Why does Haman mention the people who are going to perform the action?

  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes that Haman mentions the people who are going to perform the action because the potential Jew-killers involved in this massacre would themselves be willing to pay the money for the opportunity to participate in this endeavor.
  • Even according to the Malbim, who feels Haman is tricking the king into thinking Haman’s plan is to acculturate the foreign Jews, he writes that Haman here is stressing that this will not cost the king anything. People would volunteer, as they have throughout history, to help in the altruistic effort of helping this strange lot become more palatably Persian.
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Esther 3:4, Question 5. What exactly is Mordechai’s claim?

  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:8) teaches that, by answering that he is a Jew, Mordechai really intended to emphasize that, as a Jew, he is forbidden to worship anyone or anything besides H-Shem.
  • Rav Shlomo Kluger says that “Mordechai’s words” indicate his reporting the plot of Bigsan and Seresh. Mordechai wanted to see if his demonstrated loyalty to the king would be enough to excuse him (and perhaps the other Jews) from this bowing.
  • The Chasam Sofer says that the words “that he is a Yehudi” refers to Haman. As mentioned in the Talmud (Megillah 15a), Haman sold himself as a slave to Mordechai. Yalkut Shimoni (953) tells us there was rebellion against Achashverosh in one of his Indian states. Haman and Mordechai were chosen to command two of Achashverosh’s battalions. Due to his spending practices, Haman ran out of provisions. Mordechai, due to his righteous care for his resources (see Rashi to Bireishis 32:25 and Talmud, Chullin 91a), did not. Haman begged Mordechai for some of his rations, on condition that Mordechai sell himself to him as a slave, to which Haman agreed. Having nothing on which to write handy, Mordechai wrote the deed on his shoe, or armor he had on his feet. That being the case, a slave to a Jew who then goes free becomes Jewish, himself (Talmud, Chagigah 4a and brought down in Halachah in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 267:3-5, 11). According to the Chasam Sofer, then, Mordechai was saying that he does not have to bow down to him since Haman was once his slave. For that reason, according to the Midrash, every time Haman would pass by, Mordechai would point down to his shoe.
  • The verse makes it sound as though the servants did not trust Mordechai, and Mi’archei Lev writes that Mordechai gave them reason to respond this way. After all, it was well-known that he was from Benyamin, but he aroused suspicion by saying he was a Yehudi.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz writes that Haman felt confident about conquering Mordechai as he was from Benyamin. Here, Mordechai is pointing out that he comes from another tribe as well – Yehudah. Yehudah, being the tribe of Moshiach, is the great challenge to the power of Amalek. Mordechai represents the Yehudi who can conquer the power of evil. Rav Eibshutz also writes that Haman set up a test for Mordechai by one time coming out without a statue. Nevertheless, Mordechai still refused to bow to him. Even though Mordechai knew there was no statue, other people didn’t know, and this would constitute maaris ayin.

Esther 3:1, Question 2. Why does the king promote Haman?

  • Apparently basing itself on the idea that King here refers to H-Shem, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:1) cites a verse in Tehillim (37:20) to relate that H-Shem allowed for Haman to be elevated only in order for his fall to be all-the-more steep and painful. There is a parable told there of a horse, a donkey, and a pig. The farmer feeds the donkey and horse a limited amount, and feeds the pig without measure. One day, the horse asks the donkey, “We do actual work, yet are fed less. This is not fair!” The wise donkey tells the horse to be patient and realize that the pig is not well-fed for its own good, but to be fattened up to be eaten by the farmer.
  • In the next Midrash (ibid. 7:2) a story is told of a king who felt it beneath his dignity to kill a peasant, so he promotes him in order to execute him without degrading himself. Such is the case with Haman, made great only to be cut down the more painfully.
  • The Chida calculates that Haman was at the peak of his power for a total of seventy days. He sent out the letters to kill the Jews on the 13th of Nisan. Seventy days later, on the 23rd of Sivan, Mordechai sent out the letters for the Jews to rescue themselves. Similarly, there are seventy verses between this verse where Haman is elevated and the verse where Haman is hanged (7:10).
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that, by elevating Haman, H-Shem was rewarding him for his advice to rid the world of the evil Vashti.
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman was elevated at this point as a consequence for King Shaul’s (Mordechai and Esther’s ancestor) misdirected kindness in keeping Agag (Haman’s ancestor) alive.
  • Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (21) writes that Haman’s elevation is a reward for Agag’s sincere prayer when he was locked up in prison, awaiting his death. Because of this evil man’s last prayer, a ruler was destined to come from him, as is alluded to in the verse (Bamidbar 24:7), “and He raised from Agag his kingship.” Based on this, the Ginzei HaMelech asks, how could Haman, a thoroughly evil man only in power for 70 days, be considered a reward? He answers that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) teaches that Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah in Bnei Brak, truly a reward for anybody.
  • The Maharal writes that Haman is rewarded here instead of Mordechai because the righteous generally are not rewarded with wealth in this world, but accrue reward in the World to Come.
  • Rav Shmuel Aharon Rubin cites Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak in the Talmud (Megillah 11a), who applies the verse in Tehillim (124:2) that discusses H-Shem rescuing us from a man to the Purim story. Since kings have not free will of their own, he continues, H-Shem needed to elevate a man – since free will is the mark of humanity – to this position from which he could threaten the Jewish people. It is a bigger miracle that Pesach in that way because Pharaoh’s heart was Divinely hardened. Haman, on the other hand, could make his own decisions, and chose evil all the same.
  • The Vilna Gaon tells us that if Haman is Memuchan (as asserted before), the human king had reason to reward him, as well. After all, it was Haman who advised that Vashti should be removed. First, this advice allowed the king to marry Esther. Second, Esther helped save the king’s life from the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:21).
  • But if the motivation to elevate Haman came from Achashverosh for this, why did he not reward Mordechai? The Tirosh Vayitz’har writes that Achashverosh was unsure about Mordechai’s intention. Perhaps he was a part of the plot, after all. The only one he was sure of was Esther, so he rewarded her by elevating the man whose advice led to her being queen.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Kluger writes that, after surviving the assassination attempt, Achashverosh realized that he was at risk – especially from Haman – and knew that he needed to keep him close by. As the old saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
  • This is the exact opposite view from Chacham Tzvi, whose opinion is that Achashverosh mistrusted Haman and thought he conspired together with Esther to kill him. However, once Esther reported the assassination plot in Mordechai’s name – Mordechai being Haman’s arch rival – Achashverosh (thought he) knew that Haman was loyal.
  • According to the Malbim, the king simply forgot about Mordechai completely.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz notes that it makes little logical sense for Mordechai to have been so passed over, and instead condemned to die along with the other Jews. After all, he saved the king’s life when he had no need to. Therefore, this verse is yet another proof that it is impossible to understand the Purim story – or even Jewish history, in general – without the understanding that H-Shem miraculously protects His beloved people.

Esther 2:9, Question 4. Why does the verse call Esther’s maidservants fitting for her?

  • The Megillas Sesarim’s opinion is that these maidservants were Jewish. After all, the previous queen had Jewish maidservants (as we saw before), as well, so there would be little suspicion. This was “fitting for” Esther because she was surrounded by people with whom she could relate and whom she could trust. Rabbi Mendel Weinbach adds that they could even share food with her. Perhaps it was also fitting for her because she could fulfill the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta larey’acha kamocha” (“loving your fellow as yourself”) (Vayikra 19:18) by treating them well.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 13a) tells us that Esther requested Heigai to give her seven maidservants to help her count the days of the week for her to know which day was Shabbos.1
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz asks why a person would need other people to count the days. He answers that Esther, although she was hiding her Jewish identity, was still practicing Jewish law. Therefore, if all of her maidservants saw her every day, they would see that she was behaving differently on the Sabbath, and that would give away her secret. On the other hand, she could not treat every day as a rest day, but had to stay active to keep from going crazy.
  • Perhaps another reason why Esther felt she had to maintain an active lifestyle during the week is based on Rav Elie Munk’s interpretation in Call of the Torah on the verse (Shemos 20:9) that tells us “to work” during the six days preceding Shabbos. Rav Munk says that, just as there is a law forbidding work on Shabbos, we have a similar responsibility to work when it is not Shabbos. Therefore, having one maidservant per day, her maids every week from Sunday through Friday saw her active, and must have figured she was some sort of activist queen. Her weekly Shabbos maid saw her lazing about, and probably figured that she was as idle as most normal members of the noble class.
  • Parenthetically, the Rokeach points out that the last letter of “v’eis” (suf) and the first two letters of “sheva” (shin and beiz) spell the letters of Shabbos. Also, the gematria of “hana’aros hari’uyos” (“fitting maidservants”) is the same as “zu haysa moneh bahen Shabbos” (“this is she counted Shabbos using them”).
  • Another interpretation of the Talmud is that she used these maidservant to keep track of each of the days of the Shabbos, the week. After all, every day is special. As we say in the morning prayer service before the weekday psalm of Sunday, “today is the first day of the Shabbos,” and on Monday, “today is the second day of the Shabbos,” etc. We make the most out of every day.

1Presumably the Persian calendar did not have seven-day weeks, or Esther would not have needed this kind of help. There are various calendars, like the Celts, the Igbo, and the Akan, that had weeks composed of various amounts of days. Ancient Egypt even had a ten-day week.

Esther 2:5, Question 2. Why does the verse call Mordechai a “Yehudi?”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 12b) states that Mordechai’s mother was from the tribe of Yehudah, while his father was from Benyamin. Although the tribal ancestry was paternal, members of the two tribes would later vie over his heritage to take credit for Mordechai’s greatness. The Alshich teaches that the verse is stressing that his mother was from the royal house of Yehudah. Rav Yehonasan Eibshutz says there is a mystical reason for this. According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 99a), Haman’s female ancestor, Timna (see Bireishis 36:12 and Divrei HaYamim 1 1:36), also came from royal blood. Since, as Rav Elie Munk writes most cogently in Ascent to Harmony, “the division into masculine and feminine principles provides the pattern for all of creation” (80), the feminine aspect of Mordechai had to match the feminine aspect of Haman in order to defeat it. Therefore, Mordechai’s mother had to come from royalty to counter Haman.
  • R’ Yochanan’s opinion in the Talmud (Megillah 12b) is that Mordechai actually was from Benyamin, but was called a Yehudi because he fought against idol worship. According to Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky (in Emes L’Yaakov), the name “Yehuda” is especially apt for someone who stands against idolatry because the first three letters of the name (yud, hey, and vuv) are letters that spell the Name of H-Shem that represents His mastery over all, and is thus a rejection of pagan beliefs. The Chida adds that the gematria of Mordechai HaYehudi (40+200+4+20+10+5+10+5+6+4+10=314) is the same as Sha-d-ai (300+4+10=314), the name of H-Shem that connotes His ability to keep things from growing out of control, as in “He who said “dai!” (“enough!”)” while creating the borders of the world (Talmud, Chagigah 12a). Therefore, He controls everything, and can turn everything around, as He does through Mordechai and Esther in the Purim story.
  • The Sfas Emes gives three reasons for Mordechai’s being called “Yehudi,” all three relating the word in its guttural etymology to the word “echad,” (“one”). First, Mordechai was a “yachid,” (“a unique individual”) in that he saved an entire generation (see Midrash, Esther Rabbah 6:2). Second, he unified the Jewish people to counter Haman’s criticism that they were splintered in disunion (Esther 3:8). Finally, Mordechai sacrificed everything for H-Shem who is One, Echad (Devarim 6:4).

Esther 1:13, Question 1. Who are these wise men Achashverosh approached and what does it mean that they “know the times?”

יג וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לַחֲכָמִים יֹדְעֵי הָעִתִּים כִּיכֵן דְּבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ לִפְנֵי כָּליֹדְעֵי דָּת וָדִין

13. And the king said to the wise men who know the times – since such is the way of the king before all those who know knowledge and justice.

  • According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b), the wise men whom the king approached after being insulted by his wife were none other than the Jewish Sages. The idea that they “know the times” means that our Sages are in control of the times and can have a hand in the calendar by, for instance, adding a thirteenth month (Adar Sheini) by declaring a leap year when necessary to balance the lunar months with the solar seasons (see Talmud, Sanhedrin 11b). Relevant to Tu B’Shvat this week, in the laws of orlah, a tree’s fruit cannot be eaten during the first three years of its life (Vayikra 19:23). The Sages’ ability to mandate a thirteenth month forces a farmer to wait an entire month longer for a tree to turn three years-old. We allude to this rabbinic power in our prayers. In the Musaf prayer of Shabbos (a day which cannot be set by the Sages) we say, “Blessed are You, H-Shem, Who sanctified the Shabbos,” whereas in the Musaf prayer of a Yom Tov (a day which can be set by the Sages) we say “Blessed are You, H-Shem, Who sanctified Israel and the times,” alluding to the fact that Israel can affect the calendar. Both the Ibn Ezra and Rav Dovid Feinstein add that, on a more mystical plane, the Sages were equally aware of astrology and which times have which spiritual energies (and how best to use these) as learned from Sefer Yetzira (Chapter 5).1
  • Rav Yehonoson Eibshutz writes that Achashverosh was hoping that the Sages, knowing these spiritual times as they do, would find that Vashti’s mazal (cosmic, spiritual influence) would allow her to live.
  • On a practical level, the Ben Ish Chai writes that the Sages could find ways to excuse any crime. For reasons too complex to explain here2, they were trained to do so because a unanimous decision would expatiate a perpetrator. In order to find a way to discredit a given exhibit of evidence, the Sages needed to then be completely aware of situations to best judge them.
  • As the Malbim writes, the Sages knew best how to apply laws to situations. The Maharal adds that a Sage, a righteous person by definition, always knows how to act under a given situation.
  • According to the Talmud (ibid.) the Sages found a way to not give advice because they realized that they were in a bind, a Catch-22. On the one hand, telling him to kill her as is expected of an insulted monarch may backfire and cause more Jew-hatred. On the other hand, sparing her meant subjecting Jewish women to untold humiliation under Vashti’s evil hands. To get out of having to give advice in this matter, the Sages simply pointed out that they could not judge capital cases ever since the Temple was destroyed. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss reminds us that one of the recurring themes of Megillas Esther is mida kineged mida, measure for measure. Here, Vashti’s halting the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash effectively ended her own life. Had there been a Temple, and it accompanying Sanhedrin, the Sages would have been able to pardon her.

1 My Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yisroel Simcha Schorr, shlita, would often remind us that Pesach came before the exodus from Egypt. The time, itself, had the strength needed for an exodus. This is why Lot offered matzos to his visiting angels in Nisan (Bireishis 19:3, see Rashi there) before there was even an exodus to obligate the eating of matza. From the time of Creation, that time had the spiritual energy to be a vehicle for the Egyptian exodus.

2See Talmud (Sanhedrin 17a) for the details of this rule.

Esther 1:12, Question 1. Why does Vashti refuse to come to the king?

יב וַתְּמָאֵן הַמַּלְכָּה וַשְׁתִּי לָבוֹא בִּדְבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר בְּיַד הַסָּרִיסִים וַיִּקְצֹף הַמֶּלֶךְ מְאֹד וַחֲמָתוֹ בָּעֲרָה בוֹ

12. And Queen Vashti refused to come according to the words of the king that he sent through chamberlains; and the king became very incensed and his anger burned inside him.

  • M’nos HaLevi suggests that Vashti did not come when summoned because she was conceited. According to the Ben Yehoyada, quoted by Rav Dovid Feinstein, she was so conceited that she could not even imagine him punishing her as he had a right to do.
  • According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz, since the underlying reason for this party was to coerce the Jews to sin (see the second post on 1:8), this day was Shabbos and she figured there was no point in such a stunt if the Jews weren’t even there on Shabbos to sin. He also suggests that Vashti felt that her unclothed arrival to the feast would tempt the men present.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 12b) suggests that the only reason she refused was because she suddenly became less beautiful. In fact, through the agency of the angel, Gavriel, Vashti had just then grown a tail and come down with a tzaraas skin affliction. How does the Talmud know this? Tosfos and Rashi quote a no-longer extant Yerushalmi which says that the language of the verse recalling Vashti’s punishment (Esther 2:1) is similar to the language in the verse that describes Uziyahu’s learning of his tzaraas (Divrei HaYamim 2 26:21). According to R’ Yehonason Eibshutz, of all angels, it was Gavriel who performed this task because, according to the Talmud (Sotah 31a) and the Zohar (196a), it is this angel who best knows men’s thoughts. As such, he knew what evil lurked in Vashti’s brain, and was thus the ideal messenger of H-Shem’s displeasure. Why would Vashti get these particular defects? Ben Yehoyada suggests that one reason (listed in the Talmud, Arachim 16a) for incurring tzaraas is for having a conceited spirit. Ben Yehoyada says that this was yet another example of “mida kineged mida,” (“measure for measure”); since Vashti had the Jewish girls work naked on Shabbos, so, too, she was punished on Shabbos in a manner related to nudity. R’ Elazar of Germezia notes that the gematria of “and the Queen Vashti refused to come” is equal to the phrase “she was afflicted with tzaraas.”1 A tail is used by animals to cover themselves. People use clothes for that purpose. Vashti’s otherwise desire to perform in a contrary behavior earned her, mida kineged mida, a tail of an animal. The Aruch writes that Vashti did not literally grow a tail, but rather an appendage of some sort. This fits well with the idea that this “zanav” covered her front. Rav Schwab asks on this why it could not be a real tail like an animal? According to Rabbi Aaron Eli Glatt, the letters of “zanav” (zayin, nun, and beis) can be seen as an acronym for Zevil Merodach, Nebuchadnetzer, and Balshatzar – Vashti’s royal lineage about which she was so conceited.

1The principle of im hakollel allows for a mathematical error of one so that (1352) “ותמאן המלכה ושתי לבוא”  is legally equal to (1353)  “שפרחה צרעת”.