In Esther 7:4 we read

וְאִלּוּ לַעֲבָדִים וְלִשְׁפָחוֹת נִמְכַּרְנוּ, הֶחֱרַשְׁתִּי--כִּי אֵין הַצָּר שֹׁוֶה, בְּנֵזֶק הַמֶּלֶךְ ...

... But if we had been sold for bondmen and bondwomen, I had held my peace, for the adversary is not worthy that the king be endamaged.

Is this true? Had, in fact, the entire Jewish population been sold as slaves Esther would not have said a word about it? Is this simply hyperbole? How do we understand this?


5 Answers 5


The Meam Loez says that she meant that Achashveirosh shouldn't kill the Jews, as he would thereby lose out. Had the Jews been sold as slaves, Achashveirosh could have always changed his mind later on (once realized how useful the Jews are). However, once they would be dead, he couldn't have done anything.


Esther knew she had to tread lightly. Ask for too much, and she'd find herself queen no longer.

We approach this with a different attitude today because we're used to governments that, thank G-d, give Jews a great deal of freedom.

To illustrate: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein's younger years were spent living under Communist Russia. There was no way you could attack it head-on: if you did that, you were shot. You tried to accept it as best you could and cautiously work with/around it as much as possible. ("Of course we're not condemning the great Soviet co-ed bathhouse; we're just old-fashioned and too squeamish to use it, and if the Jews never bathed it would create a diseased population likely to contaminate everyone else; thus could the Jewish men and women please each have a few hours a week for private bathhouse use?") Thus it's no surprise that in the late twentieth century, when many Americans were demonstrating for Soviet Jewry and yelling "let my people go!", that wasn't Rabbi Feinstein's world. He thought "please let my people live" (i.e. improved conditions within the USSR) was the most you could ask of Russia.

So I don't think Esther's statement sounded outlandish to many Jews, even fifty years ago.


I saw an answer in the Midrash Rabba (end of Pesichta 3). Esther was saying that she would be silent, since it could be that they deserved to be sold as slaves. After all, the Torah says in the Tochacha that if the Jews don't keep the Torah they will be sold as slaves.

However, there is no curse in the Torah that says the Jews will be all eradicated. Since she knew that this punishment wasn't "coming from Hashem" (kavyachol), she had to do whatever it took to get rid of it.


In a fascinating halachic perspective proposed by the Yaaros Devash (1:17) explained here, it seems Esther would have remained quiet:

In business transactions there is a halachah of “ona’ah” — “deceit” — i.e. a sale in which the profit exceeds more than one-sixth of the cost and expenses is invalid. It does not, however, apply to the sale of land, and sincein the Torah (Vayikra 25:46) slaves are compared to land, halachically the law of ona’ah does not apply when they are sold (Bava Metziah 56b).

Thus, she said to the King, “Had we been sold as slaves I would have kept quiet because though he cheated you in the price, halachically the laws of ona’ah are not applicable. However, since we were not sold as slaves but to be annihilated, then the laws of ona’ah do apply. Obviously, the adversary was not concerned with the financial damage to the King resulting from enormous loss of tax revenues. Hence, I am compelled to speak out and inform you of this.”



The Midrash in the Talmud (Megillah 16a) reinterprets the end of the verse as:

כי אין הצר שוה בנזק המלך
For the Oppressor [ie Haman] does not care about the damage to the king [which would be caused by killing all the Jews].

The Midrash further expounds Esther's comment: Just as Haman got jealous of Vashti and killed her off, so too he is jealous of me and is trying to kill me off without regard for your desires.

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    I'm not sure how this is addressing the question. It seems that you're saying that Esther was saying that if not for this aspect of damage to the king, she wouldn't have spoken. The question stands, though: did she really mean that?
    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 19:34

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