“In the third year of his reign, he made a party for all of his officers and servants, the rulers of Paras and Madai, the partemim (nobles) and rulers in front of him.”
– Esther 1:2-3
The Megillah opens with a description of Achashveirosh’s vast empire: “He ruled over 127 nations.” The common assumption is that he was in the height of his glory. However, Chazal tell us that shortly before this, he had ruled over an additional 119 nations. At this point in time, he was still a powerful ruler, but almost half of his kingdom had been taken from him.
In his commentary on the Megillah, the Nesivos (Megillas S’sarim) explains that by all rights, Achashveirosh should have been in mourning. He had just suffered a striking loss. He had been the ruler of the earth, and now his power and glory were stolen from him. Yet he was joyful and made a party because he understood the ways of Hashem, and he had a sign from the heavens.
Chazal tell us that throughout our long exile, Hashem has kept the Jewish people scattered across the globe so that if an evil king would come to power and attempt to kill us, a portion of the nation would be living in other parts of the world not under his control. Never are all the Jews under one ruler.
Yet that rule was clearly broken. When Achashveirosh reigned over the entire world, every Jew alive had been under his sovereignty. Even now that he ruled over only half of the world, every Jew was still under his dominion. Whether he would keep or lose a province seemed to have been based on whether Jews were living there. It was almost as if a laser beam was carving out his monarchy. If there were Jews in a region, it remained under his control. If not, it was taken from him. When the rebellion was finished, every Jew was still under his control. Achashveirosh took this as a sign that Hashem was delivering His people into his hands, and therefore he was joyful and made a party.
This concept becomes very difficult when we focus on who this man was.
Achashveirosh Wasn’t the Pillsbury Doughboy
If you were to ask a school-age child to describe Achashveirosh, you would likely get an image of a short, roly-poly, fun-loving guy who liked to drink – the Pillsbury doughboy. Chazal tell us that this was not quite an accurate description. In fact, it couldn’t be more off-base.
Rashi tells us that Achashveirosh wasn’t born to nobility. He was an ego-driven lout who kicked, clubbed, and clawed his way into power. His ambition was nothing short of world dominion, and he had recently achieved his dream – Emperor of the Earth. When the Megillah opens, his honor and glory have been ripped out from under his feet. How is it possible that he made a party? How could he possibly be filled with joy?
The answer to this question comes from a better understanding of what actually drove this man.
Achashveirosh Was Evil
In the first pasuk of the Megillah, Rashi explains that Achashveirosh was consistent – consistently wicked from the first verse until the very end. Make no mistake; this man hated the Jews as much as anyone in his times. But he knew why he hated the Jews: The Jews represented Hashem, and he was engaged in a war against holiness.
As an example, the Nesivos explains why the Megillah delineates the details of the party that Achashveirosh threw. We are told about the tapestries on the walls, the food served, and what the guests drank. Why, nearly 2,500 years later, do we need to know that the golden benches were covered with butz and argaman?
The Nesivos explains that this was all part of the plan. The focus of the party was the last seven days when the “people of Shushan” were invited. Shushan then was the center of Jewish life. Mordechai met with the Sanhedrin there daily. It was the epicenter of religious Jewry, and that was Achashveirosh’s target. He invited the Jews to his palace to get them to sin. Everything in the party was focused towards that goal.
The benches were covered with butz and argaman, wool and linen, which is shaatnez. The tapestries on the walls were placed there to get the Torah sages of the generation distracted. Maybe their eye would be caught and they would look at something inappropriate. The food at this affair was “according to each man as he wished.” It was kosher by design. Achashveirosh knew that if he forced the Jews to eat treif food, it wouldn’t be considered a transgression; he needed to get them to sin willingly. So each invitee was given a private waiter and could ask for exactly what he wanted.
Achashveirosh even eliminated the ancient Persian custom of forced drinking. At this party, the drinking was done willingly. No one was forced. Achashveirosh knew that if the Jews were drunk, there would be much less of a complaint against them. He did everything in his power to get them to sin in as egregious a manner as possible. He knew that if he got them to sin, they would be his for the taking.
The Farmer with the Dirt, the Farmer with the Ditch
When Haman came with his “plan” to kill the Jews, it wasn’t a difficult sell. Chazal give a parable: Imagine two farmers with adjoining fields. One says to his friend, “I have this large pile of dirt in my field. Because of it, I can’t plow. You have a large ditch in your field. Because of it, you can’t plow. I would like to take my pile of dirt and put it in your ditch. For this, I will pay you handsomely.” The second farmer responds, “Pay me? You don’t have to pay me. I will gladly let you do it. You benefit, I benefit; there is no need to pay me. Go ahead with my blessings.”
When Haman offered the ten thousand talents of silver to “pay for the killing of the Jews,” Achashveirosh’s response was, “The money is yours to keep. As to the Jews, do with them what you please.” He didn’t even accept the fortune of money being offered to him.
The key to understanding this man is to recognize that as much as he was set on world conquest, he was engaged in an ideological war – a war against holiness, the Jews, and G-d.
This seems to be the answer to the question. Granted that Achashveirosh had just recently suffered a great personal setback, the loss of half his empire. But he had been given something even sweeter – he was given the Jews. He had the ability to eliminate the ultimate source of holiness in the world – G-d’s people – and therefore he was joyful and celebrated. This man was a real anti-Semite.
They Don’t Make Anti-Semites Like They Used To
This concept is eye-opening, because for thousands of years, everyone has hated the Jews, yet the vast majority of our modern anti-Semites couldn’t tell you why. If you were to ask one of them, “Why do you hate the Jews?” – you would likely see him take on the glassy-eyed look of the semi-conscious. “Why? Why do I hate the Jew? I hate him so much that I would drink his blood!” His hatred is quite clear, based on his fury and drive. But what is his reason? Your run-of-the-mill anti-Semite can’t answer the question intelligently.
Once upon a time, the Jews faced a different sort of enemy, men who hated them and could tell you why. “I hate the Jew because he represents everything holy. I hate the Jew because he stands for everything good. He has introduced conscience to mankind. But more than anything, I hate the Jew because he represents G-d.” Such a man was Achashveirosh, and such men were common in earlier times.
It is ironic that through the eyes of our enemies, we can come to understand the significance of the Jew, and the pivotal role that he plays in world history – that of G-d’s Chosen People.
May Hashem quickly redeem us, and may we regain our unique status of the Exalted Nation.
Born and bred in Kew Gardens Hills, R’ Ben Tzion Shafier joined the Choftez Chaim Yeshiva after high school. Shortly thereafter he got married and moved with his new family to Rochester, where he remained in for 12 years. R’ Shafier then moved to Monsey, NY, where he was a Rebbe in the new Chofetz Chaim branch there for three years. Upon the Rosh Yeshiva’s request, he stopped teaching to devote his time to running Tiferes Bnei Torah. R” Shafier, a happily married father of six children, currently resides in Monsey.