Why does the gemora explain the phrase "what she had done" as referring to what Vashti had done to the daughters of Yisrael?
(2,1) “After these things, when the anger of the king had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done, and what had been decreed against her.”
The gemora in Megillah 12b teaches that Achashverosh’s guests demanded that Vashti be brought before them naked, and this was a measure-for-measure punishment because Vashti used to bring the daughters of Yisrael and strip them naked and make them work on Shabbos. This is what it says: “After these things, when the anger of the king had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed upon her” - as she had done, so it had been decreed upon her.
Why did the gemora find it difficult to explain the phrase "what she had done" as simply referring to her refusal to come at the command of the king, and therefore it explained instead that it referred to what she had done to the daughters of Yisrael?
The answer is that earlier it says that the king asked his wise men “What shall be done to the queen Vashti for 'not doing' the command of the King Achashverosh?”. That is, Vashti’s refusal was a passive act of not doing, of not coming at the command of the king. And afterwards it says “For the word of the queen will spread to all the women”, and again, “the princesses of Persia and Media who have heard the word of the queen”. Her refusal was in speech and not in deed. Therefore, how could it say in our posuk "what she had done", which implies an action? Therefore, the gemora explains that this phrase refers to the action that she had done in bringing the daughters of Yisrael and stripping them naked. So it seems to me.
Why does the Megillah write that Mordechai was descended both from the tribe of Yehudah and from the tribe of Binyamin?
(2,5) “There was a Judean man in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordechai, the son of Ya’ir, the son of Shim’i, the son of Kish, a Benjamite.”
The posuk says that Mordechai was descended both from the tribe of Yehudah and from the tribe of Binyamin. Chazal explain that this is because Mordechai’s father was from the tribe of Yehudah and his mother was from the tribe of Binyamin. But why was this fact mentioned in the Megillah?
Chazal teach that Yisrael were liable to be exterminated in the days of Purim because they had bowed down to the idol of Nechubadnetzar. And even though they had been coerced, nevertheless, the law by idol worship is that one should give up one’s life rather than transgress. However, it was possible for them to remove this liability, because it is well known that when Hashem gave the Torah to Yisrael at Mount Sinai, He held the mountain over them and forced them to accept it. This gave Yisrael the option of claiming at a later date that since they had accepted the Torah only due to coercion, they now wished to rescind their acceptance of the Torah. Thus, they would no longer be bound by its precepts, and would now be like non-Jews. And even though non-Jews are also forbidden to serve idols, since they had been forced and non-Jews are not commanded to give up their lives and sanctify Hashem’s name rather than commit a major transgression, they would not be liable for this idol worship.
But Mordechai, who on his mother’s side was from the tribe of Binyamin, also had in his family the sin of Shaul, who left Agag the Amalekite alive in the war with Amalek. (This is also true of Esther who was also descended from Binyamin). And for this it would not help to rescind the acceptance of the Torah, because of the rule Dina D’Malchusa Dina - the law of the king is law. The explanation of this law is, in the words of the Rambam, because the inhabitants of the land have accepted the king and take it as a given that he is their master and they are his servants. If this is true for a king of flesh and blood, all the more so is it true with regard to Hashem, King of the World.
Now, the rule that the law of the king is law is only valid if the law is applied equally to all its citizens. Therefore, since the Torah was not decreed upon all the citizens of the world, the rule is not applicable. But this is true only in those mitzvos which are relevant to the whole world. However, that which is relevant only to Yisrael, for example the war with Amalek which is a result of what they had done specifically to Yisrael, here the rule that the law of the kingdom is law does apply. Thus, Hashem’s command to wipe out Amalek had to be obeyed regardless of whether they accepted the Torah or not, and so Mordechai had the sin of Shaul in his account.
Now, it is true that the posuk says that “He visits the sin of the fathers on the children”, but not the sin of the mothers, and so the sin of Shaul should not apply to Mordechai and Esther. But this is true only by Yisrael, because their lineage in this matter follows the line of the father and not the mother. But by non-Jews the opposite is true, and they follow the line of the mother. Therefore, with them Hashem visits the sins of mother upon the children.
Now we can understand why the Megillah mentions Mordechai’s lineage both on the side of his father and on the side of his mother. Because although Yisrael certainly had other sins on their account during their exile, Chazal taught in the gemora Ta’anis 24a on the posuk in Bamidbar (15,24) “and it will be, if from the eyes of the congregation it was committed unintentionally” - as long as a woman’s eyes are beautiful, her body does not need examination. But if her eyes are not beautiful, then her body needs examination. This means that if the head of the generation has no sin then the generation is not examined for their sins. But if the head of the generation is not free from sin, then all of that generation needs to be examined.
Here too, says the writer of the Megillah, Mordechai and Esther had a sin either way. Because if there was no rescinding of the acceptance of the Torah, then they would be judged as Jews and they bowed down to the idol. And if they rescinded the acceptance of the Torah and were judged as non-Jews, then they still had the sin of Shaul who kept Agag alive. Therefore Mordechai is called both a Judean and also a Benjamite.
And this is what Mordechai said afterwards to Esther, “if you keep quiet now, salvation will come to the Jews from another place”. The phrase "from another place" means that there another leader will be made and they will no longer require examination, “and you and your father's house will perish”, because we have a sin either way.
Why does the gemora say that Esther’s father died immediately after her mother conceived?
(2,7) “And he brought up Hadassah, that is Esther, his uncle’s daughter, for she had neither father nor mother. And the maiden was of comely form and comely appearance, and on the death of her father and her mother Mordechai took her to himself for a daughter.”
Chazal asked in the gemora Megillah 13a, that since the posuk wrote in the beginning that “she had neither father nor mother”, why does it need to state further “and on the death of her father and her mother”? Said R. Acha: When her mother conceived, her father died. And when she was born, her mother died. Rashi explained that since her father died as soon as her mother conceived she did not have a father, since he did not live long enough to be called a father. And since her mother had died at childbirth, she had not lived long enough to be called a mother. (Click here for an interesting halachic discussion based on this gemora).
But what forced Chazal to explain that her father and mother died at different times, instead of explaining that they both died when she was born? And since Rashi explained that her mother was not fitting to be called mother until she was born, why is the same not true of the father? And what forced him to say that he died immediately after the mother became pregnant?
It seems that from this gemora the Rambam took his law which is brought in the Shulchan Aruch in the Halachos of Kiddushin Siman 40, that if a person makes a contract of kiddushin with his friend's unborn but possibly female baby, if the wife is recognisably pregnant (from the end of the first trimester) then the kiddushin is effective. This is based upon the logic that if a person has the power to do something - in this case the father’s right to marry off his daughter, then the lack of an action - in this case the birth of the baby - is not seen to be lacking, and it is considered as if the baby has already been born.
Therefore, the father even before the birth but after the first trimester is called a father, because of his ability to marry off his daughter, and therefore the gemora in Megillah said that Esther’s father died immediately after her mother became pregnant before the pregnancy was recognisable, and so he did not live long enough to be called the father. But since the mother does not have the power to marry off her daughter, and therefore there is no possibilty of applying the same logic as was applied to the father, she is not fitting to be called mother until she gives birth. Thus it is clear that the Rambam is correct. Consider this well.
Why was Esther permitted to return to Mordechai even though she had been living with the king?
(2,8) “And it was, when the word of the king and his decree were heard, and when many maidens were gathered to Shushan the capital, to the custody of Heigai, that Esther was taken to the king's house, to the custody of Heigai, keeper of the women.”
Behold, in posuk 20 it says “as she was when she was raised with him”, and Chazal learn from here that Esther rose from the embrace of Achashverosh, bathed, and went to the embrace of Mordechai. The reason why she was permitted to return to Mordechai was because she had been forced to be with the king, and had not done so willingly. But Chzazal teach in the gemora in Kesubos that a woman who is captured by a king is not like one who is captured by robbers, and there is a concern that she committed immoral acts willingly. If so, Esther should have been forbidden, since we are concerned that she was with Achashverosh willingly.
But this is not so. Because granted if Achashverosh had not done what he did to Vashti, then indeed there would have been this concern. But Esther had seen what had been done to Vashti and so she knew that he was an unpredictable fool and that her life therefore constantly hung by a thread, and so she would not have been with him willingly. And granted that Chazal said in the gemora in Berachos 28a, "Let a person use an expensive cup for one day, even if it will be broken the next", which if applied here would mean that it was worthwhile for Esther to be queen even for one day, that rule only applies when there is no concern for a person’s life, like the gemora there, where the only concern was perhaps they would remove R. Elazar ben Azariah from being the Nasi. But when there is a concern of death it is certainly better to be a live dog than a dead lion, and thus being the queen was not good for her. Hence, there was no concern that she sinned willingly, and thus she was permitted to Mordechai.
With this we can understand why Mordechai’s merit had not protected him from having his wife taken from him to the house of the king. Because had she been forbidden to him then his merit would have protected him. But since what the king had done to Vashti had already been publicised, it was known that even if Esther was taken she would be permitted to Mordechai. Therefore, since the matter did not affect Mordechai, there was no need for his merit to protect him from this.
And with this we can understand what is written afterwards (4,16) “and if I am lost, I am lost”, and Chazal taught that this means that until now it had been through coercion, but now she went willingly. But what willingness was there? Behold, we know that she went in order to save all of Klal Yisrael, and there is no greater coercion than this! So how could this be called willingly?
But according to what I have written it is good, because since she said that everyone knows “that any man or woman who shall come to the king to the inner courtyard without being called, there is but one law - he will be put to death”, if she goes and he does not kill her but instead extends to her the golden sceptre, she no longer has to worry that he will kill her. Because if in that which she is liable to be put to death by law he forgave her and she found favor in his eyes, all the more so will he not be particular with her in that which is not according to the law.
Therefore, the rule that a woman captured by a king is not like one who is captured by a robber now returns, and so even though she went because of coercion, we would be concerned that she was with the king willingly and thus be forbidden to Mordechai. Because of this she said to Mordechai that if she goes to the king not according to the law, then she would be subsequently forbidden to Mordechai because of this concern that she was a willing participant.
How did Chazal know that Esther was supplied with pigmeat in the house of the women?
(2,9) “And the maiden pleased him, and she won his favor, and he hastened her ointments and her potions to give them to her, and the seven maidens fiiting to give her from the king’s house, and he changed her and her maidens to the good of the house of the women.”
Behold, Chazal taught that Heigai, the keeper of the house of women, supplied her with choice pieces of pork, and Tosafos commented that she did not eat them, G-d forbid. Although it might have been possible to explain that she did in fact eat them, but that she ate less than the size of an olive, since we wish here to explain how Chazal knew that she was supplied with pigmeat, it is better to say like Tosafos that she did not eat it at all, and with this we will understand the matter correctly.
Behold, the posuk says that “he changed her and her maidens to the good of the house of the women”, which implies that it was good for the house of the women, but not for the house of the men. What was the characteristic of this thing that made it good for the women and not for the men?
The matter can be explained according to Chazal’s teaching that a person should not say that he does not want to eat pigmeat, but rather he should say that he wants it but Hashem decreed against it. The Rambam in his "Eight Chapters" explained that this teaching refers specifically to pigmeat and similar things. Because with regard to those things which the intellect obligates that it should be forbidden the opposite is true, that G-d forbid that he should desire it at all, because “the soul of an evil person desires evil” (Mishlei 21,10). Only with pigmeat which is a statute and which not be forbidden for any intellectual reason should one say that he wants it but Hashem forbids it.
Now, when he gave Esther pigmeat and she did not want to eat it, she certainly did not say that she wants it but she is not permitted, because if so it would become known that she is a Jewess. Therefore she had no choice but to say that she did not want the pigmeat because she loathes it. Thus, she was accustomed to say that she does not want pigmeat.
Now, with men it is a bad thing for them to say that they do not want pigmeat as we explained, but for women it is good. Because, as the sefer Akeidas Yitzchok explains on the posuk in Koheles (7,3) “anger is better than laughter, for with a stern countenance the heart will rejoice”, everything has to be done in the middle path. Therefore, something which a person naturally desires, for example to laugh or not to give charity, a person has to incline himself to the other side, in order that his nature will draw him this way and habit will draw him the other way, and thus he will end up in the middle.
However, it is well known that women’s minds are easily
Now it is clear how Chazal knew that Esther was supplied with pig meat, but that she did not eat it because she claimed that she loathed it. Because the posuk says that “he changed her and her maidens to the good of the house of the women”, and for the women it was good that they were accustomed to say that they do not want pigmeat. And this is the thing that would not be good for the house of men.
Did Mordechai command Esther not to reveal her lineage?
(2,10) “Esther did not reveal her nationality or her lineage, because Mordechai had commanded her not to tell (כי מרדכי צוה עליה אשר לא תגיד).”
Behold, not only is the word אשר clearly superfluous, because it should have been sufficient to write כי מרדכי צוה עליה שלא תגיד, but the whole phrase אשר לא תגיד is superfluous, because it should have been sufficient just to write כאשר צוה עליה מרדכי (as Mordechai had commanded her). In fact, later on in posuk 20 this is exactly what it writes: “Esther did not reveal her lineage or her nationality כאשר צוה עליה מרדכי”. So why in this earlier posuk did it not write more briefly?
It seems therefore that in the beginning Mordechai did not command her explicitly not to tell about her family, but he did command her not be with the king willingly. From this he was sure that she would automatically understand not to reveal her lineage because then the king would certainly send her away, whereas if she revealed that she was from the offspring of Shaul HaMelech he might not send her away and thus it would seem as if she wanted to be with the king willingly.
This is what our posuk is saying: “Esther did not reveal her nationality or lineage, because Mordechai had commanded her” not to be with the king willingly, and from this command she understood “that she should not tell”. But this was in the beginning when logic dictated that if she did not tell he would send her away, and so telling would make her a willing participant. Thus she understood implicitly that she should not tell.
But later on when she saw that the king was not sending her away even though she had not told him who she was, if she told him now about her family it would not make her a willing participant. Therefore, Mordechai was now concerned that she might tell the king who her family was and so he needed to command her explicitly not to tell. Therefore it says later that “Esther did not reveal her lineage as Mordechai had commanded her”, because then he commanded her explicitly that she should not tell.
What two things did Mordechai wish to know about what was happening with Esther?
(2,11) “And every day Mordechai would walk in front of the courtyard of the house of women, to learn about Esther’s welfare ומה יעשה בה.”
The last phrase of this posuk would seem to mean “and what is being done to her”. But if so the posuk is unnecessarily lengthy, because it should have been sufficient just to write “to learn about Esther’s welfare” since this would include knowledge of what is being done to her. Also, it should have written מה נעשה - "what is being done", using the present tense, instead of the future tense "what will be done". And it should have written לה - "done to her", instead of בה - "done with her".
Therefore it seems the meaning of the posuk is that Mordechai knew that Esther had not been taken there for nothing, and so he was certain that a miracle was to occur through her. Therefore, Mordechai went there to learn about two things: One was Esther’s welfare, what was being done to her herself. The other was to learn what was to be done in the future with her, to gain knowledge of the miracle that was certain to occur through her.
How many months were each maiden givem to prepare themselves for the king?
(2,12) “And when each maiden’s turn arrived to come to the King Achashverosh after there was to her (מקץ היות לה - literally "at the end that there was to her") according to the law of the women - twelve months, for so were the days of their anointing completed - six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and with ointments of the women.”
Behold, the posuk writes מקץ - from the end, instead of בקץ - at the end.
But in parshas Mikeitz there is a Midrash which comments on the posuk in Mishlei (14,23) “In every travail there will be gain, but a word of the lips is only for loss” - because Yoseph said to the cupbearer “remember me, and mention me to Pharaoh”, two more years were added to his stay in prison. The Midrash learned this from the first posuk of the parsha which says “And it was at the end of two years that Pharaoh was dreaming”. Here too it says מקץ - from the end, instead of בקץ - at the end. From this the Midrash learned that the posuk is to be understood that “from the end” - when his original sentence was finished, there were “two years” more added to his sentence.
And this is also the meaning of our posuk, because Chazal taught that every virgin is given twelve months in order to prepare herself for the marriage. But here where they were preparing themselves for the king and needed an additional twelve months of anointing with various perfumes they were given twenty-four months.
This is what our posuk is saying: “And when each maiden’s turn arrived to come to the King Achashverosh, from the end that there was to her according to the law of the women” - after the time allotted to all women to prepare for marriage, she was given a further “twelve months, for so were the days of their anointing completed - six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with perfumes and with ointments of the women”. Thus they were given a total of twenty-four months.