Midrash Esther Chapter II: VI: Court & Garden
“In the court of the garden of the king’s palace.” Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah joined issue here. Rabbi Judah said that the garden was without and the court within, closer to the palace. Rabbi Nehemiah said that the garden was closer to the palace, and the court a little bit away.
Rabbi Pinchus said: I will make you both right. When Achashveirosh desired he could make it a court, and when he wanted he could turn it into a burden. How so? He would hang a curtain so as to conceal the garden and turn it into a court. He could also roll up the curtain and transform it back into a garden.
Another explanation: the combination of the words palace, court, and garden, teach us that all this cost him a great deal.
Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nehemiah understand that a party in the King’s court is quite different than one in the King’s garden: the former is more formal. The latter is more relaxed.
Rabbi Judah said that the center of the party was the court; the formal gathering of the king with his guests. The more important people attended the more formal celebration.
Rabbi Nehemiah disagrees and says that the King had a court before his garden, his personal space. He imagines that the people closer to the King, or those of more important positions, were invited to the king’s personal space, a more relaxed and intimate celebration.
Rabbi Pinchus believes that Achashveirosh actually kept everyone off balance. His guests were moved back and forth between the formal court and the more relaxed garden. People didn’t know whether to relate to the King in a very formal way, or if they could let down their guard. Basically, Achashveirosh, I believe intentionally, wanted every member of the Shushan bureaucracy to feel just a little bit unsure of how to relate to the King. He wanted them to know that they would constantly have to be on their toes when dealing with the King.
All this makes Mordecai’s interactions with the King far more amazing: Mordecai is perfectly consistent with himself. He is always described as sitting in the King’s gate. Not the court. Not the garden. Not the palace. Mordecai chose his own place. He does not adjust to Achashveirosh. Another reason for Achashveirosh to feel so threatened by Mordechai.
We can also understand the final point of the midrash that describes how much this party cost Achashveirosh: he was willing to spend a fortune sending this message to people that they could never rely on the previous day’s interaction with the King to give them a hint how to relate to him today.
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