- Similar to yesterday’s post, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 5:2) points out that the verse says “kisoch” (“like it was calmed”) instead of “bisoch” (“it was calmed”), implying that Achashverosh’s anger was not completely calmed. This anger will show its ugly head again towards the end of Megillas Esther once the king applies it to Haman, as it says “and the king’s anger was calmed” (7:10).
- According to Targum Sheini, Achashverosh was not angry with Vashti, but with the advisers who allowed for her to be removed. He therefore had them killed. If so, how do the rabbis reconcile this with the opinion that Memuchan, the adviser who originates the plan to kill Vashti, was Haman (see previous posts), who is clearly alive later in the story? V’zos L’Yehudah states that Achashverosh decided that a quick death was too good for Haman, and that he should be kept around – even elevated – to lull him into a false sense of security, and should then be cut down all the more tragically.
- The Aruchas Tamid answers that Memuchan was actually hanged along with the other advisers, but miraculously fell from the gallows alive and Persian law did not allow for a condemned criminal to hang twice for the same crime. Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss points out that this is yet another example of a miracle needed to bring the Purim story to fruition.
א אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה כְּשֹׁךְ חֲמַת הַמֶּלֶךְ אַֽחֲשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ זָכַר אֶת–וַשְׁתִּי וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר–עָשָׂתָה וְאֵת אֲשֶׁר–נִגְזַר עָלֶיהָ
1. After these things, when the anger of the king was like it was calmed, Achashverosh remembered Vashti, and what she did, and what was decreed against her.
In the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 5:2) there is a dispute regarding the word, “achar” (“after”). One view, that of R’ Ivo, states that it indicates immediacy, whereas the view of the Rabbis is that it indicates the passage of a significant amount of time. For our purposes, these two views allow for Achashverosh’s anger to be either natural or miraculous. If it were natural, it would take a long time for his anger to subside. If it were miraculous, then H-Shem would take away the anger as soon as it served its purpose of ridding Achashverosh of Vashti.
Rabbi Raphy Hulkower points out that Achashverosh spent the entire first chapter of Megillas Esther thinking exclusively about himself. As we have seen, he took himself far too seriously. In celebrating Purim, with masks and drinking, we treat ourselves as “un-seriously” as possible. This behavior allows us to internalize the lesson of the king’s flaw. This helps explain the famously enigmatic statement of the Jewish mystics that Purim is equal (or perhaps even superior) to the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur. They (Vilna Gaon, Ari’zal, etc.) learn this by way of allusion from the Biblical name of the Day of Redemption, Yom Kippurim, which can be translated “a day like Purim.” Internalizing the lesson of the king’s flaw will ultimately lead us to teshuva (repentance) and, like the Jews of Persia, will turn Purim into a platform for change and forgiveness on par with Yom Kippurim.
According to the Yerushalmi, “the language of the people” here indicates that the decree forced every woman – against her will – to speak the language of the man of the house. Although there is some contemporary discussion regarding exceptions to this rule in American families with two working parents (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/10/061030183039.htm), a child typically first learns speech patterns and language from its mother, and later matures to the point of communicating with more people by learning the language of the father (http://psychology.about.com/od/developmentalpsychology/ss/early-childhood-development_4.htm). The force of Achashverosh’s decree robbed women even of this natural capacity.
- According to the Talmud (Megillah 12b) this decree made the king seem foolish in the eyes of the people. They thought to themselves, “This king is a fool! He has to tell me that I rule my home? Ha! Even the lowest laborer rules his shack.” This, in turn, allowed for future decrees to be treated irreverently. If the king is saying foolish things in this instance, future edicts can also be ignored. In particular, the decree to exterminate the Jews (Esther 3:13) could have been taken more seriously, with the Persians preparing for the big day by stockpiling weapons, planning an assault strategy, and beginning the process of choosing and harassing their prey.
- Another reason for the people’s perspective on the decree is, as Rav Soloveitchik writes in Days of Deliverance (pg. 59), that if a woman is strong, “she will dominate her husband regardless of the royal decree.”
- According to Megillas Sesarim, Achashverosh’s decree restricted the citizens’ influence over the home, in effect telling them that only the king can tell them when to attack the Jews. Along those lines, it could be that since it was a given before this edict that men rule their homes, and the king’s having to command it meant that nothing was a given anymore. Therefore, a “given” conventional wisdom like “it’s perfectly acceptable to terrorize the Jews” was no longer a given, and this is why the people refrained from doing so.
כב וַיִּשְׁלַח סְפָרִים אֶל–כָּל–מְדִינוֹת הַמֶּלֶךְ אֶל–מְדִינָה וּמְדִינָה כִּכְתָבָהּ וְאֶל–עַם וָעָם כִּלְשׁוֹנוֹ לִהְיוֹת כָּל–אִישׁ שׂרֵר בְּבֵיתוֹ וּמְדַבֵּר כִּלְשׁוֹן עַמּוֹ
22. And he sent books to all the states of the King – to each state according to its script and to each nation according to its language – that each man should rule in his home and speak the language of his nation.
- The Vilna Gaon relates that residents of Achashverosh’s 127 states spoke different languages because Sancherev mixed up the locals populaces he conquered. This is because a Frenchman and his descendants forcibly removed to Romania by a conquering ruler are less likely to rebel. After all, for what heritage are they fighting?
- In Yosef Lekach, Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi writes that Achashverosh wrote his decree in different languages in order to ingratiate himself to his subjects. Much like the Soviet Union had the languages of all the republics on the rubles, Achashverosh attempted to show how much he cared for his subjects.
- The Malbim writes that Achaverosh chose to write the decree in multiple languages to pointedly tell the people that, despite the fact that they lived in Persia, they were ruled by him alone. He was telling them that he was more special than the nation from which he comes.
Rav Yaakov Lorberbaum of Lissa writes in his Megillas Sesarim that Achashverosh followed Memuchan’s advice in detail; he did not change a single word. Perhaps Memuchan’s use of the phrase “that he made” about Achashverosh’s decree in the previous verse indicates that he slyly convinced the king to think the decree was something he, himself, made; he made him think he came up with the idea. So it is no wonder the egomaniac followed these words to the letter!
According to the Malbim, although Memuchan’s advice would strip the advisers of their powerful role, they nevertheless agreed because they were eager to finally be masters of their own homes. Furthermore, they were not afraid of losing their positions. On the contrary, they saw how easy it was to influence the king. They might have thought, “If Memuchan could so easily convince the king to kill his beloved wife, imagine what we can convince him to do for us…”1
1You faithful blog readers may have noticed that the Malbim has been giving a fairly simple, political view to many of the questions posted. He adds at this point that this has been a setup to establish Achashverosh as a strong-minded, savvy ruler not easily swayed by his own emotions. The Malbim’s intent is to emphasize the miraculous nature of Achashverosh’s listening to Esther later in the story (7:8). He could just as easily have answered her, “So what that he wants to kill your people? I want to also, and you can be the exception if you like. Otherwise, it was nice knowing you. Tata!”
כא וַיִּיטַב הַדָּבָר בְּעֵינֵי הַמֶּלֶךְ וְהַשָּׂרִים וַיַּעַשׂ הַמֶּלֶךְ כִּדְבַר מְמוּכָן
21. And the word seemed good in the eyes of the King and the officers and the King did according to the word of Memuchan.
The Malbim writes that, by following this advice, Achashverosh would truly have absolute power. He would have power that even history’s strongest dictators did not have – power over the home. True, Mussolini had the trains running on time in Italy, but he could not effectively govern the domestic goings-on of his citizenry.
The Vilna Gaon writes that the decree would force all women – greater or lesser than their husbands – to nevertheless give supremacy to their husbands. The Malbim writes that Achashverosh’s decree would require even the greatest of women to give respect to the least of men. Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi points out that this is a perfect reflection of the story that snowballed into this decree, for Vashti was greater than Achashverosh and his feeling disrespected led to this miscarriage of justice.