Midrash Esther Chapter II: V: The Original Federalist
Feb 28th, 2012 by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg in Holidays
Rabbi Shimon said: Shushan the castle on that occasion was like a great feasting place with food and drink were in abundance.
Rabbi Chanina bar Papa said: The notables of the time had been there but they fled.
Rabbi Chanina bar Atel said: Jews participated in that feast. That wicked man, Achashveirosh, said to them: “Can your God do more for you than this?” They answered: “An eye has not seen, O God, beside You, what He shall do for him who waits for Him (Isaiah 64:3).” If He provides for us nothing better than this feast in the World to Come, we could say to him, “we have already enjoyed the like of this at the table of Achashveirosh.”
The verse presents the seven day party as connected to the great feast that preceded it. The two rabbis are debating whether the seven day party was simply the climax of the first party, meaning the final seven days of the hundred and eighty, or if the purpose of the first feast was to prepare for the seven day feast.
When Rabbi Shimon describes how the entire Shushan became a great party place, he is describing the capital city, this seat of the kingdom. The federal bureaucracy was centered in Shushan. The purpose of gathering all the notables and military leaders for the hundred and eighty day party, paying attention to the individual needs of each guest, was to convince these people that the bureaucracy of Shushan would represent them before the king. They may live in faraway provinces but they would always have someone in the Shushan bureaucracy who would focus on their individual needs and concerns. All of the guests spend their time forming and nurturing powerful relationships with representatives of the federal government so that they would have their personal representatives advocating for them before the king. The purpose of this six-month conference was to nurture these relationships.
Therefore, Rava pictures the scene of this seven-day party as the climax of the six-month conference, when the new personal representatives of each of the notables and military leaders celebrated together with the people they represent. This was the King’s way of having everyone feel comfortable and vested in the Shushan bureaucracy.
Shmuel however, agrees with Rava regarding the purpose of the six-month conference, however he believes that after all these powerful and wealthy guests spent six months forming relationships with the Shushan bureaucrats, Achashveirosh made a special party for everyone in Shushan to remind them that ultimately they relied on him. All the power was in his hands. They may represent all the provinces, but they worked for Achashveirosh.
Achashveirosh had one serious challenge in Shushan: the Jews. They were still connected to God. They were not people who would be easily convinced that the world centered around Achashveirosh. Therefore, he showered them with so much abundance that he felt comfortable saying to them, “Can your God do more for you than this?” In other words, I can take care of you here and now. Your exiles, who have lost Jerusalem and any sense of power, need me, not God.
The Jews could not deny the advantages of working for Achashveirosh. They could not ignore the fabulous party. However, they sent a very clear message to the King; no matter how much they could theoretically benefit from his largesse, which was substantial, they were focused on the World to Come.
No wonder when Haman made his pitch to the King about “a certain people,” he does not need to mention their identity, he need only mention that they do not think the same way as does the King. He does not say, as usually translated, that these people do not obey the king’s laws; if they truly did not obey the king’s laws the Kings could simply have them executed immediately without any political repercussions. People who violate the king’s laws are immediately punished. He speaks of their rejection of the King’s ideas. Achashveirosh immediately knows that Haman is referring to the people at the party, the very ones who rejected his pitch of being the only source of wealth, honor, and power.
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