KNOW YOUR BIBLE: Esther 7-8
Study Notes by Avraham ben Yaakov
ESTHER CHAPTER 7
Seeing Esther invite Haman to her feast with the king had brought the Jews of Shushan to the highest peak of Teshuvah. Previously they believed that in the Jewish queen they had a strong ally in the royal household who might yet save them by asking the king to kill Haman, but here she was inviting their worst enemy to her feast! “At that moment the entire house of Jacob poured out their hearts and trusted only in their Father in Heaven” (Targum Yonasan on Esther 5:14).
Vv 1-2: “So the king and Haman came to drink with Queen Esther. And the king said again to Esther on the second day at the feast of wine, What is your petition… even to half the kingdom?” Targum Yonasan explains here as on Esther 5:6 that when Ahashverosh offered Esther up to half the kingdom, he was explicitly refusing to allow the rebuilding of the Temple, except that in his explanation of the present verse, Yonasan adds that the king said to Esther, “Wait until your son Darius will grow up and inherit the kingdom and that too will be done”.
Vv 3-4: The directness, simplicity and heart-rending pathos of Esther’s plea to the king to save herself and her people from destruction makes this a model that all of us can follow in our prayers to God to redeem Israel.
“…for the oppressor is not concerned about the damage to the king” – “Esther was saying to Ahashverosh, This oppressor [Haman] does not care about any loss to the king! He was jealous of Vashti and killed her, and now he has become jealous of me and wants to kill me!” (Megillah 16a).
By openly identifying with the Jews, Esther finally revealed her origins and people to Ahashverosh for the first time since Mordechai had instructed her not to do so (see Esther 2:20).
V 5: “And the king Ahashverosh said, and he said to Esther the queen…” In this verse the word VAYOMER, “he said” is repeated twice. While the second VAYOMER is directed to Esther, the first VAYOMER is not directed to anyone and is apparently redundant. Thus Rashi (ad loc.) states: “In every place where a verse reads VAYOMER… VAYOMER twice, this is can only be explained through Midrash. The Midrashic teaching that comes out from this verse is that previously Ahashverosh had spoken to her through an intermediary, but now that he knew that she was from a family of kings [Saul] he spoke to her himself directly (see Megillah 16a).
Vv 6-8: With Haman now falling faster and faster, his every move just made things worse. He tried to appeal to Esther, but when the king saw him falling over Esther’s couch he was all the more convinced that Haman was up to no good.
V 9: “And Harvonah, one of the chamberlains, said before the king, Also see the gallows fifty cubits high that Haman made for Mordechai who spoke good for the king…” Harvonah’s timely intervention settled Haman’s fate. Some rabbis said that it was Elijah the prophet who appeared to the king in the guise of one of his chamberlains (see Ibn Ezra on this verse). However the opinion of Rabbi Elazar in the Talmud is that Harvonah had in fact been in on Haman’s conspiracy to have Mordechai hanged but that when he saw that Haman was obviously going down fast he quickly abandoned the sinking ship and changed his colors (Megillah 16a; cf. Targum Sheni on Esther 7:9).
V 10: “And they hanged Haman on the gallows that he prepared for Mordechai…” – “He hewed out a pit and dug it out, and he fell into the ditch which he made” (Psalms 7:16). Similarly, Jethro saw the hand of God’s justice in the way that the Egyptians were drowned in the waters of the Red Sea after having plotted to drown the Hebrew babies in the waters of the river (Exodus 18:11, see Rashi ad loc.)
Verses 3-6: “And Esther spoke once more before the king…” The death of Haman had removed the Jews’ worst persecutor but it did not undo the fact that a few days earlier messengers had been dispatched at top speed to all the provinces of the empire telling all the gentiles to mobilize for the 13th of Adar to exterminate, kill and destroy all the Jews, young and old (Esther 3:12-15). This was why Esther now asked Ahashverosh to revoke the letters Haman had sent out in the name of the king.
Vv 7-8: Ahashverosh replied that this was impossible, because “writing that is already written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s ring cannot be revoked”. This was in accordance with a law in the empire of the Medes and Persians that once promulgated, no governmental decree could ever be changed, as we find in Daniel 6:16, where even Darius king of Medea was unable to intervene to save his favorite Daniel from the decree made by his ministers’ to kill anyone found worshipping any other god besides the king. Our present text also alludes to the impossibility of changing even a single word or letter of the Torah.
Nevertheless, Ahashverosh now gave Mordechai and Esther permission to promulgate a new decree in the name of the king that would not revoke the previous decree but would allow the Jews to stand up against their enemies on D-Day, the 13th of Adar, and do to them exactly what they sought to do to the Jews.
V 10: “…and he sent letters in the hand of couriers on horseback riding on the swift horses used in the royal service bred from the stud mares.” The phrase “used in the royal service bred from the stud mares” is a translator’s device to find an intelligible rendering for the Hebrew/Persian words HA-AHASHTRANIM B’NEY HARAMACHIM, whose exact meaning is not known. Targum renders HA-AHAHSTRANIM as ARTOULYONEY, which has the connotation of “naked” and apparently refers to the riders, who were stripped to the minimum gear necessary in order to be able to travel at top speed. Targum explains that the runners had their spleens removed and that the soles of their feet were arched so that only their toes touched the ground. Using couriers of this kind was the only way to communicate at high speed across a vast empire in the days before phones, faxes, Internet and satellite technology.
V 11: The king permitted the Jews not only to defend themselves and kill and destroy their enemies [which the United Nations and Israel’s “allies” still do not allow until today] but also authorized them “…to plunder their goods”. The last provision was exactly parallel to the provision made in Haman’s letters that the enemies were to plunder the Jews (Esther 3:13). However, when it came to it, the Jews did NOT plunder their enemies (Esther 9:10), thereby showing everyone that they did not do what they did for monetary gain (Rashi on Esther 8:11).
Vv 15-16 are two of the four “Verses of Redemption” (together with Esther 2:5 and 10:3) that are read out aloud, each in its proper place, by all the congregation during the public reading of the Megillah prior to their being read out of the scroll by the BAAL KOREI (“reader”; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 690:17).
“The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor.” – “Light” is Torah; “Gladness” is YOM TOV, festive celebration; “Joy” refers to circumcision, while “honor” refers to Tefilin (Megillah 16b).
V 17: “And many of the people of the land became Jews…” Seeing the hand of God in the miracle performed for the Jews convinced them to become converts.