By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
One of the reasons we have a Purim seudah is to commemorate the parties that Esther made, to which she invited Achashverosh and Haman. While the need for Achashverosh at those parties is clear, the Gemara questions why Esther invited Haman (Megillah 15b).
A note to those who haven’t done the daf: Get comfortable—there are a lot of answers!
R’ Eliezer answers that Esther invited Haman to ensnare him. The Sifsei Chachamim explains that she wanted to arouse Heavenly anger at Haman. She wanted to demonstrate to Hashem, “Look, here I have been fasting for three days, along with the entire Jewish nation, and these wicked people are partying.” She was hoping that the contrast would hasten the Divine retribution for the wicked. Alternatively, she reasoned that since the wicked Vashti’s downfall was at a party, maybe Haman’s downfall would likewise be at a party.
R’ Meir answers that she invited Haman so that he would not take counsel and rebel against the king. The Maharal explains that she wanted Haman to be around so that if Achashverosh acceded to her request to annul the evil decree, Haman would not be able to gather an army and orchestrate a coup.
R’ Yehudah answers that she invited Haman, the nemesis of the Jewish people, to demonstrate to Achashverosh that she did not sympathize with the Jewish nation. She was hoping that keeping her true intentions hidden would give her more clout when the proper time came to execute her plan. This was reminiscent of Calev, who hid the fact that he was not in agreement with the other spies, to ensure himself an opportunity to be heard later (as explained by Sifsei Chachamim).
R’ Nechemiah answers that she invited Haman to the party to feign solidarity with him. She was afraid that the Jewish people would not feel the need to daven to Hashem to save them from the terrible decree. Instead, they would say to themselves, “Nothing bad will befall us. We have connections. The queen is on our side. Surely she can stop the decree.” When the Jewish people saw that she was showing preferential treatment to Haman, they would say that she is a traitor who has abandoned them. With no alternative, the Jewish nation would turn to Hashem.
R’ Yose answers that she invited Haman to the party because she was hoping to cause him to stumble in some way before Achashverosh, who would also be in attendance (Rashi).
R’ Shimon ben Menasya answers that by showing honor to Haman by inviting him, she would arouse Heavenly anger for the fact that a wicked person was being accorded so much honor (Maharal). Alternatively, she was hoping that Hashem would be merciful when He saw the extent to which she demeaned herself by flattering a rasha, Haman (Rashi).
R’ Yehoshua ben Karchah says that Esther planned on smiling at Haman at the party. Achashverosh would assume that they had developed a close relationship and would therefore have them both killed. Rashi notes that the law in Persia was that if a supporter of a decree dies, then the decree dies with him. Esther was willing to sacrifice her own life to save the Jewish people from the terrible decree.
Rabban Gamliel explains that Esther knew that Achashverosh was a fickle-minded king. If she succeeded in maligning Haman, she wanted the king to be able to execute him immediately, before he changed his mind. To ensure that Haman would be nearby, she invited him to the party.
R’ Eliezer Hamodai answers that she invited Haman to cause him to be the object of envy; by inviting only Haman and Achashverosh, she was in effect equating the two men. Achashverosh would be upset that someone else was receiving honor that should be reserved for him alone. Further, the other nobles would be jealous that the queen was specifically singling out Haman for honor. The nobles would ostracize Haman and perhaps the king’s wrath would be kindled against him, as well.
Rabbah explains that Esther reasoned that when Haman reached the pinnacle of his honor, his downfall would be soon in coming. She assumed that Hashem wanted to make a public display of the demise of Klal Yisrael’s nemesis. Perhaps Hashem was waiting until Haman was as highly respected as he could be. That would make the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people even greater in the eyes of the populace. She afforded Haman the extra honor of being the only one invited to the party besides the king so that he could reach the apex of his perceived nobility, thereby ensuring his swift ruination (Iyei Hayam quoted in Tehillah LeYonah).
Abbaye and Rava explain that Esther observed that Belshazzar’s end came after he feasted. She reasoned that the feasts of the wicked lead to their downfall. She wanted Haman at the party so that his Divine reckoning, like Belshazzar’s, would come soon after the feast.
The Gemara concludes that Rabbah bar Avuha met Eliyahu HaNavi and asked him: Of all the aforementioned reasons, which was the one that actually prompted Esther to invite Haman to the party? Eliyahu answered that Esther was influenced by all of them. In fact, R’ Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev states that there were other reasons, as well, that are not listed in the Gemara. Eliyahu HaNavi was implying that she was motivated by even more reasons, which will be revealed later in time; the Vilna Gaon, for example, provides his own answer (Sifsei Chachamim).
In light of Eliyahu HaNavi’s revelation, another look at R’ Nechemiah’s answer is warranted. R’ Nechemiah said that Esther invited Haman because she wanted the Jewish nation to assume she was a traitor and not rely on her for salvation. They would instead pray to Hashem for Divine deliverance. But was it reasonable for Esther to assume that the Jewish people wouldn’t daven because they had connections? There was a decree that the entire Jewish people shall be annihilated: men, women, and children. Would they really pin all their hopes on Queen Esther? Look what happened to the previous queen, Vashti!
Furthermore, the Gemara indicates that many miracles were needed to ensure Esther’s success. First, there were three angels sent to make sure that Achashverosh agreed to talk with Esther. One of those angels was sent to endow Esther with irresistible charm (Megillah 15b). Second, after Esther told Achashverosh that Haman was planning to destroy her nation, Achashverosh went out to his garden. There, he found angels sent by Hashem who appeared as men uprooting his trees. He asked them, “Under whose orders are you doing this?” They answered, “Haman.” This caused Achashverosh to be incensed further.
However, even that was not enough to ensure Haman’s execution. When Achashverosh returned to his palace, he found Haman on Esther’s couch. An angel had pushed Haman down in order that Achashverosh would think that Haman was attempting to assault his queen. Only then, on the advice of Charvonah, did he agree to hang Haman. In fact, the Midrash says that Charvonah was Eliyahu HaNavi in disguise.
Many miracles were required to convince Achashverosh to execute Haman. It would hardly seem logical that the Jewish nation would assume that prayers were not warranted simply because of Esther’s placement in the palace.
The Gemara must mean that the Jewish people would in fact pray in any case. However, if there were any hope of salvation through Esther, their prayers would lose some of their sense of urgency. Indeed, the Maharal seems to understand the Gemara this way: he writes, “She suspected they would lessen their requests for mercy” (Ohr Chadash, p. 166). To maximize the Jewish people’s sense of desperation, she behaved like a traitor.
The Gemara notes, however, that all the reasons mentioned for inviting Haman to the party are in fact correct. This seems to negate Esther’s plan of encouraging the Jewish nation to daven harder. Why would a Jewish person assume that Esther’s intention in inviting Haman to the party was traitorous? ? Esther was most likely inviting Haman to the party for one of the other myriad reasons given. Esther was a prophetess, which means that she reached spiritual perfection. If there are so many reasonable explanations for inviting Haman to the party, why should the Jewish people assume the worst about a tzaddekes?
We can learn a profound lesson from this. Faced with annihilation, the Jewish people were going to pour out their hearts to Hashem in any case. They weren’t going to rely solely on Esther. However, the extent to which they relied on Esther in their minds would, in some small way, be affected by Esther’s ruse. There would be some minute amount of lingering suspicions over her actions. Granted, there were plenty of plausible positive interpretations of her actions. Yet Esther knew the secret of prayer. Every extra bit of devotion in prayer makes a difference. The Maharal notes that Esther knew that the salvation of the Jewish people ultimately depended on their prayers. She knew that if she could cause the Jewish people to be even slightly less reliant on her, the ramifications would be enormous. Each added drop of heartfelt feeling to their prayers might be the difference in ensuring their acceptance. True, her ruse might only make a small difference. But when it comes to tefillah, no difference is too small.
Tefillah is called avodah she’balev—service of the heart. The highest form of tefillah is when one puts his whole heart into it. Chazal tell us that the best form of tefillah is born out of desperation. Someone may be the biggest tzaddik, without a care in the world, and daven exclusively for altruistic reasons. However, even his prayers would be better if he were in a state of distress. Esther knew this secret of tefillah. She did everything in her power to give Klal Yisrael a little more motivation to daven, to encourage them to pray with a little more emotion, thereby possibly ensuring the acceptance of their prayers.
May Hashem accept our heartfelt prayers and bring an end to the tragedies and suffering. ϖ
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and is a rebbi at Mesivta Kesser Yisroel of Willowbrook. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.