Megillas Esther

With Purim just around the corner, I present here a piece from the Maggid’s commentary on Megillas Esther, adapted from my English translation Voice of Rejoicing and Salvation.
The Megillah reports that Achashveirosh, in the third year of his reign, made a lavish feast for his entire kingdom. Jews were present at that feast (inappropriately, in Hashem’s eyes). The Midrash, in Esther Rabbah 2:5, reports an intriguing interchange that took place between Achashveirosh and the Jews at that feast. Achashveirosh boasted about the superlative lavishness of his feast, and challenged the Jews: “Will your God be able to do for you more than this at the end of days?” They replied: “‘No eye has seen, O God, aside from You, what You will do for those who await You’ (Yeshayah 64:3, homiletically). If He makes for us a feast like this, we will tell Him that we already partook of such a feast at Achashveirosh’s table.”  
The Maggid explains this interchange as follows. The Jews’ decision to attend Achashveirosh’s feast was misguided, but it did have a rationale. They based their decision on the following teaching (Berachos 58a): “A person should always make an effort to run to greet Jewish kings. And not only to greet Jewish kings, but even to greet gentile kings. For if he merits [to see the future redemption], he will be able to distinguish between Jewish kings [that is, the unparalleled glory of the Messianic king] and gentile kings [of the present].” In line with this teaching, they went to Achashveirosh’s feast was to be able to distinguish between a feast that a mortal king makes and the feast that Hashem will make for the righteous at the end of days.
Achashveirosh correctly guessed that this was why they came. He therefore challenged them as the Midrash describes. It is as if he said to them: “The fact that you came to my table proves that you were promised a feast greater than this. But, in my opinion, your God is incapable of making anything better than this.”
The Jews replied with what was, in veiled form, a very sharp retort. The Maggid brings out the point with an allegory. A rich man had a wife with a very bad disposition. She aggravated him constantly and made him miserable. At every meal, she would whine at him so much that he would become totally fed up with life. Once she had to leave the house for a few days to take care of something. The rich man remained home alone with his devoted servants, enjoying the brief respite from his wife’s haranguing. He told his maid to prepare his favorite delicacies and to bring him some good wine, and he ate and drank well, and was quite merry. He planned to indulge himself on the next day with another feast, even more lavish than the first. He delighted in the blissful peace and quiet.
But suddenly his wife came home, earlier than expected. As he saw her, his heart was crushed and his face turned pale. His wife understood that he was very upset that she had come back so quickly. She therefore told the maid to deck his table out with delicacies and wine, just as the maid had done on the night before. The man again ate and drank well, but he wondered quite a bit what had gotten into his wife. After he had finished dining, his wife asked him: “My husband, please tell me the truth: Did you find the food as enjoyable today as it was yesterday?” He answered her: “In truth, the food was not as good yesterday as it was today. But nevertheless I enjoyed it more because I was dining by myself, without you around to badger me to death.”
The Jews’ reply to Achashveirosh’s challenge was along the same lines. They were thinking: “Even if it were as you say, that God’s feast will be no greater than yours, nonetheless we would still enjoy ourselves then many times more than we do now. For then, it will be a feast at the table of God, without you [making a play on the words in Yeshayah 64:3]. We will be out from under your thumb, and there is no greater pleasure in the world than that.”
Obviously the Jews could not say this outright. Hence they merely hinted at the idea by quoting the verse from Yeshayah, including the crucial closing phrase. Then, in their second statement, they shifted the discussion elsewhere to disguise their true intent.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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