Esther 6:12, Question 1. Why does the verse emphasize that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate?

יב וַיָּשָׁב מָרְדֳּכַי אֶלשַׁעַר הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהָמָן נִדְחַף אֶלבֵּיתוֹ אָבֵל וַחֲפוּי רֹאשׁ

12. And Mordechai returned to the gate of the king. And Haman was propelled to his house mourning, and with a covered head.

  • It seems doubly strange for the verse to say Mordechai returned to the palace, when our commentary on the previous verse made clear the Haman found Mordechai in the house of study. According to the Talmud (Megillah 16a) and the Midrash (Esther Rabba 10:6), the verse emphasizes that Mordechai returned to the king’s gate instead of into because Mordechai returned to wearing sackcloth and fasting.
  • Rashi’s explaining that Mordechai returned to mourning seems to not be his pashut pshat, simple explanation.
  • The Maharsha clarifies that Mordechai could not enter the king’s gate wearing sackcloth because of their rules of propriety in those days, so he could only come as far as the gate, itself. Therefore, Mordechai, having been mourning in sackcloth for the last several days could not be said to be returning to a place where he could not have previously been.
  • R’ Avigdor Bonchek explains that being paraded on a horse emboldened Mordechai to defy Achashverosh’s law by going to gate in sackcloth.
  • The Targum writes that Mordechai returned to serving on the Sanhedrin at this point, a position that is described in TaNaCh (see Bireishis 19:1, Devarim 21:19, Ruth 4:1) as being positioned “at the gate.”
  • The Midrash (Shemos Rabba 38:4) teaches that the verse says Mordechai returned because he is humble. There is a humility in accepting one’s place, as is said of Avraham whom the Torah (Bireishis 18:33) describes as having “returned to his place” after speaking with H-Shem.
  • R’ Henoch Leibowitz notes that the Torah (Devarim 30:8) promises us that H-Shem will return us to our Land only after we suffer from our enemies. Rav Leibowitz explains that the lesson is that a person’s prayer in times of rescue should be equal in power and intensity to that with which one prays in times of troubles. The very purpose of our troubles is to increase our attachment to H-Shem. The proper method for this is to follow Rabbeinu Bachya’s advice (on Shemos 2:23) when he says that one’s prayer is the most intense in times of difficulty and that, therefore, it is incumbent on a person to remember that feeling of intensity, and bottle up that feeling of pain in order to pray strongly in the brighter future that the troubles do not return. At our most desperate, we should try to encapsulate the emotion to use in better times.
  • He quotes R’ Naftoli Tropp, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin writes that a famous piyut said on Yom Kippur calls us all dalim, poor. Even the rich should recall that all is H-Shem’s and they only have their riches only by the grace of G-d.
  • The Yosef Lekach writes that Mordechai usually wore sackcloth during davening, and then changed for court. At this point, Mordechai did not change because he felt his prayers were unsuccessful, and not answered. This is because his riding on a horse did not manifestly spell out the redemption of the Jews. The Jews were still threatened.
  • Rebbetzin Heller points out that, being G-d focused, Mordechai didn’t care if Achashverosh loved or honored him. This event did not change Mordechai’s humility.
  • The Sfas Emes writes that Mordechai still felt guilty about causing the threat to Jewish existence by refusing to bow down to Haman. True teshuvah comes from the feeling of being unworthy of kindness from H-Shem. He concludes that one should never be too confident in this.
  • The Iyun Yaakov points out that, on the political side, Mordechai had anticipated using his saving Achashverosh’s life as leverage when begging Achashverosh to save the Jews – not just a pony ride around town. Disappointed by the loss of his ace in the hole, Mordechai’s only remaining means to save the Jews is to pray to H-Shem.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes the Brisker Rav, R’ Yitzchak Zev HaLevi Soloveitchik that in his reporting the goings-on to Esther earlier (Esther 4:5-16), Mordechai was unwilling to get out of his sackcloth for even one moment and even requiring Hasach as an intermediary because prayer and emunah are the main tools for salvation.
  • The Ohel Moshe also brings R’ Yehonason Eibshutz who quotes the Talmud (Brachos 5b) that a prisoner does not free himself. Somebody else needs to help somebody out. Similarly, Mordechai, once he sees himself rescued, returned to pray for the other Jews. Similarly,
  • R’ Dovid Bleicher of Novordok notes that Mordechai had his own needs met, but kept praying for the Jews because he had worked on himself to feel as if he was still under the threat of death.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:12) states that a true Jewish leader does not stop fasting until the prayers are answered.
  • The Maharal notes that Mordechai was not satisfied by this honor because Achasherosh did not come to thank him, himself. He had no reason to think that Achashverosh felt actual gratitude. After all, as R’ Elie Munk points out in his commentary on Chumash (Vayikra 7:30), of all the offerings, the only one which the Torah describes as having to be brought “by his own hands” is the shelamim (peace offering) because it is brought as a way to thank H-Shem, and “when expressing one’s gratitude, it is proper to do it personally.”
  • Parenthetically, he also quotes this as the reason brought by Abudraham for the congregation to say the blessing of Modim (thanksgiving) during the repetition of the Amidah prayer, since the congregational leader cannot express the gratitude of another person.
  • The Maharal also says in a few places (Nesivos Olam) that simcha (joy) comes from shleimus (completeness). Here, too, Mordechai cannot be content since the Jews are still under the threat of annihilation, and are thus incomplete.
  • Perhaps the simplest explanation to why Mordechai returned to his place can be gleaned from a story told about R’ Yechezkel Abramsky. While discussing Megillas Esther with his rebbetzin, he asked her what Mordechai could have been thinking while riding on the horse. She answered, “This type of foolishness is for drunkards. I wish this will be over soon, so I can return to learning Torah!”
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Esther 4:16, Question 9. Why does Esther emphasize that her plan is “not in accordance to the law?”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 15a) writes that Esther emphasizes that her plan is “not in accordance to the law” to refer to the fact that this plan of voluntarily submitting herself to Achashverosh is not in accordance to the laws of the Torah, which forever forbids a Jewish wife to be with her husband after being with another man consensually (Sotah 2a).
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that verse uses the vowel patach under the letter chuf (kadaas) instead of the shva (kidaas), which means the Law instead of a law.
  • The Sfas Emes reminds us of the famous concept that Purim is equated to Yom Kippur. He explains that both holidays share the characteristic that they represent the reversal of what would otherwise be irreversible situations. On Yom Kippur, we are forgiven for sins for which we should be punished, and on Purim the Jews survived when they were supposed to be wiped out. The Sfas Emes continues that Esther here means the “laws” of nature H-Shem established will thus reversed on this day.

Esther 4:3, Question 4. Why does the verse mention six responses of the Jews?

  • The Jews responded to this news with a total of six actions: they mourned, fasted, cried, eulogized, and donned sack and ash. The M’nos HaLevi writes that there is significance to this number. These six actions correspond to the six days in which the Jews participated in Achashverosh’s party (see Esther 1:5). Indeed it was a seven-day party, and the Jews took a break from the last day because it was Shabbos.
  • Since the verse that describes Achashverosh’s party (1:4), the verse says the party lasted for many days (yamim rabim), and gives the number of days as 180, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz wonders why the phrase “yamim rabim” is not superfluous. He answers that this phrase refers to the kind of days they were, long summer days, concluding with Yom Kippur. This is the day on which no Jew sins. In fact, he adds that the gematria of the Satan (hasatan) is 364 (5+300+9+50), one less than the total amount of days in a solar year, indicating that the Evil Inclination has no hold on us for one days out of the year – Yom Kippur. Therefore, there were only six days for which the Jews needed to atone.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Sfas Emes views Megillas Esther as the beginning of the Oral Law. Mordechai was even a member of the Anshei Kenesset HaGedolah (Men of the Great Assembly) that began the establishment of Rabbinic law. The Oral Law is represented by the number six, as that is the total number of Orders in the Mishnah – Seeds, Festivals, Women, Damages, Holy Items, Purity. The Jews mourned in six different ways in to show their new-found reverence for the Oral Law.
  • Interestingly, according to the Vilna Gaon, there are not six actions here, but five. In his understanding, the great mourning is not a separate action, but is one general action described with the remaining five detailed descriptions. According to him, these five correspond to the five actions Jews are supposed to take (Mishnah, Taanis 1:3-7) when they are suffering agriculturally.

Esther 3:7, Question 3. Why does the verse provide a Hebrew translation for the word “pur?”

  • Megillas Sesarim writes that the word “pur,” coming from the foreign language of the Persian nation that had dominion over the Jews, has a negative connotation. Had the verse used the word “goral,” it would have had a positive connotation – especially with its allusions to the Yom Kippur service. Since the lot decided when the ideal time to massacre the Jews, the verse uses the Persian word.
  • On the other hand, since the lots also helped precipitate Haman’s downfall, the verse uses the Hebrew word, as well. In a deeper answer, the Pachad Yitzchak writes that the Jewish people always had two kinds of adversaries in their history – the four nations in which they were exiled, and the seven Canaanite nations they had to eject upon entry to the Holy Land. Therefore, he writes, “pur” is translated to emphasize the dual nature of Haman, in that he was both (as an Amalekite) from the seven nations in Israel and (as a Persian officer) from the four nations of exile.

Esther 3:5, Question 1. Why does Haman wait until he sees this to become angry?

ה וַיַּרְא הָמָן כִּיאֵין מָרְדֳּכַי כֹּרֵעַ וּמִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לוֹ וַיִּמָּלֵא הָמָן חֵמָה

5. And Haman saw that Mordechai was not kneeling and bowing to him, and Haman became filled with fury.

  • As human beings, things often do not register until we actually see them for ourselves. In Acharei, after the death of two of Aaron’s sons, H-Shem teaches the laws of the Yom Kippur service. Explaining the Torah’s reason for relating these two events in his commentary there (Vayikra 16:1), Rashi brings a parable from a Midrash (Toras Kohanim, Parshas 1:3-4) that has one doctor ordering a patient to keep a certain regimen. Then, a second doctor comes in to order that patient to keep the very same regimen, but with the precaution that he should do so in order not to die as did so-and-so. This second doctor is more convincing because his using the story of so-and-so as a cautionary tale made the reality of the threat to his life more concrete for the patient.
  • Malbim points out that Haman was observing Mordechai at this point. Apparently, hearing the words of these men caused Haman to pay attention to the behavior of the people around him. Perhaps we can say that he simply did not believe them. The Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) teaches a famous dictum: “kol haposel b’mumo posel” (“all who invalidate, in their own negative trait invalidate”). In other words, people judge others as reflections of their own characteristics. Being a dishonest, evil person himself, Haman thought everyone was dishonest, and simply would not accept the words of anybody.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:9) quotes Tehillim (69:24) “the eyes of the evil one are darkened.” What evil people see brings them to their ultimate destruction. The Midrash continues to bring numerous verses of evil people seeing something that causes their downfall. The opposite is true for the eyes of the righteous, because they raise them up. The Dubno Maggid asks why vision is the focus of this Midrash. That certainly cannot be the only difference between the good and the evil! He answers that we were all born spiritually equal, and evil people became such by looking at things in the wrong perspective, and thus making physical choices that negatively impacted their spirituality. In our verse, for example, Haman is upset that Mordechai is not bowing to him – whereas he would just as easily have focused on the positive fact that 99.99% of the population was bowing to him. Instead, he focused on the negative – that one person was not bowing to him. That negative focus is the trademark of the evil.

Esther 1:22, Question 4. How is this edict important for the Purim story?

Rabbi Raphy Hulkower points out that Achashverosh spent the entire first chapter of Megillas Esther thinking exclusively about himself. As we have seen, he took himself far too seriously. In celebrating Purim, with masks and drinking, we treat ourselves as “un-seriously” as possible. This behavior allows us to internalize the lesson of the king’s flaw. This helps explain the famously enigmatic statement of the Jewish mystics that Purim is equal (or perhaps even superior) to the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. They (Vilna Gaon, Ari’zal, etc.) learn this by way of allusion from the Biblical name of the Day of Redemption, Yom Kippurim, which can be translated “a day like Purim.” Internalizing the lesson of the king’s flaw will ultimately lead us to teshuva (repentance) and, like the Jews of Persia, will turn Purim into a platform for change and forgiveness on par with Yom Kippurim.