MEGILLLAT ESTHER: Commentary by Rabbi Milevsky - Typed by Janine Muller
We'll use this opportunity to talk about the style of interpreting the Tanach,
in general. We find in earlier commentaries, we never see a tremendous stress on
details in the peirush on the Tanach. In the earlier commentaries, there is a
tremendous difference in the way they approach the "Chamisha Chumshai Torah"
and the Tanach. The logic behind it is simple: the Torah is the direct
" ", so, of course, every single word, an extra expression,
a reversed expression, a word that comes before the nother, obviously must have
In the Tanach, in the earlier commentaries, we don't see such a stress. Very often
we find in the mefarshim of the Tanach that don't worry about the fact that the idea
is repeated twice, like in Tehilim, we have tremendous repetition of ideas. So they
say well, you know, that is literary style. However, the time came when among the
Jews the ideology developed that that is all it is. That as long as we believe that
the "nevius" is min hasahamayim, and besides the Tanach being a prophecy, it
also happens to be a literary work, then it's okay, then it's safe. But when the
ideology started to develop that that is all that the Tanach is, a literary work, chas
v'shalom, and that's all, then the Gedolim of the time felt a need to turn we might
say the Tanach itself into something very similar to the Torah itself, in other words,
not to accept this theory that we can interpret difficulties in the style of the Tanach,
just by saying that. well, you know, there is such a thing as the style of the prophet, and
the fact that a word...here, sometimes we call him Ahashverosh and sometimes we
call him "Hamelech Ahashverosh". Big deal! If you read a novel, l'havdil alfei
havdalot, you never pay attention to the fact that sometimes you call the king,
"Hamelech Ahashverosh" and sometimes you call him "Ahashverosh".
To continue this approach was dangerous once the ideology developed that that
is all the Tanach is, a literary work. So we started approaching every single detail
as something to derive something from. The master of this new style is the Malbim.
The Malbim actually did an incredible job in finding treasures hidden in those
small, subtle differences and changes in style and changes in words and changes
in order in the Tanach itself. And the Malbim on Esther is really a classic because
there are many things that once you don't accept that that is all it is, a story, you have
to recognize that there must be a story behind the story. There are certain traditions in Chazal which should be part of the story but on the surface are not, but they should be hinted to. So let's use this opportunity to point out the way the Malbim approached Tanach.
For instance, let's take a look at this first "diyuk". The fact that at the beginning it
doesn't say "Hamelech Ahashverosh", but it says: " ".
And then it says: " ." The first time that Ahashverosh
is called a "melech" is in posuk 2,
So, the Malbim, just based on these subtle differences, builds the whole case,
the story behind the story. He builds the case that Ahashverosh was the usurper to the malchut, which means, that in the beginning, Ahashverosh was not the emperor, but he was a usurper, and his only claim to kingdom was the fact that he married Vashti and
that eventually Ahashverosh was obsessed with the idea that people should not say that he got into the malchut, just because he married the right girl. It bothered Ahashverosh,
so he had to show that he was starting a new dynasty.
Therefore, in the beginning, he was just Ahashverosh. But after he married Vashti, he started the verb "hamoleich", the action of being a moleich. Eventually, he was
able to sit with tranquility on his throne (posuk 2). So for the first time, he decides,
"See, now everybody knows that I'm the king!" As a matter of fact, he says,
. He even decides to change the capital. So they shouldn't
say that he is just a continuation of the old dynasty and that is why he married
Vashti. He created his own capital, .. So ths is is
why Shushan Habira is only mentioned after Ahashverosh is called "hamelech",
because it was part of his desire to show that he he's hamelech to change a portion
of Shushan, he made it into Shushan Habira.
Now another example of these kind of "diyukim" comes right afterwards. He made
the party, the purpose of the pary is just to show: Look how successful I am!
And (posuk 9)" ". means something
secondary. What does this show? It shows that she is just secondary to him. Because
she is the whole symbol of the malchus, then the whole party should be centered
around her. The fact that she also made a party, which means that her party is like
a second-class party, that showed that all she is is his queen and not that she is the carrier of the monarchy.
This is why if you pay attention to the order,"Vashti Hamalka", as opposed to
"Hamalka Vashti", you will find something incredible, says the Malbim. In posuk 9.
Vashti is called "Vashti Hamalka". And then he tells his assistants " ".
All of a sudden in posuk 12, she is not called "Vashti Hamalka", but she
is called "Hamalka Vashti". But take a look where she is called "Hamalka Vashti".
She is called "Hamalka Vashti" (in posuk 12) when she is refusing to come. Says
the Malbim: Here is the story behind the story. Why did she refuse to come? Even
though Chazal give all kinds of reasons, but what was behind the real reason, the
hidden reason why she did not want to come. Because there was a tension between
them, there was a tremendous tension between Vashti and Ahashverosh. Ahashverosh
wanted that she should be "Vashti", first and foremost she is a Vashti, she happens
to become a malka, through him being a melech. If you call her "Hamalka Vashti",
what are you implying? That she is first and foremost a malka. That's not what
Ahashverosh wants. But her refusal is based on the fact that she is "Hamalka
So all of a sudden through these subtle differences, we have a whole
story behind the scenes, that this is a struggle for prestige. Who is the most
prestigious symbol of the malchut? Is it Vashti or is it Ahashveorosh? And that
will give us an insight into what goes on in the next portion. Without the Malbim,
the next portion is very difficult. The next portion is the Trial of Vashti. Take a
look at the difficulties.
Before we comment, another interesting point. As we said before, the Malbim will
never accept a repetition of something just because that was the literary style of
whoever wrote the Tanach. Never accepted it. This is why he became an expert
in "sheimot nirdafot", in synonyms. He was able to really see the essence of the
differences between apparent synonyms. We know that there are no synoyms
in " " (We never accept that two words have the exact same meaning).
But the Malbim became an extraordinary expert in this field, in showing the subtle
differences between apparently similar words. For instance, posuk 12:
" " . Before the Malbim, it was accepted,so he was
angry! He wants to tell you how angry he was so it expresses this idea in two
ways. That of course the Malbim will never accept. So, " "
that is the outer show of anger. What is the word "ketzef"? Something that shows,
like "katzefet", something that's burnng up, a "ketzef". So the outer sign of anger
is " ", " " ,heat is what you feel inside. So the Megilla is telling you
that there were two parts to the anger of Ahashverosh: there was the outer, external
part, and of course the external part has to do with the unfaithfulness of Vashti (that is
what he told everybody: "Look, he is not listening to me!") .
But "va'chamato baara bo", that is the inner feeling, that complex of inferiority of
Ahashverosh, that she's putting me down again, an inner anger that he can't
express. Typical Malbim: So there are two statements and each one tells something completely different about what is going on.
" " (posuk 13). It's a big problem,
who were these chachamim "yodei ha'itim", This means "people who know the
times". " ". There are threexpressions here: So what are
"yodei itim", "yodei dat" and "yodei din"? The Malbim won't overlook it. Dat and
din, you can see the difference. "Din" is judgment, right and wrong, if you're a thief,
that's din. "Dat": those are the customs of a kingdom which are not really based on
legalities.For instance, when you come to the king, you have to stand up. That is
dat, a way of behavior, like a religion is called "dat". What is "yodei haitim"?
That remains still unanswered. Who are these? and what was the purpose?
Who did he choose as the "yodei haitim" ? " ". He had a choice of
which judges to call upon as "yodei haitim". And all of a sudden we get a sense
that Ahashverosh is looking for specific people, but why? It is such a clear-cut
situation.Vashti didn't listen to him, she didn't come, obviously she deserves the
death penalty. Why is he afraid? What are his misgivings that he has to call
"hakarov eilav"? And the "yodei haitim" should say what should be the dat
according to them. It should be a clear din, you rebel against the king, you get
Posuk 15: " " Here, what should it have said following the Malbim's opinion, that she is only called "Hamalka Vashti" when she is
showing her power, it should say "Vashti Hamalka", if Ahashverosh is presenting
his case. So according to the Malbim, "L'shitaso", there is a problem over here.
Then it says: " "
(posuk 15). The last few words are not understandable; " ". How
come Ahashverosh when he presented the case to the "yodei haitim", he
added the words: She didn't listen to me when I sent the "sarisim". " " are
the eunuchs, the lower levels of his assistants, not the "sarim". Why did he add
"b'yad hasarisim"? The Malbim can't overlook this fact.
Three problems: 1) Why the "yodei haitim"? Who are they? What was their
purpose? Why did he need to call only those "yodei haitim" who are close
to him? (It's such a cut and dried case!)
2) Why does he call her "Malka Vashti" when he is presenting the case?
and 3) Why is he adding "b'yad hasarisim" when he is presenting the case?
The next part. The answer of Memuchan on the surface makes no sense.
Now if we assume on the surface that Ahashverosh is interested in getting
a death penalty for her, we will not understand the next portion.
Listen to the next portion!
(Posuk 16): What do you think, it's only against the king that Vashti sinned?
It's a chutzpa against everybody! " "
Why? There was a major issue at the time- the status of women.
They were afraid that by not giving the death penalty,people would say:
It's a tremendous victory for women's rights! (ed.is smiling now)
It's not an affront only to you...it's an affront to everybody.
They will say: "Look, Vashti didn't do it, so we should do it?"
So what do politicians do when something happens that they don't like. You know,
let's forget the whole thing. Let's just forget it. You can't forget the whole thing!
Because " " (18). Who was a witness
to this affront to the husband? All the ministers' wives!! (" ").
They heard it, so we can't keep it quiet, we can't censor it! It will
get out. What is the information that will get out? That women are gaining in
their status! And that is an affront to the whole country. Therefore, let's get
rid of her.
What is the implication of such an argument? Isn't it obvious that he does not
want to kill her? In other words, what is Memuchan hearing that Ahasheverosh
wants to do? Ahashverosh all of a sudden is getting mixed feelings. Now, we
see clearly the meaning of the presentation of the case by Ahashverosh in posuk
15. " ".
"Remember who she is", says Ahashverosh to the people who have to judge.
"She is the Malka Vashti". If he is interested in putting her down, what would he
have said: Vashti Hamalka! After all, she is the sign of this very important dynasty.
"b'yad hasarisim". And after all who went to get her? The lowly sarisim! Can we
really blame Hamalka Vashti for not listening to the lowly eunuchs?
Of course Ahashverosh didn't put it as obviously as I'm putting it! He needed
somebody who knows him very well to realize what he wants. Why? Because
he is the king and he can show no weakness. If he shows weakness, then there
is a flaw in the king. So he has to sound strong, but at the same time, he has a
desire to save her life. So, what does he need? He needs a group of judges who
will know exactly what he is thinking, what goes on through his mind. Objective
judges won't fulfill this purpose. Because regular objective judges would say:
"Of course you kill her!" Ahashverosh had no doubt that any court of law would
kill her! Of course, it is an affront against the king! You kill a person who is a
He wanted a court who will find a justification NOT to kill her. So he puts in
a few of the details in order to give them enough food in order to recognize
what he really wants. And the smart Memuchan, who according to one opinion in
Chazal is Haman himself, Memuchan senses what Ahashverosh really wants.
Which means Ahashverosh really wants that they should not kill her, but it shouldn't
be Ahashverosh's decision: they should be the weak ones and not Ahashverosh!
(Ahashverosh must have loved her..but he knows that " ". Ahashverosh has mixed feelings, and we see this through the
"diyukim" in the psukim)
The "yodei haitim" have a special power. There is dat and there is din. He doesn't
want that they should paskin " ", because "al pi din" she is going to
get the death penalty. Dat is more flexible: do you take off your hat in front of the king,
or do you not take off your hat... "Yodei haitim" judge a situation according to
circumstances at the time, which means, you might say the following: Dat are
the judges of the protocol, din are the judges of the law.
And the "yodei haitim" are the politicians. Because they judge whether to do
something not on the intrinsic value of the laws, but what would be the
consequences at this time? (" ") That's what a politican would do:
Yes, it's right, but we can't do it now because of public opinion, whatever it is.
So he wanted them to find a way out that of course al pi din she is going to get
killed, but if they "yodei haitim" would find some kind of a basis " ",
according to the time, which might be, for instance, they might say: "We have
to show generosity to everybody, because now is the time of the party of the
king, let's show how generous we are, therefore let's not kill the queen.
They might come up with such an opinion. That would be the job of "yodei
Ahashverosh chooses the "yodei haitim" thinking that that would be
a way out!!! But what happened "l'mayseh",because we find that not only that but
Memuchan was able to convince the king. It says at the end: (posuk 21); "
". He convinced him.
What was the argument of Memuchan to convince him? The argument was the
following. Ahashverosh has a problem, says the Malbim, again through these
"dikdukim" that are so subtle and so beautiful, with the heads of the states. Remember
there are 127 states. Like you have in the United States, you have federal workers,
who are dependent on the federal government, and you have state workers, who
are dependent on the state government. So you see from the beginning some kind
of antagonism, a tension. For instance, in posuk 3, when he made the party, who
did he call? " .....and at the end " ". Why are
the " " mentioned at the end. Through this subtle diyuk, he sees the
antagonism between Ahashverosh the central government and the state government
of each one of the states, because otherwise why would he mention them after
the " " (simple soldiers)! So there is some kind of a tension here.
Now Ahashverosh's goal is to overcome the antagonism of the state governments.
Now what is the best way for a king to become popular?
One thing we must recognize that at this point Ahashverosh needs the courts
to make a decision. There is a court system, so Ahashverosh's power is not
absolute. This is a real Machiavellian plan. Says Memu(Haman): "What
is the best way for a king to become the absolute controller of the whole kingdom?"
Find a very popular issue, then ride on the popularity of the issue. And express
You know, coming from South America it is "Maysim b'chol yom". South America
does not have in most of its countries a traditional democracy. But still there is
democracy, so what does a tyrant do? He finds an issue, for example, law & order.
Law & order is extremely attractive.
You mean, we will be able to walk at night, we won't be afraid of hold-ups. But you
have to give me power!!! I can't make law & order if we have the whole democratic
system, I have to go through the senate. Give me the power and I'll take care of
law & order. And it's such a popular issue that the people back him and then he
becomes a dictator. It's such a normal procedure and once he's a dictator, he
becomes corrupt and that's the end of it.
What was the argument that Memuchan used to convince the king? We have the
perfect way to gain the agreement of all the governments, they can't come out
against you because if they come out against you they will become unpopular
among their own people. The issue of women's and men's rights. If women are
going to get this kind of a backing, if Vashti is left unpunished, then all the males
in your kingdom, will come out against you. More, if you kill Vashti, and you
give the reason why you killed Vashti, you don't stress so much that she didn't listen
to you because you are king, stress the fact that you are doing it as an example to
others to men's rights...man is the boss in his house!! Do you know what you are
going to get? You are going to get millions of people screaming out, "Yey
Ahashverosh!!!! Yes, we want to give you all the power!!!"
But Ahashverosh will say:Wait a second, if I have to go through the court system
and the local governments I won't be able to implement it.
(so Memuchan says to him:) So, take all the power and implement it!
What does Memuchan think that Ahashverosh is gaining? Absolute power!
Where is it hinted in the whole story? It's mamash in the words! Posuk 19: "
" if you agree with my point-of-view, " ",
we are creating a new system. What was the system before? Limited power.
We are creating the absolute power of "dvar malchut". Nothing can sell Ahashverosh
an idea than doing this. So in spite of the fact that he loves Vashti, that he is ready
to do everything in the world that Vashti should not be killed, but this is too much
of an argument. And, of course, according to Chazal, who gets the credit for the
absolute power of Ahashverosh? This "Mum-can"...he has an ulterior motive,
there is a "mum" here, don't think that he is doing it "l'shem shomayim", it's a mum,
Haman thinking how he will get power. Remember if he is the one who gave
the king this brilliant idea, then he is going to take credit for it, and he does.
This is the Malbim's approach to the whole thing and it really opens it up!!!
Memuchan is riding on an issue that at the time was the most important issue in the
kingdom and it was an issue that could get the following of who knows how many
people. What is the result of this? That Ahashverosh becomes the absolute monarch
in all the 127 nations, something that did not exist before. If the price is the death
of Vashti, sheyiye ken. Small price to pay for such a power.
Malbim has a new pshat for "naked". He explains that this means without the
"bigdei malchut". If you look at the words themselves. In the Gemara it says
"aruma", but the Malbim has a new pshat. If you take a look, Ahashverosh stresses
(posuk 11) " ". You know
when we put on her the "keter malchut"? Once she comes in front of him. That
shows symbolically that he is crowning her! "Aruma" means without the 'bigdei
After the Malbim there are others who follow his way...after a while, you think it
is not a coincidence. In any case, it is impressive. From my experience, once you
start giving shiurim consistently following this derech, they are extremely receptive.
You always have at the beginning a few skeptics..but it all fits in. You have to come
extremely well-prepared. Non-religious intelligent people is ready to hear you out,
if it fits in, is consistent.
All the vaguely-known stories...The Tower of Babel story, such a childish story,
if you show the depth...The same of the Haggada of Pesach, if all of a sudden,
you show there are treasures behind it.
Like The Ten Commandments...if you make it deeper, people will listen.
(I omitted the comments of the moderator, which are very interesting!)
Let's go on with this approach!
The next problem is the beauty contest. Why does Ahashverosh need the beauty
contest to choose the queen? Just choose somebody that he knows....
What's the whole point?
How does he come about that idea?
Perek 2: " .." Again, the
Malbim sees in this the mixed feelings. "Mitzad ehad", he loves Vashti, "Mitzad
ha'sheini", "et asher asata"..but look at what she did. "Mitzad hashlishi", "et asher
nigzar aleha"...but the death penalty! So he has mixed feelings.
The people say," ", we have to find a way to
satisfy the king. So we have to find, what is the concept of a beauty contest?
How do you choose a queen? Because of her pedigree, she belongs to an
aristocratic family, but look what happens to these women, they become
"uppity", they become rebellious. Look what happened to Vashti! And Ahashverosh
keeps remembering "et asher asata", what she did. What can we do...find someone
from a very simple family? That's also not good. So what are we going to do? We
are going to choose a queen just because she is beautiful, so then it will become clear,
you know why he chose her? Just because she is beautiful!
It will establish the fact that pedigree is not important.
He answers with this how it is that even though Ahashverosh wanted Esther to say where she comes from, they never "pushed her against the wall". Why not? Because it fitted in
with their overall plan. If she doesn't say, that's good, then nobody will know where she
comes from so therefore nobody will say that it's because of her pedigree...That's what
we want to establish. " ". The whole purpose of a woman is her
physical qualities, that's all that matters. Pedigree doesn't matter at all. That's what
they want to establish. It gives you an insight into what is going on...
It is a "mahloket" among the mefarshim, why Esther wouldn't say...Among the rishonim,
there are some who say because if she is a descendant of Shaul, she is too important
(that's what the Malbim said).
"Na'arei hamelech", people who are concerned with the welfare of the king.
(not Memuchan, who wanted to gain his own power).
Let's choose parts of the Megilla...
Chazal say in posuk 18, that in spite of the fact that they didn't push Esther to say
who she is or where she comes from, Ahashverosh had enormous curiosity, who is
this Esther? She is such an unusual person! She has good genes, so we have to find
out who the rest of the people are! So he made all kinds of tricks, and chazal say,
in order to get her to admit. So what he did was " ", he made
a hanacha in the taxes because of Esther. Why? The pshat is, since I don't know where' you come from I will give a reduction in the tax rate of ALL the medinot. What was
his purpose? So Esther will say: "Taxes are very important to my family, So, I'll tell
you the truth, I come from this & this state". Ah! So I'll give them a greater reduction,
and I'll raise the taxes for everybody else".
Can you imagine the power that Esther felt at that point? So that was a way to get her
to admit who she is, because he was just curious. It's not only curiosity, it's more than
that because if Esther is so special maybe I can use her relatives for other things, such
a special people.
Now, another typical Malbim approach: Perek 2, posuk 23: " ". Mordechai said what Bigtan and Teresh were going to do, they were
planning to poison the king, and they found the poison was there, everything was
prepared. " "
Says the Malbim:
Why does it say " "? Very often in Tanach it says "divrei ha".
What is the implication? That there is a "divrei hayamim" that is not "lifnei hamelech"! That means, that there is an official chronicles of events, and then there is the private chronicles of the king ("lifnei hamelech"). The fact that Mordechai saved the king by showing that Bigtan and Teresh were going to poison him, it said that in the chronicles "lifnei hamelech". What is the implication? That in the official chronicles, it didn't
say, which is a strange thing. Why would it not say in the official chronicles.?
Another strange thing is the "smichus". "Smichus" is also very important in a story,
according to the Malbim. " " (Perek 3:1)
Why all of a sudden after Bigtan & Teresh, Haman becomes the big man?
Let's put two & two together! Haman took the credit for the killing of Bigtan & Teresh.
When it says "Hamelech Ahashverosh", these are the private laws for Ahashverosh.
When it says "Melech" without Ahashverosh, it means that this was the law of the
kingdom. So, therefore, "lifnei hamelech", doesn't mean that Ahashverosh wants
his own chronicles, this means that there were always two sets.
The Malbim's insight...look what it leads to, the rest of the story of the Megilla only
makes sense based on this. Listen to what happens...Remember how many people
knew about Bigtan and Teresh? There are many events that happened in the kingdom
in one day. Haman wants to be chosen as the prime minister, he needs the backing of the
other ministers. So when he goes to each one, and says "Would you back me as prime minister?" Then he brings the official chronicles as proof of his popularity by the
people in how important he is by the king. So obviously he used it (the official
chronicles) to put pressure other people to back him for the position of prime
It does not say that the king chose him because of this reason. The king chose him. But there is a cause & effect relationship between the killing of Bigtan & Teresh
and the appointment of Haman. The only possible cause & effect relationship is this
story of Bigtan & Teresh. Which means that he used it in any way possible, we can
use our imagination how he used his heroism, the saving of the king, to get the backing
of other people.
When Ahashverosh can't sleep....and then perek 6, Chazal say he started thinking,
if someone wanted to kill me,who knows who else wanted to kill me! Must be that
our intelligence services aren't working properly, which means there aren't enough people faithful to me. The reason why not enough people are faithful to me must be because not
enough reward was given to people who had shown faithfulness to me. So he takes
out his private chronicles and he starts reading that Mordechai saved his life.
Then he asks: "Was anything done to Mordechai?" and the answer was: "Nothing
was done". Why was nothing done? Obviously if he asks if anything was done,
that it was normal procedure that whoever does something good for the king gets
a reward. So why was nothing done for Mordechai?
So Ahashverosh puts two and two together. Obviously, the people who are in charge
of giving rewards for people who do good things, never knew that Mordechai is a hero.
It must be that in the official chronicles it doesn't say that. If in the official chronicles it
doesn't say that, Now, by the way. Do you know who was in charge of the chronicles?
B'nai Haman! B'nai Haman were his sofrim. So he puts two & two together! Who
tampered with the official chronicles? Haman!
When do we see a turn-around in the approach of Ahashverosh to Haman? This night!
It's the first step turn-around, major turn-around, and since Haman is not ready for this
turn-around, he falls in the trap. Do you hear what's going on behind the scenes?
Haman is sure that he will get everything he wants from Ahashverosh. Ahashverosh
knows now that Haman is not faithful to him because he tampered with the chronicles,
so he will teach him a lesson. So the whole story of "What should be done to a person
who was good to the king?" And Haman falls for it, for the trap, it's because Haman
is thinking based on the idea that the king doesn't know that he tampered with the
Ahashverosh finds out that Haman is unfaithful, and this is another idea of the Malbim...so Haman comes home and he decides together with his wife and his advisors, what should we do? Posuk 13 of perek 6: " ." Vayomru lo...If
he is a Jew...." ". Now, he's asking for advice!!! What kind of advice is this? This doesn't sound like advice, this sounds like "prophets of
doom". So the Malbim has a theory that answers also why Esther made two parties.
In the second party, she brings down Haman. Why wasn't one party enough?
The Malbim has a beautiful theory about the fact that when a person is rising in
his power, there is such a thing as a "destiny of success". You can't bring him
down unless you push him all the way up to the pinnacle of success...then you
can start pushing him down. Otherwise, you won't be successful. The Gemara
says this... The Malbim develops this into a whole theory. He says like this: The
same thing works the other way around. What if you're on the way down? The
faster that your reach the bottom, the faster that you can start the turn-around!
What would be the ultimate bottom for Haman? To completely become
subservient to Mordechai, to go over to Mordechai, kiss his feet...the lowest
and then he can start rising again.
" " is really advice. If you started on the way down in your
relationship to Mordechai, Fast! Go all the way down! Once you go all the way
down, then your mazel will turn around.