Several reasons are given for the Megillah’s stressing the participants’ being “from great to small.” After all, like celebrities entering an awards ceremony or the grand finale in a fireworks show, the people of greater stature are usually honored after those of lower stature according to propriety. Furthermore, in the story of Lot, the Sodomites are described as attacking his home “from the young to the old” (Bereishis 19:4). The Sfas Emes posits that the phraseology suggests that even minors were allowed at the party. According to the Malbim and Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi, the mixed-up order allows for comparison, which implies that Achashverosh was telling his more noble guests that they were now all equal with everyone else – making everyone mere slaves to him. Sometimes, as in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, being equal means that everyone is less than they deserve.
Rabbi Dovid Feinstein notes that the “people who were found in Shushan” were not only residents. Anybody could have been found in Shushan. More to the point, anybody who did not want to be at the party merely needed to leave the city for those seven days. The Jews’ desire to participate in the feast is the primarily reason attributed by the rabbis of the Talmud (Megillah 12a) for their potential annihilation in the Purim story. Sfas Emes brings from Yalkut Esther (1048) that the leaders of the generation did escape Shushan in time to ignore the invitation to the feast, whereas some unfortunates were “found” in the city and dragged to the seat of their temptation.
ה וּבִמְלוֹאת ׀ הַיָּמִים הָאֵלֶּה עָשָׂה הַמֶּלֶךְ לְכָל–הָעָם הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשַׁן הַבִּירָה לְמִגָּדוֹל וְעַד–קָטָן מִשְׁתֶּה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים בַּחֲצַר גִּנַּת בִּיתַן הַמֶּלֶךְ
5. And in the filling of these days, the king made for the whole nation found in Shushan the capital – from the great to the small – a party seven days in the courtyard of the garden of the king’s house.
Assuming that the seven day party was separate from the 180-day party, and not just the last week of the former1, Rabbi Dovid Feinstein notes that the king would have needed to serve as much food or more in these seven days than in the entire feast since the longer feast was only for dignitaries, as noted above, whereas this feast was for every inhabitant of Shushan – a far larger group. Therefore, the Megillah uses a quantitative term instead of a qualitative one in order to emphasize the sheer amount of food an drink available.
According to the Sfas Emes, the use of the singular “yom” instead of the plural is evidence for the Midrashic opinion that each day of the feast had a unique, singular theme wholly different from each other.
As is typical of Torah texts, the Megillah offers rare details, so the enumeration of the length of the party seems odd. Furthermore, since the verse already testifies to its lasting “many days,” the actual number of days seems all the more redundant. In his brilliant Ginzei HaMelech, Rabbi Eliezer Ginzburg brings the Vilna Gaon from his allegoric “al Derech Remez” commentary on Esther. The entire story of Esther, according to the Vilna Gaon, is an allegory for the struggle between one and one’s evil inclination, Yetzer Hara. On this verse, the Vilna Gaon quotes a Midrash that the phrase “many days” is indicative of pain. The Vilna Gaon proves from the Talmud (Shabbos 89b) that there are potentially 180 days out of the year when a person would not even consider sin, and those are the “many days of pain for the Yetzer Hara.” Rabbi Ginzberg posits that the monicker “many days of pain” can be equally applied to the other half of the year, the 180 days of pain for the the person fighting the Yetzer Hara, as the evil one “watches over the righteous, seeking his death” (Tehillim 37:32). How can a man be successful in this struggle? Rabbi Ginzburg suggests (from Toras haChida, Tazria 12:3) that there are 180 hours from the birth of a baby boy until it is appropriate to give him a bris. For those 180 hours, the father of the boy is too anxious about the mitzvah before him to even consider sin. In the merit of the 180 hours when the Yetzer Hara has no grasp on the father before the bris, both the father and the boy can be shielded from the Yetzer Hara for all of the difficult 180 days of the year for all the years of their lives.
The fifth noun mentioned in this verse is the unique term, tiferes. The Talmud (Megillah 12a) notes that the word is used by the Torah (as in Shemos 28:2) in connection to the clothing of the kohanim, the priests. This is one of the proofs suggested by the Talmud that Achashverosh used the items – and even the clothes – of the Beis HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in celebrating its demise at this feast.
ד בְּהַרְאֹתוֹ אֶת-עשֶׁר כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ וְאֶת-יְקָר תִּפְאֶרֶת גְּדוּלָּתוֹ יָמִים רַבִּים שְׁמוֹנִים וּמְאַת יוֹם
4. In his showing the wealth and honor of his kingship and the splendor beauty of his greatness for many days – eighty and a hundred day.
One reason for the description is to overwhelm even the reader. As we know, not all leaders can command both wealth and prestige. According to the Malbim, Achashverosh is saying that he has both. The Midrash suggests that six nouns are used to describe Achashverosh’s wealth because he felt compelled to show six great gifts each day1. According to the Vilna Gaon (in his peshat commentary), the Midrash goes on to explain that Nebuchadnezzer had 1080 treasures which were bequeathed upon Cyrus, and which now fell into the hands of Achashverosh. Showing six of the 1080 treasures per day would require 180 days, the exact length of the party.
According to the Malbim, Achashverosh placed these ministers and officials at the party to show them that they were “before him,” no longer contemporary or relevant – mere vestiges of bygone days. Whereas not inviting them at all would have insulted them more, inviting them and making them feel small had the added benefit of strengthening his rule. With this answer, we can perhaps propose a new answer to most of the previous questions. In celebrating a party that boosted the power of his despotism, Achashverosh belittled the officials of his city-states to feel like no more than servants “before him” – a Persian dominating the formerly mighty Medes. Perhaps even the use of the word “partimim,” so antiquated as to no longer be in use, was utilized here to indicate the new king’s desire to make his potential rivals feel outmoded and weak.
According to Ibn Ezra, this word is unique in that it is only used here and in the book of Daniel. He notes an uncertainty as to its origin – whether Hebrew or Persian. See the next blog post for more on this subject.
The Talmud (Megillah 12a) relates that the Persians and Medes ruled their kingdom utilizing a unique power-sharing method, possibly as a form of checks and balances. When one group sat on the thrown, the other was in control of the bureaucracy. The Me’am Loez, however, gives a more technical answer: The kingdom was begun by Darius the Mede, so the Medes are mentioned first in the political chronicles of the land (Esther 10:2), but Achashverosh was a Persian, so the Persians are mentioned first here, when discussing his particular reign.