Esther 4:1-5 states

When Mordecai learned all that had happened, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes. He went through the city, crying out loudly and bitterly, until he came in front of the palace gate; for one could not enter the palace gate wearing sackcloth. ... When Esther’s maidens and eunuchs came and informed her, the queen was greatly agitated. She sent clothing for Mordecai to wear, so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he refused. Thereupon Esther summoned Hathach, one of the eunuchs whom the king had appointed to serve her, and sent him to Mordecai to learn the why and wherefore of it all.

I presume (based on Malbim) that the reason Mordechai came to the palace gate was to make Esther aware of the decree, and discuss how to respond. Previously (chapter 2) Mordechai had spoken directly with Esther. Yet now, by refusing the clothing she sent, Mordechai and Esther are forced to communicate through a messenger.

This seems to pose a security problem (what if the messenger betrays them, or is captured and forced to reveal his message etc.). All of this does not seem to be in the best interest of Mordechai and Esther and does not seem to be in keeping with Mordechai's intent in going to the palace gate in the first place.

I am unaware of any halachic reason that Mordechai could not switch his clothing (I assume this situation qualifies as pikuach nefesh) and therefore I ask - Why didn't Mordechai accept the clothes sent by Esther?

  • @mevaqesh "for one could not enter the palace gate wearing sackcloth" therefore they could not communicate directly Dec 18, 2017 at 14:36
  • He was mourning. In keeping with the concept of aveilut, one does not wear new clothes.
    – DanF
    Dec 18, 2017 at 16:34
  • @DanF perhaps he was following the customs of mourning or a public fast day but AFAIK he was not bound by any legal requirement not to change his clothes especially if, as I conjecture, this was a situation of pikuach nefesh Dec 18, 2017 at 17:03
  • Why must there have been legal stricture? Couldn't it have been simply along the lines DanF intimates as elucidated in the midrash Aggadat Esther (4:4)?
    – Oliver
    Jan 18, 2018 at 3:43

1 Answer 1


Malbim (Esther 4:4) addresses this directly by saying that Mordechai felt that it would have been inappropriate for him to stop his supplication/prayer at that point:

ולא קבל כי לא רצה להפסיק רגע מתחנונים, שזה כעוזב בטחונו מה' וסומך על עזרת בשר

He also addresses the "security concern" in the very next verse (4:5), saying that Esther knew Hathach to be trustworthy:

...שלחה להתך שהיה אצלה נאמן רוח מכסה דבר, כי הוא מסריסי המלך אשר העמיד לפניה ביחוד ואיש סודה...

The Maharal (Or Chadash 4:4) answers this question by noting that had Mordechai accepted the clothing from Esther, it would have appeared that he tore his clothing and wore sackcloth only to attract Esther's attention and make contact with her. However, he wished to show that he was genuinely mourning over all that had taken place/doing Teshuva (as well as likely inspiring others to do the same). The direct quote is:

ומרדכי לא קבל שא"כ יהיה נראה שלא לבש השק מתחלה רק כדי להודיע לאסתר את הצרה ולא בשביל אבל וצער עתה יהיה נראה כי לבישת השק הוא בשביל התשובה

Maharal continues by adding that had he removed the sackcloth, it would have shown that he was withdrawing or removing himself from his Teshuva in some way. He discusses this theme at length, but his conclusion is:

ואם היה מסיר השק אשר היה ראוי להיות דבק בבשרו היה נראה כי הוא סר מן התשובה לגמרי לכך לא היה רוצה להסיר שק.

(Note that according to Ralbag (Esther 4:4), Esther sending Mordechai the clothing had nothing to do with him being able to enter the palace and speak to her, and it was only from his refusal to accept them that Esther knew that he was upset about something.)

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya! Thanks for the answer.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 18, 2017 at 22:25
  • @mevaqesh Thank you for your warm welcome! Dec 18, 2017 at 23:22
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