Esther 8:8, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh seem to have a change of heart regarding Jews?

  • One way to answer Achashverosh’s sudden seeming change of heart is the fact that he regularly changes his mind about things since he lacks any true convictions. As the saying goes regarding this fickle king: he listened to a friend to kill his wife, and then he listened to his wife to kill a friend.
  • However, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz explains that Achashverosh’s negative feelings towards Jews were caused by a vision that he had earlier in his life that a Jew would take his throne. Once he found out (Esther 7:4) that his wife was a Jewess, his child through her, although a Jew maternally, could take the throne after Achashverosh passes with no harm coming to him. Indeed, according to the Talmud (Megillah 11b) Esther’s son, Darius II ruled after him.
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Esther 7:5, Question 4. Why does Achashverosh seem surprised by the decree he permitted less than a week earlier?

  • R’ Moshe David Valle writes that Achashverosh seems surprised by the decree he permitted less than a week earlier simply because H-Shem created forgetfulness (see the Dubno Maggid’s explanation of Devarim 32:18). Being able to forget can sometimes be a blessing.
  • Similarly, R’ Yehonason Eibshutz says it was the king’s foolishness that caused him to forget. Accordingly, this is another root of the custom to drink ad d’lo yada on Purim (Megillah 7b).
  • The Beis HaLevi writes that Achashverosh did not know that the decree was meant to destroy the Jews, but thought it was supposed to only assimilate them. After all, the word l’avdam could mean “cause them to be lost.” This is why Haman emphasized the Jews’ strangeness (Esther 3:8-9). The solution for “fixing” a group of people who are “weird” is to acculturate them into society. Also, this is the reason Haman said (Esther 3:11) “la’asot bo” (“to do with”) rather than “la’asot lo” (“to do to”) the Jews. This implied that if the Jews refused, they would be punished, but the punishment was not the focus. However, in the decree he wrote (Esther 3:13), Haman emphasized the punishment. This is why Esther (Esther 7:4) first notes this punishment in her plea to the king.
  • The Ohel Moshe quotes the Be’er Yosef that there was a fundamental difference between Haman and Achashverosh – Haman knew that the king was only interested in having the Jews conform to his society’s norms, but he likewise knew that the Jews would sacrifice their lives to avoid conversion. For many Jews, an order to change was a death sentence for the Jews. This is the way he put on a show that left Achashverosh in a state of confusion.
  • R’ Avraham Yehoshua Heshel (the Apter Rav) tells a story about the time of R’ Sherira Gaon (father of R’ Hai Gaon) of Pumbedisa (906-1006 CE). There were two brothers fighting over their late father’s estate. One got a Torah scroll actually written by Ezra the Scribe, while the other brother got everything else in the estate. Parenthetically, it is a beautiful thing that the one who got all of the father’s possessions would be willing to give them up for a Torah scroll. Be that as it may, one evil man who thought it was ridiculous that the brothers were fighting over what he considered nothing more that a large parchment with ink on it, came into shul at night and scratched out the letter ayin in the word vi’avadetem (“and you shall serve”) in the verse (Shemos 23:25), and wrote an aleph in its place, turning the word into vi’avadetem (“and He will destroy you”). When this change was discovered, the owner of the scroll fell ill. He then had a dream in which his father appeared. His father told him the culprit will lose his eye because of the verse (Shemos 21:24) “ayin tachat ayin” (“an eye for an eye”) can be homiletically interpreted as an eye in place of a letter ayin. Since the scroll’s owner was concerned lest another scribe fix a scroll written by Ezra, the father calmed him by saying that Ezra in Heaven would fix it. Indeed, the next morning, the recovered owner came to shul, and together with the congregation was astounded to find the scroll in its original form. The Apter Rav brings this story as proof that Achashverosh really wanted the Jews to be subservient to him, but Haman used the word li’avdem to intentionally mislead the king into signing a decree to kill them all.

Esther 4:7, Question 2. Why does the verse use the word “parashas?”

  • According to R’ Eliezer of Worms, the verse use the word “parashas” (“chapter”) to describe Haman’s meeting with Achashverosh in order to emphasize that this event was not just talk – a financial exchange took place, giving the event legal significance and legally binding consequences.
  • In fact, as the Divrei Shaul points out, Mordechai was communicating to Esther the fact that Achashverosh could not be easily bought off, since Haman had already given/ offered him money (see above 3:11).
  • As R’ Dovid Feinstein notes, Achashverosh’s refusal to accept the bribe only stresses the ferocity of his hate for the Jews, making this a very serious threat to Jewish existence, indeed. Convincing Achashverosh to change his mind would require nothing short of a miracle.
  • Parenthetically, According to Yaaros Dvash, the fact that Achashverosh refused the money was covered up by Haman in an attempt to deny people the opportunity to intercede on behalf of the Jews.
  • The Chasam Sofer writes that Mordechai’s giving the details of this entire episode here served a vital purpose later. In fact, Esther uses this event in detail to convince the king to save the Jews from Haman’s decree. In the Chasam Sofer’s view of the events, Achashverosh refused Haman’s money (see 3:11 above) because he reasoned that killing such a people was a worthwhile responsibility of his, and taking payment for this would be unethical. In Achashverosh’s mind, Haman’s offer and and his refusal were secret. Since Mordechai’s knowledge of this came through a Ruach HaKodesh-like dream, Mordechai kept the information under wraps to be used later, if necessary. Once Esther tells Achashverosh that her people had been “sold” (see 7:4 below), Achashverosh begins to suspect that Haman had libelously spread the rumor that he had, indeed, accepted Haman’s payment. Therefore, he responds by asking who would do such a thing (see 7:5 below). It seems improbable that Achashverosh had forgotten the entire incident, so he is asking who would spread such a rumor.
  • The Brisker Rav interprets the word “parasha” as being related to “lihafreesh” (“to set aside”). In his view, Mordechai was informing Esther of the money that was set aside, or designated for the purchase of killing out the Jews. Such money was legally binding, and eventually, Achashverosh’s only way out of the deal would have be to kill the “buyer” – Haman.
  • Alshich uses Rashi’s seemingly simple explanation that “parsha” means explanation to mean that Mordechai related all of the details of Haman’s and Achashverosh’s meeting, including the mystical interpretations for the reasons Haman had to offer 10,000 loaves of silver.
  • Finally, the Sfas Emes translates “parashas” to mean “sum,” emphasizing Haman’s generosity in contributing towards the kingdom. In view of the concept of “zeh l’umas zeh,” the Jews need to be generous with charity in order to counterbalance the generosity of our enemies.