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.

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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.

Esther 7:3, Question 3. Why does Esther ask for her life (first)?

  • In asking why Esther asks for her life first, the Maharal actually strengthens the question by pointing out that her life was not being threatened at this point at all since the king did not know she was a Jewess. Even if he were to know and include her in the decree, she still would not need to mention herself independently, since she would then be logically included in the general category of Jews.
  • Rashi answers that Esther felt she should have been killed as per the decree.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that she knew Achashverosh had more sympathy for her.
  • The Dena Pishra adds that Eshter was saying that she cares about Achashverosh’s good above all else. Convincing this evil tyrant through the paradigm that concerns him – his own selfish wants – she is explaining that killing the Jewish people would cause him to lose his greatest supporter, herself. Similarly, he continues, Esther implied that, as she was innocent, so too are all of the Jews innocent.
  • Yosef Lekach and R’ Moshe David Valle point out that Esther asked for her life as a minor request, and the people as her major plea. From her perspective, her own life was not as important as the life of her nation.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes the Talmud (Shabbos 148a) that a she’aila is for the short-term present, whereas a bakasha is for the long-term forever.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Midrash (Shemos Rabba 30:4) that since Esther risked her life for the Jews, the Jewish people are called “Esther’s people.” Although this Midrash is commenting on the verse (Esther 4:16) about her risking her life by appearing before Achashverosh uninvited, Esther risked her life in other instances, as well – as in this verse in which Esther asks for her life in a she’aila, as though it were something inconsequential and ephemeral in comparison to the existence of her people.
  • Earlier in Esther (5:6), the Malbim wrote that a request is just a request, but a petition is the reason for the request. Therefore, her ultimate desire is for the people’s survival.
  • The Malbim also writes that Esther mentioned herself first to imply that she was Haman’s intended target.

Esther 7:1, Question 2. Why does the verse stress that they will be with Esther?

  • In contrast to the earlier party where the verse (Esther 5:5) did not mention Esther in relation to drinking, this verse does. The Vilna Gaon, Alshich, and Yosef Lekach agree that the reason for this is because Esther was fasting then, but is not at this point.
  • The M’nos HaLevi explains that Esther did not really drink in order to keep her head clear.
  • A compromise opinion seems to be that of the Avos HaRosh, who writes that Esther merely pretended to drink by putting the cup to her lips.
  • R’ Yehonosan Eibshutz writes that Esther was more confident at this party than before because Haman had an idol on his person (see #190 above) then, and one should not pray in the presence of such things (see Midrash, Shemos Rabba 12:5), or even pictures of them (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 90:23). However, Haman removed his idol before “demeaning” himself in the act of leading Mordechai on a horse throughout the town so that he would not feel degraded by a Jew. Therefore, Esther could now beseech H-Shem more confidently.
  • I would have thought to say that perhaps the idol was more appropriately covered by Haman’s daughter’s mess. But then Esther would still not have been be able to pray in the presence of such things (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 79:1).

Esther 6:13 Question 6. Why do Haman’s advisers imply Haman fell before?

  • The Malbim explains Haman’s advisers’ words as implying that since Haman started falling already in his degrading display of honor to Mordechai, the natural inertia will cause him to continue to fall.
  • The Talmud (Megillah 16a) interprets the verse’s double language of “nafol tipol” (“falling you will fall”) by noting that the Jewish people are compared both to the dust, and to stars. The Maharal asks on this Talmudic statement that, historically, every nation has ups and downs. When Babylonia, Greece, Rome, or any other nation sinned, H-Shem caused their civilizations to decline. He answers that the difference for the Jews is that H-Shem directly supervises their ascents and downfalls. Therefore the practical difference is how far up or down.
  • The Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 8) on Bireishis (1:28) says that man can fall to the lowest depths. There is no middle ground for the Jews; they either fall into the dust or rise to the stars.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes the Talmud (Brachos 4b) that there is a principle that H-Shem saves the Jews when they are at their lowest. H-Shem waits (kaviyachal, as it were) for the individual Jew or the nation to reach the dust, the lowest point. If a person sitting on the floor falls, that person may fall to the floor. But when one is sitting on the floor and falls, there is not place further to fall. It is at that point that H-Shem must raise that person to the stars.
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the advisers pointed out to Haman that he himself said (Esther 6:11) that the honor received by Mordechai “ye’aseh” (“will be”) in the future tense. He thereby unwittingly cursed himself with Mordechai’s future success.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Ta’amei Esther, who quotes the M’nos HaLevi, who in turn quotes R’ Eliezer of Garmiza that the words nafol tipol are written complete, both with vuvs because Mordechai’s six (the gematria of vuv) actions including fasting, walking through the streets, crying, etc (Esther 4:1) parallel the six (the gematria of vuv) forms of suffering endured by Israel (Esther 4:3). Therefore, Nafol Mordechai and tipol the Jews. The Ginzei HaMelech explains by quoting a Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 34:8) that Moshe accepted upon himself the pain meant for others, and Mordechai did the same. Therefore, paining these kinds of leaders pains all of the Jews. By doing that, Haman is pinning himself against the combined power of the entire Jewish nation.
  • In a more Kabbalistic explanation, the Rema writes that this falling is actually the second fall, as in the days of Adam (Bireishis 3:15), when the Yeitzer HaRa fell the first time.
  • The Sha’aris Yosef quotes the Nachal Kedumim that Mordechai was a gilgul, reincarnation, of Yaakov, and Haman was a gilgul of Eisav. One of his proofs for this idea is that the verse (Bireishis 32:12) in which Yaakov prays for Heavenly assistance against Eisav, he says, “hatzileini na miyad” (“save me please from the hand”), which have initial letters that spell out Haman. Although Yaakov never physically fought Eisav, he did fight Eisav’s guardian angel. The verses describing this exchange (Bireishis 32:25-30) never explicitly names the victor, which prompts the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 77:3) to state that it would remain unclear who won except for the fact Eisav’s guardian angel had to go back and forth several times. Just as Eisav’s angel had to go back down, Haman’s advisers here are implying that, being a gilgul, Haman would similarly fall twice before Mordechai.