Chapter Three
Ma’amar Esther - Chapter Three

Why did the king promote Haman?

(3,1) “After these things, King Achashverosh promoted Haman the son of Hamedosoh, the Agagite, and advanced him, and placed his seat above all the princes who were with him.”

It seems to me that flow of the narrative is as follows: Haman counselled the king to kill Vashti, but afterwards the king was in doubt whether Haman intended for his benefit and his honour, or for his detriment - to destroy Vashti. Therefore it says (2,1) “when the king’s fury subsided” - כשוך - using the 'chaf' of comparison, “like it had subsided”, implying that it not fully subsided. Afterwards, however, when he married Esther, and she became beloved to him more than Vashti, he saw that Haman’s counsel was for his benefit, since because of it he married Esther. Therefore, he promoted him for giving him this counsel to kill Vashti.

But later, when Esther complained about Haman and she said that he had been jealous of Vashti and so had her killed, and he is jealous of me and seeks to kill me, with this he understood that for sure Haman’s advice concerning Vashti was for his detriment, and so he gave the command to hang him. And then it said (7,10) “and the king’s anger abated” - completely.

On which date was Haman promoted, and after how many days was he hanged?

(3,1) “After these things, King Achashverosh promoted Haman the son of Hamedosoh, the Agagite, and advanced him, and placed his seat above all the princes who were with him.”

I was asked to explain the inexplicable Yalkut on this posuk: “After these things” - on the 3rd of Nisan, Haman wrote the letter to destroy all the Jews…and on the 17th of Nisan he was hanged. I replied that there is a typographical error in it, and it should have said that on the thirteenth of Nisan, Haman wrote, as it says explicitly in the Megiilah that on the 13th he wrote the letter. And on the 16th he was hanged, as Rashi writes in the gemora Megillah 18.

The intent of the Yalkut is that the numerical value of the first letters of the words “these things he promoted” - ה,ה,ג - add up to thirteen, to hint that after the 13th of Nisan the king promoted him, and that this was his main greatness, the fact that he decreed to destroy Yisrael. And the gimmel itself hints that this greatness lasted only three days, because Yisrael is not placed in distress more than three days as Chazal said in the Midrash.

And behold, it has to be that he was hanged on the 16th of Nisan, because Mordechai was then involved with the Omer offering, and if it was on the 17th then the time of the Omer had already passed, so why would he be involved with this. And if he was merely involved with learning about it at some other time, how could Haman say to him, (Megillah 16a) “your handful of flour pushed away my ten thousand talents of silver”? And so it must have been the 16th, and this is what forced Rashi to write that it was the 16th, and this is the correct text. And that which Esther said (5,8) “tomorrow I will do the king’s bidding”, that is, since at least it will be part of the third day, and part of a day is like the whole day, therefore it is considered like three days. And that which Rashi wrote earlier that it was the 17th was a printing error.

Alternatively, we could say that both Rashis are correct, because at that time they did not sanctify the new month by the testimony of witnesses, so they kept two days of the festivals out of doubt. Therefore either way the days are counted the fast was three days. And according to their counting the days of the month from the first day the writing of Haman was on the 13th of Nisan and his hanging was on the 17th, but nevertheless, the reason why they were involved with the halachos of the Omer on the 17th was because of the doubt of the day, perhaps that day was the 16th - like us, that because of our doubt as to which day it is we can’t eat the new produce until after the 17th, and therefore Rashi mentions that it was the 16th because Mordechai thought that perhaps today was the 16th.

Why was Haman promoted immediately after the event of Bigsan and Teresh?

(3,1) “After these things, King Achashverosh promoted Haman the son of Hamedosoh, the Agagite, and advanced him, and placed his seat above all the princes who were with him.”

In the Midrash it says, “After these things he promoted…” - R. Pinchos said, two wealthy people stood in the world, one amongst Yisrael and one amongst the nations - Haman. And when the king saw his wealth and his ten sons before him, ministers, he promoted him and elevated him. That is what it says, “After these things…”. This Midrash is very puzzling - how does he know this from the words of our posuk?

But it seems to me that the Midrash had a difficulty with what is implied by the juxtaposition between this promotion of Haman and the plot of Bigsan and Teresh. Because ‘after these things’ implies that there is a connection between the two. And the Midrash holds like the opinion above that whenever it says 'after' it implies after a short time. Therefore we are being taught that the consequence of the event of Bigsan and Teresh and Mordechai was that he promoted Haman. But the difficulty with this implied connection is that, on the contrary, he should have promoted Mordechai!

But the explanation is that as long as Achashverosh did not see that he had an enemy in his kingdom that wanted to kill him, he thought that everyone loved him and wanted only good for him. Therefore, he was not afraid of Haman, to make him feel a need to flatter him. But now when he saw that Bisan and Teresh wanted to rebel against him and kill him but Mordechai informed him of it, since he saw that there were rebels and enemies against him he started to fear Haman. Because Bigsan and Teresh were not very wealthy and so did not have much ability to bribe, and there were only two of them, so the threat was only from one direction. Therefore Mordechai informed on them. But if Haman wanted to rebel against him, since he was very wealthy he could give bribes to everybody. Also, he had ten sons who were ministers and so the threat came from many directions. So perhaps he would rebel against him because he was certainly very able. Therefore he started to flatter him and to promote him above everybody and to elevate him.

This is the connection to the previous posukim - “after these things”, that he saw that there were rebels in his kingdom, therefore he started to promote Haman. And why specifically Haman? It must be because he was richer than all of the others, and he had many sons who were ministers.

And this seems to be the intent of the later posuk, “Haman related to them the honour of his wealth, and the multitude of his sons” - do you think that they didn’t know about his wealth and the details of his sons until now? Also, what does it mean “the honour of his wealth” - it should have simply said “his wealth and the multitude of his sons”.

But the intent is that if the king honours somebody for no particular reason this does not have such great importance as when he honours somebody because the king fears him. This is a much greater honour because if he is so important that the king fears him this shows that he is a very great man. So certainly they already knew about his wealth and his many sons, but he was telling them something new, that the reason he was getting all this honour and glory was not for nothing, but rather because the king feared him because of his wealth and his many sons. This is what it means that “he told them about the honour of his wealth and many sons” - the word 'honour' goes on both of them. He was telling them that the honour and glory came from his wealth and from his many sons.

Was Mordechai’s not bowing down to Haman a personal thing?

(3,2) “And all the king’s servants…would kneel and prostrate themselves, for so the king had commanded concerning him, but Mordechai would neither kneel nor prostate himself. Then the king’s servants…said to Mordechai: Why do you disobey the king’s orders?…they told Haman, to see whether Mordechai’s words would stand…And when Haman saw that Mordechai would neither kneel nor prostrate himself before him, Haman became full of wrath.”

It seems to me that the flow of these posukim is as follows. If a king or a minister walk in front of a person and he does not show him honour, the king or minister will sure to be very angry. But if others tell him not to be angry because this man is mentally disturbed, then he will no longer be angry with him. Here also, the wicked Haman had already noticed that Mordechai did not bow down to him, but he said to himself that he is a confused person and never bows down to anyone, and therefore he didn’t take exception. But the king’s servants noticed that he did bow down to them - only not to Haman. Therefore they asked him “Why do you disobey the command of the king”, and “they told Haman” that he should pay attention to see whether Mordechai bowed down to others. Then Haman saw that “Mordechai did not kneel nor prostrate himself before him” - before him specifically, but to others he did bow and therefore “Haman became full of wrath”.

Now, there is a problem here, because it says that he “became full of wrath”, but it doesn’t mention that his wrath was against Mordechai, and in conformance with this it says, “But it was contemptible in his eyes to lay hands on Mordechai alone”. But later (5,9) it says, “when Haman saw Mordechai in the king’s gate, that he did not stand up nor did he move for him, Haman was filled with wrath against Mordechai”, and he wanted to lay hands on Mordechai alone!

To explain all this, it seems to me that Mordechai’s refusal to bow down to Haman could be for one of two reasons. Either because there was an idol over Haman’s heart as Chazal teach, or because he hated Haman himself. Now, initially it says only that “Mordechai did not kneel nor prostrate himself”, which implies that he at least stood up for him, Therefore Haman thought that it was because of the idol which was over his heart. If so, it was due to his religion, and so why should he hate Mordechai personally for his religion more than all of Yisrael. Therefore it says, “it was contemptible in his eyes to lay hands on Mordechai alone”. But later, after the banquet with Esther and the king, it says “that he did not stand up, nor did he move for him”. If so, this proved that Mordechai hated him and it was not for a religious reason, since for an idol it would have been permissible to at least stand for him. Therefore, “Haman was filled with wrath against Mordechai” - his wrath was aimed personally against Mordechai himself and so it was no longer contemptible to lay hands on Mordechai alone.

Why was Mordechai not afraid to be punished by the king for disobeying his command that everyone should bow down to Haman?

(3,4) “…they told Haman, to see whether Mordechai’s words would stand, because had told them that he was a Jew.”

It is not clear which 'words' the posuk is referring to. But it seems to me that the reason why Mordechai was confident that he would not be punished by the king for disobeying his command to bow to Haman, was because he had saved the king from death, and it was written so in their chronicles. And he was sure that Haman would be afraid to erase this matter which is written about Mordechai who spoke good for the king. But the king’s servants said that Haman would not be afraid to try and get it erased, because since he is a Jew it was not proper to be written there, famous and a remembrance for all generations, and therefore Haman would endeavour to get the king to erase it. And the king will agree to this because the reason that it was written initially was because he did not know that he was a Jew, but once he finds out he will command that it be erased.

This is what it says “they told Haman to see whether Mordechai’s words would stand” - if Mordechai’s words, that he spoke good for the king, would remain written, “because he had told them that he was a Jew”, and therefore they surmised that Haman and the king will command that the words be erased.

With this we can understand better the words of Chazal on the posuk (6,2) “And it was found written that Mordechai had told…” - Shimshai erased and Gavriel wrote. (The language of the posuk, “and it was found written”, implies that it was surprising that it was still written there). According to what we have written we can explain further, that Haman had already endeavoured to have it erased, but afterwards the angel Gavriel rewrote it.

What did the servants of the king tell Haman?

(3,4) “…they told Haman, to see whether Mordechai’s words would stand, because had told them that he was a Jew. And Haman saw that Mordechai would neither kneel nor prostrate himself before him, and Haman became full of wrath.”

The questions here are well known. But that which the Alshich explained, that they told Haman to remove the idol to test if that was the real reason why he did not bow down, is not understood - firstly, because the wording of the posuk “if the words of Mordechai would stand” do not fit his explanation, because according to the Alshich they were clarifying if Mordechai had spoken truthfully or falsely. If so, the clarification was about the past, and so it should say in the posuk “if the truth was like the words of Mordechai”. Also, if it is like his explanation the posuk is too brief and does not explain the advice that they gave to Haman, and it does not say that Haman listened to their words and did according to their counsel - all this is missing.

Therefore, it seems to me that the explanation is like this. Mordechai’s not bowing down to Haman was for two possible reasons. Either because he was not concerned about the king’s decree and he was not afraid of the king because the king himself was contemptible in his eyes. Therefore he was not worried about his command and did not bow down. According to this it would have made no difference to Mordechai whether the decree concerned Haman or some other person - either way he would not have bowed down. Or it could be that because of the king’s command he certainly would have bowed down had it been some other person and not Haman, because he was certainly concerned about the king’s command and afraid of him. But because this person was Haman and he had hated him for a long time, so great was his hatred that Mordechai was prepared to die rather than bow down to him, and so he was compelled to disobey the command of the king, because hatred corrupts normal behaviour.

Now, the difference between the two reasons is that if we say like the first one, then the main wrath and anger would be by the king himself against Mordechai, and not by Haman, because the main thing is his affront to the honour of the king, by his not being concerned for his decree and his disparaging him, and so it is appropriate for the king to be angry and to take revenge from him. But it is not so appropriate for Haman to be filled with wrath because Mordechai did not intend to affront his honour. But if we say that the main intention of Mordechai in not bowing down was because he hated Haman, if so, his main insult was to the honour of Haman, and so it would be fitting for Haman to avenge himself against him.

Now, the servants of the king did not know about the hidden hatred that there was between Mordechai and Haman, because they did not know that Mordechai was a Jew. Therefore, they thought that his not bowing down was like the first explanation, that he was not concerned about the decree of the king. Therefore, Haman did not immediately get involved with the matter, because avenging the king, and protesting the affront to the honour of the king, did not devolve on Haman alone, but rather on all the ministers and servants of the king. And indeed, the servants of the king did protest against Mordechai, and they said “why do you disobey the command of the king” and put yourself in grave danger. Mordechai replied to them that he was a Jew and so he was confident that Hashem would do miracles for him and protect him from those who rise up against him.

And when the servants of the king heard that he was a Jew, and it was already known to them the great hatred that there was between Amalek, may his name be wiped out, and the House of Yisrael, they told Haman. And from this he understood that the reason that Mordechai did not bow down was personal, because of his long standing hatred for him. He understood that he would have bowed down to others, but his hatred for him corrupted rational behaviour such that he was willing to put himself into danger because of it. Therefore it says, “and Haman saw that Mordechai would neither kneel nor prostrate himself to him” - to him, specifically. Therefore, “Haman became full of wrath”.

What does the posuk mean, that Haman was filled with wrath?

(3,5) “And Haman saw that Mordechai would neither kneel nor prostrate himself before him, and Haman became full of wrath.”

In the Midrash that is brought in the sefer Kol Ya'akov it says: Said Hashem, Yisrael is mine, as it is written (Vayikra 25,55), “For the children of Yisrael are servants to me”, and wrath is mine, as it is written (Nachum 1,2 ), “Hashem avenges and is full of wrath”, and you are filled from that which is mine, against that which is mine.

It seems to me that we can explain the intent of this Midrash by way of a parable. There was a rich king who decreed that a certain thing should not be done in the city and he appointed officers to monitor this, and anyone who transgressed would be imprisoned. One day, it happened that the son of the king did this forbidden thing, and an officer took him and put him in prison. But when it became known to the king he was very angry with the officer and said to him: Behold, the kingdom is mine - I was the one who made you an officer, but that was to police others,  not my son.

And this is the analogy - the world belongs to Hashem and He commanded to observe the Torah, and he gave over His wrath to the nations of the world in order to punish whoever transgresses His Torah. But this was to be only against the wicked, who are not servants of Hashem, but the righteous, who are His servants, if they make a transgression, they are His, and over them He did not make the nations to be officers. And so said Chazal, that in the future Hashem will say to the nations: Why did you subjugate My children. And they will answer: You gave them over into our hands. Hashem will answer them (Yeshayohu 47,6), “upon the elder you made your yoke very heavy” - this is R. Akiva and his friends. From here it is evident that Hashem did not hand over the righteous to the nations.

This is what the Midrash is commenting on our posuk “and Haman became full of wrath”. Said Hashem, Yisrael is mine, as it says, “Yisrael are servants to me”, that is, the Tzaddikim, who are called by the name Yisrael. And wrath is mine, but I handed it over to you, and you are filling yourself with mine, against mine, that is, Mordechai the Tzaddik - him I did not give over to you.

With this we can understand the posuk (6,1) “On that night, the king’s sleep was disturbed” - why particularly that night? But behold, Chazal said in the gemora Bava Kamma 60a, on the posuk (Devarim 22,5) “If a fire goes forth and finds thorns, and a stack of grain or standing grain or the field be consumed” - trouble does not come to the world except when there are wicked in the world, but it always starts from the righteous (they are killed first). Abayei explained that it is a good thing for the Tzaddikim, and Rashi explained, that Abayei means so that they should not see the bad things which will occur.

But it seems to me that we can give a different reason. Hashem wants to punish the nations of the world afterwards for this, but they could argue that Hashem gave them into their hands. The response to this is that they also added the righteous, but to this they could argue back that Chazal teach that when permission is given to the destroyer to act, he does not distinguish between good and evil. If so, also their harming the Tzaddikim is part of the heavenly decree that the nations should punish the transgressors. But against this is the argument - as we see from what Chazal learned from the posuk quoted earlier, “upon the elder you made your yoke very heavy” - that certainly if they had not done to the righteous any more than they had done to the wicked, then their answer that the destroyer does not distinguish between good and evil is a legitimate defence. But if they afflict the Tzaddikim more than the wicked, than their defence does not hold, since they are doing to the good what they are not doing to the bad, and so they are distinguishing between good and evil.

However, sometimes they might not deal more heavily with the righteous, and so how can Hashem punish them? Therefore, Hashem makes it happen that they will start with the Tzaddikim, and so their claim that once the destroyer is given permission etc, is not valid, since they started with the good. Therefore says the gemora, trouble starts with the Tzaddikim, and this for the good, because through this the nations will be punished.

So too here with Mordechai. If he did not start with Mordechai, but rather with the rest of Yisrael, then he would have prevailed also against Mordechai, and Haman would not have been hanged, since he had a valid argument that Hashem handed them over to be punished, and once permission is given, etc. But since he wished to start with Mordechai, as we see at the end of perek 5 that he built a gallows for him, then he no longer had any argument, as it says in the Midrash - Yisrael is mine, and wrath is mine, and so “on that night the king’s sleep was disturbed”.

When you print this page. Printer Friendly Layout