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Megilah, 12

MEGILAH 11-13 sponsored by a generous grant from an anonymous donor. Kollel Iyun Hadaf is indebted to him for his encouragement and support and prays that Hashem will repay him in kind.


QUESTIONS: Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai's students suggested that the Jewish people were threatened with annihilation at the time of Purim because they sinned by partaking of the banquet of Achashverosh. Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai asks that if that is the reason they were punished with such a threat, then why were the people outside of Shushan -- who did not partake of the banquet -- also punished? Rather, explains Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai, the Jewish people were punished because they bowed down to an idol during the reign of Nevuchadnezar. His students countered that if that was their sin, then why did they deserve to be saved through a miracle in the time of Purim? Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai answered that since they did not actually worship the idol, but merely made it look like they were worshipping it in order to avoid harsh repercussions, so, too, Hashem only made it look like they were going to be destroyed.

Why were the students bothered by this question -- if the Jewish people sinned, then why did they deserve to be saved -- only according to the explanation of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai? According to their own explanation, that the people sinned by partaking of the banquet of Achashverosh, they should also not have deserved to be saved!

Second, what is the question to begin with? Perhaps the people did Teshuvah, and that is why they deserved to be saved! Teshuvah always helps, even if they actually sinned and not merely gave the impression that they were sinning!


(a) The REI'ACH DUDA'IM (RAV ZVI ELIMELECH of DINOV) explains that when a person sins, his form of repentance must correspond to the act of the sin. In this case, the people repented by fasting for three days. If their sin was that they partake of the banquet of Achashverosh, then it makes sense that they repented by fasting for three days, and that is why they were saved. However, if they sinned by bowing down to an idol, repentance by fasting does not correspond to the sin of bowing down to an idol! It would not be a proper Teshuvah, and thus there would not be reason for the people to deserve to be saved. That is why the students of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai did not accept his explanation of how the people sinned.

(b) Another answer could be suggested based on what the VILNA GA'ON and others (see ABARBANEL, YOSEF OMETZ, MALBIM) write about the verses in Esther (3:12-14) which describe the messages that Haman sent to all parts of the empire. The first verse (v. 12) relates that Haman sent letters to the Achashdarpenim (satraps) of the king and to the Pachos (governors) of each province. In this letter, he wrote that they should destroy all of the Jews on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month (v. 13). Then, the verse (v. 14) repeats that a "synopsis of the writing was to be given out as a decree in every province, [it was to be] revealed to all the peoples that they should be ready for that day."

The verses imply that Haman sent two different letters, one to the rulers, and another one to all of the people. What are these two different letters that he sent?

The commentators explain that Haman was afraid to send an open letter for all to read, proclaiming that the Jews should be killed on the thirteenth of Adar, because then the Jews might find some way to thwart his plan. He did not want them to know about it until it was too late. To this end, he sent a detailed letter only to the *rulers* of each province, telling them that the Jews were to be killed on the thirteenth of Adar, and that it should be kept secret until that day. However, he also had to notify the population at large to prepare for battle, since they could not be notified in the last minute in a kingdom as large as Persia. Therefore, he sent out a public letter, saying that all of the people should be prepared to battle on the thirteenth of Adar and attack whomever the leaders tell them to attack. The first letter is what the Megilah calls the "D'var ha'Melech" ("the [private] word of the king"), and the second letter is referred to as the "Das ha'Melech" ("the decree of the king").

This explains why the verse later (4:3) says that "in each Medinah -- wherever the "word of the king and his decree" reached -- the Jews were in great mourning...." Why does it say "in each Medinah -- wherever the edict... reached?" It should say that "in all Medinos, the Jews were in great mourning!" The answer is that in many of the Medinos, the Jews were *not* in mourning because they did not know what the confidential D'var ha'Melech said, and they had no idea who was going to be killed. Only in particular Medinos, where Jews held positions of importance and were privy to the highly classified information contained in the D'var ha'Melech, did the Jews mourn, for they knew about the terrifying contents of the D'var ha'Melech as well as the Das ha'Melech. When Esther begged the king to rescind the decree, he allowed her to send out a new proclamation declaring that the people whom everyone should battle and destroy is not the Jewish people, but Amalek!

According to this, the Jews outside of Shushan did not all know about the edict to kill the Jews, so they obviously did not know that they needed to do Teshuvah. The people in Shushan, though, found out about the edict through Mordechai, and thus they did do Teshuvah.

This was the question of the students of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai -- if the Jews were being punished because they partook of the banquet of Achashverosh , then only the people in Shushan deserved to be killed. Since they did Teshuvah, they were spared! Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai asked that the sin of partaking from the banquet fails to explain why the people outside of Shushan were also *threatened* with destruction (even if it did not actually affect them in practice). It must be that they suffered because Jews from *all* countries of the world bowed down to the idol in the times of Nevuchadnezar. Nevertheless, since that sin was done only out of fear and they did not really have in mind, when they bowed, to worship the idol, Hashem punished them by just frightening them. He never really intended to carry out the threat and let them be killed.


QUESTIONS: The Gemara says "Memuchan" mentioned in Megilas Esther refers to Haman, who was "Muchan l'Puranos" (prepared, or destined, for punishments).
(a) First, where in the name "Memuchan" is there any implication about punishments?

(b) Second, if he was "prepared for punishments," why was he called "Memuchan?" He should have been called "Muchan!" What is the extra letter "Mem" for?

(a) The Gemara in Chagigah (12b) says that there are seven firmaments, each serving a different purpose. The sixth firmament is called "Mechon," and it contains the elements of destructive weather that Hashem sends to the earth when necessary. RASHI there explains that "Mechon" is a word that means prepared for punishment, as the verse says, "Nachonu la'Letzim Shefatim" -- "Punishments are prepared for the scoffers" (Mishlei 19:29). This answers the first question.

(b) RABEINU BACHYE (Bereishit 36:12) writes that the Name of Hashem which has the power to defeat Amalek is the Name of forty letters. Thus, Haman was called "Memuchan" -- "Muchan" because he was prepared for punishment, and "*M*muchan" because it is the Holy Name of forty letters (the Gematria of Mem) which would bring about that punishment!

We find the number forty in a number of places dealing with Haman's defeat. According to the Midrash, the pole upon which Haman was hung was fifty Amos long, but ten Amos were embedded into the ground, so that Haman was hung forty Amos above the ground. The Targum (Esther 9:14) says that Haman and his sons, hung one after the other, took up *forty* cubits of the fifty cubit pole. Thus, Haman was "struck" by the "forty" cubits.

Second, according to the Targum Sheni (2:5; Targum Sheni is an Aramaic Midrash on Megilas Esther), Mordechai was exactly the *fortieth* generation after Yakov. Thus Mordechai and his generation were the "forty" that struck Haman. (M. Kornfeld)

(a) The Gemara says that all of the words used to describe Mordechai (in Esther 2:5) refer to his power of prayer. He was called "Ben Ya'ir" because he was the son (Ben) who lit up (Ya'ir) the eyes of the Jews with his prayers. He was called "Ben Shim'i" because he was the son (Ben) to whom Hashem listened (Shama) when he prayed. He was called "Ben Kish" because he knocked (Hikish) on the gates of mercy with his prayers and they opened up for him. The Gemara is teaching that Mordechai excelled in the area of prayer.

Indeed, this attribute of Mordechai is evident in his most commonly used name, "Mordecai," as well. The Gemara (10b) says that Mordechai's name alludes to "the choicest of the spices," for his name is alluded to the verse, "You shall take for yourself choice spices: Mor Dror (pure myrrh)..." (Shemos 30:23), which Targum Unkelos translates as "Mori Deichi," or "Mordechai." Ketores, the incense offering, creates a closeness between Hashem and the Jewish people. Through prayer we come close to Hashem just like through the Ketores, as the verse says, "Let my prayer stand as incense before you" (Tehilim 141:2); prayer accomplishes the same thing as the Ketores. Since Mordechai was vested with the power of the Ketores ("Mori Deichi"), he specialized in Tefilah, which contains within it the power of the Ketores.

This has practical ramifications. The Gemara in Kerisus (6b) says that we join the sinners to the Tefilah on a Ta'anis, because Tefilah must be done like the Ketores. Just as the Torah commands that the Ketores contain Chelbanah, a bad-smelling spice, so, too, our Tefilah must include the prayers of the sinners.

(b) It was this particular attribute of Mordechai which was best equipped to combat Haman. Haman came from Amalek. Amalek embodies the Ko'ach ha'Tum'ah of Esav, represented by his Malach, the Satan (RASHI Sukah 29a DH Elokeha). The Gemara in Bava Basra (16a) tells us that the Satan and the Malach ha'Maves are one and the same. Thus, Amalek, whose Malach is the Malach ha'Maves, is the embodiment of Misah, death. (Similarly, the Gemara in Chulin 139b says that Haman appears in the Torah in the verse, "Ha'min ha'Etz..." (Bereishis 3:11), in which Hashem rebukes Adam ha'Rishon for eating from the Tree and bringing death into the world. Likewise, Chazal say that Haman is compared to the Nachash (Vayikra Raba 15:9; Introduction to Esther Raba #5), the animal which persuaded Chavah to eat from the Tree, thus bringing death to the world.)

The Gemara in Shabbos (89a) says that the Malach ha'Maves taught Moshe Rabeinu that Ketores has the power to stop the mortal destructiveness of a Magefah, a plague sent by the Malach ha'Maves. That is why Mordechai was the one who was able to prevent Haman from carrying out his plan to destroy the Jewish people. Mordechai, who embodied the attribute of the Ketores, was able to endear the Jewish people to Hashem through his Tefilah, and that is what was able to offset the machinations of Haman, of Amalek. (M. Kornfeld; see also Derushim Nechemadim of MAHARAM SHIF, printed after Gemara Chulin, who mentions some of these ideas)

It is interesting to note that the word "Amalek" appears as an acronym (either as Roshei Teivos, the first letters of four consecutive words, or as Sofei Teivos, the last letters of four consecutive words) only *once* in all of Tanach, in the verse, "*A*l *M*izbechi *L*'Haktir *K*etores" -- "... to ascend upon my alter to burn Ketores..." (Shmuel I 2:28)! Furthermore, the letters of the word "Amalek" appear out of order as the first letters of four consecutive words in the verse, "Zos *A*su *K*echu *L*achem *M*achtos" (Bamidbar 16:6), regarding the Ketores offering of Korach! (SEFER NIFLA'OS MI'TORASECHA by Harav Mordechai Aran, Shlita)

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