1) PRAISE FOR MORDECHAI FOR SAVING THE JEWS, OR BLAME FOR ENDANGERING THEM
QUESTION: The Rabanan say that the tribes of Yehudah and Binyamin claimed credit for the miracle of Purim. The family of Yehudah claimed credit because David ha'Melech refrained from killing Shim'i ben Gera, from whom Mordechai descended. The family of Binyamin claimed credit because Mordechai came from the tribe of Binyamin.
Rava disagrees and says that Mordechai not only deserves no credit for the salvation, but he deserves the blame for the troubles that befell the Jewish people in his time. According to Rava, Keneses Yisrael (the Jewish people) bemoaned what the families of Yehudah and Binyamin caused: The decision of David ha'Melech (who came from Yehudah) to spare Shim'i ben Gera led to the birth of Mordechai, who aroused the enmity of Haman and thereby endangered the entire Jewish people. The decision of Shaul ha'Melech (who came from Binyamin) to spare Agag led to the birth of Haman, who threatened the Jewish people with annihilation.
How can Rava suggest an allegation against Mordechai for provoking Haman's wrath? Mordechai acted entirely in accordance with the Halachah when he refused to bow down to Haman (who was deifying himself).
ANSWER: The Gemara earlier (6b) discusses whether or not a Tzadik may confront a Rasha who is experiencing good fortune ("ha'Sha'ah Mesachekes Lo"). The Gemara concludes that even if the Tzadik is a Tzadik Gamur (a total Tzadik), he should not contend with a Rasha in worldly matters. The Gemara in Berachos (7b; see TUREI EVEN to Megilah 6b) records a similar discussion and concludes that even with regard to spiritual matters, a Tzadik may contend with a Rasha only when he is a "Tzadik Gamur" (an "absolute Tzadik"). A Tzadik who is not a Tzadik Gamur should not contend with a Rasha at all, even in spiritual matters (as long as suppressing his aggravation with the Rasha does not cause him to transgress the Torah). (See the Gemara in Berachos 7a, which says that a Tzadik Gamur will experience no suffering in this world, and Ta'anis 21a: "If you [Nachum Ish Gam Zu] are a Tzadik Gamur, then why are you suffering?" See also MAHARSHA there.)
Haman's demand that the Jews bow down to him clearly involved a spiritual matter; he was antagonizing the Jews and insisting that they worship him (Megilah 10b). Although the Halachah may have permitted one to bow down to Haman under the circumstances, Mordechai's intent was to protest against the Rasha in a spiritual matter. His refusal to bow down to Haman was motivated by his desire to effect a Kidush Hash-m (see TOSFOS to Shabbos 72b, end of DH Amar Rava).
The question of whether Mordechai is to be praised or blamed for the events of Purim may depend on whether Mordechai was considered a Tzadik Gamur or not. Those who claim that Mordechai is to blame for endangering the Jewish people maintain that he was not a Tzadik Gamur (see later, 16b) and thus he was not entitled to confront Haman. Those who claim that Mordechai is to be praised maintain that he was a Tzadik Gamur and was permitted to confront Haman.
The way in which Mordechai is praised in the prayers of Purim today demonstrates that the Halachah follows the opinion that Mordechai was correct in his refusal to bow down to Haman because he was considered a Tzadik Gamur. Perhaps this is the reason why the Targum always refers to Mordechai as "Mordechai Tzadika," "Mordechai the Tzadik." The Targum wants to emphasize that Mordechai was a Tzadik Gamur and therefore he was justified in confronting Haman. (M. KORNFELD)
2) YOM KIPPUR: PREPARING TO COME BEFORE THE KING
The verse in Esther (2:12) states that before each maiden went before the king during the selection process for the new queen, she would undergo a treatment "like the treatment of women for twelve months, for so were the days of their anointing (Yemei Merukeihen): six months with oil of myrrh (Shemen ha'Mor) and six months with perfumes and women's ointments. With this, the maiden would come to the king." The Gemara quotes Rav Huna who says that "Shemen ha'Mor" is oil from olives which did not reach more than a third of their growth. Such oil was used "because it removes the hair and softens the flesh."
The VILNA GA'ON (Esther 2:12) suggests that the Megilah's discussion of how the maidens prepared themselves and smeared themselves with oil in preparation for their audition with Achashverosh alludes to the way a person must prepare himself to stand before the King of kings on Yom Kippur.
The verse says that each maiden ("Na'arah") was given twelve months to prepare to come before the king, just as a bride is given twelve months to prepare for her wedding (Kesuvos 57a). The Zohar uses the word "Na'arah" (maiden) to refer to a person's Neshamah. Hence, the verse means that one's Neshamah is given twelve months to prepare to come before the King, Hash-m. The Vilna Ga'on explains as follows.
The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (17a) teaches that Hash-m is "Ma'avir Rishon Rishon" -- He "removes" the first sin that a person commits and does not hold the person accountable for it. The Vilna Ga'on explains that this means that Hash-m expunges all of a person's sins, one at a time, as the RAMBAM
writes (Hilchos Teshuvah 3:5; see Insights to Rosh Hashanah 17:1
for various explanations of "Ma'avir Rishon Rishon"). The Vilna Ga'on adds that Hash-m removes a person's sins only if he repents. However, when a person repents during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, his repentance is often done "under duress" and may not be fully sincere. Therefore, although Hash-m removes the sins, they are not yet completely forgiven. Rather, Hash-m gives the person twelve months -- the duration of the coming year after Yom Kippur -- to prove the sincerity of his Teshuvah. If he does not repeat the sin during those twelve months, he shows that his Teshuvah was sincere, and Hash-m then wipes out the sin entirely and completely exonerates him. Until that time, however, Hash-m suspends the sin while He waits to see if the person will refrain from doing it again. If the person returns to his sin during those twelve months, Hash-m reinstates the sin on the person's account and counts it against him retroactively (for example, it may increase the punishment decreed for the person due to his other sins).
When the verse says that each Na'arah -- referring to every person's Neshamah -- was given twelve months for "the days of their anointing (Yemei Merukeihen)," it refers to the twelve-month period which determines whether a person's Teshuvah was sincere. "Merukeihen" comes from the word "Merok," which means to "cleanse." The twelve months of "Yemei Merukeihen" allude to the twelve months a person is given to completely cleanse himself of his sins that were temporarily suspended on Yom Kippur.
The verse continues and describes how those twelve months are to be used to wipe out the sins that were suspended on Yom Kippur.
First, "six months with Shemen ha'Mor" removes the body hair, as Rav Huna here says. Hair is the only part of the body that serves primarily an aesthetic purpose. As such, it symbolizes the extraneous luxuries in a person's life which keep him ensnared in the pursuit of materialistic pleasure. By working for six months to remove those luxuries, a person is able to extract himself from the lure of worldly pleasures and overcome his Yetzer ha'Ra to sin again. (Ha'Ga'on Rav Moshe Shapiro explained that "softening the flesh" also alludes to removing all external influences which adversely affect the body. Alternatively, it may represent becoming "soft like flesh," an allusion to humbling oneself; see Sotah 5a. -M. KORNFELD)
The next six months are "six months with perfumes and women's ointments." After one has removed the "hair" of worldly luxuries, he must strive to bring holiness into his life through the scrupulous fulfillment of Mitzvos Aseh, the positive Mitzvos. Mitzvos Aseh are represented by "perfumes" because they bring a sweet scent into a person's life like perfumes. One also must work on cleansing himself by fulfilling all of the Mitzvos Lo Ta'aseh, the negative Mitzvos, which are represented by "Tamrukei Nashim" ("women's ointments"). As mentioned above, the word "Tamrukei" comes from the word "Merok," which means to cleanse oneself of the temptation to sin.
After those twelve months, "with this, the maiden would come to the king." On the following Yom Kippur, twelve months after a person repented and resolved not to sin again, the person's Neshamah is prepared to come before the King to ask for complete forgiveness. Since he successfully avoided returning to his old sins which Hash-m temporarily suspended, Hash-m sees that his Teshuvah was sincere. Hash-m then completely forgives the sins that were suspended on the previous Yom Kippur.
HA'GA'ON RAV SHLOMO WOLBE zt'l (in ALEI SHUR 3:16, p. 430, footnote) adds that this approach explains the text of the blessing in the Shemoneh Esreh of Yom Kippur: "Baruch Atah Hash-m, Melech Mochel v'Sole'ach la'Avonoseinu... u'Ma'avir Ashmoseinu b'Chol Shanah v'Shanah..." -- "the King Who pardons and forgives our sins... and removes our sins each and every year." After we say that Hash-m pardons and forgives our sins, why do we add that He "removes our sins each and every year"? If He already forgave our sins, what is left for Him to remove each year? What is this "removal" of sins if not forgiveness?
Rav Wolbe explains that the blessing refers to the two types of forgiveness Hash-m grants on Yom Kippur. First, He looks at the sins of the year before the outgoing year, which He suspended last Yom Kippur and for which He waited until this Yom Kippur to see whether the person's Teshuvah was sincere. If He sees that the person did not return to those sins, He "pardons and forgives" them completely. Second, He looks at the sins of the outgoing year, and if He sees that the person is making an effort to correct his ways and do Teshuvah, He removes them and suspends them for twelve months until Yom Kippur of the following year. If, on the next Yom Kippur, He sees that the person achieved a full and sincere Teshuvah for those sins, He completely pardons the person for his sins.
3) HAMAN'S 10,000 KIKAR OF SILVER
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that Hash-m foresaw that Haman would pay 10,000 Kikar-weights of silver to Achashverosh in return for the right to kill all of the Jews. Hash-m "prepared the cure before the illness": He commanded the Jews who left Mitzrayim (nearly 1000 years before the events of Purim) to donate a half-Shekel each to the Mishkan (Shemos 30:13).
TOSFOS (16a) writes that the total weight of the silver Shekalim which the Jews gave in the wilderness was equal to the 10,000 Kikar of silver which Haman offered Achashverosh.
The words of Tosfos are puzzling. The total weight of the half-Shekels which the 600,000 Jews donated does not come near 10,000 Kikar of silver. In fact, the Torah explicitly states that the total weight of the Shekalim was just 100 Kikar (Shemos 38:26-7), only a fraction (1/100) of what Haman gave to Achashverosh. (See MAHARSHA, CHIZKUNI to Shemos 30:14, VILNA GA'ON to Esther 3:9, RAV TZADOK HA'KOHEN in Divrei Sofrim (p. 84), and others.) Many answers have been offered by the Rishonim and Acharonim to this question.
(a) One explanation is based on the Midrash (Esther Rabah 7:19) which explains that Haman paid 50 Shekels (or 100 times a half-Shekel) for each of the 600,000 Jews who left Mitzrayim. RABEINU BACHYE (Shemos 38:25) elaborates on this. The Torah ascribes a Halachic value (Erech) to a person based on his gender and age group (Vayikra 27). The highest value ascribed to any person is 50 Shekels. Haman therefore gave that amount for each of the 600,000 Jews. (Although many Jews obviously had a lower Erech due to their gender or age group, Haman did not want to take any chances and thus he gave the highest Erech for every Jewish soul. See also SEFER ROKE'ACH #235 and the Roke'ach's commentary on the Torah, end of Parshas Bechukosai.)
Tosfos, however, says that Haman paid "half a Shekel" -- and not 50 Shekels -- for each Jew. RAV YAKOV EMDEN suggests that the text of Tosfos in our edition may be an error caused by a printer's misreading of an acronym. The original text of Tosfos may have read that Haman paid "Ches-Shin" (the letter "Ches" for Chamishim (fifty), and the letter "Shin" for "Shekalim") for each Jew. In a later edition the acronym was misinterpreted as "Chatzi Shekel" (a half-Shekel) for each Jew.
(b) Others point out that the discrepancy is lessened significantly by a detail mentioned in the Gemara in Bechoros (5a). The Gemara there says that the Kikar-weight used in the Mishkan was not the ordinary Kikar but rather it was double the value of the ordinary Kikar. Each Kikar of the Torah equals two ordinary Kikars. Haman presumably used the ordinary Kikar-weight of silver. (See PNEI YEHOSHUA and others)
This lessens the discrepancy by half, but it does not fully explain Tosfos' calculation. Haman still paid 50 times more than the value of the half-Shekels the Jews gave in the wilderness.
(c) However, further investigation demonstrates that the silver paid by Haman to Achashverosh was exactly equal in value to the weight of the half-Shekels donated to the Mishkan. It can be proven that each of Haman's Shekalim were worth only one-fiftieth of the value of an ordinary Shekel. He paid 50 times the amount which the Jews gave in order to compensate for the difference in value of the two types of Shekel.
The Gemara in Kidushin (12a) quotes Shmuel who says, "If a man betroths a young woman with a date fruit, although dates [in their region] are so inexpensive that a 'Kur' of them are sold for one Dinar, we must nevertheless assume that Kidushin has taken effect (and the woman must receive a legal divorce before she may marry someone else) because in the country of Mede, a single date is indeed worth a Perutah."
Shmuel seems to be saying that since dates were in high demand in Mede they were worth more there than in other countries (see Rashi there). The VILNA GA'ON (printed at the end of Mishnayos Zera'im, and in Kol Eliyahu #226), however, understands Shmuel's statement differently. The Vilna Ga'on contends that it was not the value of dates that was different in Mede, but rather the value of silver. Silver was so abundant in Mede that even for a single date the Medes were willing to pay a Perutah, a coin whose value is determined by the price of silver. He bases his interpretation on a verse in Yeshayah (13:17) which states that Hash-m will deliver Bavel into the hands of the Medes, "who do not value silver and who are not interested in gold."
The Medes to whom the verse refers are the ones who conquered Nevuchadnetzar of Bavel and later shared a kingdom with Achashverosh of Persia (see Megilah 11a). It can be assumed that the Medes and Persians shared a common currency system as well.
The relationship between the value of silver in the kingdom of Persia-Mede and in other areas can be calculated as follows:
1. In areas other than Persia-Mede, a Kur's measure of dates sold for one Dinar, as the Gemara in Kidushin says. According to that ratio, what measure of dates sold for one Perutah?
The conversion rates of volume are: 1 Kur = 30 Se'ah, 1 Se'ah = 144 Beitzah (see Rashi Eruvin 83b).
One Dinar is equivalent to 144 Perutah (according to Raban Shimon ben Gamliel in Kidushin 12a, whose assessment of the value of the Perutah is the largest of all of the opinions).
Accordingly, 30 Beitzah-measures of dates sold for one Perutah. This is in stark contrast to Persia-Mede, where only one date could be acquired for the same Perutah's worth of silver.
2. How many dates fit into the size of 30 Beitzah-measures? The Vilna Ga'on asserts in his commentary on Mishlei (22:9), based on the Midrash ha'Zohar, that 3 1/3 olives fit into the volume of one Beitzah. Consequently, the problem may be expressed as, "How many dates fit into the size of 100 olives (i.e. 30 eggs)?"
3. The answer to this may be inferred from the Gemara in Kerisus (14a) which states that exactly two olives fit into the volume of one date. Accordingly, exactly 50 dates fit into the volume of 100 olives.
4. This means that 50 dates, the equivalent of 30 Beitzah-measures of dates, cost one Perutah in all other places, while in Persia-Mede each date cost one Perutah. The silver in that kingdom obviously was worth one-fiftieth the value of silver elsewhere.
This explains why Haman, who lived in the kingdom of Persia-Mede, paid exactly 50 times the amount of silver that the Jews donated to the Mishkan in order to buy the right to destroy them. (M. KORNFELD)
4) AGADAH: "SLEEPING" FROM THE MITZVOS
QUESTION: When Haman presented to Achashverosh his plan for the destruction of the Jews, he argued, "Yeshno Am Echad" -- "there exists a certain nation" (Esther 3:8). The Gemara explains that Haman said, "There is a certain nation which is sleeping (Yeshno) from the Mitzvos."
What was the meaning of Haman's statement that the Jews were "sleeping" from the Mitzvos, and why did he use that argument to persuade Achashverosh to give him the right to kill them?
ANSWER: Haman reasoned that his attempts to destroy the Jewish people would be successful because the Jews' fulfillment of the Mitzvos had become so heartless; their apathy towards the Mitzvos would forfeit any Divine protection they might otherwise have been entitled to receive. Hash-m responded to their indolent performance of the Mitzvos measure for measure by acting as though He was sleeping, and He did not reveal His presence to them. Indeed, the Midrash relates that Haman claimed that Hash-m was "sleeping from protecting His people," and it cites the verse (Tehilim 44:24), "Arouse! Why should You sleep, Hash-m!" (See Esther Rabah 7:12, 10:1.)
The verse later in the Megilah says, "ba'Lailah ha'Hu Nadedah Shenas ha'Melech" -- "on that night, the king's sleep was disturbed" (Esther 6:1). The Midrash (Esther Rabah 10:1) comments that this verse refers to Hash-m's sleep. When the Jews realized the imminent danger that faced them, they repented and turned to Hash-m in fervent prayer and fasting. They aroused themselves from their slumber, and in return Hash-m aroused Himself from His slumber, so to speak -- "va'Yikatz k'Yashen Hash-m" -- "and Hash-m woke up like one who sleeps" (Tehilim 78:65, Esther Rabah 7:12). When the Jews repented sincerely and accepted upon themselves to fulfill the Torah as though it was the first time they received it -- as the verse says, "Kiyemu v'Kiblu" (Esther 9:27; Shabbos 88a) -- Hash-m responded accordingly and treated the Jews with a display of renewed love.
This theme is reflected in other elements of Purim. The Gemara (7b) states that a person should become inebriated on Purim "Ad d'Lo Yada Bein Baruch Mordechai l'Arur Haman," until he does not know the difference between "Blessed is Mordechai" and "Cursed is Haman." The REMA (OC 695:2) rules that the Gemara does not mean that one should get drunk, but rather that one should drink a little more than usual and then go to sleep. Perhaps the reason why a person should fulfill the Halachah of "Ad d'Lo Yada" in this way is to commemorate the events of Purim. The Jews were "sleeping from the Mitzvos," and Hash-m reacted as though He was asleep. Through the miraculous events of Purim, the Jews were inspired to do Teshuvah and to awaken themselves from their slumber, and they thereby became worthy of Hash-m awaking from His slumber, so to speak.
In addition, the Gemara (10b) says that the name "Mordechai" comes from the words "Mor Deror" (or "Meira Dachya" in Aramaic). "Mor Deror" was the first of the spices and herbs used in the Shemen ha'Mishchah and the Ketores (Shemos 30:23). Just as the aroma of the ingredients of the Ketores continually stimulated the senses and no one ever tired of the smell, so, too, Mordechai aroused the people to renew their love for Hash-m to such a degree that their love would never become dull.
The Mishnah in Yoma (26a) alludes to this quality of the Ketores when it says, "Chadashim la'Ketores" (only "new" Kohanim who had never before offered the Ketores were permitted to participate in the lottery for offering the Ketores). A characteristic of the aromatic Ketores is that its sweet smell arouses people to renew their love for Hash-m. Perhaps this quality is reflected in the enactment that only "new" Kohanim ("Chadashim") may offer the Ketores. New Kohanim, who have never performed the Avodah of the Ketores, will perform the Mitzvah with great zeal and love.
This element of Purim -- the Jews' awakening from their slumber -- explains why Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi ruled (4a) that "one is obligated to read the Megilah at night and to repeat it at day (u'Leshanosah ba'Yom)." This was an odd way to say that the Megilah should be read a second time. Indeed, this phrase confused his students who thought that he meant that the Mishnayos of Maseches Megilah should be learned ("Leshanosah") during the day. Why did Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi state his ruling in such a way instead of saying simply that one must "read the Megilah again" during the day?
Moreover, TOSFOS there (4a, DH Chayav) writes that the main reading is the daytime one. If the first reading of the Megilah is at night, why is the main reading during the day?
The answer may be that the Chachamim deliberately enacted that the Megilah be read during the day a second time and that the daytime reading be the main one, and they emphasized that the daytime reading is a repetition of the first reading ("Leshanosah"). Their intention was to stress that when we read the Megilah a second time, we do so with zeal and excitement to show that we are not bored with the Mitzvah. We thereby rectify the shortcoming of the people at the time of Purim. (M. KORNFELD)