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The Scroll of Esther


Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman

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Targum Rishon on Esther 1:1
It happened during the days of the wicked Xerxes, the Xerxes in whose days (the decree allowing) work on the house of the great God was revoked. It remained revoked until the second year of Darius on the advice of the sinful Vashti, daughter of Evil Merodakh, son of Nebukhadnezzar. Because she did not permit the rebuild­ing of the Temple, it was decreed she be executed in the nude. And because Xerxes listened to her advice, his life was shortened and his kingdom was split up. Previ­ously all peoples, nations, and (speakers of various) languages, and provinces were under his rule, but now they were no longer subjected to him.  In view of this fact, and subsequently, when it was revealed before the Lord that Vashti would be killed and that he was destined to marry Esther, who was a descendant of Sarah, who lived 127 years, he was given an extension and he ruled 127 provinces, from India to Western Ethiopia.
 
Targum Rishon on Esther 1:19
19. If it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree, and let it be written among the decree of the Persians and the Medes so that this decree never be altered, that Vashti did not come before the king; when she comes before the king, let the king decree that her head be removed, and let the king give her royal position to another who is better than her.
 
Babylonian Talmud Megilah 12a -b
Also Vashti the queen made a feast for the women in the royal house. It should have said, `the women`s house`.  Raba said: Both of them [Ahasuerus and Vashti] had an immoral purpose. This bears out the popular saying, He with large pumpkins and his wife with small pumpkins…
On the seventh day, when the king`s heart was merry with wine. Was then his heart not merry with wine until then? ? Rab said: The seventh day was Sabbath, when Israel eat and drink. They begin with discourse on the Torah and with words of thanksgiving [to God]. But the nations of the world, the idolaters, when they eat and drink only begin with words of frivolity. And so at the feast of that wicked one. Some said, The Median women are the most beautiful, and others said, The Persian women are the most beautiful. Said Ahasuerus to them, The vessel that I use is neither Median nor Persian, but Chaldean. Would you like to see her? They said, Yes, but it must be naked ? (For man receives measure for measure. This [remark] teaches you that the wicked Vashti used to take the daughters of Israel and strip them naked and make them work on Sabbath. So it is written, After these things when the wrath of the king Ahasuerus abated, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what was decided against her. As she had done so it was decreed against her.
And the queen Vashti refused. Let us see. She was immodest, as the Master said above, that both of them had an immoral purpose. Why then would she not come? R. Jose b. Hanina said: This teaches that leprosy broke out on her. In a Baraitha it was taught that Gabriel came and fixed a tail on her.
And the king was very angry. Why was he so enraged? Raba said: She sent him back answer: Thou son of my father`s steward, my father drank wine in the presence of a thousand, and did not get drunk, and that man has become senseless with his wine. Straightway, his wrath burnt within him.
And the king said to the wise men. Who are the wise men? The Rabbis. Who knew the times: that is, who knew how to intercalate years and fix new moons. He said to them: Try her for me. They said [to themselves]: What shall we do? If we tell him to put her to death, to-morrow he will become sober again and he will require her from us. Shall we tell him to let her go? She will lose all her respect for royalty. So they said to him: From the day when the Temple was destroyed and we were exiled from our land, counsel has been taken from us and we do not know how to judge capital cases. Go to Ammon and Moab who have remained in their places like wine that has settled on its lees. They spoke to him thus with good reason, since it is written, Moab hath been at ease from his youth, and he hath settled on his lees, and hath not been emptied from vessel to vessel, neither hath he gone into captivity. Therefore his taste remaineth in him, and his scent is not changed. Straightway [he did so, as we read], and the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish [etc.]. R. Levi said: Every name in this verse contains a reference to the sacrifices.
Babylonian Talmud Megilah 7a
R. Samuel b. Judah said: Esther sent to the Wise Men saying, Commemorate me for future generations. They replied, You will incite the ill will of the nations against us. She sent back reply: I am already recorded in the chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia. Rab and R. Hanina and R. Johanan and R. Habiba record [the above statement in this form]: (in the whole of the Order Mo`ed, wherever this set of Rabbis is mentioned, R. Johanan is replaced by R. Jonathan): Esther sent to the Wise Men saying, Write an account of me for posterity. They sent back answer, Have I not written for thee three times three times and not four? [And they refused] until they found a verse written in the Torah, Write this a memorial in a book, [which they expounded as follows]: ?Write this?, namely, what is written here and in Deuteronomy; for a memorial, namely, what is written in the Prophets; in a book, namely, what is written in the Megillah. The difference [between the first and second of these opinions] is also found between two Tannaim. Write this, what is written here. For a memorial, namely, what is written in Deuteronomy. In a book, namely, what is written in the Prophets.  So R. Joshua. R. Eliezer of Modi`im says: Write this, namely, what is written here and in Deuteronomy; for a memorial, namely, what is written in the Prophets; in a book, namely, what is written in the Megillah.
Rab Judah said in the name of Samuel; [The scroll] of Esther does not make the hands unclean. Are we to infer from this that Samuel was of opinion that Esther was not composed under the inspiration of the holy spirit? How can this be, seeing that Samuel has said that Esther was composed under the inspiration of the holy spirit?  It was composed to be recited [by heart], but not to be written. The following objection was raised: R. Meir says that [the scroll of] Koheleth does not render the hands unclean, and that about the Song of Songs there is a difference of opinion. R. Jose says that the Song of Songs renders the hands unclean, and about Koheleth there is a difference of opinion. R. Simeon says that Koheleth is one of those matters in regard to which Beth Shammai were more lenient and Beth Hillel more stringent, but Ruth and the Song of Songs and Esther [certainly] make the hands unclean! Samuel concurred with R. Joshua.
It has been taught: R. Simeon b. Menasia said: Koheleth does not render the hands unclean because it contains only the wisdom of Solomon. They said to him], Was this then all that he composed? Is it not stated elsewhere, And he spoke three thousand proverbs, and it further says, Add thou not unto his words? Why this further quotation? In case you might object that he composed very much, and what it pleased him to write he wrote and what it did not please him he did not write. Therefore it says, Add thou not to his words.
It has been taught: R. Eleazar said: Esther was composed under the inspiration of the holy spirit, as it says, And Haman said in his heart. R. Akiba says: Esther was composed under the inspiration of the holy spirit, as it says, And Esther obtained favour in the eyes of all that looked upon her. R. Meir says: Esther was composed under the inspiration of the holy spirit, as it says, And the thing became known to Mordecai. R.Jose b. Durmaskith said: Esther was composed under the inspiration of the holy spirit, as it says, But on the spoil they laid not their hands, Said Samuel: Had I been there, I would have given a proof superior to all, namely, that it says, They confirmed and took upon them, [which means] they confirmed above what they took upon themselves below. Raba said: All the proofs can be confuted except that of Samuel, which cannot be confuted. [Thus,] against that of R. Eleazar it may be objected that it is reasonable to suppose that Haman would think so, because there was no one who was so high in the esteem of the king as he was, and that when he spoke at length, he was only expressing the thought concerning himself. Against the proof of R. Akiba it may be objected that perhaps the fact is as stated by R. Eleazar, who said that these words show that to every man she appeared to belong to his own nation. Against R. Meir it may be objected that perhaps the fact is as stated by R. Hiyya b. Abba who said that Bigthan and Teresh were two men from Tarsis. Against the proof of R. Jose b. Durmaskith it may be objected that perhaps they sent messengers. Against the proof of Samuel certainly no decisive objection can be brought. Said Rabina: This bears out the popular saying, Better is one grain of sharp pepper than a basket full of pumpkins. R. Joseph said: It can be proved from here: And these days of Purim shall not fail from among the Jews. R. Nahman b. Isaac said, From here: Nor the memorial of them perish from their seed.
Targum Rishon Esther 5:1
Thereupon, Esther proceeded to speak as follows: Lord of the Universe, do not deliver me into the hand of this uncircumcised one, and let not the will of the wicked Haman be carried out against me as he did against Vashti, when he gave ad­vice to the king to have her killed as he wanted (him) to marry his daughter; thus when the maidens were assembled into the custody of Hegai, Haman`s daughter was there, and then it was determined from Heaven that each day she became defiled with excrement and with urine; her mouth also smelled exceedingly offensive, whereupon they hurried her out. For this reason it fell upon me to be married to him; and now, place me in a compassionate light before him that he should not kill me….
 
Midrash Rabbah - Esther IX: 1
NOW IT CAME TO PASS ON THE THIRD DAY, THAT ESTHER PUT ON (V, I) her most beautiful robes and her richest ornaments, and she took with her two maidens, placing her right hand on one of them and leaning on her, as is the royal custom, while the second maiden followed her mistress bearing her train so that the gold on it should not touch the ground. She put on a smiling face, concealing the anxiety in her heart. Then she came to the inner court facing the king and she stood before him. The king was sitting on his royal throne in a robe adorned with gold and precious stones, and when he lifted up his eyes and saw Esther standing in front of him he was furiously angry because she had broken his law and come before him without being called. Then Esther lifted up her eyes and saw the king`s face, and behold his eyes were flashing like fire with the wrath which was in his heart. And when the queen perceived how angry the king was, she was overcome and her heart sank and she placed her head on the maiden who was supporting her right hand. But our God saw and had mercy on His people, and He took note of the distress of the orphan who trusted in Him and He gave her grace in the eyes of the king and invested her with new beauty and new charm. Then the king rose in haste from his throne and ran to Esther and embraced her and kissed her and flung his arm around her neck and said to her: ?Esther, my queen, why dost thou tremble? For this law which we have laid down does not apply to thee, since thou art my beloved and my companion.? He also said to her: ?Why when I saw you did you not speak to me? Esther replied: ?My lord the king, when I beheld you I was overcome by your high dignity.?
Josephus Antiquities Book XI, Chapter 6
3. Now the king had made a law, that none of his own people should approach him unless he were called, when he sat upon his throne and men, with axes in their hands, stood round about his throne, in order to punish such as approached to him without being called. However, the king sat with a golden scepter in his hand, which he held out when he had a mind to save any one of those that approached to him without being called, and he who touched it was free from danger. But of this matter we have discoursed sufficiently.

Babylonian Talmud Megillah 15b
And stood in the inner court of the king`s house. R. Levi said: When she reached the chamber of the idols, the Divine Presence left her. She said, My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me. Dost thou perchance punish the inadvertent offence like the presumptuous one, or one done under compulsion like one done willingly? Or is it because I called him dog, as it says, Deliver my soul from the sword, mine only one from the power of the dog? She straightway retracted and called him lion, as it says. Save me from the lion`s mouth.
And it was so when the king saw Esther the queen. R. Johanan said: Three ministering angels were appointed to help her at that moment; one to make her head erect, a second to endow her with charm and a third to stretch the golden sceptre. How much [was it stretched]? ? R. Jeremiah said: It was two cubits long and he made it twelve cubits ? Some say, sixteen, and some again twenty-four. In a Baraitha it was stated, sixty. So too you find with the arm of the daughter of Pharaoh, and so you find with the teeth of the wicked, as it is written, Thou hast broken [shibarta] the teeth of the wicked, and Resh Lakish said in regard to this, Read not shibarta but shirbabta [Thou hast prolonged]. Rabbah b. Ofran said in the name of R. Eleazar who had it from his teacher, who had it from his teacher, [that the sceptre was stretched] two hundred [cubits].
Midrash Tehilim 22
But be not Thou far from me, 0 Lord (Ps. 22:20). Esther said, "O Lord pity me and have compassion for me." The end of the verse, 0 my Hind, haste Thee to help me, means, according to R. Johanan, that Esther said: "As at the Red Sea, when swift as a hind, Thou didst haste to help my forefathers, haste Thee also this day to help me."
In that instant, an angel came down from heaven and struck Ahasuerus in the face, saying: "Wicked one, thy lady stands outside, while thou art seated here inside." Note that it is not written "When the king," etc., but After the king had seen Esther the queen standing in the court, that she obtained favor in his sight(Esther 5 :2) - that is, Esther obtained favor in the sight of Ahasuerus against his will and not because of the good­ness of his heart.
[Then The king held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand (ibid.)]. R. Tahalifa said: We have a tradition that Ahasuerus` scepter was lengthened in that instant by thirty-two cubits. And the second miracle was even greater than the first, for, as Esther drew nearer, the scepter shrank back to its former length.
R. Isaac said: If the scepter of a mere mortal brings life to an entire people, how much more life does the scepter of the Holy One, blessed be He, bring, for it is written Tend Thy people with Thy scepter(Micah 7:4).
 
Septuagint Addition  to Esther 5
And it happened on the third day, as she ceased praying, she took off the garments of service and put on her glory.  Then, when she had become majestic, after calling upon the all-seeing God and savior, she took along two of her attendants; on one she leaned gently for support, while the other followed, holding her train. She was radiant with the full flush of her beauty, and her face looked happy as if she were cheerful, but her heart was in anguish from fear. When she had gone through all the doors, she stood before the king. He was seated on the throne of his kingdom, clothed in the full array of his splendor, all covered with gold and precious stones. And he was most terrifying.  And when he raised his face inflamed with glory, he gazed at her in the full flush of anger. The queen staggered, her color turned pale from faintness, and she collapsed on the head of the attendant who went before her. Then God changed the spirit of the king to gentleness, and alarmed, he jumped from his throne and took her in his arms until she was quieted. He kept comforting her with soothing words and said to her, “What is it, Esther?  I am your brother. Take heart!  You shall not die, for our ordinance is only for the common person Come here. Then he lifted the golden rod and placed it on her neck; he welcomed her and said speak to me. She said, I saw you lord like a divine angel, and my heart was shaken from fear of your glory. For you are marvelous, lord, and your face is full of grace. And while she was speaking she fell from faintness. Then the king and all his servants were troubled, and they reassured her.

Vulgate to Esther 5:2
And when he saw Esther the queen standing, she pleased his eyes, and he held out toward her the golden scepter, which he held in his hand and she drew near, and kissed the top of his scepter.
Babylonian Talmud Megillah 16a
Let nothing fail of all that thou hast spoken. Then took Haman the apparel and the horse. He went and found [Mordecai with] the Rabbis sitting before him while he showed them the [ritual] rules of "the handful". When Mordecai saw him approaching and leading the horse, he became frightened and said to the Rabbis, This villain is coming to kill me. Get out of his way so that you should not get into trouble with him. Mordecai thereupon drew his robe round him and stood up to pray. Haman came up and sat down before them and waited till Mordecai had finished his prayer. He said to him: What have you been discussing? He replied: When the Temple stood, if a man brought a meal-offering he used to offer a handful of fine flour and make atonement therewith. Said Haman to them: Your handful of fine flour has come and displaced my ten thousand talents of silver. Said Mordecai to him: Wretch, if a slave acquires property, whose is the slave and whose is the property? Haman then said to him: Arise and put on this apparel and ride on this horse, for so the king desires you to do. He replied: I cannot do so until I have gone into the bath and trimmed my hair, for it would not be good manners to use the king`s apparel in this state. Now Esther had sent and closed all the baths and all the barbers? shops. So Haman himself took him into the bath and washed him, and then went and brought scissors from his house and trimmed his hair. While he was doing so, he sighed and groaned. Said Mordecai to him: Why do you sigh? He replied: The man who was esteemed by the king above all his nobles is now made a bath attendant and a barber. Said Mordecai to him: Wretch, and were you not once a barber in Kefar Karzum? (For so a Tanna stated: Haman was a barber in Kefar Karzum twenty-two years.) After he had trimmed his hair he put the garments on him, and said to him, Mount and ride. He replied: I am not able, as I am weak from the days of fasting. So Haman stooped down and he mounted [on his back]. When he was up he kicked him. He said to him: Is it not written in your books, Rejoice not when thine enemy faileth? He replied: That refers to an Israelite, but in regard to you [folk] it is written, And thou shalt tread upon their high places.
And proclaimed before him, This shall be done to the man whom the king delighted to honour. As he was leading him through the street where Haman lived, his daughter who was standing on the roof saw him. She thought that the man on the horse was her father and the man walking before him was Mordecai. So she took a chamber pot and emptied it on the head of her father. He looked up at her and when she saw that it was her father, she threw herself from the roof to the ground and killed herself.  
Midrash Rabbah - Esther X: 5
5. Another comment on THEN TOOK HAMAN THE APPAREL AND THE HORSE, etc. He came to Mordecai and said to him: ` Rise and dress yourself. What an ill fate is mine! Yesterday I was busy erecting a gallows for him, and God is preparing for him a crown! I was preparing for you ropes and nails, and God prepares for you royal apparel. I was going to request from the king permission to hang you, and he has bidden me mount you on horseback. Rise and dress.? He then did to him all the things we have mentioned above. As he was riding he began to extol God, saying, I will extol Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast raised me up, and hast not suffered mine enemies to rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried unto Thee, and Thou didst heal me; O Lord, thou broughtest up my soul from the nether-world; Thou didst keep me alive, that I should not go down to the pit (Ps. XXX, 2 ff.). What did his disciples say? Sing praises unto the Lord, O ye His godly ones, and give thanks to His holy name. For His anger is but for a moment, His favour is for a lifetime; weeping may tarry for the night, but joy cometh in the morning (ib. 5 f.). What did the wicked Haman say? Now I had said in my security: I never shall be moved. Thou hast established, O Lord, in Thy favour my mountain as a stronghold--Thou didst hide Thy face; I was affrighted (ib. 7 f.). What did Esther say? Unto Thee, O Lord, did I call, and unto the Lord I made supplication: What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise Thee? Shall it declare Thy truth? (ib. 9 f.). What did the congregation of Israel say? Hear, O Lord, and be gracious unto me.... Thou didst turn for me my mourning into dancing, etc. (ib. 12 f.). And what did the Holy Spirit say? So that my glory may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent; O Lord my God, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever (ib. 13). Haman`s daughter looked from the window to see the hanging, but when she saw Mordecai on horseback and Haman proclaiming before him, ` Thus shall be done to the man, etc., she threw herself to the ground and killed herself. 
Targum Rishon Esther 9
12. Then the king said to Queen Esther: In the fortress of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men, and the ten sons of Haman; re­maining in all the provinces of the king; what have they done? What is (now) your request and it will be granted to you, and what is your plea even now, and it will be done. 13. Said Esther: If it pleases the king, let permission be granted to­morrow as well to the Jews who are in Susa to make holiday and rejoicing, as it is fitting to do on the day of our miracle, and let Haman`s ten sons be hanged  on the gallows! 14. Whereupon the king ordered this to be done, and sentence of judg­ment was given in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were impaled.
 
Midrash Leviticus Rabbah 13: 5
R. Judah b. R. Simon said: The last Darius was the son of Esther, clean from his mother`s side and unclean from his father`s side.