BS”D KNOW YOUR BIBLE: Esther 3-4
Study Notes by Avraham ben Yaakov
ESTHER CHAPTER 3
V 1: “After these things Ahashverosh promoted Haman…” Ahashverosh’s feast had taken place in the third year of his fourteen-year reign (Esther 1:3), while Esther became queen four years later, in the seventh year of his reign (Esther 2:16). It was not until five years after that, in the twelfth year of Ahashverosh’s reign, that Haman laid his plot to exterminate the Jews (Esther 3:7). During all these years Haman kept himself busy. Targum Yonasan (on Esther 3:1) states that he traveled in person from Shushan to Jerusalem to prevent the building of the Temple [not unlike the foreign “activists” until today who travel to Israel to monitor and thwart every move Jews make to assert their sovereignty in their land]. Targum continues: “The attribute of Justice rose before the Master of the World to accuse Haman… but the Master of the World answered, ‘So far he is not well known in the world, leave Me until he becomes great and known to all the nations and then I will exact punishment from him for all the persecution perpetrated by him and his fathers against the House of Israel.'” God allows the wicked to rise to the very peak of their power and fame before casting them down, and His glory is thereby enhanced.
Vv 2-4: “And all the king’s servants bowed…” Haman hung an idolatrous figurine on his coat so that all who bowed to him to show their respect were also bowing to the idol (Targum Yonasan etc.). [Such personality cults should not surprise us since in our day entertainment and other celebrities are explicitly referred to as idols.] Targum states that Mordechai would not bow to Haman for two reasons. (1) Mordechai would never bow to an idol since this contravenes the Second Commandment. (2) In any case Haman was Mordechai’s slave ever since one time when Haman had nothing to eat and sold himself to Mordechai for bread – this Midrash echoes the fact that Esau had sold the birthright to Jacob for food and was thus subject to him (cf. Genesis 27:37; cf. also Rabbi Nachman’s story of “The Exchanged Children”, a major theme of which is the mystery of Jacob and Esau).
Vv 5-6: The thought of taking personal vengeance on Mordechai was not to appease Haman for the affront to his self-importance. Only the destruction of Mordechai’s entire people could assuage his wrath because the existence of even a single remaining adherent to the Sinaitic Covenant would always be a slap in the face to Haman’s worldview.
V 7: Like many prominent world leaders through history up until the present day, Haman used astrology and occult arts to accomplish his goals. The Second Targum on Esther, which is far more elaborate than Targum Yonasan, bringing a rich array of supplementary Midrashic lore, tells how Haman rejected month after month as being unsuitable for scheduling his planned extermination of the Jews because each month had some Jewish festival in whose merit they would be protected. The reason why Haman chose the twelfth month – Adar – was because it was on the 7th of Adar that Moses had left the world, and the loss of their leader left Israel completely vulnerable.
V 8: Haman’s artful speech to Ahashverosh is one of the outstanding all-time masterpieces of anti-Semitic insinuation and slander.
Vv 9-11: Haman offered to pay ten thousand talents of his own silver to Ahashverosh in order to “buy” the Jews from him so that he could then do to them as he pleased. (The reason for the sum of 10,000 talents of silver that Haman offered was that this was equivalent to paying one zuz for each of the 600,000 Israelites who went out of Egypt.) Yet we see from verse 11 that Ahashverosh did not even take the money, telling Haman he could keep it as a gift: “The money is given to you and the people to do with them as is good in your eyes”. This shows that Ahashverosh was quite as happy as Haman at the thought of getting rid of the Jews, who were an affront to his own world-view as well. Rather than taking anything from Haman, Ahashverosh GAVE HIM his own ring: i.e. he gave Haman authority to do whatever he wanted. “Rabbi Abba bar Kahaneh said: “The removal of Ahashverosh’s ring accomplished more than forty-eight prophets and seven prophetesses who prophesied to Israel. None of them succeeded in persuading Israel to repent, but the removal of the ring [and the dire threat of extermination to which this led] caused them to repent!” (Megillah 14a).
Vv 12-15: Haman now set in motion the enormous governmental apparatus across the entire vast, sprawling Persian empire in order to execute his dastardly Jihadist plot of staging a global one-day massacre of all the Jewish men, women and children everywhere and anywhere on 13th Adar.
V 16: “…and the city of Shushan was in consternation” – because the exultation of all the Jews’ enemies was mixed with the sound of Jewish wailing (Targum Yonasan).
Verses 1-3: “And Mordechai knew…” – “The master of the dream told him that the Heavenly Court had agreed to the decree because they had bowed to the idol in the time of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel ch 3) and enjoyed themselves at Ahashverosh’s banquet” (Rashi). Mordechai now showed his mettle as Tzaddik of the Generation, single-handedly going out to arouse the people and induce them to repent. With the dire decree staring them in the face, the people finally began to do so.
Vv 5ff: “Then Esther called for Hathach…” According to rabbinic tradition, the go-between who went back and forth from Esther to Mordechai was none other than Daniel, who had been the leading advisor of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius the Mede. He was called HATHACH because “all the matters of the kingdom were determined (mithHATH’CHim) in accordance with the words of his mouth” (Targum Yonasan). Our text tells us that Hathach went from Esther to Mordechai and back again. However, while in verses 10-12 we see that Esther gave Hathach instructions for the second mission to Mordechai, Hathach’s name is not mentioned again thereafter, while in verse 12 it is written that “THEY told Mordechai the words of Esther”. Targum Yonasan on verse 12 tells that Haman (who was obviously a control-freak) saw that Hathach-Daniel kept on coming and going to Esther and promptly killed him. Indeed a tomb said to be that of Daniel exists in Shushan. Targum on v 12 tells us who THEY were.
V 11: “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that every man and woman who comes to the inner courtyard of the king without being called is to be put to death…” Targum states that Esther told Mordechai that Haman had instituted that nobody could go into the king without his permission, which again testifies to his having been a paranoid control freak.
V 12: “And they told Mordechai the words of Esther…” Since Hathach-Daniel had been killed, it was the angels Michael and Gabriel who now relayed Esther’s message to Mordechai, who sent them back to her with his reply (Targum Yonasan).
Vv 13-14: Mordechai’s reply to Esther shows his complete faith that even if she did not go to the king to try to intercede for the Jews, relief and deliverance would definitely come to them from elsewhere: no one individual is indispensable because God has many messengers!
V 15-16: Esther stood to lose everything if her mission was unsuccessful. The rabbis taught that Mordechai had taken Esther as his wife (darshening the word BAS, “daughter”, in Esther 2:7 as BAYIS, “house”=wife). Having originally been taken to Ahashverosh B’O-NESS, “under duress”, she was still halachically permitted to go back to her husband Mordechai since only a priest is forbidden to take back his wife if she is raped, but not an Israelite. However, the moment Esther went into Ahashverosh OF HER OWN FREE WILL, her adultery was intentional and she would subsequently be forbidden to Mordechai in any event — even if failed in her mission. Despite the fact that the erratic and unpredictable Ahashverosh was quite likely to kill Esther for coming to him of her own volition (just as he had killed Vashti for showing that she had a mind of her own), Esther was willing to sacrifice her entire life and future in order to save her people. “Go gather together all the Jews who are present in Shushan and fast for me…” Esther knew that her only chance of success was if all the Jews repented.
V 17: “So Mordechai went his way (VA-YA-AVOR)…” The root of VA-YA-AVOR is AVAR, which has the connotation of transgression. The rabbis stated that Mordechai “transgressed” because he agreed to the public fast despite the fact that it took place during the festival of Pesach when fasting is normally forbidden (Rashi on Esther 4:17).
It must be understood that while the events described in Esther 1:1-3:6 were spread out over NINE YEARS, the events described from 3:7 until 8:2 were concentrated in the space of FIVE DAYS. Haman cast lots at the beginning of the month of Nissan, and the decree became public knowledge on the 13th of Nissan (Esther 3:12). Mordechai went into action immediately, and his exchanges with Esther took place on the very same day. The three day fast called by Mordechai started on 14th of Nissan and continued on the 15th and 16th (both of which were Yom Tov in Shushan since it was in the Diaspora). It was on the 16th of Nissan – the third day of the fast — that Esther invited Ahashverosh and Haman to the first banquet (Esther 5:4) and it was held on the same day. Ahashverosh’s sleep was disturbed that night (eve of the 17th Nissan, Esther 6:1) and the second banquet, Haman’s downfall and hanging took place the next morning – the third day of Pesach. Despite the fact that we today celebrate Purim in Adar, which is when the decree of extermination was intended to be fulfilled, the actual miracle took place during Pesach, the festival of redemption.