(Esther) Rashi (Aesthetic Judaism)

This might be my misimpression, but what seems to have most caught Rashi’s eye in his commentary to the book of Esther was not so much the vindication of Israel and the political violence that close the text, but rather the opening set scenes in the first two chapters. Other Jewish cultural productions will do that, but not this one. What interests Rashi, not unlike nineteenth English painters, are the luxurious settings of the banquet King Achashverosh, the figure of Vashti and sexual politics, and the attention lavished upon the erotic figure cut by Esther. This all suggests, and I’ve written elsewhere about him here at the blog, that Rashi and the Judaism that he reflects was this-worldly, aesthetic, and pleasure-seeking. There is nothing by way of miracle or Amalek and other such nonsense that might dominate a Hasidic commentary to this rich biblical text.

[The Rashi text is below]

LUXE

1:4

יָמִים רַבִּים. עָשָׂה לָהֶם מִשְׁתֶּה

[For] many days. He made a feast for them.

1:5

גִּנַּת. מְקוֹם זֵרְעוֹנֵי יְרָקוֹת

Of the garden. A place where vegetables are sown.

בִּיתַן. נָטוּעַ בְּאִילָנוֹת

Orchard. Where trees are planted.

1:6

חוּר כַּרְפַּס וּתְכֵלֶת. מִינֵי בְגָדִים צִבְעוֹנִים פֵּרַס לָהֶם לְמַצָּעוֹת

[There were] pure white drapes, fine woolen cushions, bluish emerald techeiles wool. He spread out various types of colored fabrics for them as spreads.

אָחוּז בְּחַבְלֵי בוּץ וְאַרְגָּמָן. מְרֻקָּמִים בִּפְתִילֵי בוּץ וְאַרְגָּמָן. אוֹתָן פֵּרַס לָהֶם עַל גְּלִילֵי כֶסֶף וְעַל עַמּוּדֵי שֵׁשׁ

Brocaded with strands of linen and mauve, woolen argaman threads. Embroidered with threads of linen and purple; he spread these out for them on rods of silver and columns of marble.

מִטּוֹת זָהָב וָכֶסֶף. עָרַךְ לֵישֵׁב עֲלֵיהֶם לִסְעוּדָה

Gold and silver couches. He set [them] up to sit upon for the meal.

עַל רִצְפַת. קַרְקָעוֹת שֶׁל בַּהַט וָשֵׁשׁ, וגו’. מִינֵי אֲבָנִים טוֹבוֹת פֵּרְשׁוּ רַבּוֹתֵינוּ. וּלְפִי מַשְׁמָעוּת הַמִּקְרָא כַּךְ שְׁמָם

On a floor. Floors of green and white, etc. Our Rabbis identified them as types of precious stones.14Ibid. According to the apparent meaning of the verse, these were their names.

1:7

וְהַשְׁקוֹת בִּכְלֵי זָהָב. כְּמוֹ וּלְהַשְׁקוֹת

As for drinking; golden utensils.

[The word וְהַשְׁקוֹת means the same] as וּלְהַשְׁקוֹת and to give to drink.

שׁוֹנִים. מְשֻׁנִּים זֶה מִזֶּה, וְכֵן “וְדָתֵיהֶם שֹׁנוֹת”. וְרַבּוֹתֵינוּ דָרְשׁוּ מַה שֶׁדָּרְשׁוּ

Sundry. Different one from the other, and similarly, “and their customs differ,” and our Rabbis expounded what they expounded.

וְיֵין מַלְכוּת רָב. הַרְבֵּה. וְרַבּוֹתֵינוּ אָמְרוּ: שֶׁהִשְׁקָה אוֹתָם כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד יַיִן שֶׁהוּא זָקֵן מִמֶּנּוּ

And plenty of royal wine. It was abundant. . And our Rabbis said that he gave each one wine to drink that was older than he.

1:8

כַדָּת. לְפִי שֶׁיֵּשׁ סְעוּדוֹת שֶׁכּוֹפִין אֶת הַמְּסֻבִּין לִשְׁתּוֹת כְּלִי גָדוֹל, וְיֵשׁ שֶׁאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לִשְׁתּוֹתוֹ כִּי אִם בְּקֹשִׁי, אֲבָל כַּאן: “אֵין אוֹנֵס”

Proper. Because there are feasts in which they coerce those seated to drink [the contents] of a large vessel, and some can only drink it with difficulty, but here it was “with no coercion.”

יִסַּד. לְשׁוֹן יְסוֹד, כְּלוֹמַר, כֵּן תִּקֵּן וְצִוָּה

Basically instructed. An expression referring to a foundation [יְסוֹד], meaning, so he instituted and commanded.

עַל כָּל רַב בֵּיתוֹ. עַל כָּל שָׂרֵי הַסְּעוּדָה, שַׂר הָאוֹפִים וְשַׂר הַטַּבָּחִים וְשַׂר הַמַּשְׁקִים

All his palace officials. All stewards of the feast: the chief baker, the chief butcher and the chief butler.

לַעֲשׂוֹת כִּרְצוֹן אִישׁ וָאִישׁ. לְכָל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד רְצוֹנוֹ

To satisfy each individual’s desire. For each one his desire.

1:10

בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי. רַבּוֹתֵינוּ אָמְרוּ: שַׁבָּת הָיָה

On the seventh day. Our Rabbis said that it was on Shabbos.23Corresponding to “the seventh day” of the week.

1:12

וַתְּמָאֵן הַמַּלְכָּה וַשְׁתִּי. רַבּוֹתֵינוּ אָמְרוּ: לְפִי שֶׁפָּרְחָה בָהּ צָרַעַת כְּדֵי שֶׁתְּמָאֵן וְתֵהָרֵג. לְפִי שֶׁהָיְתָה מַפְשֶׁטֶת בְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל עֲרֻמּוֹת וְעוֹשָׂה בָהֶן מְלָאכָה בַּשַּׁבָּת, נִגְזַר עָלֶיהָ שֶׁתִּפָּשֵׁט עֲרֻמָּה בַּשַּׁבָּת

Queen Vashti refused. Our Rabbis said because leprosy broke out on her so that she should refuse and be executed. Because she would force Jewish girls to disrobe and make them do work on Shabbos, it was decreed upon her to be stripped naked on Shabbos.

SEXUAL POLITICS

וַיִּקְצֹף. שֶׁשָּׁלְחָה לוֹ דִבְרֵי גְנַאי

Angered. Because she sent him words of insult.

1:13

כִּי כֵן דְּבַר הַמֶּלֶךְ. כִּי כֵן מִנְהַג הַמֶּלֶךְ בְּכָל מִשְׁפָּט לָשׂוּם אֶת הַדָּבָר “לִפְנֵי כָּל יוֹדְעֵי דָּת וָדִין”

For the king would thus place matters. For such was the king’s custom in every judgment, to present the matter “before all who were versed in procedural and legal concerns.”

1:15

כְּדָת מַה לַּעֲשׂוֹת. מוּסָב עַל “וַיֹּאמֶר הַמֶּלֶךְ לַחֲכָמִים”

Concerning the proper procedure to follow. This refers back to “The king consulted the sages.”

1:16

עָוְתָה. לְשׁוֹן עָו‍ֹן

Has aggrieved. An expression of iniquity [עָו‍ֹן].

1:17

כִּי יֵצֵא דְבַר הַמַּלְכָּה עַל כָּל הַנָּשִׁים. זֶה שֶׁבִּזְּתָה אֶת הַמֶּלֶךְ עַל כָּל הַנָּשִׁים לְהַבְזוֹת אַף הֵן אֶת בַּעֲלֵיהֶן

For the affair of the queen will extend to all women. That she showed contempt for the king, [this will cause] all the women to show contempt for their husbands as well.

1:18

תּאמַרְנָה שָׂרוֹת פָּרַס וּמָדַי וגו’. לְכֹל שָׂרֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה. וַהֲרֵי זֶה מִקְרָא קָצֵר

The noblewomen in Persia and Media will say, etc. This thing to all the king’s ministers. This is an abbreviated verse.

וּכְדַי בִּזָּיוֹן. וְיֵשׁ בַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה הַרְבֵּה בִזָּיוֹן וָקָצֶף

Causing enormous disparagement and rage. And in this matter there is much contempt and wrath.

1:19

דְבַר מַלְכוּת. גְּזֵרַת מַלְכוּת שֶׁל נְקָמָה שֶׁצִּוָּה לְהָרְגָהּ

A royal edict. A royal decree of revenge, i.e., that he commanded to execute her.

וְיִכָּתֵב בְּדָתֵי פָרַס וּמָדַי. בְּסִפְרֵי חֹק וּמִנְהַג הַמַּלְכוּת

To be recorded in the bylaws of Persia and Media. In the books of the statutes and the customs of the kingdom.

וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר. חוֹק זֶה מִבֵּינֵיהֶם שֶׁיְּהֵא זֶה חוֹק וְדָת לְכָל הַבּוֹזָה אֶת בַּעְלָהּ

Never to be revoked. This statute from among them; this should be a statute and a law for anyone who shows contempt for her husband.

BEAUTY

2:1

זָכַר אֶת וַשְׁתִּי. אֶת יָפְיָהּ וְנֶעֱצַב

He remembered Vashti. Her beauty, and he became sad.

2:3

וְיַפְקֵד הַמֶּלֶךְ פְּקִידִים. לְפִי שֶׁכָּל פָּקִיד וּפָקִיד יְדוּעוֹת לוֹ נָשִׁים הַיָּפוֹת שֶׁבִּמְדִינָתוֹ

And let his majesty appoint officials. Since every commissioner is familiar with the beautiful women in his province.

תַּמְרֻקֵיהֶן. הֵן דְּבָרִים הַמְצַחְצְחִין כְּמוֹ “וּמֹרַק וְשֻׁטַּף.” שֶׁמֶן עָרֵב וּמִינֵי סַמָּנִים וּבְשָׂמִים הַמְטַהֲרִין וּמְעַדְּנִין אֶת הַבָּשָׂר

Their cosmetics. These are substances that cleanse [the skin], as in, “that shall be purged [וּמֹרַק] and rinsed.” These are perfumed oils, various ingredients and spices that cleanse and soften the skin.

2:5

אִישׁ יְהוּדִי. עַל שֶׁגָּלָה עִם גָּלוּת יְהוּדָה. כָּל אוֹתָן שֶׁגָּלוּ עִם מַלְכֵי יְהוּדָה הָיוּ קְרוּיִים “יְהוּדִים” בֵּין הַגּוֹיִם, וַאֲפִילוּ מִשֵּׁבֶט אַחֵר הֵם:

There was a Yehudite man. Because he was exiled with the exile of Yehudah. All those who were exiled with the kings of Yehudah were called יְהוּדִים [Yehudites] among the nations, even if they were from another tribe.

אִישׁ יְמִינִי. מִבִּנְיָמִין הָיָה, כַּךְ פְּשׁוּטוֹ. וְרַבּוֹתֵינוּ דָרְשׁוּ מַה שֶׁדָּרְשׁוּ

A Binyaminite man. He was from Binyamin, that is the plain meaning. But our Rabbis expounded what they expounded.

2:7

לוֹ לְבַת. רַבּוֹתֵינוּ פֵּרְשׁוּ “לְבַיִת”, לְאִשָּׁה

As a daughter. Our Rabbis explained, “for a house” [i.e., לְבַת=לְבַיִת, meaning, as a wife.

2:9

וַיְבַהֵל אֶת תַּמְרוּקֶיהָ. זָרִיז וּמְמַהֵר בְּשֶׁלָּהּ, מִשֶּׁל כֻּלָּן

He eagerly delivered her cosmetics. He was more expedient and quicker with bringing her [cosmetics] than with all the others.

הָרְאֻיוֹת לָתֶת לָהּ. לְשָׁרְתָהּ, וְכֵן עוֹשִׂין לְכֻלָּן. וְרַבּוֹתֵינוּ דָרְשׁוּ מַה שֶּׁדָּרְשׁו

Assigned to her. To serve her, and so they would do for all of them; and our Rabbis expounded what they expounded.

וַיְשַׁנֶּהָ. שִׁנָּה אוֹתָהּ

He favored her. I.e., he changed her וַיְשַׁנֶּהָ=שִׁנָּה אוֹתָהּ.

2:10

אֲשֶׁר לֹא תַגִּיד. כְּדֵי שֶׁיֹּאמְרוּ שֶׁהִיא מִמִּשְׁפָּחָה בְזוּיָה וִישַׁלְּחוּהָ, שֶׁאִם יֵדְעוּ שֶׁהִיא מִמִּשְׁפַּחַת שָׁאוּל הַמֶּלֶךְ הָיוּ מַחֲזִיקִים בָּהּ

Not to reveal it. So that they should say that she was from an ignoble family and dismiss her, for if they knew that she was of the family of King Shaul, they would keep her.

2:11

וּמַה יֵּעָשֶׂה בָּהּ. זֶה אֶחָד מִשְּׁנֵי צַדִּיקִים שֶׁנִּתַּן לָהֶם רֶמֶז יְשׁוּעָה: דָּוִד וּמָרְדְּכַי. דָּוִד, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר “גַּם אֶת הָאֲרִי גַּם אֶת הַדּוֹב הִכָּה עַבְדֶּךָ”. אָמַר: “לֹא בָא לְיָדִי דָבָר זֶה אֶלָּא לִסְמֹךְ עָלָיו לְהִלָּחֵם עִם זֶה”. וְכֵן מָרְדְּכַי אָמַר: “לֹא אֵרַע לְצַדֶּקֶת זוּ שֶׁתִּלָּקַח לְמִשְׁכַּב נָכְרִי אֶלָּא שֶׁעֲתִידָה לָקוּם לְהוֹשִׁיעַ לְיִשְׂרָאֵל”. לְפִיכָךְ, הָיָה מְחַזֵּר לָדַעַת מַה יְּהֵא בְסוֹפָהּ

And what would be done with her. He [Mordechai] was one of two righteous men to whom a hint of salvation was given; Dovid and Mordechai. Dovid as it is stated, “Even the lion and the bear has your servant slain.”He [Dovid] said [to himself], “this incident did not happen to me only that I should rely on it and do battle with this one [Golyas].” And similarly, Mordechai [said to himself], “It did not happen to this righteous woman that she should be taken to a gentile’s bed only that she is destined to rise to save Yisroel.” He therefore repeatedly went around to find out what would be her fate.

2:12

תּר. זְמַן

Time. Time.

2:13

כָּל אֲשֶׁר תּאמַר. כָּל שְׂחוֹק וּמִינֵי זֶמֶר

Whatever she requested. Any entertainment and types of music.

2:14

אֶל בֵּית הַנָּשִׁים שֵׁנִי. הַשֵּׁנִי

To the second harem residence. The second

2:16

בַּחֹדֶשׁ הָעֲשִׂירִי. עֵת צִנָּה שֶׁהַגּוּף נֶהֱנֶה מִן הַגּוּף. זִמֵּן הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא אוֹתוֹ עֵת צִנָּה כְּדֵי לְחַבְּבָהּ עָלָיו

In the tenth month. The cold season, when one body enjoys [the warmth of] another body. The Holy One Blessed Is He, designated that cold season in order to endear her to him.

2:17

מִכָּל הַנָּשִׁים. הַבְּעוּלוֹת, שֶׁאַף נָשִׁים הַבְּעוּלוֹת קִבֵּץ

More than all the women. The married ones; for he also gathered married women.

[the English translation of Rashi’s commentaries to the entire Hebrew Bible are from Sefaria]

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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