BS”D KNOW YOUR BIBLE: Esther 5-6
Study Notes by Avraham ben Yaakov
V 1: “And it was on the THIRD day…” – “Israel is not left in trouble for more than three days. Joseph put his brothers ‘into custody for THREE days’ (Genesis 42:17); Jonah was in the belly of the fish ‘THREE days and three nights’ (Jonah 2:1); and in time to come, ‘on the THIRD DAY He will raise us up and we shall live in His presence’ (Hosea 6:2)” (Midrash Esther Rabbah).
“…and Esther clothed herself in royalty” – “The verse should have said ‘she clothed herself in garments of royalty’. Rabbi Haninah said, ‘She clothed herself in holy spirit, as it says, “and the spirit CLOTHED Amassay” (1 Chronicles 12:19). From here we learn that Esther was a prophetess'” (Talmud, Megillah 14b).
“…and she stood in the inner court of the king’s house over against the king’s house…” In accordance with the principle that when the word MELECH appears in the Megillah without further qualification it alludes to God, this verse is interpreted to mean that Esther prayed before the Heavenly Temple, which is aligned directly with the earthly Temple in Jerusalem (cf. Targum Yonasan).
V 2: “And it was when the king saw Esther the queen standing in the courtyard…” – “When she reached the chamber of the idols, the Divine Presence left her. At that moment she said, ‘My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?’ (Psalm 22:2). Immediately, the king saw her and she found favor in his eyes” (Megillah 15b). It is customary to recite Psalm 22 on Purim at the end of the morning prayers. The “deer of the morning” alludes to the Shechinah.
V 3: “Then the king said to her, What is your wish… it shall be given to you even up to half the kingdom.” The simple meaning is that Ahashverosh said that even if she asked for half the kingdom he would give it to her, but Targum Yonasan renders: “Even if you ask for half my kingdom I will give it to you but not if you ask to build the Temple which stands on the boundary of half my kingdom: that I will not give you, because I have made an oath to Geshem the Arab and Sanvalat the Horonite and Tuviah the Ammonite slave (see Nehemiah 2:19) not to permit it to be built, because I am afraid of the Jews in case they will rebel against me, so I cannot grant this request but I will grant you anything else you ask.”
Vv 4-9: What was in Esther’s mind when she did not give the king an answer at the feast that same day but instead pushed him off to the next day? Some explain that despite the three day fast of the Jews, Esther as yet still saw no sign of redemption. It was only the next day, after Haman had already begun to fall when he had to dress Mordechai in finery, that Esther knew that God was smiling and that she could ask Ahashverosh for what she really needed with impunity.
V 9: “Then Haman went out that day joyful and with a glad heart…” Pride comes before a fall!
“But when Haman saw Mordechai in the king’s gate and that he did not stand or stir for him…” Not only would Mordechai not bow to the idolatrous figurine that Haman wore. When Haman passed by, Mordechai – who was sitting in his Sanhedrin, “the King’s gate” (Deut. 16:18) – merely stretched out his right leg and showed Haman the deed of purchase attesting to how he had once purchased him as his slave in exchange for bread (Targum Yonasan). This appears to allude to how Jacob holds Esau by the heel (Gen. 25:26).
V 10: Targum Yonasan includes the interesting information that Haman’s wife Zeresh was the daughter of Tathnay, governor of the Persian imperial provinces “over the river”, i.e. west of the Euphrates, including the Land of Israel. We have encountered Tathnay in Ezra 5:3ff as a key figure in the diplomatic efforts made by the adversaries of the Jewish returnees from Babylon to Jerusalem to impede the building of the Second Temple. It would make sense that as an Edomite-Amalekite, Haman’s origins lay in the desert regions south and east of the Dead Sea, which were part of the provinces “over the river” under the governorship of his father-in-law Tathnay.
V 14: In elaborating the counsel of Haman received from his wife and friends, Targum Yonasan explains that they detailed various failed plots to kill Tzaddikim: “If he is one of the Tzaddikim, then if we kill him by the sword, the sword will turn around and strike us. If we stone him, David already stoned Goliath. If we roast him in a copper pot, King Menasheh already escaped from such a pot (II Chronicles 33:11ff). If we throw him into the sea, the Israelites already split the sea and passed through on dry land. If we throw him into a fiery furnace, Hananiah, Mishael and Azara already escaped from such a furnace. If we throw him into the lion’s den, the lions left Daniel unharmed. If we throw him alive to the dogs, the mouths of the dogs were closed when Israel left Egypt. If we exile him to the wilderness, they were already fruitful and multiplied in the wilderness. If we throw him into prison, Joseph came out of prison to rule. If we stick a knife in his neck, the knife could not harm Isaac’s neck. If we gouge out his eyes he will kill us like Samson killed the Philistines. We don’t know what to do. The only solution is to set up a great TREE (ETZ) for a gallows at the gate of his house so that all the Jews and all his friends will see…” (Targum Yonasan on v 14).
“Where in the Torah is there an allusion to Haman? In God’s words to Adam after his sin: ‘Is it that you have eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from it?’ (Genesis 3:11; Talmud Hullin 139b). The Hebrew for “is it that… from” is HA-MIN (grammatically the HA is interrogative, while MIN means “from”). Since Hebrew is written without vowels, these letters could equally well be read as HA-MAN. Haman was the embodiment of the serpent that caused man to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Haman’s TREE was FIFTY cubits high, corresponding to the fifty gates of the unholy Binah (“Understanding”) whose power he wanted to use to destroy Mordechai, the Tzaddik of the Generation, who was teaching his people to reach God through the Fiftieth Gate – prayer. Thus the Midrash tells that when Haman passed Mordechai as he sat teaching his students, he asked him what he was teaching. Mordechai told him he was explaining the laws of the Omer offering, which would have been offered on the second day of the festival of Pesach had the Temple been standing. The Omer offering begins the 50 day count to the festival of Shavuos celebrating the Giving of the Torah, corresponding to the 50th Gate.
V 1: “On that night the sleep of the king was disturbed…” It is customary for the BAAL KOREI reading the Megillah in the synagogue to raise his voice while saying these words, because the king’s disturbed sleep was the root of the miracle (Shuchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 690:15, Mishneh Berurah #52).
“Why was his sleep disturbed? He was trying to understand why Esther had also invited Haman to the feast, and he began wondering if they might not be plotting to kill him. He thought to himself: ‘Is there nobody who loves me enough to warn me? Could it be that someone did me some favor and I never paid him back, and as a result people are holding back from revealing information to me?’ He immediately gave instructions to bring the book of records!” (Talmud, Megillah 15a).
V 2: “And it was found written…” If something written in the world below for the merit of the Jews was not erased, how much more can that which is written above [God’s promises in the Torah] never be erased” (Megillah 16a).
V 6: “And Haman came and the king said to him, What shall be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” If Ahashverosh had asked Haman directly what should be done to his arch-enemy Mordechai, he would surely have given a very negative reply. Ahashverosh thus phrased the question in such a way that Haman would not know whom he intended to honor – and of course the pompous Haman immediately assumed it was himself and answered in the grandest terms. A somewhat parallel method of ascertaining indirectly what a person really thinks was used by the prophet Nathan when he went to David to reprove him for having taken Bathsheva (II Samuel 12:1ff).
“And Haman said in his heart, To whom would the king delight to give honor more than to myself?” – “The wicked are in the power of their own heart, and thus, ‘and Esau said IN HIS HEART’ (Gen. 27:41), ‘and the wicked says IN HIS HEART’ (Psalms 14:1), ‘and Jeraboam said IN HIS HEART'(I Kings 12:26). But in the case of the Tzaddikim, their hearts are under their control, and thus ‘Hannah spoke TO HER HEART’ (I Sam. 1:13), ‘and Daniel put it UPON HIS HEART’ (Daniel 1:8) ‘and David spoke TO HIS HEART’ (I Sam. 27:1), and in this they are like their Creator, of Whom it is written, ‘And HaShem said TO HIS HEART’ (Gen. 8:21; Midrash Esther Rabbah).
V 12: “But Haman was pushed back to his house MOURNING and WITH HIS HEAD COVERED” – “Haman was going on his way through the streets leading Mordechai when they passed through the road where Haman’s house was situated. Haman’s daughter, who was standing on the roof, saw them and assumed that the person riding the horse was her father and the person walking in front of him was Mordechai. She took the toilet pan and threw it at the one walking in front, but when she looked and saw that it was her father she fell from the roof to the ground and was killed. This is why Haman was MOURNING, over his daughter, WITH HIS HEAD COVERED – because of what had happened (Megillah 16a).