Posted on February 25, 2010 (5770) By Rabbi Yochanan Zweig | Series: | Level:


In the third year of his reign, he made a feast for all his officials…”(1:3)

According to Achashveirosh’s calculation, the seventieth year of the Jewish exile had passed without consequence, thus laying to rest the prophetic claims of a Jewish deliverance. Achashveirosh celebrated this occasion with a lavish feast, displaying the sacred vessels plundered from the Holy Temple by the armies of Nevuchadnezzar. The verse describing the royal finery featured at the feast contains an accentuated letter, “ches”, which has the numeric value of eight. This, explains the Manos Halevi, alludes to the Talmudic statement that Achashveirosh celebrated by donning the eight Priestly garments of the “Kohein Gadol” – “High Priest”.[1] Almost a decade earlier, Belshazzar the Casdean had also celebrated what he had erroneously calculated to be the passing of the seventieth year of the exile. Although he displayed the sacred vessels, there is no mention of him donning the Priestly vestments.[2] What was Achashveirosh’s motivation in donning the priestly vestments?

Immediately following the failed plot of Bigson and Seresh, Achashveirosh elevated Haman’s position to second most powerful person in his kingdom.[3] Why was this Achashveirosh’s reaction to the botched assassination attempt? Haman, in his new position, paraded around the city requiring every person to prostrate themselves before him.[4] This action could have been viewed as an attempt to usurp the power of the king. Why did Achashveirosh allow Haman to deify himself?

The turning point of the Megillah narrative occurs at the beginning of the sixth chapter. When Achashveirosh, suffering from insomnia, requested that the king’s annals be recited before him, he discovered that Mordechai was never rewarded for his involvement in foiling the assassination attempt upon the king. Achashveirosh asked Haman what should be done to the man whom the king especially wishes to honor, and Haman, thinking that he was the subject of the king’s beneficence, suggested that this person should be allowed to don the king’s crown and robe, ride the king’s steer and be led by one of the king’s most noble officers. Achashveirosh conferred this honor upon Mordechai and required Haman to parade him through the city.[5] According to the Talmud, Haman was also required to groom and bathe Mordechai.[6] Why did Achashveirosh subject Haman to complete and utter humiliation at the hands of Mordechai, his sworn nemesis?

The Talmud states that a parent should not favor one child over another; as a result of two silver coins, the cost of the tunic given to Yoseif by Yaakov, Bnei Yisroel were forced to descend to Egypt.[7] How could Yaakov, who was able to outwit Eisav and Lavan, not have realized that giving his son this additional garment would fuel the fires of jealousy and resentment between Yoseif and his brothers?

The Torah refers to Yoseif as Yaakov’s “ben zekunim”.[8] The Targum translates this as “bar chakim”[9]. Rashi explains that “zaken” in the verse refers to wisdom; Yaakov taught Yoseif all of the Torah he learned during the fourteen years that he studied in the academy of Shem and Ever.[10] Why did this not incite the brothers against Yoseif?

After Binyamin was reunited with Yoseif, Yoseif presented his brothers with gifts, offering them each a new garment. The Torah records that he gave more lavishly to Binyamin, presenting him with five outfits and three hundred silver pieces.[11] The Talmud questions how Yoseif, who himself was a victim of the jealousy caused by favoritism, could fall prey to the same miscalculation. The Talmud answers that Yoseif’s actions alluded to a future event in Jewish history when Mordechai, a descendent of Binyamin, would be lavishly garbed in regal raiment.[12] How does this answer address the difficulty posed by the Talmud?

In most societies there is one position which represents the political power of the state and another which represents its religion. In the case of Bnei Yisroel, these would be the positions of king and Kohein Gadol. Ahashveirosh’s donning of the High Priest’s vestments reflects his attempt to consolidate the political and religious positions. After an attempt upon his life, Achashveirosh searched for an ally who would offer him security. He accomplished this by giving Haman the position of religious leader. Therefore, Achashveirosh was not threatened by Haman deifying himself and forcing others to bow before him.

When Haman thought that Achashveirosh wanted to bestow upon him an additional honor, he requested to be king for a day, for this would allow him political prestige aside from the religious power which he already possessed. The investment of a political position is usually performed by a religious official; for example, the prophet anoints the king and the president’s invocation is performed by the clergy. Achashveirosh requested that Haman invest Mordechai for his day as sovereign because the religious leader must perform this duty. In Achashveirosh’s eyes, this was not a denigration of Haman, rather a show of respect for his position. Just as Aharon bathed and shaved the Levites when they entered the Service, Haman was expected to do the same for Mordechai.

When Yaakov transmitted to Yoseif the Torah he received in the academy of Shem and Ever, the brothers were not threatened because this only represented favoritism of Yoseif in religious matters, but not usurping the sovereignty of Yehuda, who the brothers understood would be king. However, Yaakov giving Yoseif the additional raiment which, as the Seforno explains, symbolized aspirations of leadership,[13] was viewed as a threat to the political sovereignty of Bnei Yisroel and therefore was met with resistance. When Yoseif gave Binyamin additional garments, he explained to the brothers that this portended to the raiment that would be worn by Mordechai. Mordechai was given Haman’s wealth and position by Achashveirosh.and Esther.[14] This meant that it was a religious appointment, not a political one, and therefore it posed no threat to Bnei Yisroel.

1.Manos Halevi 1:6
2.Megilla 11b
6.Megillah 16a
8.Bereishis 37:3
10.Rashi ibid
11.Bereishis 45:22
12.Megillah 16a
13.Beishis 37:3
14.Megillas Esther 11:1-2

Individual Study

“…and let them take for Me a portion…”(25:2)

The Torah refers to the donation of the materials for the Tabernacle using the word “vayikchu”, a term connoting acquisition. The Midrash connects this expression to Torah which is also described as an acquisition, as it is stated “a good acquisition I have given to you”. What message is the Midrash relating by associating the donation of materials for the Tabernacle with the Torah?

The Midrash relates the following parable to teach the superiority of Torah study over all other pursuits: A silk merchant and a spice merchant were involved in a trade. After the exchange, the spice merchant had acquired silks but lost his spices, while the silk merchant had gained spices but lost his silks. Torah does not have this deficiency. If one scholar who is versed in the Order of Zera’im and another who is versed in the Order of Mo’ed exchange their knowledge with each other, they both gain knowledge and lose nothing.

This parable reflects the superiority of Torah knowledge over professions which are gauged by ownership of material goods. However, if we compare a profession which is defined by knowledge and skill, it appears that the parable no longer holds true. A physicist can teach physics to a mathematician, while the mathematician teaches math to the physicist. Both have gained knowledge without losing any of their original knowledge. How does the parable show the Torah’s superiority over professions which are defined by knowledge and skill?

The Talmud teaches that once a person has studied and internalized Torah, it becomes “his Torah”. What separates Torah from all other areas of knowledge is that once Torah is studied, it fuses with the unique identity and talents of the individual. The effect of this is twofold: The person himself changes, becoming aware of his true reality and actualizing his potential, and the Torah itself acquires a new quality, taking on the imprint of the person who studied it. Therefore, the Order of Zera’im studied by one individual is not the same Order of Zera’im studied by another. Each person offers his own unique insights and perspectives into the Torah studied.

A person studying other forms of intellectual pursuits merely amasses information. He undergoes no change, nor does he change the reality of the information studied. Physics studied by one person is the same physics as is studied by another. Once the knowledge is amassed, the laws of physics do not change. If only one person has that knowledge, he is unique. However, teaching it to a second person detracts from his uniqueness. Therefore, the more people who know any particular body of information, the less significance there is in the individual knowing it. The acquisition of Torah is different; it is unique for each individual. Therefore, more people studying Torah does not detract from the knowledge of one individual, for his uniqueness can never be duplicated.

The Third Beis Hamikdash will descend from heaven. Why could this not have been the case with the Tabernacle, especially since most of the materials used in its construction were given to Bnei Yisroel miraculously? Why was it necessary to build the Tabernacle with donations? Hashem wanted to allow each person to participate in the building of the Tabernacle. By encouraging the participation of each individual, Hashem was acknowledging the fact that every person is unique. Therefore, each person’s intentions and motivations for giving were different, making the donation itself different. The Tabernacle had to be built in a manner which reflected the different characteristics and unique qualities of the individual.

It is this very aspect which makes Torah unique. Since the Torah that a person studies is transformed by the infusion of his own nature, the Torah that he internalizes also has this unique quality. This separates Torah study from all other forms of scholarship and professions which cannot be transformed according to the nature of the individual studying them.

1.Tanchuma Teruma
2.Kiddushin 32b, See Rashi
3.See Rashi Rosh Hashana 30a Shemos 15:17 Tosafos Shevuos 15b