Although remembering what Vashti did would seem to mean that Achashverosh remembered Vashti’s rejecting his command to appear at the party, this would not lead to the sentimental regret for the loss of his queen unmistakeably displayed in the context of the coming verses. Rav Shlomo Kluger in Ma’amar Mordechai notes that, grammatically, the verse cannot be referring to Vashti’s refusal because refusal to act is not an action. In Talmudic thought (see, for example, Brachos 20a), this passivity is called “shev v’al ta’aseh” (“sit and do not do”). According to the Talmud (Megillah 12a), Achashverosh thus dug deeper to see the reason, perhaps Divine, for her having been taken from him.
Although it would ordinarily seem that a women-only party would be more conducive to certain standards of modesty, the Talmud on the bottom of Megillah 12a makes clear that Vashti wanted to tempt the men to sin just as her husband intended (as mentioned in a previous post). As the Maharsha points out in his commentary to the Talmud, had Vashti wanted real privacy in accordance with moral standards of the day, she would have held her party in the women’s palace. However, Vashti’s party was neighboring the men’s party. Rabbi Dovid Feinstein points out that her party was separate in accordance with the laws of modesty. However, there is an added sensual pleasure in a sin’s being almost within the law. The moral code regarding what was forbidden them was slowly being eroded.
- 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.
- The Talmud (Megillah 12a) informs us that Haman and Achashverosh made the party for the express purpose of causing immorality there. If Jews sin through coercion, they are not held liable in the Heavenly court. On the other hand, if they (Heaven forfend) succumb without force, they become fully responsible for their actions.
- The Malbim adds that, since there were so many cups at the feast, everybody had their own, and did not have to share. As such, no guests were forced to hurry with their drinks.
- The Ohr HaChaim, in his Rishon L’Tzion adds that Achashverosh put the most delicious non-kosher cuisine before the Jews, hoping they will sin on their own. His ultimate goal would have been to strengthen his kingdom by restraining the Jews from rebuilding their own.
ח וְהַשְּׁתִיָּה כַדָּת אֵין אֹנֵס כִּי–כֵן יִסַּד הַמֶּלֶךְ עַל כָּל–רַב בֵּיתוֹ לַֽעֲשׂוֹת כִּרְצוֹן אִישׁ–וָאִישׁ
8. And the drinking was like the law, no forcing, because so the king declared to all of the many greats of his house to do according to the wants of man and man.
- It is possible to suggest, as the Midrash (Esther Rabba 2:13) does, that the Persians had detailed customs of behavior in regards to drinking. After all, cultures make ceremonies around those actions they hold dear. Achashverosh carefully kept these rules. Rabbi Avraham Chadida, however, makes the exact opposite comment; according to him, it was generally forbidden to become drunk before the king, and Achashverosh intended to change that custom to become a more popular leader.
- The Talmud (Megillah 12a) infers that Achashverosh was following the “laws” of the sacrifices – having more food than drink at his party, just as there is more meat than wine in the Beis HaMikdash (Temple) service (as, for example, the ratio of meat to wine described in the Torah for an olah offering in Bamidbar 28:12, 14). Rav Dovid Feinstein points to this as yet one more way in which Achashverosh was attempting to ape the Temple and its service.
זוְהַשְׁקוֹת בִּכְלֵי זָהָב וְכֵלִים מִכֵּלִים שׁוֹנִים וְיֵין מַלְכוּת רָב כְּיַד הַמֶּלֶךְ
7. And the drinks were in golden vessels, and each vessel was different, and great royal wine like the king’s reach.
According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, similar, not different, utensils are usually used as a sign of wealth and honor. Why, then, would Achashverosh use different vessels for each person? It could be that something hand-crafted individually for each person is better still. Nevertheless, the Talmud (Megillah 12a) and Midrash (Esther Rabba 2:1) make a similar point in pronouncing these items as the vessels of the Beis HaMikdash, not just different from each other, but different from any other vessels on the face of the earth. Achashverosh, as we shall see, was undoubtedly trying to make a point using these sacred vessels.
The Talmud (Megillah 12a) gives two different opinions on the matter of couches. The first opinion, that of R’ Yehudah states that there were golden couches for those who deserved them, and silver couches for people of lesser status who did not deserve gold couches. R’ Nechemiah disagrees that this could have been the case, and insists that the couches were all equally made of gold and silver. After all, this would otherwise cause jealousy among the party participants. In Mayan Beis HaSho’eivah (pg. 446-7), Rav Shimon Schwab (zt”l) asks why R’ Nechemiah would think that Achashverosh would put forethought into avoiding jealousy. He answers that the entire design of the party was to make everybody happy, and a person cannot be happy when jealous.