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Purim/Parshas Ki Sisa - Vol. 10, Issue 21
Compiled by Oizer Alport
After Mordechai found out about Haman's decree, he sent a copy of it to Esther, along with instructions that she beseech Achashverosh on behalf of her nation. She initially demurred, explaining that it is forbidden to appear before the king without being summoned. Mordechai warned her against remaining silent, and told her that perhaps it was for this reason that Hashem placed her in this position. Esther relented and told Mordechai to summon the Jewish people to fast on her behalf, and after three days, she would go in unlawfully to Achashverosh, adding, "And if I perish, I perish."
On a literal level, Esther was referring to the possibility that Achashverosh may have her put to death for entering his inner court without being called, but the Gemora (Megillah 15a) interprets her words as lamenting the fact that until this point, each time that she had relations with Achashverosh it was against her will. Now that she was going in to him voluntarily, it would be considered as if she was a willing participant. The halacha is that a married woman who voluntarily has extramarital relations becomes forbidden to remain married to her husband (Yevamos 56b). Even after Esther married Achashverosh, she remained married to Mordechai and continued secretly having relations with him (Megillah 13b). However, this was only permitted as long as her interactions with Achashverosh were against her will. Now that she was willingly going in to have relations with him, she would be forbidden to Mordechai for the rest of her life.
Rav Dovid Feinstein points out that this is yet another example of hester panim (Hashem's seemingly concealed face) in the Megillah. Esther did exactly what Mordechai commanded her and told her was necessary to save the entire Jewish nation, and yet the very same action which was considered one of the greatest mitzvos in Jewish history caused her to become permanently forbidden to her husband.
However, Tosefos questions why Mordechai didn't divorce Esther at this time, as any relations that she would have while single - even voluntarily - would not prevent her from subsequently remarrying him. Tosefos answers that giving one's wife a get (divorce document) must be done in the presence of two witnesses. Mordechai feared that the witnesses might absentmindedly talk about the event, which would eventually make its way to the ears of Achashverosh, thereby endangering the lives of himself, Esther, and the entire nation. However, the Rashba questions why Mordechai didn't give Esther a get written in his own handwriting, which according to many opinions effects a divorce even in the absence of witnesses. The Rashba cryptically answers ein meishivin al Divrei Aggadah - it is not always possible to ask or answer questions regarding homiletic passages.
The Noda BiYehuda (Yoreh Deah 2:161) was once asked to resolve a difficulty with a different homiletic passage. He begins his reply by describing how pressed he is for time to answer even the most pressing and practical questions which come before him and apologizes that he is unable to delve into the esoteric subject at that time. He further justifies his actions by quoting the aforementioned Rashba, who writes that such questions can't always be asked and may not have readily-apparent resolutions. The overworked Noda BiYehuda then continues, "But now that I've mentioned the Rashba's comment, let me tell you the answer to his question!" He suggests that as a historical fact, Mordechai did indeed divorce Esther without witnesses by using a get that he personally wrote, exactly as suggested by the Rashba.
If so, why does the Gemora understand Esther as lamenting the fact that she would be eternally forbidden to Mordechai, which according to the Noda BiYehuda should not be the case? He innovatively explains that while it was possible for Mordechai to divorce Esther without attracting attention, thereby preventing her from becoming forbidden to him, there was no parallel option to subsequently remarry her. A wedding must be conducted in the presence of witnesses to take effect, leaving Esther technically permitted to Mordechai, but forbidden for all practical purposes.
At the second banquet that Esther arranged, Achashverosh asked for her request. Esther replied by telling him that she and her nation had been sold to be destroyed, slain, and exterminated. She added that if they had only been sold as slaves, she would have accepted the decree and remained quiet, but since they were faced with annihilation, she had no choice but to beseech him to rescind the decree. Achashverosh incredulously responded by asking who would dare to threaten the Queen and her people with mass extermination. This is quite difficult to understand. Why did Achashverosh act so surprised and question who would do such a thing when he had personally given Haman permission to destroy the Jews only three days earlier? Secondly, why did Esther say that if they had instead been sold as slaves she would have remained quiet, when nobody until this point had mentioned a word about becoming slaves?
The Apter Rav explains that when Haman initially approached Achashverosh with his plan, he was afraid to reveal his true intentions, so instead he told Achashverosh that he wanted to purchase the Jews la'avod - with an ayin, which means to work with them - and he said that he was prepared to pay 10,000 talents of silver to buy them. They wrote and signed a contract to this effect to complete the transaction. Haman then went and secretly changed the ayin to an aleph, so the contract said that he bought the Jews le'abeid - with an aleph, which means to destroy them. When Achashverosh's scribes saw the contract, they accepted it at face value and sent out edicts proclaiming that the king had decreed that the Jewish people should be destroyed, slain, and exterminated.
This explains what Esther told Achashverosh. If you would have proceeded with your original plan to sell us as slaves, I would have remained quiet, but now that Haman changed the ayin to an aleph and my nation is threatened with destruction, I have no choice but to speak up. When Achashverosh heard this, he legitimately questioned in wonderment who would dare do such a thing, as he had certainly never agreed to this plan.
If one pays close attention while reading the Megillah, he will notice that in the list of the names of Haman's ten sons, there is one letter that is written larger than the other letters - the vav in Vayezasa - and there are three letters which are written abnormally small: the letter tof in Parshandasa in 9:7, and the shin in Parmashta and the zayin in Vayezasa in 9:9. Even though we occasionally find letters in the Torah that are written large or small, it is quite unusual to find this phenomenon four times in a span of three verses.
The Gemora explains that the letter vav is elongated so that it will resemble a tall gallows, to symbolically demonstrate that all of Haman's sons were hanged together with him on one long pole, one on top of the other. As for the three small letters, there is a well-documented historical incident which contemporary sources have used to explain this anomaly.
They begin by asking an additional question: Why was Esther interested in hanging Haman's ten sons the following day if they had already been killed? What is the purpose of hanging a dead body? When Esther asked Achashverosh for permission to hang them, she said that she wanted to do so machar. Although the word machar literally means "tomorrow," Rashi writes (Shemos 13:14) that sometimes the word machar means "tomorrow," and sometimes it refers to something that will happen after time has passed. In other words, Esther wasn't only talking abut hanging Haman's ten sons the next day, but also about some event that would take place in the distant future.
In 1946, trials were held in Nuremburg for the leading Nazis who were responsible for the Holocaust. A total of ten of them were tried and convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. As reported in Newsweek at the time, when Julius Streicher yimach shemo, who was the editor of the Nazi propaganda newspaper, was about to be killed, he screamed out words which seemed quite nonsensical, hollering, "Purimfest Tof-Shin-Zayin!" The people there obviously had no idea what he was talking about.
Since many have suggested that the unprecedented anti-Semitism of the Nazis makes clear that they were descended from Amalek, it is not surprising to find ten of them killed on the gallows, paralleling Haman's ten sons. Even more amazing is the fact that there were actually eleven Nazis sentenced to be hanged at Nuremberg, but hours before their execution, one of them - Herman Goring - committed suicide, so that only ten were hanged, just like Haman's sons, with the one who committed suicide corresponding to Haman's daughter, who also killed herself.
What's even more fascinating is that Streicher's comment was made on October, 16, 1946, which on the Jewish calendar was Hoshana Rabbah in the year Tof-shin-zayin. The three letters in the Megillah which are written smaller than usual are tof, shin, and zayin, spelling tof-shin-zayin. To which tof-shin-zayin do they refer? The larger letter vav tells us that it refers to the sixth tof-shin-zayin, which is October, 1946.
Even if the people assembled in Nuremberg had no idea what Julius Streicher was talking about, we shouldn't find it surprising that in this contemporary fulfillment of the Purim story, one of the Amalekites being hanged screamed out "Purimfest Tof-Shin-Zayin!"
A fundraiser for the Volozhin yeshiva once returned from a fundraising trip and informed Rav Chaim Volozhiner, the founder and Rosh Yeshiva, that a certain wealthy benefactor had ceased his donations. Rav Chaim went to visit the supporter to find out the reason for his actions. The man explained that he was happy to assist the yeshiva pay for necessities which allow the students to learn properly, but he had no interest in having his money used to purchase frivolous luxuries such as the fancy new clothing and wagon used by the yeshiva's collectors.
Rav Chaim responded by asking the man to resolve a difficulty in our verses. After Hashem said that He would fill Betzalel with Divine wisdom, which our Sages explain includes the deep mystical knowledge with which Hashem created the universe, what purpose was there in adding that He would also teach him the mundane skills needed to work with metals? Relative to the aforementioned ability, what kind of praise was this?
The man was at a loss to answer. Rav Chaim explained that every contributor to the Mishkan hoped that his donation would find its way into the most holy components, such as the Aron. However, Hashem recognized that not all of their intentions were equally for the sake of Heaven. He desired that each donation should be used for a purpose which corresponded to the purity with which it was given. It is this profound wisdom to which the Torah refers in relating that Betzalel knew how to discern the intentions of each item's contributor, and to assign its use and location accordingly.
Similarly, Rav Chaim concluded, everybody wants his donation to the yeshiva to be used for the loftiest purposes. Unfortunately, nobody today possesses the ability of Betzalel to determine the purity of motive of the supporter. Nevertheless, Hashem continues to ensure that every ruble is directed in accordance with the motivation of the benefactor. He concluded, "If your intentions are truly noble, Hashem will see to it that your generous contribution will be put to use for holy purposes, if only you will reconsider your decision about donating" - which the man was happy to do.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Achashverosh showed off his wealth by making elaborate feasts full of delicious food and drink (1:3-8). Why wasn't there any musical entertainment at these parties? (Derashos Maharam Schiff)
2) Was the year of the Purim miracle a regular year with one month of Adar or a leap-year with two Adars, and what is the significance of this? (Yerushalmi Megillah 7a)
3) The Gemora in Megillah (7b) relates that Rabbah and Rav Zeira once ate their festive Purim meal together. They became so intoxicated that Rabbah killed Rav Zeira, but the next day he prayed for him and brought him back to life. At this point, was Rav Zeira still married to his wife, or did their marriage terminate with his death? (Birkei Yosef Even HaEzer 17:1, Ben Yehoyada Megillah 7b, Shu"t Avnei Nezer 56, Ha'aros Al Kiddushin 13b, Ma'adanei Asher 5769)
4) The Torah records (32:3) that the entire nation donated their gold earrings to Aharon for the purpose of making the golden calf. How is it possible that so many people donated so much gold and it produced only one golden calf? (Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:2, Ayeles HaShachar 32:4)
5) If the Torah commands us (Devorim 9:7) to remember the sin of the golden calf, why is there no annual reading to enable us to do so as we do with Parshas Zachor? (Artzos HaChaim, Shu"t Arugas HaBosem 205, Shu"t Doveiv Meishorim 2:43)
6) After Moshe learned the entire Torah during his first 40 days on Mount Sinai, why did he need to spend a second set of 40 days (34:28) after the sin of the golden calf relearning the Torah which had already been taught to him? (Darash Moshe, Pirkei Torah)
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