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.
The Talmud (Brachos 34b) relates the story of how Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, leading scholar of his time, turned to another scholar – Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa – to pray for his own ailing son. When his wife later asked him if Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was greater than he, himself, Rabbi Yochanan ben Dosa responded that “Chanina ben Dosa is like an “eved” (“servant”) before the King, whereas I am like a “sar” (“minister”) before the king. The Vilna Gaon (in his pshat commentary) demonstrates from this story that “eved” connotes an official of a king who is more often in court and is therefore more familiar – much like a congressperson in the United States, whereas a “sar” is more of a bureaucrat responsible for rules and law in more distant lands with rare personal interaction with the crown – much like a state governor in the United States. They are mentioned together to demonstrate that Achashverosh entertained both classes of officials.
One may think that the story of the feast is integral to the introduction of Esther as Achashverosh’s new queen. However, the Megillah could have just as easily utilized its more typical lack of literary/ dramatic build-up by simply stating that, in the third year of his reign, Achashverosh was angered by his wife and killed her. According to the Talmud (Megillah 11b), the Jews’ participation in the feast that (in a sense) celebrates the continuation of their exile is what led directly to H-Shem’s later allowing Achashverosh to exterminate the Jews. Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller says that the Jews should have been “incapable of enjoying the party.” With H-Shem’s help, we shall see how the Talmudic Sages see hints to this idea in the very wording of the next few verses.
ג בִּשְׁנַת שָׁלוֹשׁ לְמָלְכוֹ עָשָׂה מִשְׁתֶּה לְכָל-שָׂרָיו וַעֲבָדָיו חֵיל פָּרַס וּמָדַי הַפַּרְתְּמִים וְשָׂרֵי הַמְּדִינוֹת לְפָנָיו
3. In the third year of his kingship, he made a feast for all officials and servants, the armies of Persia and Medea, the royals, and the officials of the states before him.
The Ibn Ezra in his commentary suggests three reasons for Achashverosh’s feast.
- as in the Talmud (Megillah 11b), Achashverosh was celebrating the (supposed) dashed hopes of the Jews’ return to Israel
- he was beginning to enjoy a period of relative peace and
- he had just married Vashti, heiress to the throne of Balshatzar.
Quite possibly, all three answers are one and the same; once Achashverosh felt safe from the lack of war, and the end of the seventy years prophesied by Yirmiya (29:10) as the length of the Jews’ exile in Babylonia seemingly passed without the Jewish redemption, he felt the only thing left to do in order to further cement his rule would be to marry Vashti, daughter of Balshatzar, monarch of Bavel.
The capital city had been Bavel for thousands of years. Achashverosh moved the capital to another city to show his ability to yield his power and influence.