Megillas Esther

Since we will be celebrating Purim this coming week, I present a piece from the Maggid’s commentary on Megillas Esther. The Megillah states (Esther 1:8): “And the drinking was according to law, with no compulsion. For thus the king directed all the attendants of his household, to do according to each man’s desire.” The Gemara states (Megillah 12a) that the phrase כרצון איש ואיש [which could be more literally rendered as according to the desire of this man and that man] refers to Mordechai and Haman. For Mordechai is called איש יהודי, a Jewish man (Esther 2:5), while Haman is called איש צר ואויב, a man who is an adversary and an enemy (Esther 7:6).
The Maggid presents a parable to explain this Gemara. A certain man’s wife died, leaving him with an only son – a dear, sweet boy. The man married another woman with a very bad disposition, who was mean toward the son whom he loved so very much. She hated the boy thoroughly, like a typical stepmother. The man and his second wife fought incessantly over how to treat the boy. While the father wished to pamper his son and lavish him with the best of delicacies, the stepmother prevented him from doing so, and treated the boy with the utmost stinginess wherever possible. After a time, the boy fell mortally ill. The father called in doctors, who rescued the boy from the jaws of death. The doctors then warned the father: “Take care not to give your son too much to eat until he regains his former strength. If you do, he could get sick again, and then he will be in very grave danger. The more you restrict his eating, the more quickly he will recover.”
The father took this to heart. At mealtime, as the stepmother prepared a small portion of food to serve to the boy, the father thought to himself: “Even this amount is too much for my son now.” So the father served the boy even less. When the boy saw this, he was quite taken aback. He said to his father: “Father, you have just done something now that I have never seen you do ever before. Until now, you have always treated me differently from the way your wife has treated me. Whenever she would serve me a small portion, you would add to it from your own portion. But now you act just as she does. The two of you are conspiring to limit how much I get to eat. The portions she serves me are small enough. Must you reduce them even more? I see that she has won you over to her side!” The father replied with a chuckle: “My son, you have misjudged me. True, the way we act toward you now is the same. But our intentions are quite different. She acts out of great stinginess, and out of a begrudging attitude toward you. But I am acting out of my great love for you. I reduced your portion out of concern for your health, for the doctors warned that too much food could harm you.”
The parallel is clear. Mordechai and Haman fought constantly over how to treat the Jews. Mordechai strove for their welfare, desiring that they be blessed with everything good – that they should eat well and indulge themselves. On the other hand, Haman was always the Jewish People’s nemesis. He wanted them to suffer – he wanted every last one of them to be famished and destitute. He could not bear to see any Jew enjoy any worldly pleasure. Thus Mordechai and Haman were always in opposition. At Achashveirosh’s feast, however, the two of them ostensibly had the same goal. Mordechai also desired that the Jews derive no enjoyment from the feast. But they each had a distinctly different motivation. Mordechai wanted the Jews to refrain from partaking of the wicked Achashveirosh’s feast, so that they would avoid punishment. Haman, on the other hand, simply had a begrudging attitude toward the Jews. He considered them contemptible and could not stand to see them indulge themselves with the king’s food and wine.
The two of them together refrained from forcing anyone to eat or drink at this feast, although it was the custom at Persian feasts to force people to drink from a huge cup of wine (Esther Rabbah 1:13). Mordechai refrained from forcing them in the hope that the Jews would choose not to partake of the feast, once they saw that no one was forcing them to do so. Haman refrained from forcing them because anyway he begrudged them any enjoyment.
Now we can easily reconcile the verse we quoted at the outset with the Gemara we presented afterward. The plain meaning of the verse is that Achashveirosh ordered against forced eating and drinking at the feast. Each man was free to eat and drink as much or as little as he desired; a person could even refrain from partaking entirely. But, as we have just explained, this is precisely how the two men Mordechai and Haman desired to run the feast. Thus, the Sages, who knew that these two men were in charge of the feast, interpreted the phrase כרצון איש ואיש homiletically as referring to what these two men desired. Thus, although Mordechai and Haman had always opposed each other, in this case they had a common desire not to force the Jews to partake of the feast, albeit for differing reasons.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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