The Talmud now moves to deal with another issue related to Esther and modesty.
Saul comes from the tribe of Benjamin, so he was a descendant of Rachel. The Megillah itself does not state Esther’s ancestry, but according to rabbinic sources, Mordecai descended from Saul, and since Esther was his niece, she too would have descended from Mordecai.
In this remarkable story, Rachel is actually the one who tricks Jacob into marrying Leah, not Laban as the story is usually read. Jacob knows in advance that Laban will try to trick him and takes precautions to ensure that he will not be tricked. But Rachel just cannot tolerate the thought of her sister waking up happy with her new husband, only to discover that she was unwanted. She has mercy on her poor sister, who was not as attractive as she. So she gives the tokens to Jacob, who is fooled by them. I can’t help but read here a critique of Jacob as well. Jacob stole the birthright from his brother. His brother was a fool, and Jacob took full advantage of it. Rachel acts with “modesty” which here means kindness, a willingness to forego what she wants because someone else wants it more. Jacob was not so modest. By her acts, Rachel merits that the first king of Israel should be descended from her. [It doesn’t seem to bother the storyteller that David was not descended from Rachel].
Saul was modest in not telling his uncle that he had been anointed king by the prophet Shmuel, when he returns from his journey to find some lost donkeys. Therefore, he merited that the modest Esther should descend from him.
Elazar continues to explain the verse from Job. When God sets a king on the throne, his descendants will rule forever. However, if they become arrogant, God will bring them down.
One of the main functions the rabbis picture themselves as having is determining whether what is considered menstrual blood, and therefore makes the woman impure and forbidden to have sex with her husband. The rabbis picture Esther as observing this halakhah—this is the “commandment” told to her by Mordecai.
Esther was married to Mordecai when she was taken into the house of Ahashverosh. She would have relations with Ahashverosh, bathe and then go and have relations with Mordecai. To be honest, I find this a disturbing image, but I imagine that it may reflect a woman who was taken into the harem of the king, but still was able to maintain her relationship with her husband.
Hiyya makes the observation that God caused a master to be angry at his servants, in order to aid Joseph. This refers to Pharaoh’s anger at the baker and the butler. By putting them in jail, he set in motion the chain of events that would lead to Joseph’s restoration.
Similarly, God caused servants to be angry with their master, for the benefit of Mordecai. It was the rebellion of the king’s servants, Bigtan and Teresh, that eventually led to Mordecai’s elevation by the king.
Yohanan explains how Mordecai was able to uncover the plot against the king. His statement also explains some other puzzles in the book of Esther. First of all, why were they so angry? The answer—the king was keeping them up all night, having sex with his new wife, Esther. Second, what does it mean “and it was found.” What did they have to find? The answer—Bigtan and Teresh had left their posts. This alerted the authorities as to their plot against the king.
Before Haman even has a chance to set in motion his plot to destroy the Jews, God has already given Mordecai favor in the king’s eyes. This favor will eventually save the Jews. This is how God acts for Israel—before he punishes them, he already creates the healing process. God evidently needs to punish Israel at times, but before He does so, he makes sure that there will be a means through which the punishment can be healed. But when it comes to the rest of the world, such a favoring relationship does not exist.
Rava explains why the verse moves from Mordecai, to “the people of Mordecai” then “all of the Jews.” Gradually, Haman expanded the scope of his evil decree.
Haman rejoiced when he saw that the lot to kill the Jews fell on Adar, the month in which Moses died. He thought this was a good sign that his plot would succeed. What he did not know was that Moses was also born in Adar. Just as Adar can be a month of death, so too it can be a month of rebirth.
Rava explains Haman’s speech to Ahashverosh. How did Haman convince Ahashverosh to allow him to kill all the Jews? Many of Haman’s claims against the Jews are classic anti-semitic claims made throughout history against the Jews. The portrait of a king hesitating about killing the Jews is also a scene that played itself out throughout Jewish history. Often the kings looked at the bottom line (the money) and did see some benefit in retaining the Jewish population in their region. It was often the people or other community leaders (the church) who were most dangerous to the Jews.
The beginning of Rava’s derashah is a bit different. There Haman himself notes that these Jews are lax in their observance of commandments. Even the rabbis are not fully observant of the commandments. While it is strange to hear Haman saying these things, this is reflective of typical rabbinic theology. God would not punish Israel without Israel deserving such punishment.
Resh Lakish refers here to the announcement made on the first of Adar as to the collection of the half-shekel tax. This was a tax collected from every Jew when the Temple still stood. The proceeds were used to finance the daily sacrifices. Resh Lakish says that it is not coincidental that Haman’s decree involved shekels and that Adar is also the month in which the Jews give a shekel to the Temple. Through observing the mitzvah of the half-shekel, the Jews were saved from Haman’s evil decree, bought with shekels.
On the first of Adar they also announce that anyone with two different kinds of seeds growing together should uproot them (see Leviticus 19:19). Since Adar is the beginning of the growing season, this is when that announcement was made.