He (Mordechai) raised Hadassah, who was Esther… for she had no parents; the girl (Esther) possessed a beautiful appearance… and when her parents died, Mordechai took her as his daughter (Esther 2:7).
We have discussed (see Part 1) the idea of “Bas” and “Bayis.” Chazal tell us that Mordechai married Esther and together they built their Jewish home. There are two more beautiful lessons which I would like to develop based on this verse. They pertain to Hadassah and Bayis.
Why Call Her Hadassah?
What was her name? Throughout the entire Megillah, she is called Esther, except for one place. The very first time that the Megillah talks about our hero, she is named Hadassah! The Gemara (Megillah 13a) disputes which of the two names was primary. Nevertheless, both opinions must explain why the name Hadassah is used to introduce her? What is going on here? Also, why is she called by a name which translates as “myrtle,” and why is she called this specifically in the verse that hints to her marriage?
It also must be noted that we find the same occurrence by Haman. The first time that he is referred to, according to Chazal, is in the first Chapter of Esther, when a brazen advisor named “Memuchan” speaks before his superiors. That Memuchan was none other than Haman. That is the first and last time that he is called by that name. How do we explain this as well?
Wife is Bayis
Chazal tell us that the word “bayis, house,” hints to marriage. We find this same idea expressed in Shabbos (118b), “Rebbe Yosi stated that he never referred to his wife as “wife,” rather, he called her, ‘my house’.” What is going on here?
The Wedding Ring
In order to understand what is being expressed here we must first examine the rationale behind an interesting custom at the wedding ceremony. The Chasson, groom, stands under the Chupah canopy together with his Kallah, bride, and in front of two witnesses he recites his declaration of marriage and then places the ring on her finger. With her acceptance, they are now married. Customarily, he places the ring specifically upon her index (pointer) finger. Why is this so? Now, it certainly does not invalidate the marriage if he were to place it on any other finger or even in her palm, however, how do we understand this preferred custom? Why we do not tell him to place the ring upon her “ring finger” as would seem more logical?
Now, truth be told, the simplest reason is just a practicality. The witnesses need to see the placement of the ring upon her and the easiest finger to stretch out in clear view is certainly her pointer! But there is more depth here as well, as we shall see.
Fingers and Senses
Rabbeinu Bechayeh (Parshas Tzav) teaches us that the five fingers correspond to the five sensesthat we possess. More so, each finger is naturally drawn to the sense which it represents. Try to guess them yourself before you read on! Here is his list in summary:
1-Thumb: corresponds to taste (mouth). (There have been babies in their mother’s womb who were observed sucking their thumbs!)
2-Index (Pointer): corresponds to smell (nose!) This one is well known!
3-Middle: corresponds to touch. Since it is the longest finger, it can reach and touch the furthest parts of the body.
4-Ring: corresponds to sight. Many wipe their eyes with this finger.
5-Pinky: corresponds to the ear and hearing. This one is also well understood!
Bearing this in mind, we now have a key to understanding fingers.
The Pointer of God
When Hashem performed the miracles in Egypt, the Egyptians called them “Etzbah Elokim, the index finger of God.” What is the significance?
Four of the senses are all physical in their nature. We use taste, touch, sight and hearing to receive pleasure from this world. The sense of smell is the most spiritual from all of them. Chazal (Berachos 43b) state that a pleasure that only the soul benefits from is that of smell! It has spiritual connections. Hashem blew into Adam’s nostrils to give him life. This was how his Neshamah, soul, was installed into his body. Thus, smell represents pure spirituality.
Hence, when the Egyptians realized that the miracles were not mere Kishuf, earthly evil black-magic, but rather emanating from the True Spiritual Source, they acknowledged this. They called the plagues by the term of the index finger, the finger linked to the sense of smell, the most spiritual element! They recognized the spiritual element of Hashem’s actions in the world. When we remove wine from our cups on Pesach night upon mentioning the ten plagues, this is the reason that we do so utilizing our pointer!
The Marriage Finger
Now we understand why the wedding ring is placed on the pointer. When a man gets married he can do so for many reasons. His focus could be spiritual or physical. He may be marrying for his own personal lustful reasons, to satisfy his nerve endings and desires. Or he can approach matrimony with dignity, respect and holiness, recognizing the great spirituality involved. This is certainly the best outlook. Thus, our custom is that he begins the marriage by focusing on her pointer finger, the finger representing smell and spiritual growth, showing that he is marrying her in recognition of her spiritual qualities and will grow together with her in their pursuit of closeness to Hashem! He certainly cannot deny her beauty, indeed, that is a gift from Hashemmeant to be appreciated, but his priorities are in order and his goals are properly balanced.
Those that get married utilizing the ring finger are expressing a different outlook. That finger corresponds to his eyes and sight. Following one’s eyes is the most dangerous method to utilize when choosing a life’s partner. That method begins with much lust and excitement but fizzles out disappointingly fast! Only one who focuses on qualities and growth can achieve marital happiness and success, with proper effort and sensitivity.
The first time that a name is expressed shows the person’s essence. Haman is called “Memuchan” when we meet him, a name that Chazal (Megillah 12b) translate as “awaiting punishment.” Throughout the Megillah, everything that Haman arranged in order to destroy Mordechai and the Jews, was ultimately one big contribution and lead up to his own destruction. This was his essence, clearly expressed by the name Memuchan.
The True Hadassah
Hadassah was Esther’s essence. She was a sweet smelling fragrant Hadassah, myrtle, connected to Hashem and dedicated to growth. This was who she proved herself to be throughout the entire story as she sacrificed herself to save her Jewish brethren. She was a truly spiritually focused person, hence her original name expressed fragrant aroma, to connote her spiritual beauty.
How apropos that she should be called this name specifically in the verse that discusses her marriage to Mordechai! The verse is testifying to the great spiritual focus which they built their relationship upon. This is the very plan and advice of the Torah for a meaningful relationship. Now we understand why she is called Hadassah.
Same as Bayis!
And now for the Bayis! Chazal (Kesubos 17a) tell us that Rebbe Yehuda bar Ila’ah would dance before the Kallah with branches of Hadas, myrtle! Also, Reb Achah would lift up the Kallah and carry her on his shoulders! His students asked him if they could copy his custom. He replied, “if she is like a wooden beam in your eyes, then it is permissible for you to do this as well!”
With all that we explained, it is delightfully clear as to why the myrtle branch was present at the weddings! This expresses the focus upon the sense of smell, holiness and spirituality that we imbue our marriage with!
What is the lesson of Reb Achah and his wooden beam parallel? The lesson based upon the Maharsha is that many see women as objects of desire and sexual lure. This is not the proper Torah view. A woman is a partner in building a home for Hashem. This was precisely what Reb Achah wished to express. Just as a wooden beam is the support of the entire house, so too “the wisdom of a woman builds her home” (Mishley 14). We strive to view our wife as a partner in building and growth!
Finally, this is what Rebbe Yosi meant by referring to his wife as “my home”. He acknowledged her power of building and her spiritual insight that inspired him and their children to grow! A woman has tremendous power to inspire others and help permeate her home with the holy presence of Hashem. Together, man and woman can accomplish this. One who gears their focus on these elevated spiritual ideals will find much happiness and fulfillment. Indeed, even theireveryday physical experiences will become more enjoyable as they are infused with true connection and service of Hashem!