Chapter 8

                                                  Ahasuerus elevates Mordecai


With Haman dead, Ahasuerus gives Esther all the property owned by Haman.[1]Esther revealed to her husband her relationship to Mordecai and the king gave him the ring that he took from Haman. This ring may have given the holder huge power, as indicated in 3:10,[2] where it gave Haman power to exterminate the Judeans.[3] Esther then gave Mordecai control over the possessions she obtained from the king.

Esther approaches the king and “speaks…falls at his feet…cries, and begs” him to annul Haman’s “thought which he thought concerning the Judeans.” Ahasuerus then held out the golden scepter, perhaps this time as a sign of encouragement to rise and not clemency for violating the rule against appearing before the king uninvited. Esther arises and beseeches the king to revoke Haman’s thoughts.[4]

The king then speaks to Esther and Mordecai. Since Mordecai was not present when Esther approached the king, this discussion probably occurred after some time, after the king considered the matter, or after consulting with his advisors.[5] He told them he could not do what Esther requested because that “which is written in the king’s name with the king’s seal cannot be reversed.” He tells them to write a new decree that accomplishes their purpose in his name with his seal. Mordecai devised a decree and it was dispatched to all 127 provinces. The new decree did not annul the former one but granted the Judeans the right of self-defense on 13 Adar. Notably the right was only granted to attack “the forces who would assault them.” The Judeans were also allowed to take their children and women as spoil.

The chapter ends with the Judeans being very joyous and “many people of the land mityahadim because the fear of the Judeans fell upon them.”[6]


The power of the ring

While it seems clear that a person using the king’s ring could exercise the royal power, it is unclear how much clout Ahasuerus was giving to Mordecai. Also, when he gave the ring to Haman, was Ahasuerus only allowing Haman to sign the decree with the king’s ring; in other words, he gave him only narrow license for a single act? Similarly, when he handed the ring to Mordecai was he in effect saying from now on you can do in Persia what you desire or was Ahasuerus giving him only a partial time-bound privilege? Considering future events, such as Esther’s need to beg Ahasuerus to annul Haman’s decree, it seems that Mordecai lacked the authority to act on this matter.

Why did Mordecai and Esther tell the Judeans to kill their enemies?

The simple answer is that the original decree remained in effect and it allowed the non-Judeans to murder Judeans. The new decree allowed Judeans to act in self-defense without interference from the officials of the various provinces.

However, ibn Ezra developed an imaginative drama. The law of the king’s empire forbids him to annul a prior decree. So a subterfuge was used. The king told his people that he had given Haman authority to write his decrees and seal them with his ring, but he told Haman to issue a decree telling the Judeans to kill their enemies. Haman changed the decree, without the king’s authority, and said the opposite that the non-Judeans should murder the Judeans. When the king discovered the fraud, he ordered Haman to be hanged and gave all of his property to his queen. Now the king is issuing the decree he intended giving the Judeans: the right to kill their enemies. In short, the new decree had to allow the killing of non-Judeans to support the subterfuge that this had been the king’s original intent.


Esther’s author delights, as we have seen, in showing parallels between one event in the book and another and in contrasting two events. In verse 15, he describes Mordecai leaving the king wearing very fine royal apparel “and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.” This contrasts with when Mordecai “wore sackcloth and ashes and went out into the city and cried with a great and bitter cry (4:1), “and the city of Shushan was confused (3:15). Mordecai wearing royal clothing after being elevated by the king parallels a similar episode with Joseph in Genesis 41:42.[7]


                                                             Chapter 9

                                     The battles with Judean enemies


Allowed to defend themselves, the Judeans in Ahasuerus’ kingdom fought non-Judeans who attempted to exterminate them on 13 Adar and beat them. All of the Persian officials helped the Judeans because they feared Mordecai, although the text does not say how they aided the Judeans.[8] The Judeans killed five hundred men in the capital area of Shushan on 13 Adar.[9] Significantly, although Mordecai told the Judeans to take spoils, they did not do so, apparently dramatizing that they fought in self-defense, not for spoil.[10] Among the dead were ten sons of Haman.[11]A total of 75,000 non-Judeans were killed outside of Shushan.[12]

Esther requests that the king allow the Judeans to fight also on 14 Adar in the city of Shushan.[13] Three hundred non-Judeans were killed and, again, the Judeans did not plunder the dead.


Fearing Mordecai

The book does not state that they feared the queen. Mordecai takes the lead here as he did previously in pushing Esther to petition the king to save the Judeans, and some commentators therefore consider him the hero of the drama, not Esther who we have seen being hesitant time after time. Fearing the man and not the woman may reflect the mind-set of the time when women were disparaged.

Who told the king how many people the Judeans killed?

Ibn Ezra states that the enemies of the Judeans rushed to king to slander the Judeans.[14]

The plural name “Purim”

Chapter 9:26 states that the holiday is called Purim because of the Pur (the lot) that Haman cast to determine the date most suitable to exterminate the Judeans. Why, asks ibn Ezra, is the holiday’s name Purim, which is plural, when it is named after a single casting of the Pur? He answers that the plural refers to the two days of the holiday.

Why did Mordecai need to write the Judeans again to observe Purim in 9:29?

Ibn Ezra suggests that after he wrote to the Judeans to observe Purim they did so for one year but did not repeat the observance the following year. Therefore he asked Esther the Queen to join his in writing a second letter with the hope that her prestige will prompt the Judeans to accept the holiday as a perpetual observance.[15]

When is the holiday of Purim?

The current practice is that Purim is celebrated as a one day holiday in Jerusalem on 15 Adar as a commemoration of the end of hostilities in the walled city of Shushan, where the battles occurred on 13 and 14 Adar, while the holiday is observed elsewhere on the one day 14 Adar to recall the cessation of the battle after the war on the 13th elsewhere. The rabbis, not the book of Esther, determined that cities that had walls since the days of Joshua were obliged to observe Purim on 15 Adar. In contrast, as I will show, the book of Esther states that the holiday should be observed by everyone on two days, on the 14th and 15th of Adar.

It is possible that the date of the holiday developed in three stages. It was first accepted as a holiday on the 14th only in the villages, as stated in Esther 9:19.  “As a result (of the successful defensive battle against the non-Judeans on the 13th and 14th day they engaged in battle) Judeans of the villages, who dwell in villages, make the 14th of Adar a day of happiness, feasting, and a good day, and of sending portions[16] one to another.”

Two things should be noted about verse 19, the first stage of the development of the celebration of Purim. (1) The holiday was celebrated for one day, 14 Adar, by villagers. Verse 18 states that the Judeans battled a second day, both the 13th and 14th; “and rested on the 15th day and made it a day of feasting and happiness.” But as A. Cohen notes on verse 19,[17] “After this verse we would have expected another verse giving the law of ‘Shushan Purim,’ that those who dwell in walled cities keep the 15th of Adar” as the holiday of Purim. Since this is absent, it seems that the first stage of the celebration of Purim was a single day, on 14 Adar. (2) This celebration was accompanied by sending gifts to one another. No mention is made of gifts to the poor.

The second stage was developed later. Mordecai decreed that it should be observed for two days as indicated in verses 20-22 and 27. Mordecai sent a letter to all Judeans of Ahasuerus’ provinces “to accept upon themselves to keep the 14th of the moth of Adar and the 15th of it, every year…and make them days of feasting and happiness and of sending portions one to another and gifts[18] to the poor.” And the Judeans “took upon themselves…that they would keep these two days.”

Again, two things should be noted: (1) Mordecai made Purim into a two day holiday and requested the people to accept it as such, and they did. (2) He added the practice of sending gifts to the poor.

Josephus, writing after 70 CE, records that Purim was celebrated on the 14th and 15th of Adar, two days. He states that they send gifts to one another. He does not mention the gifts to the poor.[19]

Still later, for unknown reasons, the practice arose to have a single day of holiday observed on different days in Jerusalem and elsewhere and to differentiate between cities like Jerusalem that were walled during the days of Joshua who must observe Purim on 15 Adar and other cities that observe it on 14 Adar.[20]

The fast

The holiday of Purim is observed today with a fast day called the “Fast of Esther” that precedes it on 13 Adar. Some Jews observe the fast day from morning until sundown. It does not begin the night before as Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, and is, in essence a half day fast. [21]

Esther 9:31 has been interpreted by people to state that the Judeans consented to observe this fast of 13 Adar. The verse states that the Judeans in the days of Mordecai and Esther agreed to observe Purim “just as Mordecai and Esther the queen had instructed them and just as they had accepted upon themselves and their descendants the matters of the fastings and their cry.”[22] The problems with this interpretation, that “the fastings and their cry” are associated with Purim, are: (1) The quoted words seem to imply that the Judeans accepted the fasts and cry before agreeing to observe the two days of Purim. (2) Mordecai and Esther did not request the Judeans to fast. (3) The word is not “fast” in the singular, but “fastings” in the plural. (4) The fast of Esther on 13 Adar was introduced into Judaism centuries after the lives of Esther and Mordecai.

There is no indication in any document that 13 Adar was a fast day in ancient times. To the contrary, beginning in 161 BCE, the day was celebrated as a happy day commemorating the victory of the Hasmoneans against the Syrian general Nicanor, and was called Nicanor Day.[23] Mitchell First shows that the Fast of Esther replaced Nicanor Day centuries later. It was first mentioned in Jewish literature in the eighth century.[24]

Since the fast did not exist during the days of Mordecai and Esther, the notion that the Judeans accepted their request to fast on 13 Adar is untenable. A better interpretation of verse 9:31 is that the author of Esther is suggesting that the Judeans felt it was inappropriate and even impermissible to create a new non-biblical holiday. They understood that the Bible forbid them to do add to or diminish what is in the Torah. Deuteronomy 4:2 states “You must not add to the word that I command you, nor may you diminish it, you must keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.”[25] Esther’s author implies that Mordecai responded, “We have already added days of worship to those mentioned in the Torah. For example the four fasts mentioned in Zechariah 8:19 that commemorate the destruction of the first and second temples.” Mordecai’s argument was irrefutable and the Judeans agreed to observe Purim as they observed “the matters of the fastings and their cry.”

As an aside, we might note the conjecture of Abraham Ibn Ezra. He recalls that Esther fasted for two or three days in the month of Nissan[26] while the current observance is to fast on only a single day, 13 Adar, which occurs eleven months later. He supposes that originally the Judeans fasted the same fast as Esther for the same period,[27] but the rabbis later changed the fast to 13 Adar to commemorate the fear the Judeans experienced when they thought they would be killed on that day.


At first, the holiday was celebrated by giving gifts to friends (verse 19). Mordecai added that gifts should also be given to the poor (verse 21).


                                                         Chapter 10

                             What happened to Ahasuerus and Mordecai?


Esther ends with a chapter of only three verses. One tells that Ahasuerus taxed the land[28] and islands.[29] Two state that Mordecai’s good acts are recorded in books, he was second to the king, most of the Judeans liked him, and he aided his co-religionists.


The king taxes many lands

Ibn Ezra understand that 10:1 is informing readers that after Mordecai was appointed to his high government post and became an advisor to the king, the king became so powerful that he was able to impose taxes on governments that were not part of his kingdom, because they feared him.

But Mordecai was only liked by “most” of his people

Why does the final verse of Esther say that Mordecai was liked by “most” of his people? Ibn Ezra recognizes that it is human nature that no one can be liked by everyone, even a man like Mordecai who saved his people.  

The end

Esther ends as it began in a chiastic fashion. It began with festivities and end so as well. It began with a description of Ahasuerus’ power and wealth in 1:1-8 and ends likewise in 10:1-2.


[1] Verse 1 states that he gave her Haman’s house, but this may mean all his property. The property of criminals was forfeited to the state (Cohen, page 229). Ibn Ezra explains that Haman was extremely wealthy, second only to the king, so Esther received a huge wealth. Rashi supposes that “house” refers to Haman’s sons (those sons who were not executed) who were delivered to Ether to serve as servants.

[2] However, see below.

[3] This assignment of extreme power to Mordecai even taking into account that he was related to Esther and he had saved the king’s life is rash behavior. As nice a man as Mordecai was seen to be, there was no evidence that he was a competent administrator. Our author does not reveal why the king acted so precipitately. Is this another instance of the king acting thoughtlessly, even as he did when he accepted Haman’s plan to exterminate the Judeans. Perhaps we should understand that this promotion only occurred after a suitable period of investigation of his abilities. Alternatively, this is a literary device to indicate the change in circumstances and we should not delve too deeply into motives.

[4] Two questions arise: Since the text states that Ahasuerus stretched out his scepter, should we understand that Esther was placing her life in danger again and if he did not raise the scepter, Esther would have been killed? Since Esther speaks of Haman’s thoughts and not the king’s decree, is she suggesting that although the law of the land is that a king’s decree cannot be revoked this was a “thought” of Haman, not the king, this law does not apply, and the decree can be annulled? We do not know. There is no evidence for the irrevocability of the Persian law outside the Bible (cf. Herodotus 9:109, Plutarch, Artaxerxes 27, Moore, page 11).

[5] Gersonides supposes that Esther stayed away from her husband for some weeks since she knew that he angered quickly and imagined that he was still distraught over Haman’s death. This calculation is based on the fact that the second decree was not issued until 70 days after the death of Haman.

[6] While many, such as Rashi, translate mityahadim as “became Jews,” Cohen (page 234) notes that the word is never used in the Bible or Rabbinic Hebrew to indicate proselytization, “it may be argued with some reason that a better translation is ‘took the part of the Jews.’”

[7] Klein notes eleven parallels in wording in chapter 8 to chapters 3 and 4 (page 255).

[8] “All” is most likely hyperbole.

[9] No information is given how many non-Judeans were killed in the city itself on 13 Adar. Also, no information is included about the loss of Judean lives during the battles of 13 and 14 Adar.

[10] While the text seems to indicate that no Judean plundered the dead, knowing human nature and knowing the characteristic biblical character to exaggerate – as it does later when it states that the total of killed was 75,000 non-Judeans – we can safely conclude that the author means that “most” of the Judeans did not loot the dead. Ibn Ezra suggests that they ransacked the property of the dead but did not keep the property for themselves. They wanted the king to be enriched from the plunder.

[11] It is unclear if these ten were the only sons of Haman or the only ones the Judeans killed. It is also unclear why they were killed. Some say that this was a self-defense measure for the Judeans knew that unless they were killed they would find an opportunity in the future to avenge their father. Others say that the ten sons led the attack against the Judeans on 13 Adar (Cohen, page 57). Rashi quotes the midrashic Seder Olam which contends that these ten sons sent a memorandum to the king suggesting that the Judeans not be allowed to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (see Ezra 4:6). The practice of writing the names of the ten sons in two columns is mentioned in Sophrim 13b, but the reason for doing so is no longer known. It is also done for Exodus 15 and Joshua 12.

[12] All of the numbers of dead are rounded up to hundreds.

[13] Why only in the city? We can speculate that it would take too long to notify outlying areas. Also, it possible that the inhabitants of the city of Shushan were more bitterly anti-Judeans than outside this city.

[14] 9:12. Why rushed? The text states the information came to the king the same day.

[15] Since Esther is only mentioned here after her second visit with the king while Mordecai takes the lead, some commentators suppose that her name was not in the original text of this verse, but some scribe added it (Moore, page 96).

[16] The Hebrew manot, “portions,” does not indicate what the portions were, but the Talmud states it is foodstuff, and since the plural is used, they decreed it should be at least two foods.

[17] In “The Five Megilloth,” The Soncino Press,” 1952, page 238. The Babylonian Talmud Megillah 2b also notes that the law for the walled cities is absent.

[18] It should be noted that Mordecai did not say send “portions,” but gifts. It is unclear whether portions and gifts should be understood as synonyms or as two different kinds of things.

[19] Antiquities 6:13

[20] The issue is discussed in the Babylonian Talmud Megillah 2b.

[21] We no longer know why the four other fasts are different than the fasts of Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av, which go from evening to evening. Most likely, although this is only my guess, it is because Jewish ancestors considered the four fasts less important.

[22] The words “and their cry” means and the lamentations associated with the disaster that occurred.

[23] Nicanor day is mentioned in I Maccabees 3:57, II Maccabees 15:36, Megillah Taanit 12, Babylonian Talmud Taanit 18b, and elsewhere.

[24] “The Origin of Taanit Esther,” AJS Review 34:2, pages 309-351. We do not know why the rabbis invented this fast day and replaced Nicanor Day. Perhaps it was because they disliked Nicanor Day, a non-religious celebration instituted by the general public, because it celebrated a victory by human efforts with no indication that God was involved. In contrast the rabbis saw Esther’s fast as a petition to God for divine aid which they were convinced God granted.

[25] See the Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashana 28b, Eruvin 95b-96a, Megillah 2b, and elsewhere. While the rabbis accepted this law not to add to the biblical commands or cease observing any of them, they never implemented this law. I showed in my book “Mysteries of Judaism” that they changed every biblical holiday without exception.

[26] One cannot go without food and drink for three days, so in his commentary to 4:16, ibn Ezra states the she fasted two days.

[27] This would explain why the text uses the plural “fasts.”

[28] If Ahasuerus was Xerxes, he waged war against Greece and lost. It is possible that he had to raise taxes because of his great losses during the war.

[29] Xerxes lost all of the islands to Greece in 497 BCE and the Persians only reacquired those decades later. Arguably, the author writing during a later period did not know this.