12. And the king said to Esther the Queen, “In Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man and the ten sons of Haman. In the remaining states of the king, what did they do? What do you ask and it will be given you. And what do you request more and it will be done.”
In the first half of this verse, the tone seems to imply that Achashverosh was upset about the casualties. In fact, the Midrash Lekach Tov writes that Achashverosh was actually upset about his dead citizens, but H-Shem controls leaders, as the verse (Mishlei 21:1) teaches that the hearts of kings are in the Hands of H-Shem.
R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that the tone of the second half of the verse certainly sounds as though Achashverosh seems unaffected by this loss of life.
The Talmud (Megillah 16b) describes this sudden change of heart as an angel “slapping him on his lips.”
R’ Mendel Weinbach suggests that such a slap has this effect because Achashverosh suddenly felt Heaven did not want him speaking in an upset manner toward Esther. It literally hurt to speak the way he had been.
Interestingly, the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 92:7) notes this verse as one of ten kal v’chomer (“a fortiori”) arguments in TaNaCh. In other words, if the Jews killed 500 people in Shushan, how much more likely did they kill more elsewhere!
In fact, the Alshich points out that Achashverosh must have been thinking that if so many were killed in Shushan – where the informed public was ready for a fight – how much more-so in other parts of the kingdom!
On the other hand, the M’nos HaLevi quotes R’ Gakon’s opinion that the bloodthirsty Achashverosh was disappointed that such a relatively small number of his people were killed after the Jews had from Pesach until Adar 13th to prepare for battle. This is why he asked if he could do more to help.
Malbim explains that Achashverosh did not know there would be so many Jew-haters. From a place of genuine concern, he offers Esther more help.
2. The Yehudim congregated in their cities in all of the states of King Achashverosh to send their hand against those who sought bad for them. And a man did not stand before them because the fear of them fell on all the nations.
The Rosh writes that the verse stresses that the Jews gathered because they came together to pray and fast. As is mentioned in Halacha (Mishna Berura 686:2), this is the reason for fasting on Taanis Esther before Purim.
There is a power in numbers, and congregating can have powerful affects, so R’ Aryeh Leib Tzonetz and the Sfas Emes note that Haman’s spiritual power was due to the Jews being splintered and separate (Esther 3:8). Therefore, the intent of this verse, Mordechai’s order for the Jews to be gathered before Esther approached Achashverosh (Esther 4:16), and even the mishloach manos gifts (Esther 9:19) after the miracle was to unify the Jewish people.
12. “On one day in all the states of King Achashverosh, on the thirteenth of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.”
Rashi explains that the gentiles’ property was only included in the letter because the Jews’ property had been threatened in Haman’s original decree.
The Vilna Gaon writes that the Jews did not want to plunder, and it would have been enough for them to be out of this great danger, but Mordechai and Esther had to have parallel language to Haman’s decree (Esther 3:13).
The Maamar Mordechai points out that when a government kills someone, it seizes that person’s property; here, Achashverosh wanted to give it to the Jews.
Malbim notes that there was less time for looting to stress that the Jews were really focused on self-defense.
In Yosef Lekach’s opinion, Achashverosh gave permission to take spoils, but Mordechai limited the time in which it could be done to lessen the Jews’ ability to enjoy the plunder in order to avoid the same problem as occurred in the time of Shaul (Shmuel 1 15:9), when they did not completely wipe out the property of Amalek for the sake of their flocks.
R’ Moshe Dovid Valle notes that the Torah (Devarim 19:18) speaks of eidim zomemim, who are false witnesses proven to have not been in the location of the crime regarding which they are testifying. Their punishment is to receive the same consequences their testimony would have incurred on the person about whom they testified. Here, too, the enemies of the Jews – having testified falsely about the Jews – receive the consequences they wanted for us.
9. And they called the scribes of the king at that time, in the third month – it is the month of Sivan – on the twenty-third of it. And they wrote all that Mordechai commanded to the Yehudim, and to the governors, and their underlings, and the officers of the states that are from Hodu until Cush – one hundred and twenty-seven states – each state according to its script and each nation according to its language, and to the Yehudim according to their script and their language.
The Talmud (Rosh HaShanah 7a) notes that there are different opinions as to the order of the months in the Jewish calendar. Accordingly, this longest verse in TaNaCh stresses that this event occurred in Sivan to teach that Sivan is the third month, making Nisan the first month. The year begins with Rosh Hashanah, in Tishrei, but the spiritual counting of the months for the purposes of holidays and seasons starts with Nisan.
Interestingly, the previous verses (Esther 8:1-8) and later verses (Esther 8:15) all occurred in Nisan, while these next few verses (Esther 8:9-14) occurred in Sivan. R’ Meir Zlotowitz explains that Achashverosh gave permission (Esther 8:8) to write these letters, so the text continues with the details of the letters, and will then backtrack to the chronology of the event.
The Lekach Tov notes that Sivan is the month of the holy day of Shavuos, when the Jewish people received the Torah. The merit of the Torah stood for Jews at this time.
Similarly, the Sfas Emes elaborates that the physical threat to the Jews had weakened, but the spiritual threat that snowballed into this potentially disastrous fate remained. Therefore, Mordechai joined the fight with H-Shem’s war against Amalek (Shemos 17:16) with a pledged renewal of the Jews’ commitment to the Torah.
In his commentary, R’ Meir Zlotowitz explains that Achashverosh gave permission to override, but not annul the previous decree. This was a dilemma for Mordechai and Esther to make Haman’s decree powerless without challenging its authority.
The Vilna Gaon and the Malbim wrote that Mordechai’s decree could only affect the vague, public copy of the original decree. It could not change the explicit, private memo that each governor received.
The Malbim adds that Achashverosh’s plan was for the second document to only clarify the first, vague decree.
The Ibn Ezra notes that Achashverosh could have come up with excuses for first document, like saying that the first document was the result of language confusion because Haman changed the wording of the original draft of the decree from “Jews can kill” to “Jews can be killed.”
Similarly, the Alshich writes that Achashverosh was saying that Haman left out a comma when he said (Esther 3:13) “l’abeid es kolHaYehudim” (“to kill all of the Yehudim”). A comma placed after kol could make the phrase appear as “to kill all, (by whom?) the Yehudim!”
8. “And you write about the Yehudim as is good in your eyes in the name of the king and seal what is written with the ring of the king because what is written in the name of the king and sealed with the ring of the king cannot be returned.”
M’nos HaLevi interprets Achashverosh’s words as explicit permission for Mordechai and Esther to could write whatever they wanted since the leaders would ignore the first decree due to Haman’s being hanged and Mordechai’s being promoted. At the very least, they would be confused and will do nothing – for or against the Jews – hedging their bets.
Interestingly, Ramban, in his Torah commentary (on Bireishis 41:42), uses this verse as proof that the king gifting someone a ring is the same as giving one’s personalized signet, or power of attorney.
Rashi explains that Achashverosh was using his recent hanging of Haman to demonstrate his fealty to Esther’s position, giving implicit permission for her to write a new decree. The Persian people will, after all, realize that Esther has the kingdom’s full support.
According to the Ibn Ezra, Achashverosh felt that his people would think Haman’s hanging implied that the earlier decree (written less than a week earlier) was a fraud.
However, the Alshich notes that only the residents of Shushan know Haman was hanged; those living in the remaining cities and villages of the kingdom’s 127 provinces did not know Achashverosh’s feelings on the matter. Therefore, new decrees needed to be written to keep them abreast of the changing political climate.
The Darchei Dovid explains Achashverosh’s reference to Haman’s hanging by quoting the Talmud (Taanis 29a) that a rule in Rome – and presumably in other ancient civilizations – was that when an officer of the court died, all decrees were annulled. This was due to the fact that people considered the death to be a punishment for a seemingly unfavorable decree. Therefore, Achashverosh argues, Haman’s death should have annulled the decree against the Jews.
R’ Elisha Gallico writes that Achashverosh felt people needed to know that Haman’s property was given to Esther (Esther 8:1) because Haman bought the rights to the Jews from Achashverosh (Esther 3:9). His hanging, and the transfer of his property to Esther, effectively bestowing upon Esther control of her people’s fate.
The Dena Pishra explains that Achashverosh was telling Esther to not worry about his people harming the Jews because Haman was not only hanged, but even remained hanging.