Esther 3:1, Question 2. Why does the king promote Haman?

  • Apparently basing itself on the idea that King here refers to H-Shem, the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 7:1) cites a verse in Tehillim (37:20) to relate that H-Shem allowed for Haman to be elevated only in order for his fall to be all-the-more steep and painful. There is a parable told there of a horse, a donkey, and a pig. The farmer feeds the donkey and horse a limited amount, and feeds the pig without measure. One day, the horse asks the donkey, “We do actual work, yet are fed less. This is not fair!” The wise donkey tells the horse to be patient and realize that the pig is not well-fed for its own good, but to be fattened up to be eaten by the farmer.
  • In the next Midrash (ibid. 7:2) a story is told of a king who felt it beneath his dignity to kill a peasant, so he promotes him in order to execute him without degrading himself. Such is the case with Haman, made great only to be cut down the more painfully.
  • The Chida calculates that Haman was at the peak of his power for a total of seventy days. He sent out the letters to kill the Jews on the 13th of Nisan. Seventy days later, on the 23rd of Sivan, Mordechai sent out the letters for the Jews to rescue themselves. Similarly, there are seventy verses between this verse where Haman is elevated and the verse where Haman is hanged (7:10).
  • The Ginzei HaMelech writes that, by elevating Haman, H-Shem was rewarding him for his advice to rid the world of the evil Vashti.
  • According to Rav Dovid Feinstein, Haman was elevated at this point as a consequence for King Shaul’s (Mordechai and Esther’s ancestor) misdirected kindness in keeping Agag (Haman’s ancestor) alive.
  • Tanna D’vei Eliyahu (21) writes that Haman’s elevation is a reward for Agag’s sincere prayer when he was locked up in prison, awaiting his death. Because of this evil man’s last prayer, a ruler was destined to come from him, as is alluded to in the verse (Bamidbar 24:7), “and He raised from Agag his kingship.” Based on this, the Ginzei HaMelech asks, how could Haman, a thoroughly evil man only in power for 70 days, be considered a reward? He answers that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 96b) teaches that Haman’s grandchildren learn Torah in Bnei Brak, truly a reward for anybody.
  • The Maharal writes that Haman is rewarded here instead of Mordechai because the righteous generally are not rewarded with wealth in this world, but accrue reward in the World to Come.
  • Rav Shmuel Aharon Rubin cites Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak in the Talmud (Megillah 11a), who applies the verse in Tehillim (124:2) that discusses H-Shem rescuing us from a man to the Purim story. Since kings have not free will of their own, he continues, H-Shem needed to elevate a man – since free will is the mark of humanity – to this position from which he could threaten the Jewish people. It is a bigger miracle that Pesach in that way because Pharaoh’s heart was Divinely hardened. Haman, on the other hand, could make his own decisions, and chose evil all the same.
  • The Vilna Gaon tells us that if Haman is Memuchan (as asserted before), the human king had reason to reward him, as well. After all, it was Haman who advised that Vashti should be removed. First, this advice allowed the king to marry Esther. Second, Esther helped save the king’s life from the assassination plot of Bigsan and Seresh (Esther 2:21).
  • But if the motivation to elevate Haman came from Achashverosh for this, why did he not reward Mordechai? The Tirosh Vayitz’har writes that Achashverosh was unsure about Mordechai’s intention. Perhaps he was a part of the plot, after all. The only one he was sure of was Esther, so he rewarded her by elevating the man whose advice led to her being queen.
  • Rabbi Shlomo Kluger writes that, after surviving the assassination attempt, Achashverosh realized that he was at risk – especially from Haman – and knew that he needed to keep him close by. As the old saying goes, “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”
  • This is the exact opposite view from Chacham Tzvi, whose opinion is that Achashverosh mistrusted Haman and thought he conspired together with Esther to kill him. However, once Esther reported the assassination plot in Mordechai’s name – Mordechai being Haman’s arch rival – Achashverosh (thought he) knew that Haman was loyal.
  • According to the Malbim, the king simply forgot about Mordechai completely.
  • Rabbi Yehonasan Eibshutz notes that it makes little logical sense for Mordechai to have been so passed over, and instead condemned to die along with the other Jews. After all, he saved the king’s life when he had no need to. Therefore, this verse is yet another proof that it is impossible to understand the Purim story – or even Jewish history, in general – without the understanding that H-Shem miraculously protects His beloved people.
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Esther 2:1, Question 2. Why does the verse imply that Achashverosh’s anger was not calmed?

  • 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.

Esther 1:21, Question 3. Why does the verse say that Achashverosh acted “according to the word of Memuchan” instead of the more standard, “and the King did so?”

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!

Esther 1:21, Question 2. Why does the advice seem good to the advisers?

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!”

Esther 1:21, Question 1. Why does the advice seem good to Achashverosh?

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.

Esther 1:19, Question 4. Why should Vashti not be seen again?

The Me’am Loez suggests that Achashverosh would be likely to change his mind if he were to see Vashti again. As noted last week, this would wreck havoc on Memuchan’s plan to control the king. The Vilna Gaon adds that Memuchan is suggesting the king never even give Vashti a second chance to appear. Rashi points out that this is clear indication that Memuchan is hinting to the killing of Vashti (cf. Midrash, Esther Rabbah 4:9)1. Otherwise, how else could one guarantee that the king will never see her again? Since her explicit punishment is not mentioned in the text, it is a matter of discussion amongst the commentators. Most agree that she was killed. Some say she was banished or imprisoned. Rabbi Avraham Chadida writes that she was merely divorced.

1The phrase that the Midrash ascribes to Memuchan is that he wants to put Vashti’s “head on a diskus.” A “diskus” is either a plate or, according to Torah Temimah, a decapitation device. Incidentally, the phrase “rosha badiskus” is the exact gematria of 748, the same as mash’chis, destruction.

Esther 1:19, Question 3. If we learned in an earlier post that the king needs to consult advisers before issuing laws, what is Memuchan suggesting here?

  • According to Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi in Yosef Lekach, Memuchan is suggesting here that the king abolish that custom stated previously regarding the king asking advice before any major decision.
  • The Vilna Gaon notes that this relates exclusively to matters of state. As noted by many, the poetic justice in this – rather, the mida kineged mida – is that the king will later be able to simply hang Haman/ Memuchan by proclaiming “hang him,” (Esther 7:9), with no need for the consultation Memuchan himself spurned.