Esther 1:8, Question 3. Who is being referred to in the phrase “man and man?”

  • The Talmud (Megillah 12a) learns from the fact that each is called a “man” in the Megillah (Esther 2:5 and 7:6), that this verse is referring to Mordechai and Haman. Haman being at the party makes sense according to the idea that he intended to convince the Jews to sin. What, however, would Mordechai be doing at this party? Ri Pinto explains that Mordechai forced himself to come to the party he has erstwhile been railing against to make sure the Jews would not be forced to consume forbidden foods and drinks. The Dubno Maggid explains this with a parable regarding a boy who has a doting father and a stingy stepmother. One day, the boy becomes sick, and his doctors tell the father to make sure the boy does not overindulge in food until he regains his strength. Later, when the boy is about to eat what the father considers too much, the father quickly takes the food from him. The boy cries, “Father, why are you suddenly behaving like my stepmother in not allowing me to be happy?” The father answers, “True, we may be acting towards you similarly now, but it is for very different reasons.” Similarly, the Talmud has Mordechai and Haman acting similarly towards the Jews at the party, but with diametrically opposing intentions. 
  • Why does the Talmud here have to stray so far from the simple explanation that “each person” was to be satisfied? Maharal in Ohr Chadash cites the Midrash (Esther Rabba 2:14) that has H-Shem saying of Achashverosh that it was haughty of him to try to satisfy everyone. After all, H-Shem says,

        I am not able [aside from bypassing the laws of nature] to satisfy all my creations simultaneously. And yet you seek to do according to the wants of [every] man and man?! It happens in the world that two men seek to marry the same woman. Can she marry both? Either this one or that one! Also, two ships can be docked with one hoping for a northern wind, and the other waiting for a southern wind. Can one wind satisfactorily carry them both? Either this one or that one!

In other words, the Maharal continues, trying to satisfy everyone at the feast was another attempt by Achashverosh to usurp H-Shem’s Kingship by doing something even He does not do – satisfy everyone simultaneously. Perhaps, since nature is set up in a way as to make it impossible to satisfy “each person,” the Talmud needs to learn “man and man” as specific groups, or even persons, who could theoretically be satisfied at the same time.

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