Monday, March 17, 2008


Chana over at The Curious Jew looks closely at the beginning of Esther 8, specifically verse 3, and suggests that Esther went unsummoned before Achashverosh twice (link). I think she is wrong and will endeavor to explain why. Esther 8:1-6:
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א ביום ההוא נתן המלך אחשורוש לאסתר המלכה את בית המן צרר היהודיים (היהודים) ומרדכי בא לפני המלך כי הגידה אסתר מה הוא לה. ב ויסר המלך את טבעתו אשר העביר מהמן ויתנה למרדכי ותשם אסתר את מרדכי על בית המן. {ס}

ג ותוסף אסתר ותדבר לפני המלך ותפל לפני רגליו ותבך ותתחנן לו להעביר את רעת המן האגגי ואת מחשבתו אשר חשב על היהודים. ד ויושט המלך לאסתר את שרבט הזהב ותקם אסת, ותעמד לפני המלך. ה ותאמר אם על המלך טוב ואם מצאתי חן לפניו וכשר הדבר לפני המלך וטובה אני בעיניו יכתב להשיב את הספרים מחשבת המן בן המדתא האגג, אשר כתב לאבד את היהודים אשר בכל מדינות המלך. ו כי איככה אוכל וראיתי ברעה אשר ימצא את עמי ואיככה אוכל וראיתי באבדן מולדתי.
1 On that day King Ahasuerus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews; and Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told what he was to her. 2 Then the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. So Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.

3 Then Esther spoke again to the king; she fell at his feet, weeping and pleading with him to avert the evil design of Haman the Agagite and the plot that he had devised against the Jews. 4 The king held out the golden scepter to Esther, 5 and Esther rose and stood before the king. She said, "If it pleases the king, and if I have won his favor, and if the thing seems right before the king, and I have his approval, let an order be written to revoke the letters devised by Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, which he wrote giving orders to destroy the Jews who are in all the provinces of the king. 6 For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?"
At issue is the beginning of verse 3: "ותוסף אסתר ותדבר Then Esther spoke again to the king". The word "ותוסף" can mean "added" or "continued". And then the next word "ותדבר" means "and she spoke". Literally, it should be translated as "And she added/continued, and she spoke". In other words, the speaking is in addition to something that was added/continued. What was that other thing? The curious Chana suggests that it was coming to the king unsummoned (the first time being in 5:1-2). As proof, note that in 8:5 the king holds out the golden scepter, like in 5:2.

However, I find this explanation difficult because it does not seem to follow within the plot. At this point in the story, Esther has already acted assertively with the king and been chosen over the king's trusted advisor, Haman. The king has just appointed Esther, and then Mordechai, as important ministers and has even given his signet ring to Mordechai. However, the king has not yet nullified Haman's decree by sending out letters to undo the letters that Haman had sent. Other than that, Esther and Mordechai are now among the most powerful people in the empire. Esther should not have had any need to be summoned to the king. She is no longer a member of his harem but a trusted advisor.

That is why, for example, the Alshikh on 8:3 (or at least the Kitzur Alshikh, which is what I have) renders the beginning of the verse as "ותוסף אסתר לדבר Then Esther continued speaking." Looking through the commentaries and translations to which I have access, I did not see any that rendered this differently.

However, the question remains, why did the king have to hold out his scepter to her? Because she had fallen on his feet and he was telling her to get up. She was pleading with him and he was telling her that she should just speak to him normally. Maybe she thought that her request was so extraordinary that she was in danger, although it is hard to see why, or perhaps she just felt that begging in such a way was necessary to obtain the king's consent. But either it worked or it was not necessary at all, because the king agreed to her request and Haman's decree was rescinded.

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