Midrash Esther XX: Judge or King?

Feb 28th, 2011 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays, Portion of the Week
“And princes of the provinces, being before him.” Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Samuel the son of Nachman explained this differently. Rabbi Eliezer said: They were placed as in this state room of Geder (Gadara in Transjordania), where the King sits on a raised dais to give judgment, while all the people sit before him on the ground.

Rabbi Samuel the son of Nachman said: They were placed as in the Basilica of the powerless when it is full of people, where the King sits on his couch and all the people lie prostrate before him; therefore it says, “and princes of the provinces before him.”

Rabbi Eliezer pictured the scene as the King the sitting as a judge. He sees this conference, and probably this seven day party that followed, as the King’s attempt to present himself as a wise judge.

Rabbi Samuel, on the other hand, pictures this scene as the King asserting himself as King. He wants all to lie low, prostrate before him.

When we study the end of the first chapter of the Book of Esther, we find the King gathered with his most important guests in judgment over Queen Vashti. Perhaps the entire scene, which I believe was planned by Achashveirosh all along, was for him to present himself as a wise ruler, one who would serve as the ultimate judge of the people. This was his chance to display his greatness as a judge.

Rabbi Samuel does not view the final scene in the first chapter as that of a king functioning as a judge. He reads this story as one of a King desperate to assert himself as a king before whom all must bow, who is now in a terrible situation having been humiliated by his wife before the powerful people sitting with him, the only ones who knew what Vashti had done.

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