According to the Ibn Ezra, Achashverosh was angry from the time he woke up from his drunken stupor after following Haman’s decree to rid himself of Vashti (Esther 2:1) until Haman was ultimately hanged.
The Me’am Loez explains the subsiding of the king’s fury as calm that returned to the universe.
This is because, as the Sfas Emes writes, when Amalek is in power, H-Shem is more noticeable through His characteristic of din, judgment. This is similar to what Rashi writes in his commentary on Torah (Shemos 17:16).
Haman’s end brought with it a sense of peace. The Talmud in several places (Rosh HaShanah 12a, Sanhedrin 108b, Zevachim 113b) points out that regarding the Flood, the verse (Bireishis 8:1) says “vayishku mayim” (“and the water subsided”) when the waters cooled down, whereas the phrase in this verse is “v’chamas hamelech shichacha” (“and the fury of the king subsided”). The contrast in phrasing implies that the flood waters were hot to match the burning passions of the licentious people of that time, mida kineged mida.
Parenthetically, perhaps another connection between the flood and Haman’s downfall is the Midrashic opinion (Yalkut Shimoni 6:1056) that Haman built the gallows from the beams of Noach’s ark.
Interestingly, shachacha (“subsided”) is a unique word in TaNaCh. R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch (Collected Writings, Volume IV, 319) comments that the word, shachach is phonetically related to shagag, (“not by choice”). In other words, the king’s anger was not something Achashverosh put effort into controlling. It came and subsided without any input from him.
The Talmud (Megillah 16a) considers that the unique spelling of shacha with an extra letter chuf to read shachacha is due to the fact that two angers were cooled; one belonged to the King of the Universe and the other belonged to Achashverosh. Also, Achashverosh calmed down about the situation of Esther, and the situation of Vashti.
As Rashi explains, Achashverosh was doubly angry because Haman was seemingly responsible for the death of Vashti, and was now a threat to Esther.
The Maharsha emphasizes that Achashverosh was still angry from that point (Esther 2:1), chronologically almost a decade earlier.
R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that Achashverosh had held himself responsible for Vashti’s fate all of this time, but now realizes that he was deceived and manipulated.
The Vilna Gaon says that the king whose fury subsided was H-Shem, King of the World. This may refer to the Zohar (III 133a), which translates the verse (Tehillim 144:15) that describes the Jewish people as “ha’am shekacha Lo,” or as “the nation that calms Him,” implying that the Jewish people have a tremendous power, if only we were to utilize it.
The Zer Zahav writes that Esther’s not forgiving Haman finally caused Shaul to be forgiven for taking unwarranted pity on Agag, Haman’s ancestor.
The Ginzei HaMelech writes that the Shir Ma’on quotes the Sha’aris Yisroel that quotes the great scholars who lived through the Chmielnicki Massacres of 5408-5409 (1648-1649 CE), which was one of the worst attempts at the genocide of the Jewish people in our history. They note that the large letter ches (Esther 1:6) and the large letter suf (Esther 9:29). Together, the letters spell out tach, a Hebrew way to reference the year 5408. This means that the massacre was a manifestation of Haman’s evil decree.
The Ginzei HaMelech heard from others the contention that the Chmielnicki Massacre was not the end of the effects of Haman’s decree. Rather, the Holocaust of tasha, 5705 (1945 CE), was the final manifestation of Haman’s decree. He proves this from the unique spelling of shachacha; since H-Shem was “calmed” about the Jewish people twice – once in tach, and once in tasha. There is proof of this in the mispar katan of the word shachacha (300+20+20+5=345= 12= 3) being the same as the mispar katan of tasha (400+300+5=705 = 12= 3). H-Shem is no longer anger.
The Ginzei HaMelech also quotes from Rav Michel Weissmandel that there is a hint to this in the traditional sizes of the letters in the list of Haman’s sons (Esther 9:7-9) as found in the Megillas Esther. The letters suf (400), shin (300), and zayin (7) there are smaller than the surrounding text, which refer to the year tashaz (1946 CE), the year in which ten Nazi officers were hanged at the Nuremberg Trials. There is also a large letter vuv (6), alluding to the sixth officer, Julius Streicher, who shouted “Purim Fest 1946” as he was being led to the gallows, despite the hanging taking place on Hoshana Rabba, the holiday on which the Zohar (III 31b-32a) says H-Shem judges the gentile nations. There was another Nazi who was supposed to be executed that day, Herman Goring, who committed suicide in his cell. He is likened to Haman’s daughter, who also killed herself. The comparison is extenuated by the fact that Goring famously enjoyed wearing women’s clothing.
Furthermore, the gematria of shachacha is the same as Moshe (40+300+5=345) because even good leaders are taken when H-Shem chooses to punish a generation. As the Talmud (Brachos 62b) teaches, a plague takes away the greatest of the generation together with the masses. Indeed, a storm sweeps away the good grain together with the chaff.
According to the Nachal Eshkol, another reason this gematria corresponds to Moshe is because the Midrash (Esther Rabba 6:2) says that yet another reason the Jews were saved from genocide was in the merit of Moshe. His merit should continue to be with us, and rescue us finally from this exile, bimheira biyameinu.
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.
If the intention of the verse is to indicate Achashverosh’s drunkenness, there are simpler ways to say so. According to the Alshich, Achashverosh indeed was not drunk, but simply acting light-headed.
On a deeper, more allegorical level, Rav Yitzchak Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak on Purim) quotes the idea that a mention of a “king” in Megillas Esther also indicates the King of Kings, The Holy One (see our previous blogs regarding this). If so, H-Shem’s “heart” was in a positive spirit because of the distinct behavior of His chosen people.
The Midrash (Esther Rabba 3:11) states that there is no true gratification amongst the nations of the world. Therefore, Achashverosh’s heart wasn’t really gratified with wine, but only seemingly so. In Ohr Chadash, the Maharal asks how this is possible. Do idolators really never experience gratification and joy? It certainly seems they do! He responds that complete gratification only comes from spiritual pleasure, and that can only be achieved through means available only to the spiritual people. Any other gratification is physical and does not have permanence. He quotes as proof the verse in Tehillim (31:20) that promises endless gratification to those who live their lives righteously. As Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch points out in his commentary on that verse, this is a reward in this world, as opposed to the stereotypical suffering tzaddik. In fact, several recent studies demonstrate that people without religion have higher stress levels (read: ungratified) than those following in the ways of Torah (http://www.healthzone.ca/health/newsfeatures/article/1119541–you-docs-having-faith-is-good-for-bodies-and-souls).