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Midrash Esther I: Achashveirosh: Headache

“Now it came to pass in the days about how Achasveirosh.” Rabbi Joshua son of Karcha said: he was called Achashveirosh because he made the face of Israel black like the sides of a pot.

Rabbi Berechiah said: because he made the head of Israel ache with fasting and affliction.

Rabbi Levi said: because he made them drink gall and wormwood.

Rabbi Judah said: because he sought to uproot Israel from the foundation of their future.

Rabbi Tachalifa the son of bar Chana said: because he was the brother of the head, the brother of Nebuchadnezar. How could he be his brother? Was not one a Chaldean and the other a Median? The fact is that one stopped the building of the Temple and the other destroyed the Temple; therefore Scripture puts them on the same level. (Esther Rabbah 1:1)

Rabbi Berechiah has a different approach to this story of a man who defined his times: Israel fasted in the book of Esther because of Haman’s degree, not a direct decree of Achashveirosh. Rabbi Berechiah is reminding us that Achashveirosh was ultimately responsible. We know from the story itself that he was responsible, however, there is an additional point:
As you read through the book of Esther you will see that Achashveirosh does whatever he wants but never takes direct responsibility. He has others make the decision to deal with Vashti. He has others collect the women for his great contest, bearing the resentment of all the families and fathers who witnessed their daughters being pulled away. He allows Haman to assume responsibility for the destruction of the Jews. He allows Mordechai to assume responsibility for the reversal. Achashveirosh was not a man who took direct responsibility for anything. Certainly nothing negative. Rabbi Berechiah is teaching us to study this as a tale of what happens when we are led by someone who refuses to take responsibility for unpleasant decisions.

Rabbi Berechiah is teaching us that we must read the entire book of Esther with this in mind; That Achashveirosh, who, as we said, defined his times, was the one who believed he was pulling the strings. If there was a decree that led us to fast and get a headache from fasting, it was his responsibility, no one else’s.

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