Malbim points out from the next verse (Esther 8:16) that specifies that the Jews were happy, that this verse seems to imply that the non-Jews were happy. In reference to this, he quotes the verse (Mishlei 29:2) that the elevation of the righteous brings gladness to the people.
The Ben Ish Chai and the Ksav Sofer point out that the verse uses two expressions, tzahala (shouting) and simcha (joy), in describing Shushan’s happiness. One is for the happiness the general population felt about the death of Haman, and the other was for the happiness they felt over Mordechai’s honors.
Megillas Sesarim explains these two expressions as describing “the brightening of the face and the joy of the heart.” In other words, there were two different feelings: one was a physical show of joy and the other was an internal feeling of joy.
The Ibn Ezra writes that tzahala is a cognate of the Hebrew word for brightness. He explains that the verse uses it here in the sense of the hopefulness of a person sitting in darkness when the light begins to shine.
Maamar Mordechai writes that people are usually unsure of new, untested officials. Here, nobody was nervous because Mordechai was a known and trusted entity.
Class Participant YML suggests that maybe other ethnic minorities in the kingdom felt encouraged when they saw that even a Jew could be elevated in Achashverosh’s kingdom.
R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that the entire city of Shushan was happy that a Jew was elevated because Jews are often instrumental in commerce, and their security would thus presage a country’s financial security. Many countries in history that exiled its Jewish population had to deal with major financial crises immediately afterward.
Dina Pishra writes that the verse is using hyperbole to describe the salvation of the Jews being so complete that even the stones of the city were rejoicing.
On a deeper level, the Ginzei HaMelech writes that this does not have to be seen as hyperbole. Rather, as the R’ Moshe Chaim Luzzzato in Mesillas Yesharim (Chapter 1) explains, the entire world was given to man for its proper usage, and is thus physically affected by mankind’s spiritual behavior. This is the reason for the world to have been destroyed by the Flood when the people sinned. Here, too, the world, and Shushan specifically, rejoiced as a byproduct of man’s spiritual elevation.
Yosef Lekach writes that Shushan’s joy is described as a contrast to Mordechai’s worries. His concern was the Midrashic (Bireishis Rabba 84:3) statement that “there is no rest for the righteous.” He anticipated that this time of peace and contentment meant to him that he had to find more positive actions to perform and new evils to combat.
- The Me’am Loez writes that the people of Shushan were confused about Haman’s new promotion from lowly barber to the point where he had the power to order the annihilation of an entire people.
- Still going according to his theory, the Malbim says the confusion stemmed from nobody knowing the content of the letters.
- R’ Mendel Weinbach adds that, since nobody knew which group was being wiped out on the thirteenth of the following Adar, each ethnic group in Achashverosh’s 127 states was worried that they were the intended target.
- However, the Yerushalmi writes that the confusion of Shushan stemmed from the polar opposite reactions to this decree (which the Yerushalmi clearly presumes everybody knew). The Jews in the city were scared and simultaneously anti-Semites in the city were overjoyed.
- The Talmud (Makkos 12a-b) discusses a case in which a tree is planted on the border of the city of refuge to which a person who committed negligent homicide must flee, and asks if such a killer would be allowed to safely stay under this tree. After all, while he is in the city of refuge, the “go’el hadam” (“blood avenger”) cannot kill the negligent killer (Bamidbar 35:19). The Talmud answers that we follow the lenient opinion, but the lenient opinion for whom – the go’el hadam or the accidental murderer? Just like the news in Shushan about the impending annihilation of the Jews, it is a question of perspective.
- Similarly, the Vilna Gaon writes that the gentiles did not know for what they needed to be prepared, while according to Rashi, the Jews were confused because they were pondering the age-old question of why the Jews are so hated.
- The Yalkut Shimoni and the Alshich comment that this confusion came from seemingly random accidents occurring throughout the city as the city became suddenly accident-prone.
- R’ Dovid Feinstein suggests that the gentiles were concerned about the economic effects of the upcoming massacre. When the Jews are in trouble, commerce is affected. As it says in Mishlei (29:2) “When evil rules, the nation sighs.” In other words, everybody loses when wicked are in charge; even the wicked leader’s allies cannot sleep securely.
- R’ Shlomo Kluger writes that the people were worried because Achashverosh had just drunk. With a history of abhorrent behavior when imbibing (see 2:1 above), the people were scared about what he may do next.
- The Maharal has the exact opposite opinion. According to him, the two sat down to drink in order to calm the populace. They were sending the message, “We are not doing anything to serious. Look, we are just sitting down for casual drinks.” Perhaps the order of these last two verses are testifying to the fact that this plan failed miserably, as the entire city was lost in confusion.
- Ultimately, regardless of the reason for the city’s confusion, Rav Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume II, 404) writes that Achashverosh’s drinking at this historical crux shows he was “aloof from his subjects in unapproachable majesty.”
- R’ Yehonasan Eibshutz quotes Yosipon as saying that, in the ancient world, making a decree and then drinking means agreeing with the decree, and that it cannot be rescinded. However, making a decree after drinking means the decree is not legitimate, and can therefore be rescinded. Later in the story (Esther 8:8), when Achashverosh allows Mordechai and Esther to uproot this decree, he was implying that they drank first, which is clearly a lie. The city was confused because they did not know the order in this case. This is a powerful contrast from the Jewish G-d, the King of Kings, who, as we shall see in the coming chapters, cares intimately about His people, and has orchestrated these events in a way that will ultimately lead to the Jews’ salvation, it should come soon. Amen.