Why should Haman have been so enraged just at seeing Mordecai sitting at the gate? The answer seems to be in a midrash found elsewhere and alluded to here. According to this midrash, Ahashverosh once sent Haman and Mordecai out to war, giving them money to spend on troops. Haman spent all of his own money on himself and was left with nothing. He came to Mordecai and asked for a loan. Mordecai refused unless Haman sold himself as a slave. Haman thus became Mordecai’s slave. This is what angered Haman so much.
Again we can see here an echo of subsequent Jewish history. The Jews’ wealth and especially the indebtedness of the Gentiles to the Jews was often a grave source of anti-semitism.
All of the money that Haman once had was worth nothing, for whenever he would see Mordecai he was reminded that he had been sold into slavery to him.
Using some wordplay on the verse from Isaiah R. Elazar says that in the world to come (or in the Messianic age) God will be a crown of glory for the righteous.
The midrash continues to interpret the verse. Only those with these qualities, those who control their evil inclinations, will merit God’s crown of glory in the world to come.
The midrash interprets these righteous people as rabbis, otherwise known as “disciples of the sages.”
The Attribute of Justice argues before God—why do you give this reward to righteous people who have the above attributes of self-control and not to everyone. The answer is that those who are righteous but still follow their appetites (wine and strong drink) are treated as if they were wicked. This midrash is heavily focused on self-control. Only those righteous who also are able to control themselves are deserving of such a great reward. Indeed, we might say that a righteous person who does not control himself is even more deserving of such a serious punishment.
There is a sentence in the Hebrew which is missing in all manuscripts. I have not translated here because it does not seem to make sense at all.
This text reads Psalms 22 in connection with Esther’s entrance to Ahashverosh’s chamber. God’s Divine Presence leaves Esther as soon as she enters the chamber in which the king’s idols are kept. She then defends herself, as if to accuse God of not realizing that she was there under duress, to save the people of Israel. She also presents another possibility as to why the Divine Presence abandoned her—she called Ahashverosh a dog. This is not a proper means by which to refer to a king—even a foreign king like Ahashverosh, who was considered wicked by the rabbis. The Talmud demands respect for the non-Jewish authority. Esther’s lack of respect for him may have caused God to leave her!
She restores the Divine Presence to her side by calling Ahashverosh a lion, a proper term of respect. This is also based on the verse in Psalms.
The verse says that when the king saw Esther “he stretched out the golden scepter in his hand and Esther drew near and touched the scepter.” Rabbi Yohanan says that three angels performed three miracles for her at that moment. The first lifted her head up so that Ahashverosh would notice her, the second made her look beautiful and the third extended Ahashverosh’s scepter to make it easier for her to reach.
I know it is tempting to give a certain interpretation to the lengthening of Ahashverosh’s scepter. After all, he just saw Esther and now his scepter grows. I’m not sure if this is what the midrash intended. If so, that’s one long scepter.
Exodus 2:5 says that Pharaoh’s daughter sent out her “amata” to take Moses out of the water. The simple reading of the verse is that she sent her slave woman out to take Moses out. But the rabbis read the word “amata” as “her arm.” This is to protect the dignity of Moses—a simple slave woman didn’t draw him from the water. The princess did! Her arm was miraculously lengthened and she reached out and took Moses from the water.
Resh Lakish also reads a pun on the word “shibarta”—you broke from Psalms 3:8. Elsewhere, the Talmud reads this verse as referring to Og, King of Bashan, whose teeth were lengthened to sixty cubits by God. Those are some long choppers!
Finally, there is a tradition that the scepter grew to 200 cubits. That’s more than the length of a football field. Touchdown to Ahashverosh!
The rabbis note that the one thing that Ahashverosh did not offer Esther was the opportunity to go back to the land of Israel and rebuild the Temple. He didn’t even offer her the land of Israel, for that would have cut his kingdom in half. Had she been offered a return to Israel or the Temple, she surely would have asked for it. This may also be there way of explaining why she only asked to save her life, which seems to be a minor request considering he offered to give her half the kingdom.
This section contains a long baraita with multiple explanations for why Esther invited Haman to her feast. After all, she could have just invited Ahashverosh and told him about Haman’s plot without the presence of Haman.
Esther invited Haman as a trap. When a person eats a good meal, and drinks good wine, he feels relaxed. It is at that moment that he is most vulnerable. Once food and liquor loosen him up, he might also speak too freely and thereby be ensnared by his own words.
Esther learned this strategy from “her father’s house.” Since Esther was an orphan this phrase cannot be taken literally. Rather, commentators understand that she learned it in school, when studying the book of Proverbs.
Esther wisely kept Haman close so that when he heard her accusation he would be immediately caught. He would not be able to begin a rebellion against Ahashverosh.
Had she not invited Haman, he might have realized that she was a Jew and that she planned to influence the king to annul his decree. This might have caused him to move up the date of the planned massacre.
Nehemiah reads Esther’s strategy as directed at the Jews. She made it look to the other Jews as if she was not pleading on their behalf. They would see that she had invited Haman and this would cause them to continue to pray for mercy from God. This section seems to reveal a tension in the story—what saves the Jews—their prayers to God or Esther and Mordecai’s political machinations? The Talmud casts the story as if Esther purposefully shapes her politics to encourage Jews to continue praying for God’s mercy.
As they say, Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.
Esther invited Haman so that God could see her desperation. The situation of the Jews was so dire that she had to invite their archenemy to her own feast.
Esther invited Haman to her feast so that Ahashverosh would think that the two of them were having an adulterous relationship. The king would kill them both and thereby save the rest of the Jews. This highlights Esther’s willingness to martyr herself.
Rabban Gamaliel says that Esther realized that Ahashverosh was a flipflopper (someone who says one thing and then changes his mind). Esther invited Haman lest Ahashverosh were to change his mind after she told him about the decree. With Haman there she hoped he would kill him immediately.
Rabbah says that Esther wanted to inflate Haman’s sense of pride for “pride goes before the fall.”
Abaye and Rava say that Esther learned from Jeremiah that the downfall of the wicked comes from the context of a feast. The verse in Jeremiah refers to the downfall of Belshazzar. He and his men had returned from a victory over Darius and Cyrus and settled down to a feast. At that very feast he was killed.
Elijah the ultimate peacemaker, says that Esther acted out of all the reasons proffered by the Tannaim and Amoraim. Interestingly, when it comes to halakhic debates, Elijah is imagined as settling them, i.e. determining which side is correct. But here, in an aggadic debate, he is presented as accepting all of the answers.
This section continues with Haman’s return to his home, where he tells Zeresh and his friends of his great wealth and the number of his children.
The rabbis offer various answers as to how many children Haman had. The source of Rav’s answer of thirty is not known. The other rabbis base it on a pun. Rami b. Abba bases it on gematria, using the defective spelling. In any case, he certainly did have a lot of children. Perhaps one of the reasons for this midrash is to show that Haman’s descendants did not all die.
The night after Esther’s invitation, Ahashverosh has trouble sleeping. Rabbis offer different interpretations of the verse. Some interpret it as if it refers to God, or at least to the angels. But Rava says that Ahashverosh himself couldn’t sleep. The reason is connected with the events that preceded chapter six. Ahashverosh feared that his minister and queen were plotting against him. In addition, he realized that maybe others were not informing him as to their plot because he didn’t properly reward those who had rescued him in the past. That is why he opened the books to check his records.
The verb “they were read” is passive. The Talmud reads a miracle into the syntax —the words read themselves!
Again, the rabbis read into the syntax of the word. Shimshai was the king’s scribe (see Ezra 4:8). He writes to the king asking him to stop the Jews from rebuilding the Temple. Shimshai hated the Jews. When Ahashverosh opened the book, Shimshai tried to erase the tale of how Mordecai saved the king. But every time he erased something, the angel Gavriel would rewrite it.