Esther 4:16, Question 5. Why does Esther require three days of fasting?

  • R’ Avigdor Miller points out that fasting for three days is difficult, and accomplished an unprecedented amount of teshuva.
  • The Talmud (Yevamos 121b) uses this verse to inform us that it is difficult, although not miraculous to be without food for that long.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 8:7) writes that these three days corresponded with the 13th, 14th, and 15th of Nisan, which included the first day of Pesach. When questioned regarding why Pesach should be foregone, Esther pointed out that there would be no Pesach if the Jews were wiped out.
  • The M’nos HaLevi quotes from the Yalkut Shimoni that these three days were the 14th, 15th, and 16th of Nisan. The Ohel Moshe points out that the main difference is whether or not the Jews of Persia had the second Seder.
  • The Maylitz Yosher writes that the Jews were expected to fast on Pesach in order to shock them into realizing the seriousness of their predicament.
  • The M’nos HaLevi writes that the three days correspond to three sins regarding which Esther expects to be guilty: eat non-kosher food, submit herself to Achashverosh, and partial complicity in the death of Hasach.
  • Rabbeinu Bachya writes that H-Shem only challenges tzaddikim for three days. For example, when Avraham went to potentially sacrifice his son, he found Mount Moriah in three days (Bireishis 22:4). Also, when the brothers were taken by Yosef, they were imprisoned for three days (Ibid. 42:18). Furthermore, Yonah remained inside the big fish that swallowed him for three days (Yonah 2:1). R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the three sections of the Written Law (Torah, Nevi’im, and Kesuvim) were given to three groups of Jews (Kohanim, Levi’im, and Yisroelim) for which they needed to prepare for three days (Shemos 19:11).
  • The Ben Ish Chai writes that the Torah affects us on three different levels: thought, speech, and action. Therefore, Esther was telling Mordechai that the Jews need to prepare these three days to perform honest repentance through thought, speech, and action.
  • The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Vilna Gaon (on Bireishis 27:13) that when Rivka told the nervous Yaakov to place the blame of his upcoming deception “eilai” (“on me”), this word can be an acronym for Eisav, Lavan, and Yosef. Those may be the greatest of Yaakov’s tests in life, that came along with the blessing he gets from his father.
  • Also, the Ginzei HaMelech points out that these are three different types of people: Eisav represents a glutton; Lavan represents idolatry, and Yosef represents the challenge of intermarriage. These same three issues are the ones for which Jewish existence was threatened in the Purim story. Pri Tzedek quotes from the Zohar on Chukas that the three patriarchs, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, represent three characteristics: kindness, awe, and truth. These are the polar opposites of the three characteristics which, according to the Mishnah (Avos 4:21), destroy one’s life: jealousy, lust, and honor. During these three days, then, Esther wanted the Jews to perfect themselves in these three areas.
  • The Ben Ish Chai points out that three days is 72 hours, and this is the gematria of chesed, (“kindness”) (8+60+4=72). Therefore, the Jews were supposed to spend these days evoking H-Shem’s Kindness.
  • R’ Avraham Sutton points out that 72 is also the gematria of H-Shem’s four-letter Name when each letter is spelled out with all the yuds included ([10+6+4]+[5+10]+[6+10+6]+[5+10]=72).

Esther 4:16, Question 1. Why does Esther ask Mordechai to gather the Jews?

טז לֵךְ כְּנוֹס אֶתכָּלהַיְּהוּדִים הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשָׁן וְצוּמוּ עׇלַי וְאַלתֹּאכְלוּ וְאַלתִּשְׁתּוּ שְׁלשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם גַּםאֲנִי וְנַֽעֲרֹתַי אָצוּם כֵּן וּבְכֵן אָבוֹא אֶלהַמֶּלֶךְ אֲשֶׁר לֹאכַדָּת וְכַאֲשֶׁר אָבַדְתִּי אָבָדְתִּי

16. “Go gather all of the Yehudim found in Shushan and have them fast for me, and not eat, and not drink three days, night and day. Also I and my maidens will fast so. And so I will go to the king, which is not like the law. And as I will be destroyed, I will be destroyed.”

  • According to Me’am Loez, Esther wanted to bring the Jews together in order to contradict Haman’s slander in Esther 3:5 that the Jews were not unified.
  • According to Vidibarta Bam, the sale of Yosef is one opinion in the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:25) for the Jews’ existence to be threatened. Unity for that prayer would be the correction of this sale.
  • According to Nachal Eshkol, the gematria of kinos (“gather”) (20+50+6+60= 136) is the same as kol, (“voice”) (100+6+30= 136). The voice is usually symbolic throughout Torah literature of prayer, and thus indicates that Esther also requested that the Jews pray for her, as is indicated in the fact that they did so in Esther 9:31.
  • Why, in fact, did the verse then not say explicitly that the Jews prayed? As Rav Avigdor Miller points out in Torah Nation, if the authors of Megillas Esther would write that the Jews prayed, they would also have to write to Whom they prayed. However, since Megillas Esther regularly performs mental acrobatics to avoid using H-Shem’s Name, it did not mention the Jews’ praying.
  • R’ Yechezkiel Levenstein quotes the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:19), which writes that after the decree against the Jews, the Torah dressed in widow’s garb, the angels cried, the sun and the moon dimmed, etc. Only the prayer of Mordechai, one man, could overturn the decree. Of course, prayer is powerful, but as the Maharal points out from the Talmud (Brachos 8a), prayer together in a gathering (at least a minyan) is amplified.

Esther 3:15, Question 2. Why do Haman and Achashverosh drink together at this point?

  • Dena Pishra writes that Achashverosh and Haman sat down to drink to finalize their deal.
  • Eyney Ha’Eyda, on the other hand, writes that Haman here attempted to get Achashverosh drunk to keep him from changing his mind, as he is liable to do. Perhaps this is one of the reasons we drink on Purim.
  • The fact that Achashverosh is drinking at this point is one of Malbim’s strongest proof that he did not know what was going on. Otherwise, he should worry at least, but certainly not have a drink!
  • R’ Moshe Dovid Valle brings a proof against the idea that Achashverosh was blissfully ignorant of Haman’s plans. He notes that the gematria of Haman (5+40+50=95) is equal to “hamelech” (“the king”) (5+40+20+30=95). Therefore, he writes, they were equal in their evil and equal in their joy.
  • R’ Dovid Feinstein quotes the Talmud (Sanhedrin 63a) that the Jewish court is not allowed to eat on a day it passes the death sentence on someone. The reason for this is that the court should not celebrate the taking of a human life. The fact that Haman and Achashverosh are drinking at this point is evidence that they are cheerful, thinking that they are doing the world a favor. Like many evil people in history, they allowed their good intentions to perform the worst of actions in the Machiavellian delusion that the ends justify the means.
  • The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:21) writes that this drink-fest is a consequence of Yosef’s brothers sitting down to eat after throwing him into the potentially deadly pit (Bereishis 37:25). In one view, the entire Purim story is a tikkun for the sale of Yosef. The only reason we could be punished for the sins of our ancestors is if we continue to repeat the same mistakes (Rashi to Shemos 20:5). The main sin of the brothers was that they lacked love for their brother. Again, this is why unity is one of the themes of Megillas Esther.

Esther 3:11, Question 2. Why does Achashverosh give silver rather than return it?

  • The Malbim writes that Achashverosh gave silver rather than returning it to show his humility – that he did everything selflessly for the kingdom.
  • The Sha’aris Yosef writes that Achashverosh refused money, as opposed to Yosef’s brothers before him (Bereishis 37:28), in an attempt to deflect responsibility.
  • Class Participant CRL points out that the mispar katan of “nasun” (“given”) (50+500+6+50=506, so 5+0+6=11) is eleven, the number of people (Haman and his ten sons) who are eventually hanged on the gallows.

Esther 3:1, Question 3. Why does the verse mention three things Achashverosh performed for Haman?

  • The Vilna Gaon explains that there were three things Achashverosh performed for Haman; he made him great by making him financially wealthy, he elevated his by giving him more authority, and he gave his a higher seat in that his advice had superiority over that of Achashverosh’s other advisers.
  • The Yalkut Shimoni (1053) and M’nos HaLevi say that these three actions indicate that Achashverosh gradually gave Haman new powers every day. The Yalkut Shimoni actually goes on to say that Haman eventually had even more power than the king, Achashverosh building for him a throne even higher than his own. Rav Avie Gold points out that the gematria of Haman (5+40+50=95) is equal to that of “hamelech,” (“the king”) (5+40+30+20=95), implying that they became equal to each other. Furthermore, the gematria of Haman’s entire given name here, Haman son of Hemdasa the Aggagite, (5+40+50+2+50+5+40+ 4+400+1+5+1+3+3+10=619) is one less than “kesser,” (“crown”) (20+400+200), implying that he was just within reach of the royalty he desired.
  • The Malbim points out that Haman’s gradual ascent to power is similar to what Yosef tells his brothers (Bereishis 45:8) regarding the three steps of his promotion. The Alshich explains the reason for this (in both cases, perhaps) is that king did not want his others advisers to harbor jealousy toward the new “upstart.”
  • Perhaps another reason for this gradual elevation is that Achashverosh, himself, was not a product of royalty, but was a self-made man, and felt that this was the proper way for somebody to advance.
  • The Vilna Gaon points out that this reference to the “king,” is, again, H-Shem. In His Wisdom, H-Shem elevated this wicked man in order to provide the platform for the Purim miracle.

Esther 2:20, Question 1. Why does the verse repeat “lineage and nation” as in 2:10?

כ אֵין אֶסְתֵּר מַגֶּדֶת מוֹלַדְתָּהּ וְאֶתעַמָּהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה עָלֶיהָ מָרְדֳּכָי וְאֶתמַאֲמַר מָרְדֳּכַי אֶסְתֵּר עֹשָׂה כַּֽאֲשֶׁר הָיְתָה בְאָמְנָה אִתּוֹ

20. And Esther did not reveal her lineage and her nation as Mordechai commanded her, and the instruction of Mordechai Esther did just as she did in being raised by him.

  • Eitz Yosef writes that, earlier (2:10), before Esther was introduced to Achashverosh, Mordechai did not want the knowledge of Esther’s royal lineage to encourage the king to choose her (as we’ve said before). Now that she was already chosen, she no longer had this reason, and she refused to identify her royal stock out of modest humility.
  • The Malbim writes that, despite the fact that she was no longer under Mordechai’s direct influence, and despite the many tactics of the king, she still refused to identify her people. The Midrash (Esther Rabbah 6:12) comments that Esther’s silence was an innate, genetic family trait learned from Rachel, her ancestor. Rachel famously stayed silent in the face of her sister marrying her beloved Yaakov (see Bireishis 29:25 and Rashi there). Decades later, Rachel’s son, Benyamin, stayed silent about the sale of Yosef, despite mourning for his brother to the point of naming all of his ten sons after him (see Bireishis 46:21 and Rashi there). King Shaul, Rachel’s descendant, too, was silent (Shmuel 1 10:16) about being made king by the prophet Shmuel. The Midrash is teaching, therefore, that it was due to Esther’s lineage – her ancestral ability to stay silent in the face of adversity – that allowed her to stay silent now.
  • The Ohel Moshe points out that silence is not always good. Although the Mishnah praises silence (Avos 1:17) as the best thing “for a body,” this seems to contradict the verse in Koheles (3:7) which states that “there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak.” The Alshich and Maharal both point out that the Mishnah specifically says silence is good for the body, meaning that silence is always good for the physical body, but silence is not always ideal for the soul. The Ohel Moshe concludes from this that all of Esther’s relatives praised in the Midrash for being silent were pure enough to know when to speak, and when to be silent.

Esther 2:3, Question 1. Why does the verse contain the unusual phrase “appoint appointed ones?”

ג וְיַפְקֵד הַמֶּלֶךְ פְּקִידִים בְּכָלמְדִינוֹת מַלְכוּתוֹ וְיִקְבְּצוּ אֶתכָּלנַעֲרָהבְתוּלָה טוֹבַת מַרְאֶה אֶלשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה אֶלבֵּית הַנָּשִׁים אֶליַד הֵגֶא סְרִיס הַמֶּלֶךְ שֹׁמֵר הַנָּשִׁים וְנָתוֹן תַּמְרוּקֵיהֶן

3. “And the king should appoint appointed ones in all the states of his kingdom and they should gather all of the young virgins who look good to Shushan the capital to the house of women, through Heigeh, eunuch of the king who guards the women and gives them their ointments.

  • This beauty contest extended over a large area. The final verses in Iyov (42:15) attest to the fact that “nowhere could more beautiful daughters [than Iyov’s daughters] be found.” The Talmud (Baba Basra 15b) notes that Iyov must have been a contemporary of Achashverosh’s, or else how could one know that there was nobody more beautiful? There must have been a beauty contest in which they were involved, and Achashverosh’s was the only one recorded. Since it would seem impossible to transport (and fit into the king’s harem) all of the beautiful women from the 127 states, the advisers told Achashverosh to appoint administrators in each state to choose the best to then send to the central competition in Shushan. This is much like beauty pageants and sports competitions in America today. They first choose the “best” of each state, and only then have them compete for the top prize in the nation. In Achashverosh’s individual states, administrators were appointed whose thorough knowledge of the local populace would seemingly better equip them to judge the qualities of the local contestants.
  • The Baal HaTurim writes in his commentary on Mikeitz (Bireishis 41:34) that the phrase, “appoint appointed ones,” is used only twice in TaNaCh. There, Pharaoh has Yosef collect grain, and his prudent behavior leads to his wealth and power. Here, Achashverosh collects women as trophies for his harem, and his over-indulgence and dehumanizing disrespect precipitates his eventual ruin.1 There is a fascinating book entitled Tzafnas Mordechai (and published as Links Beyond Time in English) that discusses numerous similar parallels between this story and that of Yosef.

1See 10:1 below and Talmud (Megillah 11a) which describes Achashverosh’s levying enormous taxes on his people, an act otherwise unnecessary unless his own wealth needed replenishing.