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 8:9, Question 2. Why does Mordechai send these letters so long after getting the king’s permission?

  • Aside for Mordechai’s desire to send these letters in Sivan for the reasons mentioned above, the Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai waited for Haman’s couriers to return from their original mission (Esther 3:13). Utilizing the same couriers would add legitimacy to Mordechai’s letter.
  • The Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 100:6) writes that H-Shem rewarded the gentiles for mourning Yaakov for 70 days (Bireishis 50:3) by giving them these 70 days between the 13th of Nisan and the 23rd of Sivan to do teshuva.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes that a common calculation in the Torah is a day for a year, as when the Jewish people were punished (Bamidbar 14:17) with 40 years of delaying their entry into the Holy Land for their believing the spies who traversed the land for 40 days. Therefore, he writes, these 70 days were for the Jews to perform teshuva in gratitude for H-Shem’s saving their lives, which the verse (Tehillim 90:10) says lasts an average of 70 years.
  • Similarly, the Vilna Gaon explains that the Jews were scared about their fate for these 70 days to get an atonement for the 70 years of exile which they had caused upon themselves.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that these 70 days represented the 70 nations of the world were allowed to think that they were in control of the fate of the Jews.

Esther 8:8, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh seem to have a change of heart regarding Jews?

  • One way to answer Achashverosh’s sudden seeming change of heart is the fact that he regularly changes his mind about things since he lacks any true convictions. As the saying goes regarding this fickle king: he listened to a friend to kill his wife, and then he listened to his wife to kill a friend.
  • However, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz explains that Achashverosh’s negative feelings towards Jews were caused by a vision that he had earlier in his life that a Jew would take his throne. Once he found out (Esther 7:4) that his wife was a Jewess, his child through her, although a Jew maternally, could take the throne after Achashverosh passes with no harm coming to him. Indeed, according to the Talmud (Megillah 11b) Esther’s son, Darius II ruled after him.

Esther 7:9, Question 5. Why does Charvona mention the height of the gallows?

  • The Malbim, Vilna Gaon, and Yosef Lekach write that since Charvona was one of the chamberlains sent to fetch Haman to the feast (Esther 6:14), he overheard Haman’s plot, and that is how he knew the height of the gallows.
  • According to the Malbim, Charvona mentions the height of the gallows now because it would add an additional layer of embarrassment for Achashverosh because, at such a height, Mordechai would have been seen publicly hanging while wearing royal robes in which the king dressed him1.
  • A more conspiratorial explanation comes from the Dena Pishra, who writes that Charvona mentions the height because it is obviously too high to serve the purpose of hanging only Mordechai. Clearly, then, Haman also wanted to hang more people, namely Achashverosh and his advisers.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes a Mishnah (Bava Basra 2:9) that a dead body, if it is not buried deeply enough, must be buried 50 amos from a city due to its offensive odor. Since Mordechai is righteous, and the righteous do not decompose, then the 50 amos height of the gallows were indented for someone else – the king.
  • According to Targum Sheini (on Esther 2:1), Achashverosh had been angry with the advisers who convinced him to remove Vashti, and had them hanged. The Aruchas Tamid writes that Haman, the adviser who originates the plan, was actually hanged along with the other advisers, but miraculously fell from the gallows alive. As a precursor to America’s rule of “double jeopardy,” Persian law then dictated that a condemned criminal could not hang twice for the same crime. The Aruchas Tamid continues that since Haman fell when hanged before, Achashverosh was concerned that he might be freed again as per that Persian law. However, these gallows’ height being 50 cubits meant that Haman would die even if he were to fall free.

1Class Participant YML pointed out that Haman could not have intended on Mordechai being hanged on those gallows while wearing the king’s robes. After all, it was only that morning that Mordechai was paraded in the streets of Shushan wearing the royal garb, and Haman built the gallows the night before that – not knowing what the next 24 hours had in store for him and his plans. Perhaps, as the king’s adviser, Mordechai regularly wore clothing akin to a uniform which identified him as belonging to the king’s court.

Esther 7:5, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh seem surprised by the decree he permitted less than a week earlier?

  • R’ Moshe David Valle writes that Achashverosh seems surprised by the decree he permitted less than a week earlier simply because H-Shem created forgetfulness (see the Dubno Maggid’s explanation of Devarim 32:18). Being able to forget can sometimes be a blessing.
  • Similarly, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz says it was the king’s foolishness that caused him to forget. Accordingly, this is another root of the custom to drink ad d’lo yada on Purim (Megillah 7b).
  • The Beis HaLevi writes that Achashverosh did not know that the decree was meant to destroy the Jews, but thought it was supposed to only assimilate them. After all, the word l’avdam could mean “cause them to be lost.” This is why Haman emphasized the Jews’ strangeness (Esther 3:8-9). The solution for “fixing” a group of people who are “weird” is to acculturate them into society. Also, this is the reason Haman said (Esther 3:11) “la’asot bo” (“to do with”) rather than “la’asot lo” (“to do to”) the Jews. This implied that if the Jews refused, they would be punished, but the punishment was not the focus. However, in the decree he wrote (Esther 3:13), Haman emphasized the punishment. This is why Esther (Esther 7:4) first notes this punishment in her plea to the king.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes the Be’er Yosef that there was a fundamental difference between Haman and Achashverosh – Haman knew that the king was only interested in having the Jews conform to his society’s norms, but he likewise knew that the Jews would sacrifice their lives to avoid conversion. For many Jews, an order to change was a death sentence for the Jews. This is the way he put on a show that left Achashverosh in a state of confusion.
  • R’ Avraham Yehoshua Heshel (the Apter Rav) tells a story about the time of R’ Sherira Gaon (father of R’ Hai Gaon) of Pumbedisa (906-1006 CE). There were two brothers fighting over their late father’s estate. One got a Torah scroll actually written by Ezra the Scribe, while the other brother got everything else in the estate. Parenthetically, it is a beautiful thing that the one who got all of the father’s possessions would be willing to give them up for a Torah scroll. Be that as it may, one evil man who thought it was ridiculous that the brothers were fighting over what he considered nothing more that a large parchment with ink on it, came into shul at night and scratched out the letter ayin in the word vi’avadetem (“and you shall serve”) in the verse (Shemos 23:25), and wrote an aleph in its place, turning the word into vi’avadetem (“and He will destroy you”). When this change was discovered, the owner of the scroll fell ill. He then had a dream in which his father appeared. His father told him the culprit will lose his eye because of the verse (Shemos 21:24) “ayin tachat ayin” (“an eye for an eye”) can be homiletically interpreted as an eye in place of a letter ayin. Since the scroll’s owner was concerned lest another scribe fix a scroll written by Ezra, the father calmed him by saying that Ezra in Heaven would fix it. Indeed, the next morning, the recovered owner came to shul, and together with the congregation was astounded to find the scroll in its original form. The Apter Rav brings this story as proof that Achashverosh really wanted the Jews to be subservient to him, but Haman used the word li’avdem to intentionally mislead the king into signing a decree to kill them all.

Esther 7:4, Question 2. According to Esther, how is the enemy not equal to the king’s damage?

  • Seemingly, Esther’s point is that the loaves of silver paid during Haman’s deal with the king (Esther 3:9) was a bad deal for the king. However, as the Maharal points out, Achashverosh returned the money (Esther 3:11), so an alternative interpretation is necessary.
  • According to Rebbetzin Heller, Esther was saying that the humiliation that the Jews would experience would not justify bothering our great king, Achashverosh; it would be beneath his dignity to do such a thing.
  • Also, the enemy – Haman – is not considering the loss to the king because he only cares about himself.
  • As the Talmud (Megillah 16a) interprets this phrase, Haman does not care about Achashverosh. First, Haman advised the killing of Achashverosh’s beloved Vashti, and now Haman has set his sights on the king’s new beloved, Esther.
  • The Ibn Ezra adds that Esther was saying that Haman cares so little for Achashverosh, that he does not even mind Achashverosh’s loss of tax revenue in killing out so many citizens of the realm.
  • According to Rashi, Esther is pointing out that if he had cared about Achashverosh, Haman would have advised him to sell the Jews and keep the money.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz says Esther was protecting Achashverosh from an assassination plot; if he will kill her, then he would kill the king, as well.
  • Like the Rokeach, the Yosef Lekach writes that Esther’s point was that enslaving the Jews is permissible by the Torah, but trying to kill them off is against Torah. Therefore, Achashverosh risked being punished for this, and Haman would not care if he were.
  • The Dena Pishra writes that Esther’s point was that, as a king, Achashverosh could uniquely appreciate what a loss the Jews would be to H-Shem, their King, and how He will respond for the sake of His subjects.
  • According to the Alshich, another point Esther was making is that, in returning the silver (Esther 3:11), Achashverosh essentially sold his own wife as slave for free.
  • The Holy Shelah interprets “the king’s damage” as pain being inflicted upon the King of the World.
  • The Ketones Or quotes the Talmud (Taanis 3b) that it is impossible for the world to exist without Jews. Accordingly, Esther’s point was that Haman does not care about that, so this plot is not to Achashverosh’s benefit.

Esther 7:4, Question 1. Why would Esther have remained silent had the Jews been sold into slavery?

ד כִּי נִמְכַּרְנוּ אֲנִי וְעַמִּי לְהַשְׁמִיד לַהֲרוֹג וּלְאַבֵּד וְאִלּוּ לַעֲבָדִים וְלִשְׁפָחוֹת נִמְכַּרְנוּ הֶחֱרַשְׁתִּי כִּי אֵין הַצָּר שׁוֶֹה בְּנֵזֶק הַמֶּלֶךְ

4. “Because I and my nation have been sold to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. And even if we were to have been sold to be slaves and maidservants, I would have been silent because the enemy is not equal to the king’s damage.”

  • The Ramban (on Bireishis 17:18) writes that the Hebrew word eelu is actually a combination of two words, eem (if) and lu (if), literally “if if,” a poetic manner of saying “if only.”
  • According to the Vilna Gaon, Esther is saying that she would have stayed silent if the Jews were been sold into slavery since slavery was then a legitimate, legal form of acquisition. After all, the decree to kill the Jews involved the transfer of money (Esther 3:9).
  • The Malbim explains that Esther is telling Achashverosh that Haman lied to him. Haman had told the king he wanted to kill out an unspecified “certain people,” (Esther 3:8) implying that this was a weak, unimportant group. Also, as the Malbim pointed out on there (see #209 above), Achashverosh did not know about the extermination, and thought Haman’s plan was to enslave the Jews. However, Esther was saying, Haman misled Achashverosh. Had it been merely their enslavement, Esther would remain silent but killing out an entire group of his people would ruin his historic legacy. Therefore, keeping Haman alive anymore would run the risk of destroying his reputation.
  • The Ben Ish Chai explains that Esther was noting that slavery happens, and it requires the transfer of moneys. However, she was asking, if Haman wanted to kill out the Jews, why was there a financial transaction? If they deserve death, there would not need to be an exchange of money, so his intent is suspect.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz writes about a concept in Choshen Mishpat known as ona’a, or deceit. The rule is that one may not sell an object for more than 1/6 more profit than the cost of the item. However, the Talmud (Bava Metzia 56b) writes that such a concept does not apply to the sale of slaves. Here, Esther is saying that Haman’s overcharging made this slave sale illegitimate, and therefore she had a right to protest.
  • The Ben Ish Chai quotes Rav Tzemach who writes that Achashverosh accepted the deal with Haman by telling him to do what was “hatov b’einecha” (Esther 3:11) (“good in your eyes”), or whatever you want. This phrase can also mean that whatever you do them, you must do to yourself. Therefore, if Haman’s intent was slavery, then Esther would have remained quiet seeing as Haman was already a slave. However, death is something Haman would not want. This deceptiveness was causing her to speak now to avoid the planned annihilation from hurting Achashverosh on both fronts.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes Rabbeinu Shlomo, the brother of the Vilna Gaon in explaining the verse (Ezra 9:9) “kee avadim anachnu” (“for we are slaves”). He writes that when Jews are in exile, we are like slaves in that we have fewer mitzvos. Esther is conceding that we are somewhat denigrated to the level of slaves, but annihilation is not a part of that differentiation.
  • Also, R’ Dovid Feinstein quotes the verse in Moshe’s warning to the Jews of what would occur to them if they ignore H-Shem (Devarim 28:68) that the Jews will become so low, that they would not even be valuable enough to be sold as slaves. The next step after that is either destruction or redemption. Esther didn’t say that to Achashverosh because he wouldn’t mind destroying the Jews.
  • Basing himself on the same verse, the Rokeach says that our slavery is in Torah, so Esther would have to accept it. However, actual annihilation is against the Torah’s promise (Vayikra 26:45), so Esther cannot remain mute.
  • According to the Midrash (Esther Rabba 7:25), the threat to Jewish existence in Persia was a result of the sons of Yaakov attempting to sell their Yosef into slavery (Bireishis 37:28). Shar Bas Rabim explains that since H-Shem operates mida kineged mida (“measure for measure”), Esther was saying here that slavery was a fair punishment, but not death.
  • R’ Shmuel Aharon Rubin, father of the author of Talilei Oros, during the sale of Yosef, he was saved by Yehudah (Bireishis 37:26). This, he explains, is the reason why the verse that introduces Mordechai (Esther 2:5) uniquely mentions his mother’s lineage from Yehudah.
  • Perhaps it is noteworthy that Mordechai’s lineage is also from Binyamin, the only other brother not responsible for Yosef’s sale.