Esther 9:23, Question 2. Why does the verse stress that the Yehudim began doing this?

  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz explains that what the Jews began doing was a continuation of what they started doing at Sinai. For this reason, although there is a prohibition (Devarim 13:1) to add mitzvos to the Torah, Mordechai had the authority to add the mitzvos of Purim in this case. The nation achieved atonement because they listened to Mordechai, and the sincerity of their re-acceptance of Torah allowed for the Torah to be new.
  • The Sfas Emes and Maamar Mordechai both note that in this verse, too, the Jews did before they learned, in the same fashion as their saying (Shemos 24:7) “naaseh v’nishmah” (“we will do and we will listen”) when they first accepted the Torah.

Esther 9:19, Question 5. Why are the expressions written in a different order than in the previous verse (Esther 9:18)?

  • R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the expressions are written in a different order than the previous verse (Esther 9:18) because the original celebration was spontaneous, and not following any specific rules. Mordechai would later (Esther 9:21) establish Purim for future generations with changes.
  • Yosef Lekach notes that everything mentioned in the verse needs to be artificially “made.” In that first year, happiness was a natural, organic reaction. In the future, it would have to be manufactured artificially.
  • Malbim writes that the Jews did not feel the need to celebrate the first year because they didn’t know the decree and thought that their victory was due to the king’s decree.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz and the Chasam Sofer note that in the first year, the Jews accepted Purim as a Yom Tov, so Mordechai expected them to feed the poor.
  • After all, the Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yom Tov 6:17) writes that people have the responsibility of feeding the poor on a Yom Tov. Later, when the people would not see Purim as a Yom Tov, the order was switched around in order for the people to still feel responsible for feeding the poor.

Esther 9:13, Question 3. Why does Esther request that Haman’s sons be hanged, especially since they are already dead?

  • According to the Vilna Gaon, Esther requested that Haman’s sons be hanged to make it clear that the Jews were acting in accordance with the will of the king, avoiding any future persecution. By hanging Haman’s sons, it was sign to everyone that the king approved of the Jews’ actions.
  • Ohel Moshe writes that the people could have theoretically thought that Haman was hanged for attempting to kill Mordechai, the rescuer of the king. Esther wanted it to be very clear that, in actual fact, for generations that this was not some political soap opera, but rather H-Shem did all of this for the sake of the Jews.
  • R’ Yehonason Eibshutz similarly demonstrates that it is not from Achashverosh, but from H-Shem.
  • Interestingly, Yalkut Pisron Torah (273) writes that this group of sons were handed over to the Jews in the merit of the Jews’ keeping the mitzva (Devarim 22:6-7) of shiluach hakan (“chasing away the mother bird”).
  • In the Parsha of Titzaveh, which is usually read before Purim, in the first verse (Shemos 27:20), H-Shem commands the Jewish people to make the clothing of the kohanim using the words, “es bnei Yisroel v’yik’chu.” Rabbi Yosef Freedman points out that the last letters of those four words can be rearranged to spell talui (“hanging”) and the first letters of the same words can be rearranged to spell av v’yud (“the father and ten”).
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the ten sons of Haman, and Haman himself, hang on the tree together, and those eleven people parallel the eleven1 curses mentioned in the Torah (Devarim 27:15-26) reserved for those who do not keep H-Shem’s Law. Their hanging should remove from us these curses.
  • Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair (https://ohr.edu/purim/deeper_insights/3440) writes that these dead bodies needed to be hanged because the Talmud (Sanhedrin 97b) promises that Moshiach will come to the Jews even if they do not deserve him. This will occur after a wave of teshuva (“repentance”) takes us over after the evil decrees of a tyrant worse than Haman, himself.

1Added together, there are twelve curses in those verses, not eleven. See Rashi there (Devarim 27:26) that the twelfth and final of these curses is a general one that encompasses the entire Torah. Perhaps this is a reason for R’ Moshe Dovid Valle to have not included it in his calculation of the number of curses.

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.

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.