Esther 7:6, Question 4. Why does the verse stress that Haman’s reaction was “before” the king and queen?

  • As mentioned above, the Malbim and the Vilna Gaon explain that Haman’s confusion stemmed from the fact that he was in the presence of both the king and queen, so he could not use either of his excuses.
  • Similarly, according to the Maharal, Achashverosh asked Esther why she invited Haman to the party if he is so evil. She answered that she did so intentionally to avoid the possibility of Haman giving excuses if he were confronted without both of them present.
  • The verse has a combined gematria of 3355, the same as the verse (Bireishis 38:17) regarding the amount of money Yehudah pledges to Tamar. It also has the same gematria as the verse (Devarim 13:10) commanding the punishment for someone who encourages others to worship idol. Finally, it also has the same gematria as the verse in Tehillim (67:4) that the nations are happy when H-Shem governs the nations. Perhaps, just as the verse climactically demonstrates H-Shem’s active rescue of the Jews from their impending holocaust, all of these verses have to do with H-Shem’s supervision of the world. Just as the Talmud (Sotah 10a) says that He was involved with the otherwise seemingly elicit relationship between Yehuda and Tamar, so too He alone should be worshiped – without the false gods of idolatry. Similarly, the point of our world is to reach the level where everyone recognizes the guiding Hand of H-Shem in all of the events of the world.

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 6:13, Question 5. Why do Haman’s advisers seem to question Mordechai’s lineage?

  • The Maharal notes that Haman’s advisers must have known that Mordechai was a Jew, as Haman, himself mentioned to them (Esther 5:13). After all, it was possible that Mordechai was brought into Persia with King Yechanya (Esther 2:6), but was not actually a Jew. Therefore, the Talmud (Megillah 16a) understands the advisers’ remarks as relating to Mordechai’s tribal lineage. In effect, they were saying that if he were from the tribe of Yehudah, Binyamin, Efrayim, or Menasheh, Haman could not expect to be successful against him. In Bireishis (49:8), Yaakov promised Yehudah that his descendants would conquer their enemies. In Tehillim (80:3), King David prays that H-Shem strengthen Efrayim, Binyamin, and Menasheh. As it happens, Mordechai could trace his paternal lineage to one of these listed tribes and his maternal lineage to another.
  • The Maharal points out that Yehudah, Efrayim and Binyamin all represent Jewish unity because the Beis HaMikdash, and the Mishkan in Shilo and Nov were all located in their tribal inheritance. As proof, the Maharal quotes from the verse (Bamidbar 16:6) in which Moshe attempts to quell the rebellion of Korach and his group by saying they should all bring fire-pans. The entire group bringing individual fire-pans would represent the very opposite of unity. In fact, the unity of Jews’ uniqueness with H-Shem’s Uniqueness fights off the doubts and confusion that Amalek represents. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:2) considers the description “Yehudi” as being derived from the adjective “yechidi” (“unique”) or the noun echad, (“one”).
  • According to the Targum, the advisers were not asking if Mordechai was a Jew, but if he were from the holier, saintly Jews. The Vilna Gaon writes that, unlike Haman’s assertion that the events he described were chance, Zeresh and the advisers were saying that it was not. After all, as a member of the Yehudim, Mordechai enjoyed the situation promised by the Talmud (Shabbos 156a, Nedarim 32a) that “ein mazal b’Yisroel” (“there is not mazal for Israel”).
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the advisers were focusing on the fact that Haman’s situation could go either way, based on Jews’ behavior.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes R’ Meir Shapiro, who focused on the word, “zerah” (“seed”). They were saying that if the Jewish youth had no serious connection to Mordechai. They considered the aged Mordechai only powerful if he still held relevant sway on the youth of his people. So when Haman told them that Mordechai was surrounded by thousands of students learning a (temporarily) outmoded law regarding grains and Temple service, the advisers realized Haman has no chance. When Judaism is relevant for the invigorated youth, our enemies stand no chance.
  • Similarly, says the Ginzei HaMelech, Mordechai has to be mizerah (“from the seed”) of Yehudim – an invigorated member of the youth in vitality – and then Haman should just give up.
  • According to the Ben Ish Chai, Haman gave a short history lesson saying Mordechai was a descendant of Shaul, who only ruled briefly and not successfully. In response, the advisers said, that may be true, but Mordechai was also a descendant of Yehudah from his mother’s side, so he will win as promised. Homiletically, he reads the word im (if) as eim (mother).

Esther 2:5, Question 4. Why does the verse mention Mordechai’s lineage?

  • In the Talmud’s lengthy exposition on this verse (Megillah 12b-13a), the Rabbis note that the verse seemingly mentions these ancestors of Mordechai out of order, skipping around generations. For example, Shimi was a distant descendant of Kish (Targum Sheini to Esther 2:5), not his son. The Rabbis therefore expound on these names as indicating Mordechai’s characteristics. He was the “son of Yair” in that he brightened (“hey’ir”) the eyes of the Jews to prayer; he was the “son of Shimi” in that his prayers were listened to (“shema”) by H-Shem; he was the “son of Kish” in that he knocked (“hikish”) at the Gates of Mercy. The Ohel Moshe asks the question: should not the fact that his prayers were listened to be more important – thus listed before – than his act of “brightening the eyes” of others to pray? After all, his prayers being answered saved the Jews! He answers that, indeed, as powerful as Mordechai’s prayers were, the combined power of the Jews he roused with his “great cry” (Esther 4:1) led to an unprecedented era of teshuva, return, whose cornerstone is prayer.
  • But like every great man, he was not without his detractors and controversy. Another opinion in the Talmud there (Rava) states that the tribes would deflect from themselves responsibility for Mordechai’s seemingly causing Jewish existence to be threatened in the Purim story, as we will discuss (iy”H) when we get to it (in Esther 3:6). The Jews blamed Yehudah for King David’s (a member of Yehudah) not killing Shimi ben Geira (Shmuel 2 16:7-13 and Melachim 1 2:9), and they blamed Benyamin for King Shaul’s (a member of Benyamin) not killing Agag, ancestor of Haman. Interestingly, Rav Shlomo HaLevi Alkabetz notes that Shaul is noticeably missing in this list of ancestors (see Shmuel 1 9:1). Possibly, this could be a way to avoid embarrassing Mordechai for this relation, especially in light of Shaul’s embarrassing failure to wipe out Amalek leading to the Purim story. Otherwise, Rav Alkabetz ventures to opine that Mordechai could be a “gilgul,” (“reincarnation”) of King Shaul.

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).