Achashverosh and the Pillsbury Doughboy

If you were to ask a school age child to describe Achashverosh, 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 is not quite an accurate description. In fact, it couldn’t be more off-base.

In the first posuk of the Megillah, Rashi explains that Achashverosh was consistent – consistently wicked from the first verse until the very end.  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.

The Megillah opens with a description of Achashverosh’s vast empire, “He ruled over one hundred and twenty seven 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 one hundred and nineteen 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 (Megilas Sisarim) explains that by all rights, Achashverosh 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 heaven.

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 Achashverosh 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 were 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. Achashverosh took this as a sign that HASHEM was delivering His people into his hands and therefore he was joyful and made a party.

Ibn Ezra – the 70 years are up

Achashverosh made this party because he was celebrating G-d’s forsaking his people. The Ibn Ezrah explains the reason Achashverosh, made this party was because like many of the kings before him, was counting the 70 years of Yirmiyahu’s prophecy. Yirmiyahu predicted that the first Bais Hamikdash would be destroyed, the Jewish nation would be sent into exile, and after 70 years they would be redeemed. The first two parts of his prophesy had come true: the Bais Hamikdash had been destroyed, the Jews were in exile, and now it seemed as if the 70 years were up – yet the Jews had not been redeemed.  The 70 years had come and gone and the Jews were still here, therefore they must have been abandoned – G-d no longer cared for them, hence he made a party to celebrate.

The Gemarah tells us, that there were 3 men who ruled over the entire world— one was Achasverosh. When the Megillah opens up and Achasverosh rules over 127 states, this was not the height of his glory, quite the opposite, it represents his fall from power. There were an additional 117 states that he didn’t control – but once had. Those 117 states were originally part of his monarchy, and had been taken from him. He had just lost the title of “Emperor of the world”. By all rights, he should have been a broken man –depressed, dejected — yet he made a party. He made a party because he saw a sign from G-d.

When Achasverosh had ruled over the planet, every Jew alive was under his dominion, now that he ruled over a bit more than half, every Jew alive still was under his reign. As he lost control of the various states, one could almost tell which nation would remain under his control, and which would be lost.  If there were Jews in that region, it remained within his control, if there were no Jews there – it was taken.  When his borders were finally solidified, still every Jew alive was under his direct control. He took this as a sign that G-d was delivering the Jewish people into his hands –allowing him to annihilate them. He viewed this as a gift from G-d, and he was joyous. Despite his personal loss, despite the fact that he had just lost much of his power, he acquired something more precious: the ability to kill the Jews – and he made a party.

Keep the money

This helps us understand a difficult concept in the Meggilah.

When Haman approaches Achasverosh with the idea of killing the Jews, he offers him 10,000 talents of silver – a fantastic sum. Achasverosh agrees to the plan, but refuses the money.  “Keep the money, and do with the nation as you like”. Why in the world wouldn’t Achasverosh accept this huge bribe?

The Gemerah in Megillah answers this by saying that Haman and Achasverosh are comparable to two neighbors with adjoining fields. In one field, there is a large mound of dirt, that doesn’t allow the owner to plow his field. In the neighboring field, there is a huge ditch, that doesn’t allow its owner to plow his field – Both fields lay dormant. One day, the man with the ditch approaches the man with the mound and says, “I will gladly pay you to allow me to take the mound of dirt out of your field to fill my ditch.” “Pay me?” says the man with the mound. “Take it for free.”

The Gemara says, “That was the exchange between Haman and Achasverosh”. This wasn’t the first time that Haman had appealed to the king to kill the Jews. He had been there before. In fact, over and over again, day after day, week after week, Haman had been begging, imploring, entreating the king to allow him to kill the Jews. Achasverosh reaction was quite simple – I hate Jews as much as you do, I would be only too glad to get rid of them – But, “I saw what happened to those who came before me. They attacked the Jews and G-d paid them back. Nebuchadnezzar oppressed the Jews and he died a painful death, Belshazzar enslaved the Jews, and he died a gruesome death. I am no fool”, he said, and flatly refused.

They are sleeping

This continued until Haman said that one line that changed the king’s mind. “Yeshno am Eched”- simply read there is one nation. Says the Gemara what Haman was actually saying was “Yishanu Min Hamitzvohs” – they are sleeping from the Mitzvahs – They aren’t who they used to be. “You are afraid to attack them because G-d protects them. That may be true, but only when they are loyal to G-d – they aren’t loyal to G-d’s ways – you can attack them now and win.”

Once Achasverosh heard this, he was a changed man. “In that case you have my blessings. You don’t have to pay me, much like the man with the mound of dirt in his field, I wish for their destruction more than you do.”

What changed?

The real answer to question of what changed –is that the hearts of men are in HASHEM’s hand. With the reversal of fate of the Jewish Nation, HASHEM put a new wind in the heart of one of our enemies, and now he had a very unnatural change of heart- one of the great miracles of the Purim story. May we be zoche to see yeshuos in our days as well!