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FROM THE TORAH
With the conclusion of the Book of Exodus, Moses and Israel have completed the construction of the Tabernacle and the equipping of Aaron and his sons the Kohanim (Priests). In this Sedra Vayikra, the beginning of the Book of Leviticus, Moses and Israel learn from the Eternal the types of offerings that will be received and processed in the Sanctuary to reach out to the Eternal and to seek atonement.
Menu of Offerings
From the Tent of Meeting, the Eternal calls (Vayikra) to Moses to tell the Children of Israel the procedure of animal offerings by a man to the Eternal, whether from herd or from flock.
A burnt offering (olah) from the herd shall be a bull without blemish. The man shall offer it at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting (cf. Exodus 26:36), to be accepted on his behalf before the Eternal. He must place his hand on the head of the burnt offering in order for it to be accepted on his behalf as atonement for him. After it is slaughtered before the Eternal, the sons of Aaron the Kohanim shall offer the blood by dashing it around the Altar (cf. Exodus 27:1-8; 29:37-46) which is at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. The offering shall be flayed and cut into pieces, which, together with the head and the suet, shall be placed upon burning wood on the Altar which the sons of Aaron have arranged. The entrails and the legs shall be washed in water. The Kohen shall cause all of it to smoke upon the Altar, a burnt offering, an offering by fire with a pleasing aroma to the Eternal.
A burnt offering from the flock, of sheep or of goats, shall be a male without blemish. It shall be slaughtered on the north side of the Altar, then the sons of Aaron the Kohanim shall dash the blood around the Altar. The offering shall be cut into pieces, which, together with the head and the suet, shall be placed upon burning wood on the Altar. The entrails and the legs shall be washed in water. The Kohen shall offer all of it and cause it to smoke upon the Altar, a burnt offering, an offering by fire with a pleasing aroma to the Eternal.
A burnt offering from fowl to the Eternal shall be of turtledoves or of pigeons. The Kohen shall bring it near to the Altar, pinch off its head, and cause it to smoke upon the Altar, while its blood is drained upon the wall of the Altar. He shall remove its crop with its feathers and throw them east of the Altar to the place of ashes. He shall tear it open by its wings without severing it, and the Kohen shall cause it to smoke upon the wood that is upon the fire, a burnt offering, an offering by fire with a pleasing aroma to the Eternal.
When a person makes an offering of meal (mincha) to the Eternal, it shall be of fine flour, and he shall pour oil upon it and put frankincense upon it. He shall bring it to the sons of Aaron the Kohanim, and the Kohen shall take a fistful of its fine flour and oil and all of its frankincense, and cause it to smoke as a remembrance upon the Altar, an offering of fire with a pleasing aroma to the Eternal. The remainder of the meal offering shall be for Aaron and his sons, most holy, from the fire offerings of the Eternal.
If you would make an offering of oven-baked meal, fine flour, it may be of unleavened cakes mixed with oil or unleavened wafers spread with oil.
On the Griddle
If your meal offering is on a griddle, it must be fine flour mixed with oil and unleavened: break it into pieces and pour oil upon it.
In a Pan
If your meal offering is in a pan, it must be made of fine flour in oil.
Of any of these, when you bring the meal offering to the Eternal, it shall be offered to the Kohen and he shall take it to the Altar. The Kohen shall hold up some of it as its token and cause it to smoke upon the Altar, an offering of fire with a pleasing aroma to the Eternal. The remainder of the meal offering shall be for Aaron and his sons, most holy, from the fire offerings of the Eternal.
Include salt with your every meal offering, the salt of your covenant with God.
If you make a meal offering of first fruits (bikkurim) to the Eternal, you shall offer fresh ears of barley parched with fire, groats and fresh fruit. You shall add oil and frankincense to it. The Kohen shall take its token from some of its groats, from some of its oil, and from all of its frankincense, and cause it to smoke, a fire offering to the Eternal.
Leaven and Honey
No meal offering may be made with leaven or with honey. Do not make of them smoke in an offering of fire to the Eternal. You may offer them as first-fruits to the Eternal, but they may not go up to the Altar as a pleasing aroma.
For a sacrifice of well-being (shelamim) that one makes from the herd, whether male or female, he must offer it without blemish to the Eternal. He puts his hand upon the head of his offering and slaughters it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. The sons of Aaron the Kohanim shall dash the blood around the Altar. He shall offer from the well-being sacrifice, a fire offering to the Eternal, the fat that covers and surrounds the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat on them that is at the loins, and the appendage on the liver which he shall remove together with the kidneys. The sons of Aaron shall cause them to smoke upon the Altar over the wood that is over the fire, an offering of fire with a pleasing aroma to the Eternal.
If his offering of a sacrifice of well-being to the Eternal is from the flock, whether male or female, he must offer it without blemish:
If he offers a sheep, he shall bring it before the Eternal and lay his hand upon the head of his offering and slaughter it before the Tent of Meeting. The sons of Aaron shall dash its blood around the Altar. He shall offer from the well-being sacrifice, as a fire offering to the Eternal, its fat: the whole tail removed close to the spine, the fat covering and surrounding the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat on them which is at the loins, and the appendage on the liver which he shall remove together with the kidneys. The Kohen shall cause it to smoke upon the Altar, food, a fire offering to the Eternal.
If he offers a goat, he shall bring it before the Eternal and lay his hand upon its head and slaughter it before the Tent of Meeting. The sons of Aaron shall dash its blood around the Altar. He shall present from it his offering, an offering of fire to the Eternal, the fat covering and surrounding the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat upon them at the loins, and the appendage on the liver which he shall remove with the kidneys. The Kohen shall cause them to smoke upon the Altar, food, an offering of fire with a pleasing aroma.
Fat and Blood
All fat belongs to the Eternal. It is an everlasting statute for all of your generations and in all of your habitations that you may not eat any fat or any blood.
The Eternal speaks to Moses to tell the Children of Israel how to bring offerings in the event of unintentional violations of the Eternal’s prohibitions.
Of a Kohen on Behalf of the People
If the Anointed Kohen sins to the detriment of the people, then he must bring as a sin offering (chatat) to the Eternal a bull of the herd without blemish. He brings the bull to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting before the Eternal and lays his hand upon the head of the bull and slaughters it before the Eternal. Then the Anointed Kohen takes some of the blood into the Tent of Meeting, where he dips his finger and sprinkles some of the blood seven times before the Eternal facing the Dividing Curtain of the Sanctuary (cf. Exodus 26:31). The Kohen shall put some of the blood on the horns of the Altar of Aromatic Incense (cf. Exodus 30:1-10) before the Eternal which is in the Tent of Meeting, and all the rest of the blood he shall pour out at the base of the Altar of Burnt Offering (cf. Exodus 29:37-46) which is at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. He shall remove all of the fat of the bull of the sin offering: the fat covering and surrounding the entrails, the two kidneys and the fat upon them at the loins, the appendage on the liver which he shall remove with the kidneys, just as it is removed from the ox of the well-being sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 3:1-5). The Kohen shall make them smoke on the Altar of Burnt Offering, but all the rest of the bull, including its skin, all of its flesh, together with its head and its legs, its entrails and its dung, he shall take out of the camp to a pure place, to the ash heap, and burn it upon wood over the fire.
Of the Entire Congregation
If the entire Congregation of Israel sins and the matter is at first unnoticed but later known, then the community must bring as a sin offering a bull of the herd before the Tent of Meeting. The Elders of the Congregation shall place their hands upon the head of the bull and slaughter it before the Eternal. The Anointed Kohen shall bring some of the blood of the bull to the Tent of Meeting and dip his finger and sprinkle some of the blood seven times before the Eternal facing the Dividing Curtain. He shall put some of the blood upon the horns of the Altar which is in the Tent of Meeting, and the rest of the blood he shall pour at the base of the Altar of Burnt Offering, which is at the Entrance of the Tent of Meeting. He shall remove all of its fat from it and make it smoke upon the Altar. He shall do to the bull as he did to the Kohen’s bull of sin offering (cf. Leviticus 4:3-12). Thus shall the Kohen make atonement for them and they shall be forgiven. He shall remove the bull to outside of the camp and burn it as he burned the first bull. It is a sin offering for the community.
Of a Leader
If a Leader (Nasi) violates one of the prohibitions of the Eternal his God, whether he discovers it himself or he is informed, he must bring as his offering a male goat without blemish. He shall place his hand upon the head of the goat and slaughter it in a place where the burnt offering is slaughtered before the Eternal. It is a sin offering. The Kohen shall put some of the blood with his finger upon the horns of the Altar of Burnt Offering and shall pour out the rest of it at the base of the Altar of Burnt Offering. All of its fat he shall turn into smoke upon the Altar like the fat of the well-being sacrifices (cf. Leviticus 3:6-16a). Thus shall the Kohen seek atonement for him from his sin, and he shall be forgiven.
Of a Person
If anyone of the people should sin unintentionally by violating one of the prohibitions of the Eternal, whether he discovers it himself or he is informed, he must bring as his offering a female goat without blemish. He shall place his hand upon the head of the sin offering and slaughter the sin offering in the place of the burnt offering. The Kohen shall take some of its blood with his finger and put it upon the horns of the Altar of Burnt Offering, and the rest of its blood he shall pour out at the base of the Altar. All of its fat he shall remove, as the fat was removed from the well-being sacrifices (cf. Leviticus 3:14-15), and the Kohen shall cause it to smoke upon the Altar for a pleasing aroma to the Eternal. Thereby the Kohen shall seek atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven. If he brings a sheep as his offering, it must be a female without blemish. Otherwise the procedure is the same as with a goat, except that he must remove its fat, as the fat of the sheep was removed from the well-being sacrifice (cf. Leviticus 3:9-10). The Kohen shall cause it to smoke upon the Altar together with the fire offerings of the Eternal for the purpose of atonement and forgiveness for the sin that he committed.
For Sins of Neglect
A person may sin in the event that: he does not step forward to testify as a witness in litigation that has been announced; he forgets that he touched the carcass of an impure beast or impure cattle or impure creeping thing; he forgets that he touched human impurity; and he forgets that he uttered a particular oath.
If he later realizes that he is guilty of one of these, he shall bring his penalty to the Eternal for his sin: a female from the flock, a sheep or a goat, for a sin offering. The Kohen shall seek atonement for him from his sin.
If he cannot afford one or the other from the flock, then he may bring as his penalty two turtledoves or two pigeons to the Eternal, one for a sin offering and one for a burnt offering. The Kohen shall offer the one for the sin offering first, pinching its head at the back of its neck without severing it and sprinkling some of its blood upon the wall of the Altar. What remains of the blood shall be drained out at the base of the Altar. The second of the pair he shall treat as the burnt offering according to the prescribed procedure (cf. Leviticus 1:14-17). Thus shall the Kohen seek atonement for him from his sin, and he shall be forgiven.
If he cannot afford two turtledoves or two pigeons, then he shall bring as his offering for having sinned one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour. Because it is a sin offering, he shall put no oil or frankincense upon it. The Kohen shall remove a fistful of it as the token and cause it to smoke upon the Altar together with the fire offerings of the Eternal, as a sin offering. The Kohen shall seek atonement for him for one of the aforementioned sins, and he shall be forgiven. It shall belong to the Kohen, like the meal offering.
For Misappropriation of Sanctities
The Eternal provides to Moses the manner of atonement for a person who unwittingly misappropriates sanctities of the Eternal. The penalty which he shall bring to the Eternal consists of a ram without blemish from the flock, convertible by valuation to silver sacred shekels, a guilt offering (asham). In addition he shall restore to the Kohen the value of the sanctity which he misappropriated plus one-fifth. The Kohen shall seek atonement for him with the ram of the guilt offering, and he shall be forgiven.
For Unwitting Violation of Prohibitions
A person who violates any prohibition of the Eternal, even when he is not aware that he has, is guilty. So he shall bring a ram without blemish from the flock, or its equivalent by valuation, for a guilt offering, to the Kohen. The Kohen shall seek atonement for him for the violation he committed unknowingly, and he shall be forgiven. It is a guilt offering in that he has incurred guilt before the Eternal.
For Violations of Property
One sins in acting unfaithfully against the Eternal by violating the property of another person in the matter of a deposit or security, through robbery or fraud, by misappropriating lost property, or by making a false oath in any case of possible violation. When one realizes that he is guilty of one of these sins and would restore the loss, he shall pay to the rightful owner the principal amount plus one-fifth. As his guilt offering he brings to the Eternal a ram without blemish from the flock or its equivalent by valuation. The Kohen shall seek atonement for him before the Eternal, and he shall be forgiven for whatever he may have done to incur guilt.
Maftir for Shabbat Zachor
Second of the Four Special Parashiyot
Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you went out of Egypt (cf. Exodus 17:8), how he struck all of your weak ones at the rear of your march while you were weary, and did not fear God. When the Eternal your God has relieved you of all of your enemies who will surround you in the Land that the Eternal your God is giving you as a possession to inherit, you should blot out any remembrance of Amalek from under heaven (cf. Exodus 17:14-16). Do not forget!
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Zachor
I Samuel 15:2-34
Saul had been anointed the first King of Israel
by Samuel the Prophet at the behest of the Eternal.
Now Samuel delivers to Saul
the Eternal’s stern message.
The Remembrance of Amalek
Thus says the Eternal of Hosts: I have taken note of what Amalek did to Israel during its journey out of Egypt (cf. Exodus 17:8-13). Now you must strike Amalek and utterly destroy all of its people of all ages, and its animals must you destroy as well (cf. Exodus 17:14-16).
So Saul summons his people and takes a census of them at Telaim: 200,000 footmen and 10,000 men of Judah. Before striking Amalek, Saul removes the Kenites from among them “because you showed kindness to the Children of Israel when they came up from Egypt” (I Samuel 15:6). Then Saul strikes Amalek from Havilah as you enter Shur, which is before Egypt. He destroys by the sword all of the people of Amalek except for Agag, the king of Amalek. Saul and his people spare Agag and also the best of the flocks and herds of Amalek. The lesser of the animals they destroy.
Then the word of the Eternal comes to Samuel: I regret that I have made Saul King, for he has turned away from Me and My words. Samuel is distraught, and he cries out to the Eternal all that night. But Samuel rises early the next morning to meet Saul at Carmel. He is told that Saul has set up a monument and moved on to Gilgal. When Samuel catches up with Saul, Saul declares, “Blessed are You of the Eternal: I have fulfilled the word of the Eternal” (I Samuel 15:13)! Samuel replies, “But what is this sound of the flock in my ears, and the sound of the herd that I hear” (I Samuel 15:14)! Saul responds that the people has spared the best of the flock and the herd “in order to sacrifice to the Eternal your God, but the rest we have executed” (I Samuel 15:15).
Says Samuel to Saul: Let me tell you what the Eternal said to me last night. With Saul’s permission, he continues: Though you may see yourself as small in your own eyes, the Eternal anointed you to be Chief and King over the Tribes of Israel. Moreover, He gave you the mission of utterly destroying sinful Amalek. So why do you not heed Him and instead grab the animals as your spoil, doing evil thereby in the sight of the Eternal? Saul protests: The people took the best of the spoil to sacrifice to the Eternal your God in Gilgal! Samuel replies: “Do you think that the Eternal prefers burnt offerings and sacrifices over heeding Him? Obeying the Eternal is better than sacrifices; attending to His word, than the fat of rams! For rebellion is as bad as the sin of sorcery, and like idolatry and idols is arrogance! Because you have spurned the word of the Eternal, He spurns you from being king” (I Samuel 15:22-23)!
Saul acknowledges that he did wrong by surrendering to the desire of the people. He begs Samuel to return with him, that he might worship the Eternal. But Samuel refuses for the finality of the Eternal’s word. As Samuel turns to leave, he tears off the corner of Saul’s robe and declares, “The Eternal has torn the Kingship of Israel from you this day and has given it instead to another better than you, for the Glory of Israel does not act falsely and does not repent, as He is not a man to change His course” (I Samuel 15:29). However, Samuel does agree to return with Saul, in sight of the Elders and of Israel, to thus maintain Saul’s honor as he bows before the Eternal.
Samuel then has Agag brought before him in chains,. Agag realizes that the bitterness of death is at hand. “Samuel says to him, ‘As your sword has made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women,’ and Samuel hews Agag in pieces before the Eternal at Gilgal” (I Samuel 15:33).
Samuel goes to Ramah, and Saul goes up to his house at Givat Shaul. Samuel never again sees Saul to the day of his death, wherein he mourned for him, and the Eternal regretted that He had made Saul King over Israel.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Leviticus Rabbah 1:6,15
The Precious Commodity of Speech
“He calls to Moses,
and the Eternal speaks to him
from the Tent of Meeting…
Speak to the Children of Israel…”
Rabbi Tanchuma put forward
the following verse:
“There is gold
and an abundance of jewels,
but lips of knowledge
are a precious commodity.”
It is common for a person to own gold, silver and various other gems and items of value but not to possess knowledge. In that case, what has he really acquired? A common saying captures this truth: “If you have acquired knowledge, what do you lack? If you lack knowledge, what have you acquired?”
In our proverb, “There is gold”: Everyone brought his gift of gold for the Tabernacle, as is written, “This is the terumah (sacred gift) that you shall take from them: gold…” (Exodus 25:3). “And an abundance of jewels”: This is the gift of the leaders, as is written, “And the leaders brought shoham stones…” (Exodus 35:27). “But lips of knowledge are a precious commodity”: Moses was regretful as he observed everyone bringing their gifts for the Tabernacle “while I have brought nothing!” The Holy One blessed be He said to him: Regret not, for speaking through you is more precious to Me than all the gifts that have been brought! Evidence is found in the opening verses, which mention both the divine call to Moses and His speaking with him. What does His speaking add? He calls to Moses and the Eternal speaks through him, as the following verse indicates: “Speak to the Children of Israel…” (Leviticus 1:1-2).
Moreover, Moses—father of wisdom, greatest of prophets, who brought Israel out of Egypt, through whose hand miracles were wrought in Egypt and awesome events upon the Red Sea, who ascended to the highest heights and brought down the Torah from heaven, and who supervised the work of the Tabernacle—did not then enter into the Tent of Meeting until the Eternal called and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, as was said, “He calls to Moses; the Eternal speaks to him from the Tent of Meeting…” (Leviticus 1:1). While earlier, at the burning bush, it is said, “The Eternal sees that he (Moses) has turned to see, so God calls to him out of the bush and says…” (Exodus 3:4): “Out of the bush” separates the Eternal’s calling and speaking, but “He calls to Moses; the Eternal speaks to him from the Tent of Meeting…” (Leviticus 1:1) constitutes no separation between calling and speaking!
This distinction may be understood by comparing the burning bush account (Exodus 3:4) to a king of flesh and blood who is angry at his servant and confines him to prison. He commands his messenger to speak to his servant from outside the prison. But in the Tent of Meeting account (Leviticus 1:1), where He is happy with His children and they are happy with Him, He commands the messenger to speak from the inside, as if He were seating Moses between His knees, like the hand of a man upon his son. Therefore it is said, “He calls to Moses; the Eternal speaks to him from (inside) the Tent of Meeting” (Leviticus 1:1)!
Leviticus Rabbah 2:7
Tanchuma Tsav 14
The Purity of Offering
“A man (adam),
as he offers from you
an offering to the Eternal from cattle,
from (min) the herd (habakar) or from the flock
shall you offer your offering.”
Rabbi Berechia interpreted the verse, “As Adam (Adam) would bring an offering shall be an offering from you to the Eternal from cattle,” in which case “shall you offer your offering better than (min) the bull (habakar)….”
The first part—“As Adam (Adam) would bring an offering shall be an offering from you to the Eternal from cattle”—means that the Holy One, blessed be He, is saying to the man who would bring an offering: May your offering be like the offering of Adam the First. How so? Adam the First was alone in the world, so everything belonged, as it were, to Adam alone! Therefore, whatever he offered was taken, beyond any doubt, from his own property and not from property he might have misappropriated from someone else by theft or violence. So should you, O man who would bring an offering, offer only from your own property and not from another’s which you acquired by theft or by violence!
This is further supported by the prophet’s words: “For I, the Eternal, love justice, hate robbery in offering…” (Isaiah 61:8). The Holy One, blessed be He, is saying: Do not think that you can rob or attack with the intent of bringing an offering to expiate your transgression, “as I hate robbery even when accompanied by an offering,” for this is like an offering that is made from stolen property, and if the offerer wants Me to accept his offering, he must first return the stolen property to its rightful owner. Then, if he presents an offering to atone for his transgression, I shall accept it, as was said, “I, the Eternal…hate robbery in offering,” that is, I reject the offering as long as stolen property is in his hand!
As for the second part—in which case “shall you offer your offering better than (min) the bull (habakar)….”—Rabbi Berechia understood this as a reference to the bull that Adam the First offered on the day that he was created (cf. Talmud Avodah Zarah 8a). Whereas it would have been impossible for Adam to offer anything that he misappropriated, since all belonged to him, it is possible for his descendant, the man who would bring an offering to “the entrance of the Tent of Meeting” (Leviticus 1:3), to offer stolen property. In that way, since this man has to exercise moral judgment over his handling of property and its selection for offerings, his offering is, to that extent, better than the bull offered by Adam the First!
Rabbi Berechia concludes: “And if you do so, ‘it shall be more pleasing to the Eternal than an ox-bull showing horns and hooves’” (Psalms 69:32)! Here is the context:
“I am humbled and pained,
but Your salvation, O God, lifts me up!
I would therefore praise the Name of God in song
and declare His greatness in thanksgiving,
which shall be more pleasing to the Eternal
than an ox-bull showing horns and hooves!”
Rabbi Berechia brings midrashic support for his comparison of a man’s offering to Adam’s by applying David’s encomium of thanksgiving song to the man’s untainted offering: “And if you do so (bring your offering intentionally untainted by theft or violence as was Adam’s only by default), then “it shall be more pleasing to the Eternal than an ox-bull showing horns and hooves!” The ox is normally born with hooves, and its horns grow out later as a bull (cf. Rashi on Talmud Avodah Zarah 8a, s.v. v’titav…), so David’s combining them as ox-bull implies that the animal was somehow both ox and bull at the same time. Moreover, “showing horns and hooves” reflects the reverse order of natural development, in which hooves precede horns. The verse then can be interpreted as a reference to the first appearance of animals during Creation, according to Rabbi Joshua ben Levi, when each one emerged upright in full stature, so that the “ox-bull” would have shown its horns before its hooves, that is, it was both ox and bull from the beginning (cf. Talmud Chullin 60a and Rashi s.v. karnav kodmin…)! Midrashically, it was that ox-bull of Creation that showed its horns before its hooves that Adam sacrificed, and “more pleasing to the Eternal” than even Adam’s offering is the honest offering of any subsequent adam (“man”)!
Leviticus Rabbah 3:5
“The Kohen shall tear it (the bird) open
by its wings,
without severing it,
and turn it into smoke on the Altar…
of pleasant aroma to the Eternal.”
Rabbi Yochanan taught: The average person offering the birds would feel an aversion to the odor of those burning wings, yet the Torah charges the Kohen to turn them into smoke upon the Altar. Why? So that the Altar may be adorned with the offering of a poor person!
Agrippa the king planned to make a thousand burnt offerings on a single day. He instructed the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) not to allow anyone else to make an offering on that day. A poor man, carrying two turtledoves, came and asked the Kohen to offer them. The Kohen said to him: The king commanded me not to let anyone else make an offering today. The poor man said to him: My lord, Kohen Gadol, I capture four birds every day; two of them I offer up, and from the other two I make a living. If you do not offer the two, you will keep me from earning a living from the other two! So the Kohen took them and offered them up.
In a dream Agrippa saw that the offering of a poor man preceded his. He sent for the Kohen Gadol: Did I not command you to prevent any other offerings today except mine? The Kohen Gadol explained to the king the predicament of the poor man and said: Could I not have offered up those two birds? The king said to him: You did well, all that you did!
It also happened that a certain woman once brought a handful of fine flour for the meal offering. The Kohen belittled her: See what these ladies offer! What is there to eat? What is there to offer? But then, in a dream, the Kohen was told: Do not belittle her, for it is as if she were offering her life!
Pesikta Rabbati Zachor 12
Remember the Wicked for their Evil
“At Rephidim, Amalek attacks Israel…
The Eternal says to Moses:
‘Write this [zot] as a remembrance in the record…’”
“Remember what Amalek did to you…
how he struck all of your weak ones
at the rear of your march while you were weary…
Blot out any remembrance of Amalek from under heaven…”
When the Holy One, blessed be He, is cited by the Prophet, Moses is remembered: “Then one recalled the days of old, of Moses, and His people, saying, ‘Where is He who brought them up out of the Sea with the shepherd of His flock? Where is He who put His holy spirit in him’” (Isaiah 63:11)?
Moses is remembered for good, but He also remembers the wicked, Amalek. For at the time when Amalek attacked Israel, what did the Holy One, blessed be He, say to Moses? “Write this one [zot] as a remembrance in the record…” (Exodus 17:14)! Indeed Moses protested: Master of the universe, it should be the righteous, not the wicked, who are remembered! The Holy One, blessed be He, answered him: By your life both are to be remembered, remembrance of the righteous to provide their reward in the world to come, and remembrance of the wicked to blot out their name (in the world to come!), as is found in this portion, “Remember what Amalek did to you…,” and by so doing, “you should blot out any remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)!
Pesikta Rabbati Zachor 12
Amalek compared to a Dog
“Remember what Amalek did to you…”
Said Rabbi Berechya of the School of Rabbi: To what may this be compared? To a king who owned an orchard and kept a dog who sat and guarded it. The son of one of the king’s friends tried to steal from the king’s orchard and was bitten by the dog. The king did not want to let it be known that his friend’s son had tried to steal from him, so he asked his own son not to mention it to the would-be thief. The king’s son came up with the following code to avoid mentioning the crime directly: “Remember what that dog did to you!”
Thus Israel sinned at Rephidim, in complaining about the lack of water, by saying, “Is the Eternal in our midst or not” (Exodus 17:7)? Immediately thereafter, the “dog” came and bit them. That was Amalek, as was said, “And Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim” (ibid. 8). So when the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to remind Israel of the sin that they committed at Rephidim, He would say, “Remember what Amalek did to you…” (Deuteronomy 25:17-19).
Talmud Yoma 22b
Measure of Man and Thing
“Saul summons his people and takes a census of them at Telaim…”
(I Samuel 15:4)
“I shall make your offspring
as numerous and uncountable
as the sands of the sea.”
“The number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea,
which cannot be measured or counted…”
According to Rabbi Samuel bar Nachmani, Rabbi Jonathan found the Prophetic verse to appear contradictory: If “the number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea,” then they would still be numerable, as numerable as the grains of sand of the sea, however many they may be; therefore, it does not follow that “they cannot be measured or counted!” But there is no contradiction: As long as Israel does the will of God, they “cannot be measured or counted,” but “the number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea,” that is, countable by a finite number, when they fail to do the will of God!
Rabbi taught in the name of Abba Yosi ben Dostai: The reason why there is no contradiction within the verse is that the first part, “The number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea…,” that is, countable, applies to the unlimited capacity of divine counting, whereas the second part, “…which cannot be measured or counted,” that is, as it were, innumerable, refers to the limitation of human counting!
Rabbi Elazar inferred from the verse a commandment: Whoever counts Israel transgresses a negative commandment, as the Prophet said, “The number of the Children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which should not be measured…” (Hosea 2:1). Rav Nachman bar Isaac said: He actually transgresses two negative commandments, as was said (more fully), “…which should not be measured and which should not be counted” (ibid.)!
“David commanded that a census be taken of the people…
The Eternal sent a pestilence upon Israel…”
(II Samuel 24:1ff.)
“The Eternal instructs Moses:
When you take the sum of the Children of Israel,
let each one tender a kofer (expiation) for himself to the Eternal for being counted,
so that no harm will result for counting them…”
Thus did Saul to prepare for war against Nachash the Ammonite:
“He counted the Children of Israel at Bezek…”
(I Samuel 11:8)
And thus did Saul to prepare for war against Amalek:
“He counted the people at Telaim…”
(I Samuel 15:4)
Rav Nehilai bar Idi reported that Samuel explained: These countings by Saul reflect a progression, such that when one becomes leader over the congregation, he grows wealthy. Thus we learn first, before Saul became King, “he counted the Children of Israel with bezek” (I Samuel 11:8): Instead of the place-name “Bezek,” the common noun bezek denotes a common shard or pebble which Saul took from each man as his kofer, which he would count instead of counting the man. Then, when Saul had become King, we learn that “he counted the people with telaim” (I Samuel 15:4): Instead of the place-name “Telaim,” the common noun telaim denotes lambs which Saul provided to each man from his own royal flock for the same purpose, to count the lambs instead of counting the men directly. Thus the progression of verses reflects the enriching of Saul when he became leader over the congregation.
But how do I know that the lambs Saul used for kofer to count the men here were not the men’s own lambs, not provided by Saul, and therefore no indication of the leader’s wealth? Then why would Scripture make a point of disclosing the particular instruments of kofer and especially the contrast between common pebbles before he became King and precious lambs when he was King?
Talmud Bava Metziah 42a: When one measures his store of grain, he should pray, “May it be Your will, O Eternal our God, to send blessing upon the work of our hands.” If he has already commenced the measuring of his grain, then in that case he should pray, “Praised be the One who sends blessing upon this much grain.” If he has already completed the measuring of his grain and then says the blessing, he has prayed a blessing in vain, because blessing is not found in something weighed, in something measured, or in something counted, but only in something that is hidden from the eye, as was said: “May the Eternal command blessing upon you in your storehouses…” (Deuteronomy 28:8). (Rashi: This is a midrash on the word “storehouses,” which can be construed as something which is hidden from your eyes.)
Talmud Yoma 22b
Midrash Shmuel 18:4
Talmud Megillah 12b-13a
The Predicament of Saul
“Samuel delivers to Saul the Eternal’s stern message…:
‘Now you must strike Amalek and utterly destroy
all of its people—men and women, children and infants—
and all of its animals—ox and sheep, camel and ass.’”
(I Samuel 15:1-3)
“Then Saul comes to the city of Amalek,
and he engages in battle [vayarev] at the wadi [banachal].”
(I Samuel 15:5)
Then Saul “engages in battle at the wadi?” These words seem out of place since in the very next verse he releases the Kenites from among the Amalekites “lest I destroy you with them” (ibid. 6)! Instead Rabbi Mani reads: “Then Saul…engages in disputation [vayarev] in the matter of the wadi [banachal], where expiation was commanded for the death of a single soul (cf. Deuteronomy 21:1-9). Thus, when the Holy One, blessed be He, told Saul to strike Amalek, Saul disputed: If for the death of one person expiation is required, then how much the moreso for the deaths of all of these people! Moreover, while a human has sinned, how have these animals sinned? And while the adults have sinned, how have the children sinned? A Divine Voice was then heard by him, saying, “Be not overly righteous” (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)!
When Saul suspected Achimelech the Kohen
of conspiring with David against him,
he had Doeg the Edomite slay Achimelech
and the other Kohanim of the city of Nov,
“And he slew the rest of the city of Nov—
man and woman, child and infant—
ox and ass and sheep.”
(I Samuel 22:19)
So, when Saul commanded Doeg to slay all of the Kohanim of Nov, a Divine Voice was then heard by him, saying, “Be not overly wicked” (cf. Ecclesiastes 7:15-18)! Rabbi Shimon ben Levi reflected: Whoever is cruel to the innocent will in the end be lenient in his treatment of the cruel, and whoever is lenient in his treatment of the cruel will in the end fall by the sword (cf. I Samuel 31:4).
“Saul and his people spare Agag, king of Amalek…
Then the word of the Eternal comes to Samuel:
‘I regret that I have made Saul King,
for he has turned away from Me and My words.’”
(I Samuel 15:9-11)
“There was a Judean man in the fortress of Shushan,
and his name was Mordechai,
son of Yair, son of Shimei, son of Keesh,
Rabbah bar bar Chana said that Rabbi Joshua ben Levi said: His father was from the tribe of Benjamin, and his mother was from the tribe of Judah.
The Rabbis say that the families are competing with each other for credit: The family of Judah is saying that because our David refrained from killing Shimei (cf. II Samuel 19:24), Mordechai, Shimei’s descendant, could be born; and Benjamin is simply saying that Mordechai descends from me.
According to Rava, the Israelite community is explaining the names as a poor reflection upon both Judah and Benjamin: See what a Judean did to me, as David failed to kill Shimei, thus allowing for his descendant Mordechai, by whom Haman was provoked to plot the destruction of the Jews; and see how a Benjaminite, viz. Saul (cf. I Samuel 9:1ff.), repaid me by refraining from killing Agag, from whom was descended Haman.
THE MEGILLAH OF ESTHER
Ahashuerus reigned over 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia. His throne was in the fortress of Shushan. In the third year of his reign he invited his officers and servants, the forces of Persia and Media, his nobles and administrators, to a banquet. For 180 days he showed off his riches and his greatness. Then the king made a banquet in the palace garden over seven days for all of the people in Shushan, of all estates. There were displayed white and blue hangings, cords of purple, rods of silver, and couches of gold upon pavements of marble. Royal wine was offered in abundance, without limit. Vashti the queen also provided a banquet in the king’s palace for the women.
AHASHUERUS V. VASHTI
On the seventh day, the king, merrily affected by his wine, ordered seven of his eunuchs to fetch Queen Vashti to appear before him with the royal crown on her head. He would show everyone her beauty! When the queen sent back the eunuchs with her refusal to appear, the king was incensed. He consulted with his seven closest Persian and Median advisors as to what should be done to Queen Vashti, under the law, for her failure to obey the king’s command as delivered by the eunuchs.
One of his advisors, Memuchan, opined before the king and the other advisors, that Queen Vashti has sinned not only against the king but against all of the other men in his provinces. For when all of their wives learn of the queen’s refusal to obey the king, they will feel free to despise their own husbands as well! So, if it please the king, let a royal edict be recorded in the laws of Persia and Media that Vashti shall indeed no more come before the king and that another, better than she, be made queen in her place, and that all wives throughout his vast realm be ordered to show respect to their husbands!
The king and his ministers approved the recommendation of Memuchan. So was it ordered by writ, throughout all of the king’s provinces, in all of the peoples’ languages, that every man should rule his own roost, and be privileged to do so in his own language.
REPLACEMENT OF THE QUEEN
In the course of time, as the wrath of King Ahashuerus was assuaged, he did not forget what Vashti had done and the decree upon her. The king’s servants recommended to the king that he appoint officers throughout his provinces to gather every beautiful virgin to Shushan. There Hege, the king’s eunuch in charge of women, would provide them with cosmetics, and the king would choose the one whom he prefers to replace Queen Vashti. So did the king.
Now there lived in Shushan a Jewish man by the name of Mordechai son of Yair. He was the grandson of Shimei and the great-grandson of Kish, a Benjaminite, who was exiled from Jerusalem with Jeconiah, king of Judah, by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Mordechai had adopted Hadassah, known as Esther, as his daughter, when her father, Mordechai’s uncle, and her mother died. Esther was gathered together with the other beautiful young women to Shushan. There she was favored by Hege, who expedited her maquillage and provided her with an entourage of seven maidens in the best location within the women’s hermitage.
It was the practice for every one of the women who visited the king to stay first in the house of the women for twelve months. For the first six months they were subjected to the oil of myrrh, and for the remaining six months to sweet-smelling spices and other cosmetic applications. When it was a woman’s turn to visit the king, she could receive anything else that she might request. Then, in the evening, she would go to the king’s house, and in the morning she would return to a different house of women under the supervision of the king’s eunuch Sha’ashgaz, custodian of the concubines, and she would not return to the king unless he explicitly called her back.
Throughout, Esther concealed her background, mentioning neither her people nor her family. Mordechai had so instructed her. For his part Mordechai located himself every day before the court of the house of women to learn how Esther was faring. When it was the turn of Esther daughter of Avichayil to appear before the king, she requested nothing more than what Hege, keeper of the women, provided. Indeed she found favor in the eyes of all who beheld her. It was in the tenth month, the month of Teveth, in the seventh year of the reign of Ahashuerus, that Esther was taken to his palace.
The king loved Esther above all the other women and crowned her queen in place of Vashti. He made a great feast in her honor for all of his officers and servants, and he celebrated the occasion with a release to his provinces and with gifts. There was a second gathering of virgins, and Esther continued to obey Mordechai’s stricture against disclosing her family or her people. Mordechai had stationed himself in the king’s gate.
MORDECHAI AND ESTHER SAVE THE KING
When the eunuchs Bigthan and Teresh, two sentries, turned certain of their grievances into a plot to harm the king, Mordechai was informed and told Esther, now queen. Esther promptly informed the king in Mordechai’s name. There was an investigation, and when the accusation was found to be true, the two plotters were impaled. The entire incident was recorded in the royal book of chronicles.
HAMAN SEEKS TO DESTROY THE JEWS
After these events King Ahashuerus promoted Haman son of Hamdatha the Agagite to a chair above all of his other officers. All of the king’s servants in the king’s gate bowed and prostrated themselves before Haman in accordance with the king’s command, but Mordechai did not. Every day, servants questioned Mordechai for his violation of the king’s command, but Mordechai paid them no heed. The servants reported Mordechai’s disobedience to Haman, and, also, seeing it for himself, Haman was filled with anger. But instead of punishing Mordechai alone, Haman determined to destroy all of the Jews in the kingdom of Ahashuerus, as he had learned that they were Mordechai’s people.
So, beginning with the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahashuerus, Haman cast a lot for each day of every month, until the twelfth month, the month of Adar. Then he said to King Ahashuerus: There is a people scattered yet distinct within the provinces of your kingdom, whose laws are different from those of other peoples and who do not follow the laws of the king, so it is not wise for the king to tolerate them. If it please the king, let their destruction be decreed and I shall have delivered to the royal treasury 10,000 talents of silver. The king removed the ring from his hand and gave it to Haman son of Hamdatha, the Agagite (cf. I Samuel 15:8), persecutor of the Jews. Said the king to Haman: “The silver is yours, and the people, to do with as you wish!”
The kings’ scribes were called upon on the thirteenth day of the first month to issue an edict which Haman would authorize to all of the king’s satraps and governors in all of his provinces and to the princes of every people in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahashuerus and sealed with his ring. The letters were delivered rapidly by hand, ordering the despoliation and destruction of all of the Jews, young and old, including women and children, on a single day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. Moreover, copies of the decree were displayed for all to see, in order for them to be ready for the day. Thus, as the decree went forth from Shushan, the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Shushan was in turmoil.
MORDECHAI PERSUADES ESTHER TO INTERVENE
In response, Mordechai tore his garments, put on sackcloth and ashes, and cried loudly and bitterly in the midst of the city. He approached the king’s gate but did not enter it because he was wearing sackcloth. In every province where the king’s word and command reached, there was much mourning among the Jews, fasting, weeping, lamenting, and many wore sackcloth and ashes. When Esther was told all of this, the queen was deeply distressed. She sent normal clothes to Mordechai to replace his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. She enlisted Hatach, a eunuch the king had assigned to serve her, to visit Mordechai in order to learn what was going on and why. Hatach met Mordechai at the plaza before the king’s gate. Mordechai told Hatach what had happened between Haman and him (cf. Esther 3:5-7) and how much money Haman had paid into the royal treasury to destroy the Jews (ibid. 9). He also gave Hatach a copy of the decree that was released in Shushan (ibid. 15) to show to Esther so that she might go to the king and entreat him on behalf of her people.
But when Hatach brought Mordechai’s plea to Esther, Esther sent this message back with Hatach to Mordechai: “All of the king’s court know that death is the penalty for any man or woman who enters the king’s inner court without being called, unless the king holds out the golden scepter to him, and I have not been called to the king for thirty days!” Mordechai responded, “Do not imagine that a Jew in the palace, anymore than Jews elsewhere, will be spared. Yet, if you keep silent at this time, relief and rescue will come to the Jews from another quarter, only you and your father’s house will be lost. Who knows? Maybe it is for a time like this that you have acceded to royalty!”
Then Esther sent word to Mordechai: “Have all of the Jews who dwell in Shushan fast for me, not to eat or to drink, for three days, night and day. I and my maidens shall fast as well, and thus will I go to the king, without legal permission, and if I perish, I perish.” Mordechai proceeded to follow Esther’s order to him.
ESTHER INVITES THE KING AND HAMAN
On the third day, Esther, adorned as queen, stood in the king’s inner court. When the king saw Queen Esther standing there, he showed his favor by extending to her the golden scepter that was in his hand. She drew near and touched the top of the scepter. Said the king to her, “What do you wish, Queen Esther, what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom, it shall be granted to you!” Esther responded, “If it seems good to the king, let the king and Haman come this day to the feast that I have prepared for him.” The king ordered Haman to comply quickly with the word of Esther, and they both came to the feast that Esther prepared.
There, in the midst of wine, the king repeated to Esther, “What do you wish, Queen Esther, what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom, it shall be granted!” Esther answered the king and said: “My wish, my request, if I have found favor in the eyes of the king, if it seems good to the king to grant my wish and my request—let the king and Haman come to the feast that I shall prepare for them, and tomorrow I shall act in accordance with the word of the king!”
As Haman emerged, he could not be happier—until he saw Mordechai in the king’s gate neither rising nor moving for him, whereupon Haman was filled with anger because of Mordechai. But he held it in and went home, where he gathered his entourage and Zeresh his wife. To them he recounted his great wealth, the multitude of his progeny, and how the king had promoted him and raised him above all of the other officers and servants of the king. “And Esther the queen,” he boasted, “invited no one to accompany the king to the feast that she prepared but me! And tomorrow also I have been invited with the king” (Esther 5:12)!
HAMAN BUILDS A GALLOWS FOR MORDECHAI
Yet none of this pleases me,” brooded Haman, “as long as I see Mordechai the Jew sitting in the king’s gate!”
“No problem!” said his company: Have a gallows built, 50 cubits high, and in the morning arrange with the king to have Mordechai hanged thereon. Then go happily with the king to the feast! Their suggestion pleased Haman, and he had the gallows built.
HAMAN’S PLOT IS THWARTED
That night the king could not sleep, so he had the book of chronicles brought and read before him. In it there was the report that Mordechai had exposed the king’s eunuchs Bigthana and Teresh, two of the sentries, for their plot to harm King Ahashuerus (cf. Esther 2:22). “How has Mordechai been honored?” asked the king. “Nothing has been done for him,” answered his servants.
Now Haman had entered the outer court of the king’s residence to speak with the king about hanging Mordechai on the gallows that he had prepared for that purpose. The king inquired as to who was in the court, and his servants told him that Haman was there. The king bid him enter, and when he did, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?” The king was thinking of Mordechai, but Haman imagined, “Whom but me could the king wish to honor?” So he answered the king, “Let the king’s raiment and the king’s horse be delivered to one of the king’s noble princes, and let him attire therewith the man whom the king wishes to honor and place the honoree upon a royal steed. Let the king’s prince then lead the honored man through the city plaza and proclaim before him, ‘Thus shall be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor!’” So the king said to Haman, “Well have you spoken, now do those very things for Mordechai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate; fail not to perform any detail of what you have recommended!” So did Haman: He clothed Mordechai with the king’s raiment and put him upon the king’s horse and led him around the city plaza, proclaiming before him, “Thus shall be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor!”
When it was over, Mordechai returned to the king’s gate, but Haman retreated in great alarm to his own home, humiliated and mournful. There he recounted to Zeresh his wife and to all of his supporters what had befallen him. They warned Haman that if Mordechai was of Jewish seed, Haman’s current fall before him was the harbinger of his ultimate defeat. They had not finished speaking with him before the king’s eunuchs arrived to rush Haman off to the feast that Esther had prepared.
HAMAN’S MALICE IS TURNED AGAINST HIMSELF
So the king and Haman came to drink with Queen Esther. Again the king asked, “What do you wish, Queen Esther, what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom, it shall be granted!” Queen Esther responded, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it seems good to the king, let my life be given me, as my wish, and my people, as my request! For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed! If we had been sold only into bondage, then I would have remained silent, as the adversary is not worth any trouble that might come to the king.”
King Ahashuerus faced Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do such a thing?” “A vexatious harasser, a malignant foe,” the queen pointed: “This wicked Haman!!” Haman recoiled in fear before the king and queen. The king arose to vent his anger in the palace garden, while Haman stood up to plead for his life before Queen Esther. Then, as the king came in from the garden, Haman, in his pleading, was bent down upon Esther’s couch, and the king burst out, “Will he even force the queen before me in the palace?!” No sooner had the words emerged from the king’s mouth than Haman’s face was covered in mourning.
Then Harbonah, one of the king’s eunuchs, let the king know that Haman had caused a gallows, fifty cubits high, to be built in his house for the purpose of hanging Mordechai, who had saved the king’s life by revealing the plot of Bigthan and Teresh (cf. Esther 2:21-23; 6:1-3). “Well, then,” said the king, “hang Haman thereupon!” So they hanged Haman upon the gallows that he had prepared for Mordechai, and the king’s wrath was assuaged.
THE KING RECOGNIZES THE AUTHORITY OF ESTHER AND MORDECHAI
King Ahashuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, persecutor of the Jews, and, by her word, Mordechai appeared before the king. The king presented Mordechai with the ring that the king had taken from Haman. Esther also set Mordechai over the house of Haman.
Then Esther fell at the king’s feet and entreated him to rescind the evil which Haman the Agagite had set in motion against the Jews. As the king held out the golden scepter, Esther arose and stood before the king. She requested a reversal of the orders which Haman son of Hamdatha the Agagite had issued for the destruction of the Jews in all of the provinces of the king. “For how can I endure seeing the evil that will befall my people, my kin?”
King Ahashuerus reminded Queen Esther and Mordechai the Jew that the king had given Esther the house of Haman and caused Haman to be hanged for his aggression against the Jews. Therefore they should issue orders to protect the Jews as they see fit, seal them with the king’s ring, and know thereby that the orders cannot be reversed. Accordingly, the king’s scribes were called at that time, on the twenty-third day of the third month, the month of Sivan, to record all that Mordechai ordered with respect to the Jews, to be distributed among the officers of all of the king’s 127 provinces from India to Ethiopia in their respective languages, including that of the Jews.
The scribes wrote letters in the name of King Ahashuerus, sealed them with the king’s seal, and dispatched them with runners on royal steeds. The king granted the Jews of every city permission to assemble and defend their lives and the lives of their children and women against the forces that were prepared to despoil and destroy them. Their defense would take place on the same single day throughout all of the provinces of King Ahashuerus: on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar (cf. Esther 3:13). Thus was issued the king’s decree in maximum haste from the fortress of Shushan.
Mordechai left the king’s presence clothed in royal apparel of blue and white, a great golden crown, a robe of linen and purple, “and the city of Shushan cheered.” (Esther 8:15) “For the Jews there was light and gladness, joy and honor” (Esther 8:16)! In every place where the Jews resided and the king’s decree reached there was feast and festival, and many were those of the peoples of the land who joined with the Jews in appreciation of what they had feared.
DAYS OF DEFEAT TURNED INTO VICTORY
The day on which the enemies of the Jews hoped to rule over them, the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, was overturned to the day on which the Jews ruled over their enemies! In their cities throughout the provinces of King Ahashuerus, the Jews assembled to attack those who sought their harm. No one stood against the Jews, out of fear of them, and the king’s officers, satraps and governors, helped the Jews, out of fear of Mordechai. For Mordechai was powerful in the royal court, and his reputation was growing.
The Jews struck their enemies with the sword and otherwise did with them as they pleased. In the fortress of Shushan they killed 500 men. They killed the ten sons of Haman son of Hamdatha, persecutor of the Jews—Parshandatha, Dalfone, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalya, Aridatha, Parmashtha, Arisai, Aridai, Vaizatha—but they did not touch their spoil.
When the king learned of the death toll in the fortress of Shushan, he shuddered before Esther to think of the toll in his other provinces: “Whatever you wish, Queen Esther, it shall be yours! Whatever else you request, it shall be done!” Esther asked only that the Jews of Shushan be allowed to act the next day also as was decreed for them on the present day and that the ten sons of Haman be impaled.
Thus was it ordered by the king: the ten sons of Haman were impaled, and the Jews of Shushan acted in concert again on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar to kill 300 men, without touching their spoil. Thus the Jews who were in Shushan assembled on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth day to defend themselves and rested on the fifteenth day, making it a day of feasting and celebration.
The other Jews, located throughout the provinces of the king, also gathered together and relieved themselves of their enemies, by killing 75,000 of their abominators on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, without touching their spoil, so that they could rest from their defense on the next day, the fourteenth day of Adar, and make it a day of feasting and celebration. Therefore the Jews dwelling in provincial towns mark the fourteenth day of Adar with festivity and feasting, as a holiday, with the sending of portions one to another.
PURIM DAYS OF FESTIVITY AND FEASTING, ALSO FASTING AND MOURNING
Mordechai confirmed in written communications to all the Jews in all of the provinces of King Ahashuerus, both near and far, to observe the fourteenth day of Adar and the fifteenth day of Adar, every year, as days on which the Jews were relieved of their enemies, and the month that was turned for them from sorrow into joy and from mourning into a holiday, and to make them days of feasting and rejoicing and of sending portions one to another and gifts to the poor.
The Jews had already begun to observe these days thusly and continued their practice in accordance with the orders of Mordechai. They called these days Purim, plural of “pur,” which means “lot,” as Haman had cast a lot for each day of every month, until the twelfth month, the month of Adar, ultimately determining that the Jews would be destroyed by Haman’s allies on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar (cf. Esther 3:7,12)! The Jews took upon themselves, their offspring, and all who might join with them, the obligation to observe these days accordingly in all times and places, in every generation, family, province, and city, so that the days of Purim should never be forgotten or neglected among the Jews.
There followed a second letter, written by Queen Esther daughter of Avichayil and Mordechai the Jew, to all of the Jews throughout the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Ahashuerus, containing words of peace and truth. This letter confirmed the observance of the days of Purim, as Mordechai and Esther had established them, for themselves and for their offspring, and also made mention of the fasting (cf. Esther 4:15-17) and the mournful cries (cf. Esther 4:1).
MORDECHAI SECOND TO THE KING AND SEEKING GOOD FOR HIS PEOPLE
King Ahashuerus imposed a service of labor upon all of the land and upon the islands far out. This, his power, and the rise of Mordechai, whom the king promoted, are to be found recorded in the book of chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia. Indeed Mordechai the Jew was second only to King Ahashuerus. He was great among the Jews, appreciated widely among his brethren, seeking good for his people, and showing care to all of his offspring.
FROM THE TORAH
Amalek attacks Israel
ISRAEL RESPONDS TO AMALEK’S ATTACK
At Rephidim, Amalek attacks Israel. Moses appoints Joshua to assemble a contingent of men who will go out and fight against Amalek. “On the morrow,” says Moses, “I will stand at the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” Joshua carries out the instructions of Moses to fight against Amalek. In the meantime, Moses, Aaron and Hur, go up to the top of the hill.
MOSES’S RAISED HANDS ALLOW ISRAEL TO PREVAIL
It then occurs that when Moses raises his hand, Israel prevails, but when Moses lowers his hand, Amalek prevails. Eventually the hands of Moses become tired. So they set up a stone on which he can sit while Aaron and Hur hold up his hands, one on each side. Thus his hands remain steady until the setting of the sun, allowing Joshua to defeat Amalek and his people by the sword.
ERASING THE MEMORY OF AMALEK
The Eternal instructs Moses to record this account in writing and to recite in the hearing of Joshua that “I will surely erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exodus 17:14)! Moses builds an altar and names it Adonai-Nissi (“The Eternal is My Banner”), explaining it as a memorial upon the throne of the Eternal, war for the Eternal against Amalek in every generation.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Esther Rabbah 3:13-14
“On the seventh day, the king, merrily affected by his wine,
ordered seven of his eunuchs to fetch Queen Vashti
to appear before him with the royal crown on her head.
He would show everyone her beauty!”
Said Rabbi Ayvu: Israel’s atonement is found in the fact that when Israel eats, drinks and is merry, they then bless, praise and extol the Holy One, blessed be He, while the other nations, upon eating and drinking, engage in obscenity. So here, one man argued, “Median women are the most beautiful!” while another countered, “No, Persian women are the most beautiful!” Whereupon the foolish king said to them, “My vessel is neither Median nor Persian but Chaldean: Would you like to see it?” “Yes,” they replied, “but only if she is naked.” “As you wish,” he confirmed, “naked!”
Rabbi Pinchas and Rabbi Chama bar Guria said in the name of Rav: She asked if she could come with scanty covering like a harlot, but they would not agree to it. “As you wish,” he confirmed, “naked!”
She agreed that she would come but without the crown. They objected, “Then she would be taken for a maidservant.” Then, she suggested, let a real maidservant come in wearing royal apparel, and they will see how much more beautiful I am without royal apparel than she! Said Rabbi Huna: They refused on the grounds that commoners may not dress like royalty.
“When the queen sent back the eunuchs
with her refusal to appear,
the king was incensed.”
Her response contained words that were intended to gently pierce the king’s heart. First she said, “If they see my beauty, they will set about to use me for their pleasure and eliminate you! On the other hand, if they find me unattractive, you will be shamed because of me.” But no amount of hinting or directness seemed to make an impression on him.
Then she became even more piercing. “When you were a stable boy in my father’s house (see next paragraph), you were in the habit of consorting with harlots; now that you have entered into royalty, you have not abandoned your crude ways!” But still, no amount of hinting or directness seemed to make an impression on him.
“Even defendants on trial in my father’s house were not subjected to judgment while naked!” Her words were consistent with the verse, “Then Nebuchadnezzar became angry…and ordered Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to be thrown into the fiery furnace bound in their cloaks, tunics, robes, and other garments…” (Daniel 3:19-21).
Rabbi Shimon bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: The Holy One, blessed be He, judges the wicked in Gehinnom only naked—and what is the proof? “Such are the wicked…You set them in slippery places, You hurl them down into destruction…as awakening from a dream, O Lord, when You are stirred up, You despise their (naked) image” (Psalms 73:12-20)!
Said Rabbi Nathan: The Egyptians also were judged naked when they went down into the Sea—and what is the proof? The verse, “With the blast of Your nostrils, waters were heaped up [ne’ermu mayim]…” (Exodus 15:8) can be read, “With the blast of Your nostrils, they were made naked [ne’ermu] from the Sea [miyam]…!”
Talmud Megillah 13a-13b
Mordechai and Esther
“Mordechai was exiled from Jerusalem…”
Rava taught that Mordechai was a voluntary exile from Jerusalem. Rashi: Because the verse does not say that he was one of the exiles who were exiled from Jerusalem, the implication is that he was a voluntary exile like the Prophet Jeremiah.
“He raised Hadassah, that is, Esther,
the daughter of his uncle,
because she had neither father nor mother…”
Rabbi Meir taught that her name was actually Esther but that she was called Hadassah to allude to the myrtles that the Prophet Zechariah saw as metaphors for the righteous who were swept up in the Exile, which the Prophet envisioned as the Divine Presence.
Rabbi Judah taught that her name was actually Hadassah but that she was called Esther, which means a secret, as she was discreet about her origins, as was said: “She did not disclose her nativity or her people, as Mordechai had instructed her” (Esther 2:20a).
“…and when her father died
and her mother,
Mordechai took her to him
as a daughter [bat].”
Since the verse first tells us that “she had neither father nor mother,” why does it go on to say, “her father died and her mother?” Rav Acha explained: When her mother became pregnant, her father died; then, when her mother delivered her, her mother died. Whereupon, “Mordechai took her to him as a daughter [bat],” but a Tannaitic teaching in the name of Rabbi Meir reads not “as a daughter [bat]” but “as a wife [bayit, ‘house’],” analogously to the poor man’s lamb in the account of Nathan the Prophet (cf. II Samuel 12:1ff.): The lamb “lay in the bosom” of the poor man who acquired her and raised her, hence she was not “as a daughter” to him but “as a wife” to him (Rashi: Nathan was metaphorizing Uriah and his wife Bathsheba). Here also, she was as a wife to Mordechai!
“Esther was viewed with favor
in the eyes of all who saw her.”
Rabbi Elazar took these words to mean that each person would regard her as being of his own particular nation.
After the king set the royal crown upon her head,
“Esther would still follow the teaching of Mordechai
as she did when she was being raised by him.”
Rabbah bar Limah said: This means that when she was finished in the lap of Ahashuerus, she would remove herself to the mikveh, bathe, and then sit in the lap of Mordechai.
Esther Rabbah 8:7
Esther humbles herself before the Eternal
Then Esther sent word to Mordechai: “Have all of the Jews who dwell in Shushan fast for me, not to eat or to drink, for three days, night and day. I and my maidens shall fast as well, and thus will I go to the king, without legal permission, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)
At that time Esther was very frightened because of the evil that had broken out against Israel, so she put aside her royal garments and adornments in favor of sackcloth. She loosened her hair and covered it with dust and ashes and afflicted herself with a fast. She fell upon her face before the Eternal and prayed: “O Eternal, God of Israel, who has ruled from earliest time and created the world, send help, I pray, to Your maidservant, an impoverished orphan without father or mother, forced to beg from house to house, as I now beg Your mercy from every window in the house of Ahashuerus. Now, O Eternal, grant success to this Your impoverished maidservant and rescue the flock that You shepherd from the foes who have risen up against us, for no power can prevent You from saving, whether with much or with little. You, O Father of orphans, stand by the right hand of this orphan who trusts in Your lovingkindness, and grant me mercy before this man whom I fear, and humble him before me as You humble the proud!”
Esther Rabbah 9:1
God supports Esther before the angry king
On the third day, Esther, adorned as queen, stood in the king’s inner court. When the king saw Queen Esther standing there, he showed his favor by extending to her the golden scepter that was in his hand. She drew near and touched the top of the scepter. Said the king to her, “What do you wish, Queen Esther, what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom, it shall be granted to you!” (Esther 8:1-3)
On the third day Esther put on her most beautiful garments and adornments. She took with her two of her handmaidens, placing her right hand upon one of them and leaning upon her in the royal manner. The other handmaiden followed behind her mistress supporting her jewels so that the gold would not touch the floor upon which she walked. Esther’s face was cheerful, concealing the anxiety that was in her heart.
As she entered the inner court facing the king and standing before him, the king was sitting upon his royal throne, dressed in gold and jewels. When he looked up and saw Esther standing directly before him, he became very angry because she had violated his law by appearing before him without being summoned. Esther looked up and saw his face, his eyes burning like fire from the abundance of anger that was in his heart! The queen recognized the king’s fury. She could not breathe! So upset was she that she put her head upon the maiden who was supporting her right hand.
But God saw and had compassion for His people. He attended to the pain of the orphan who trusted in Him. He placed her favor before the king: He added beauty upon her beauty, He made her even more attractive to him than she was before! Overcome, the king stepped down from his throne and ran to Esther, embracing her and kissing her. He threw his arms around her and said to her, “Why are you afraid? The decree against the Jews falls not upon you, as you are my beloved wife! Why did you not speak out to me when I saw you?” Esther answered him, “My lord, the king, when I saw you, I was overcome by the dignity of your honor.”
Esther Rabbah 10:12
Mordechai, King of the Jews
Mordechai left the king’s presence clothed in royal apparel of blue and white, a great golden crown, a robe of linen and purple, and the city of Shushan cheered. (Esther 8:15)
No one stood against the Jews, out of fear of them, and the king’s officers, satraps and governors, helped the Jews, as fear of Mordechai had fallen upon them. For Mordechai was powerful in the royal court, and his reputation was growing. (Esther 9:3-4)
Indeed Mordechai the Jew was second only to King Ahashuerus. He was great among the Jews, appreciated widely among his brethren, seeking good for his people, and showing care to all of his offspring. (Esther 10:3)
Rabbi Pinchas says: Mordechai became King of the Jews. Just as a king wears purple, so Mordechai wore “a robe of linen and purple.” Just as a king wears a crown around his head, so Mordechai wore “a great golden crown.” Just as fear of the king is over all of the land, “fear of Mordechai had fallen upon them.”
Just as the king’s coinage circulates throughout the land, so did the coinage of Mordechai. What was his coinage? Mordechai was on one side, and Esther was on the other. Why? Because he was a good man, a caring man, seeking peace, as was said, “He was great among the Jews, appreciated widely among his brethren, seeking good for his people, and showing care to all of his offspring” (Esther 10:3). This is what the Psalmist meant when he said, “Observe the upright, recognize the honest, as there is a future for the man of peace” (Psalms 37:37)!
Genesis Rabbah 39:11: What was the coinage of Mordechai? Sackcloth and ashes on one side, and a crown of gold upon the other!